by Beth Warwick, BA Hons
You may have heard the term ‘gaslighting’ before, but what
does it mean? How would you know if you are a victim of gaslighting? To
gaslight is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their
own sanity; to subtly attempt to drive someone crazy. The term came about from
the film ‘Gaslight’ in 1944 which followed the relationship between Paula and
Gregory, as Gregory attempted to drive his wife crazy through manipulation
ensuring she lost everything she held dear. The film focused on the use of
persistent lying, Gregory being ‘worried’ for Paula’s sanity and making her
friends see that there was something wrong with her. None of this was in fact
true. This control tactic is one used by dictators, abusers and narcissists. But,
what would gaslighting look or feel like?
of gaslighting is to gain power over someone else. A victim of Gaslighting may
feel like there is no stability or common ground in the relationship, with the
gaslighter doing anything they want without consequences. However, if the
victim does the same thing or even something more minor, perhaps even a genuine
mistake, the gaslighter accuses them of all sorts. They might be called names or
accused of cheating when in reality the gaslighter is the one doing the damage
and behaving in this way, deliberately and systematically with the intention of
controlling the victim and undermining the victim’s sanity and sense of reality.
Common signs of gaslighting include persistent lying,
denying things they have done or said, their actions not matching the things
they say and accusing their victim of saying or doing things that they haven’t
done. These are all techniques used to ensure their victims begin to question their
own reality or cast doubt on their version of events. You may ask yourself ‘Did
they actually say that…maybe I got it wrong.’ when in fact the gaslighter is
blatantly lying. When someone is gaslighting they are generally very aware of
the things that they say and do to cause doubt and confusion. They play on
making their target feel as though they are ‘going insane’ perhaps through a
feeling of constant paranoia while they continue to behave in the same way as
always. They know that the feeling of confusion they instil weakens their
victim psychologically and influences their reactions to future events. Having
been worn down, and beginning to question their own judgement, in future they
may begin to accept the gaslighter’s version of events and feel as though they
themselves ‘got it wrong’. They may imply ‘you are imagining things’ which
would again make their victim question their own sense of reality and fill them
A gaslighter might
accuse their victim of ‘changing the goal posts’, implying that their victim is
constantly changing the boundaries of what has been acceptable and what hasn’t
in the relationship in the past. This could be who it is acceptable to go out
with, or perhaps the target has a good friend the gaslighter seemed ok with and
now they have said they aren’t happy with the dynamic of the relationship. These
subtle shifts and accusations are used in an attempt to control and obtain
power over the victim. Putting their victim on the defensive will distract their
focus away from the gaslighting behaviours, as there most likely won’t be
anything different about the situation the victim has been in at all. However,
if confronted about their hurtful or confusing behaviours, the gaslighter will often
make the victim feel guilty for saying anything.
Gaslighting is a specific type of abuse used with the
intention of controlling another person by causing them to doubt their own
reality, and so becoming increasingly dependent on the abuser. The gaslighter
will manipulate their victim to the point of no return. Then they will be able
to act as they do and ensure their victim will be disarmed to say or do anything
against it, this is exactly what they want. It is a very dangerous form of
abuse and should be viewed as such. A healthy, loving relationship by
definition doesn’t include deceit, manipulation or lies.
The effect of gaslighting is often very negative and
insidious, and can be carried through life for a long time. Victims can
mistrust others in the future and fear being treated in the same way. It is a
horrible form of abuse that is done gradually so the victims don’t notice the
extent of it. A good way to put it is thinking about a frog in cold water, as
the water is heated up it doesn’t jump out as it doesn’t realise the water is
Seeking help, such as with Hypnotherapy can help victims of
gaslighting to overcome its negative effects, for example managing and reducing
associated anxiety, regaining confidence and rebuilding trust in self and
others. Support can help victims to move on with their life after being targeted
by a gaslighter and can provide space to reconnect with feelings where they
have been invalidated in the past.
Everyone should be able to live a life free of such
relationships and negative treatment. Gaslighting can occur in any situation – at work, in your
personal life, or at home. Recognising the existence of these behaviours in
abusers can help you identify when you or someone you know might be a victim of
gaslighting, and take positive steps to overcome this insidious type of abusive,
Abramson, K. (2014) ‘Turning up the lights on
gaslighting’, Philosophical Perspectives,
Vol. 28, p.p 1-30.
Gass, G and Nichols, W. (1988) ‘Gaslighting: A
Marital Syndrome’, Contemporary Family
Therapy, Vol. 10, p.p 3-16.
Preston, N. (2017) 7 Stages of Gaslighting
in a Relationship’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship
[Accessed 29 September 2017].
Sarkis, S (2017) ‘11 Signs of Gaslighting in a
Relationship’ [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-signs-gaslighting-in-relationship
[Accessed 29 September 2017].
