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Gaslighting and highly sensitive person (HSP) may not look like they go hand in hand by default, but unfortunately, in reality, they often do. Gaslighting recovery is possible for a highly sensitive person. It is essential if you have been a victim of this form of psychological abuse. Highly sensitive people and empaths are more susceptible to gaslighting because they do not trust themselves and their intuitions. They doubt their own perspective even when they sense that something is wrong. Learning to hone their intuitions, regulate their own emotions, and embrace who they are are some cornerstones to gaslighting recovery and protection.
Have you heard of the term ‘gaslighting’?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a person’s mind, making them question their own sanity.
A highly sensitive person is especially vulnerable to gaslighting, as they tend to be more likely to question themselves.
If you are experiencing gaslighting, there are steps you can take to help yourself. In this essay, we will discuss gaslighting recovery and protection as a highly sensitive person.
Gaslighting Term Origin
The term gaslighting was originally coined in the 1930s by a playwright named Patrick Hamilton. The term was derived from his hit play Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife insane by manipulating her environment and convincing her that she is going insane.
The psychological thriller was filmed in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. In the film, Bergman plays a woman who is slowly driven mad by her husband. He insists that her house is haunted and that she sees things that are not really there.
The term “gaslighting” is used broadly to describe any situation in which someone is made to doubt their own sanity or perception of reality. Gaslighting can be an extremely effective form of manipulation because it causes the victim to question their own judgment and makes them less likely to speak out against the abuser.
Essentially, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and psychological manipulation that makes the victim question their own memory, perception, and sanity. With knowledge, insights and support, fortunately, gaslighting recovery is possible.
“I’m not crying because of you; you’re not worth it. I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.”
Gaslighting and the Highly Sensitive Person – Why are they more susceptible?
There are many reasons why a highly sensitive person is more prone to gaslighting, but one of the most common is that they do not trust themselves.
Because highly sensitive people are wired differently and tend to see and feel things differently than other people, they have been made to feel throughout their lives that they are “overreacting” or acting in a questionable way. From a young age, they have been made to feel that there is something wrong with them by other people’s opinions. If you are a highly sensitive person, you tend to distrust yourself quickly. You may feel that your feelings are never valid.
As you know, a highly sensitive person is very aware of their feelings and the feelings of those around them. They are also in tune with their surroundings and notice subtleties that others might miss. However, because they are a minority in society and are often told they are “too this” or “too that,” many highly sensitive people have never learned to trust their intuition. Although they perceive so many signals from the people around them, they have not refined their keen intuition and do not use it as a strength. On the other hand, when they see or feel things that others do not, they wonder if they are “imagining things.”
If you are a highly sensitive person, you may also have difficulty regulating your emotions, which increases your self-doubt. Because you are constantly bombarded with stimuli, your state is often disturbed and you never know how you will react. You may be fine one day and have a strong reaction to the same thing the next. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if it is a trauma reaction or repression of emotions.
Highly sensitive people are also more prone to taking things personally and thinking about interpersonal challenges. This makes them more likely to believe a gaslighter’s lies and manipulations.
This lack of self-confidence and doubting yourself, unfortunately, sets a highly sensitive person up for gaslighting. . When you do not trust yourself, you are more likely to believe the made-up stories others tell about you. Fear of being ridiculed or dismissed also makes you less likely to speak up or defend yourself, even when you feel something is wrong.
However, you should remember that your intuition is usually spot on. If something feels uncomfortable to you, there is a good chance that something energetically strange is going on. Although this does not mean that someone close to you is maliciously pressuring you, it could mean that they are unintentionally challenging your perspective and devaluing you.
As a highly sensitive person, you dislike conflicts and have a tendency to deny your anger. Due to this, it is not likely that you would push back, challenge the gaslighter, or at least point it out when someone is crossing your boundaries.
Another reason highly sensitive people are more susceptible to gaslighting is that they are more likely to attract narcissistic and controlling people into their lives. HSPs are natural caregivers, and they tend to be drawn to people who need help. Narcissists are really wounded souls, and they can be very appealing to highly sensitive people on an unconscious level. Also, HSPs are good at reading people and sensing their emotional needs. This makes them especially good at understanding and empathizing with narcissists, which can create a powerful bond, something that feels like intense love. Unfortunately, what feels like a deep soul connection or infatuation can actually be trauma bonding.
For the highly sensitive person, gaslighting can be particularly damaging, as it can make you question your own sanity and reality, and it may create a situation that is a replication of the childhood wounds you have yet to heal from. To start the process of gaslighting recovery and protection, you must first learn to spot red flags and know that it is happening.