Shame is a painful emotion which is experienced when we have
a conscious sense, or instinctual awareness that we have done or been involved
in something we perceive as improper or dishonourable, or that very common
feeling surrounding a particular event or situation in our lives where we feel
that we could have or should have done something differently, for example in
order to prevent something from happening to us.
In cases of abuse or assault,
or something that impacted us greatly, we may experience painful feelings of
shame that we didn’t do something to stop it, or that we could have done more. Where
these experiences have occurred in childhood, during our formative years, we
might interpret the feeling that we have done something wrong, or been involved
in something wrong as ‘we are something wrong’. This can lead to feelings of
unworthiness and we may also feel we should punish ourselves in some way for
past events or circumstances. We might feel we are not good enough, or unworthy
of forgiveness for something that we shouldn’t have done, or could have done
more to prevent. These feelings can persist throughout our adult life, if we
are not able to find the self-compassion and empathy to enable us to resolve
and move on from them, with a positive belief and understanding that we are in
fact worthy, and good enough.
Clearly these feelings of shame and unworthiness can have a
negative impact on emotional wellbeing. They can hold you back from living your
life to its full potential, with feelings of shame weighing you down and
impacting on life choices throughout life. It is important to seek knowledge,
support and understanding so that you can begin to accept that you have always
done your best in every situation, with the resources available to you at that
time, that what happened to you was not your fault and you are not, cannot be,
to blame for somebody else’s wrongdoing. Shame is a natural response in these
situations and it is possible to overcome it.
Feelings of shame are often associated with avoidance behaviours,
from what has happened, or avoiding looking at others and focusing on what you
feel you may have done wrong or might have done differently in the situation,
regardless of the situation itself. This can be related to many different
things including the body, the way you look, experiences of physical and sexual
abuse and neglect.
Research suggest that if you have experienced shame in early
life then you may be more likely to carry that shame into your adult life if it
is left unresolved. In an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the
events we perceive as shameful, we might avoid seeking the support and
information necessary to allow us to resolve these painful feelings, which will
impact on your emotional wellbeing negatively. Suppressing the emotion can also
lead to feelings of low self-esteem, hostility or distress.
Seeking help for what you feel are shameful events is not
easy, in fact it is very difficult to allow yourself to deal with the emotion
when you seek to resolve these feelings. However, allowing yourself to positively
address the event and consider your feelings towards it can lead to more
positive outcomes than simply ignoring it or pretending it didn’t happen. Many
therapies, such as Thought Field Therapy, now allow you to resolve the negative
emotions, without having to even share the details of these events with your
therapist, paving the way for a more accessible and positive therapeutic
experience. Shame is very closely related to guilt, with a common belief that
they are the same. However, where shame is linked to feelings that we are wrong,
guilt is focused on the thing we feel we did wrong, and righting the wrong. There
is no doubt that shame is a very painful emotion and is very difficult to deal
Acknowledging the feelings of shame you carry will often
help you to move forward in your life to a more positive place, allowing you to
overcome issues that you may not have realised are still having an impact on
you, so that you can live your life free of negative emotions and connections
to an outdated situation or person.
Shame is not the same as guilt and it can be overcome.
Sheikh, S and Janoff-Bulman, R. (2010) ‘The
“Shoulds” and “Should Nots” of Moral Emotions: A Self-Regulatory Perspective on
Shame and Guilt’, Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, 36:2, 213-244.
Velotti, P, Garofalo, C, Bottazzi, F and
Caretti, V. (2016) ‘Faces of Shame: Implications for Self-Esteem, Emotion
Regulation, Aggression, and Well-Being’, The
Journal of Psychology, 151:2, 171-184.
Toxic relationships…you may have heard news reports and
articles relating to the term or more generally in the media, but what is a
toxic relationship and how would you know if you are in one? You may have read
or heard that these occur in relationships with a partner however it is
important to distinguish that a toxic relationship can take many forms, it does
not have to be a partner. These relationships can occur with friends, family or
co-workers to name a few.
Toxic relationships are characterised by certain
behaviours displayed by the other person that may not be typical of a ‘normal’
person. Their behaviour may make you feel like you are worthless, you are
nobody and you can’t do anything right. A person displaying these behaviours is
usually referred to as a ‘narcissist’ meaning a person with an elevated sense
of self-worth. But how can you tell how this behaviour differs from that of a
A healthy relationship is built on mutual trust, love and
care with that person supporting you and your decisions throughout life. While
you may have disagreements and arguments, these will be resolved between both
of you through communication and letting each other give your opinion on why
something has upset or hurt you. It is normal to have disagreements within any
relationship however when this happens within a toxic relationship the approach
by the other person can be very different.
Do you ever feel as though your thoughts are not being
heard, as though the person does not understand why you are hurt? This is just
one way that a narcissistic person may act when confronted with something that
reflects their behaviour. Do you feel like you can be yourself around that
person or do you feel you need to change in some way for their approval? This
could be not seeing certain friends or not doing something that has upset them,
whether this is justified or not. This is another way that a narcissist may act
to control you and your behaviour. They may also make you feel like everything
is about them, as though your opinion doesn’t even count or is totally invalid.
You may also feel you cannot enjoy happy moments with this person, for example
if you have had a job promotion. This person may react negatively to this and
make you wonder why you even thought you should put yourself forward, in their
eyes you aren’t good enough anyway. This is all done in an attempt to control
your behaviour, not giving you any support with your ambitions or goals. This
is not normal in a loving relationship.
One of the most important things is to know is that it's not your fault, you
cannot control another person’s behaviour and some people play on the element
of control and power in a relationship, whatever form that may take. Toxic techniques used by the
other party may lead you to
feel like something that happened is your fault. This may include
consistent lying or questioning
the things that you are saying,
especially if this is aimed at their behaviour. You may even find conversations redirected to things you
may have done in the past, all to take away the blame from themselves. These
are all common techniques used to control the situation and you as a person
while ensuring that no blame or wrongdoing is put on them. Bringing up past
events and using them against you is unfair and this can also be the case for
things you have done before you even met that person. Using past events to hurt
you and control you is not acceptable and this should not happen in a healthy,
Possibly one of the most hurtful things about these people
is that they are usually seen as a 'good person’ and they may even have many close friends and relationships
in which they do not behave in
the way they do with you. This is a technique used to
ensure that they are seen as a normal person. You might find yourself asking questions like, "how could
anybody see them as anything else? Right? Maybe it's just me that causes this, maybe I'm the bad one?" This
is exactly their intention in order to portray themselves as a ‘model citizen’, somebody who people
would look up to and believe to be lovely; in actual fact they are a narcissist.
The person will most likely not behave the way they do with
you to these other people as this would blow their cover. One thing about
narcissistic people is that they do not want to be discovered for what they are
and may try anything to avoid this happening. This could also include making up
things about you and calling you ‘crazy’ or saying ‘my friends think you are
crazy’ in an attempt to make everything about them and them being the
victim…again. Even though it is you that is experiencing the pain and hurt.
The impact of a toxic relationship can be not just mental, it can be emotional and
physical too. This can tarnish future relationships with people in general, not
just partners. But again, it is important to know that it is not your fault and
that there are many loving, caring people in the world who would not treat you
in such a negative way. If you
feel ashamed or wrought with regret it is important to explore these feelings
constructively so that you don't carry this negativity into future
relationships. After all, you are worthy of loving and caring relationships, regardless of what you may
have been told or how you may feel.
Hypnotherapy can help with overcoming feelings of shame,
upset and regret which you may feel either within the relationship or after you
have left. It can be difficult to talk about events that have happened around
toxic relationships however in hypnotherapy many techniques do not require you
to talk about an event which may be of some comfort. Instead they help you to explore
your thoughts around the event, perhaps looking at anxiety you feel around the
environment or situation, in an effort to overcome this. One example of this is
‘Thought Field Therapy’ which involves tapping certain points on the body
associated with negative emotions, it is similar to acupuncture but does not
use needles. This therapy then allows you to think of an environment or
situation without feeling such intense negative emotions around it. This means
that you can start to move on with your life without holding onto the negative
effects of that relationship.
Just remember, nobody should be allowed to have such a
negative impact on a person and you can let go of the pain and hurt.
Forgiveness is something that we may or may not believe is
the right thing to do regardless of what has been done to us. It is often seen
as a time where we let someone off for what they have done, maybe because of
family pressure; perhaps it is a parent you are struggling to forgive? This
often causes a problem within the family, creating a sort of societal pressure
to forgive as it is the ‘right thing to do’ or to reduce conflict.
But does forgiveness mean letting somebody off the hook for
their actions? Or, can we get a sense of self-healing and closure from
Even the thought of attempting to forgive somebody who has
done you wrong can be difficult. This is especially so, if the person isn’t
sorry for their actions. Yet, forgiveness can be a healing process, allowing
you to let go of feelings and thoughts around an event that may have been
holding you back. You might not have thought of forgiveness as a way of
self-healing, maybe you see it as the wrongdoer getting away with what they
have done to you or someone close and that’s a very common feeling. If a wrongdoer
has done something that has impacted you so greatly, then why should they be
allowed to get away with it? Holding onto such feelings can have a negative
impact on your mental health and everyday life.
Feelings of hurt relating to disloyalty, brutality and
betrayal can take a long time to recover from and it is not a process that
happens overnight. Your relationship to the person who has hurt you can also
impact the length of time it takes you to heal. This is very much linked to
your ability and willingness to forgive. Forgiveness is a process that will
take time but will ultimately help you to move forward, reduce the negative
impact on your mental health and keep your everyday life positive.