Common Tactics Used by Gaslighters on the Highly Sensitive Person
In bullet-points, some common gaslighting tactics can include:
1. Persistent denial of obvious truths: For example, denying that things happened, even when they did happen.
2. Convincing you that you are imagining things or making them up.
3. Making light of or trivializing your emotions, thoughts and experiences.
4. Pretending not to understand what you are talking about, questioning your language or expression, making you feel silly, stupid and childish.
5. Withholding information or giving false information.
6. Changing the subject in order to distract from what really happened or what is being discussed.
7. Blaming you for their abusive behaviours; for example, saying that they are criticising you only because they ‘have to, or that you have ‘made them.’
8. Employing a “good cop” persona— using their charm to gain your trust, when actually they are the mastermind that is making sure their tactics work effectively.
The goal of gaslighting is to make the victim feel so hopeless and uncertain that they give up and accept the abuser’s version of reality. You may be left to feel helpless and isolated, which erodes your mental health.
“You are being abused if you find yourself apologizing when you didn’t do anything.”
Highly Sensitive Person Gaslighting Recovery and Protection
1. Recovery from Gaslighting as a Highly Sensitive Person Means Learning to Believe in Yourself
Intuition is one of those things that you know is there, but can never quite put your finger on. You might feel like you’re imagining things, or that you’re being paranoid. But what if your intuition is trying to tell you something?
As a highly sensitive person who picks up a wide range of signals from around you at all times, your intuition is usually quite accurate because it is the result of a wide pool of information. However, you tend to doubt it and disown your intuition because your answers do not conform to what seems rational. Unfortunately, this can often lead to bad decisions or even danger.
Again and again, other people’s reactions to what you say or feel make you feel like you are irrational. Therefore, gaslighting recovery means you must learn to cultivate self-trust and faith in what your body and feelings are telling you. The good news is that you can learn to trust your intuition by paying attention to how you feel in different situations and learning to read the signs your intuition is giving you.
Here are a few tips on how to trust your intuition:
– Pay attention to your gut feeling. In other words, learn to listen to signals from your bodily sensations and your feelings, not just your mind. Even when something feels improbable or irrational, don’t dismiss it immediately. Your feelings are the language of your soul, and even if some feelings are unpleasant, they are trying to deliver a message. Learn to honour and listen to them.
– Take some time each day to quiet down. You may wish to declutter your physical space and your digital space. This will allow your truth to surface and be picked up by you.
– Make a list of things that nourish you and another one of the things that deplete you. Learn to take care of yourself at the best you can. The more you are able to do things that nourish you, the sharper your intuition will be.
2. Learning to Regulate Your Emotions
When we’re unable to regulate our emotions, we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Learning to regulate your emotions will help you stay grounded and strong, and you are less likely to fall prey to other people’s manipulation in the future.
There are a number of things you can do to help regulate your emotions. One key is learning how to identify and understand them. You may start with something simple like using an ‘emotional wheel’ to give language to your feelings. You can also try journaling, or practise intentionally talking to someone about your feelings. You will feel more in control when you are able to put a name to your feelings.
Beyond practises such as deep breathing and visualization, you can also learn to not resist your feelings and expand your window of tolerance for them. The more you can be ‘with’ your feelings rather than resist them, the more resilient you will feel. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a brilliant approach to helping us learn how to do this. For more on this approach please see my interview with the founder of ACT Steven Hayes here.
Learning to regulate your emotion can contribute to you trusting yourself. Having some sense of inner stability in your life can also set up a good baseline for your intuition. Then, when you feel ‘off’, you know that something is happening and you are more likely to trust it and investigate external cues, rather than dismissing it as being ‘one of your mood swings.’
3. Assertiveness and Gaslighting Recovery as a Highly Sensitive Person
Assertiveness is the ability to express your thoughts and feelings in a way that is respectful to yourself and others. There are many ways to become more assertive. One way is to practice saying “no” in a calm and confident way. Another way is to be clear about your wants and needs, at least to yourself. With someone you trust, like a good friend, a coach or a therapist, you can do some ‘role-play’ or practice using specific assertiveness and grounding techniques in situations where you feel uncomfortable or afraid. This is a big topic on its own and deserves its own essay!
4. Watch out for Relationship Red Flags to Protect Yourself
It’s normal for couples to have disagreements. However, there are some behaviours that could be warning signs of bigger issues. If your partner exhibits any of the following behaviours, it might be time to take a step back and reassess the relationship, or at least re-evaluate if you are losing your sense of self in this relationship.
– They harbour grudges easily and refuse to forgive.
– They do not take responsibility for their own actions and seem to blame you for everything.
– They always put themselves first. Or, they do the opposite and do everything ‘for you’ but then turn around and blame you for being needy and demanding.
– They are emotionally distant, unavailable or avoidant. Whenever you want to have more closeness, they shut down and retreat.
– They are condescending, criticise you in big and small ways, and make you feel bad about yourself.
– They are controlling and overly dominating. For example, they insist that you do things their way, say or not say certain things, do or not do certain things, and make you feel powerless.
– They’re verbally abusive or physically violent.
Be aware of the red flags. Assess the way you feel before and after you are in the relationship, and take responsibility for your own mental health. Get support from friends and family if you need it, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if the situation becomes too toxic.
5. Exercise Self Compassion
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can be very damaging to our psyche. It can make you feel like everything that’s happening is your fault. If you’ve been a victim of gaslighting, try not to blame yourself for it. You must acknowledge that you are being abused and that the situation is not your fault. Self-compassion is a practice that can be learned and takes time to develop. The following are steps that can help build self-compassion:
– Track your thoughts and feelings in a journal. This will help you to identify patterns in the abuse, as well as any self-blaming or negative thoughts you may be experiencing. Then, try to challenge them with kindness and forgiveness.
– Practice specific self-compassion exercises on a regular basis. There are many exercises that can be found online or in books. Some people find it helpful to write out compassionate statements about themselves and then read them back. Others find talking to their inner child useful. Some resonate with Buddhist wisdom on compassion, whilst others prefer praying to a Christian God. Do explore and see what works for you.
– Imagine what you would say if you were your own best friend. Would you condemn them for being abused, or would you compassionately support them?
– Connect with others who support your self-compassion journey, and stay away from people who erode your self-esteem.
6. Ultimately, Gaslighting Recovery and Protection Means Embrace the Fact That you are Different
In our world of social media and conventional wisdom, where we are often made to feel we must conform to be accepted, it can be difficult to accept that you are different. Intense and sensitive individuals are often misunderstood. They are seen as “too much” or “too emotional.” People with these traits often feel like they have to apologize for who they are. They may feel like they need to change in order to fit into society’s mould. This is not only untrue, but it is also impossible.
Individuals who are intense and sensitive have a lot to offer the world. Being highly sensitive is in fact a form of neuro-divergence. You are wired differently, and whilst it can make life challenging at times, it is not a disease and should not be condemned or dismissed. There is nothing wrong with being unique and that your differences make you special. In fact, there are many advantages to being this way. You may be more creative and compassionate than others, and you may be better able to understand other people’s sufferings. You may be able to penetrate spiritual truths more deeply. As much as possible, find ways to harness your gift. For example, you may look into channelling your sensitivity into something that generates values for yourself and others in the world.
“When what you hear and what you see don’t match, trust your eyes.”
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can be damaging to the psyche of a highly sensitive person. It can cause us to feel crazy, unworthy, and like we’re always doing something wrong. Thankfully, there are ways we can begin to heal from this experience.
The first step is to understand that what happened to us was not our fault. We are victims of someone else’s abusive behaviour and other people’s dysfunctional relational pattern is not something we can control. This may be difficult to accept, but it is an important step in the healing process.
Secondly, for gaslighting recovery, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve. This might mean crying, yelling, or expressing our feelings in whatever way feels natural for us. It’s important to allow ourselves the space to mourn the loss of our old self and all that was taken from us in the gaslighting relationship.
Thirdly, and the most important thing, is to learn to embrace all the glory of being a highly sensitive person. You see the world differently, but it does not mean your experience is wrong. Many people who are highly sensitive are some of the most creative and successful people around. Learn about your sensitivities and how to manage them. Find like-minded people who will understand and support you. Create a supportive environment for yourself where you can thrive. Take time for self-care and learn to befriend your emotions. Your deep feelings, while intense and can be perturbing, are not there to harm you, they are messengers that are always trying to help. Finally, learn to hone your creativity, find your unique purpose in the world, and use your deep sensitivity and empathy to make a difference in the world.
If you can do all of the above, you would have built up a strong immune system to anyone’s gaslighting and invalidation. You will be able to spot signs of gaslighting from miles away and keep yourself safe and strong.
Remember, your sensitive soul is beautiful and needs your love and protection. You deserve a life full of pride and joy, and free from anyone’s abuse and denigration.
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Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.