Forgiving the wrongdoer is not about condoning or excusing
their behaviour. It’s not even about forgetting what they’ve done. Forgiveness
is a process through which you can move on from what has been holding you back
and continue enjoying your everyday life, without that negativity dragging you
down. Forgiveness is also not something that should be considered as submissive
and does not make you a weak person. It is about identifying how the wrongdoer
has hurt you and getting to a point where you can forgive that person for those
Self-forgiveness is also important though. Often, people
don’t or won’t forgive themselves for things that have happened to them, they
may think they have, ‘let it happen’ or that they, ‘deserved it’. You might
also find this if you feel you have done something that you cannot forgive
yourself for. Sometimes, self-forgiveness has been linked with causing negative
emotions or being narcissistic if you were to decide it as appropriate when those
around you don’t show you the forgiveness you’re looking for.
However, research has also shown that self-forgiveness can
have a positive impact on mental health. It helps to reduce any feelings of
shame or self-punishment over what has happened, without ignoring or excusing
it. Forgiveness is important for everyone’s mental wellbeing and allows us to
move forward from negative emotions and associations to any wrongdoers.
Forgiving is not forgetting.
Peterson S, Van Tongeren, D, Womack,
S, Hook, J, Davis, D and Griffin, B. (2017) ‘The benefits of self-forgiveness
on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research’, The Journal of Positive Psychology,
Freedman, S and Zarifkar, T.
(2016) ‘The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness and Guidelines for
Forgiveness Therapy: What Therapists Need to Know to Help Their Clients Forgive’,
Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 3:1,
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It isn’t enough to
tell people who are fearful to be courageous. It isn't enough to tell people
who lack confidence that they should be more confident, relax, or just be
themselves. It isn't enough to tell people who are sad, that if they change
their thinking they will feel happy. It isn't enough to tell people who are
pessimistic that they would get on better if they were more optimistic, or more
positive. It isn't enough because actually, they know that already. The
difficulty is in not feeling safe – not feeling safe to let go of their
feelings, their situation and their circumstances enough to feel courageous,
happy, confident or optimistic.
feelings, behaviours and habits serve some positive purpose on the subconscious
level, even if they don’t immediately seem logical to the conscious mind. They
usually equate in some way to keeping us safe and comfortable. If we can
develop a healthy respect for those unwanted feelings or behaviours, whether
they are in ourselves or in others, then we have taken the first step in
understanding their root cause.
mind wants to protect us, to keep us safe, to shelter us from harm. If the
person who contains that subconscious mind has learned, through real and
consistent experience that they are in tangible and constant danger, such as
from the abuse of another, ill health, financial hardship, deprivation, how can
they just switch that protective response off? More importantly, why would
they? Their subconscious mind will naturally resist. Not only does that feel
unsafe, but it would actually put them more at risk, make them more vulnerable
to danger, and less ready to respond to a threat.
In order to feel
courageous, happy, confident and optimistic, and who doesn’t want to feel this
way, this new way of thinking needs to
be safer than the old way. Feeling courageous in the face of danger has to BE
safer than feeling fearful. Feeling happy has to BE safer than feeling sad.
That is what creates empowering change. To do this we need to clearly outline
on a subconscious level why feeling courageous, happy, confident and optimistic
is safer. To show the protective subconscious mind that feeling fearful is not
keeping us safe, it is actually damaging to our health and wellbeing, draining
our resources, restricting our opportunities for empowerment, change and choice.
Feeling courageous is safer, because it gives us back the main thing we lose
when we are fearful – control, control of how we feel.
Once we have shown the
subconscious mind what it needs to do and why, then we need to provide the
subconscious mind with examples of how to do this. We don’t need to spell out a
solution, the subconscious mind has the skills, experience and resources to
figure this out for itself, but it needs to left with a flavour of the changes
that it needs to make, and what the solution will look like, what the potential
outcome will be. Instead of the old way of focusing on what it wants to avoid,
what it wants to move away from, the subconscious mind needs a new, clear and
positive vision and goal of what it wants to move towards. That is enough to
achieve the desired change.
A question I'm asked
often as a hypnotherapist is whether hypnotherapy actually works. Hypnosis is a natural state, a level of altered awareness like those we can gently go in
and out of ourselves through our day. When concentrating on a
task, and very deeply involved in it, you’ll notice time seems to go by
slightly differently. You might be surprised to discover that what feels like
20 minutes was in fact over an hour. Similarly, if you've ever driven a very
familiar route, you might have arrived at your destination to discover you couldn’t
remember the journey, because you were so deeply involved in thought about
In hypnotherapy we are
able to utilise this natural tool, by applying it in a specific and
concentrated way to address areas in our life we want to change. Our subconscious mind is a bit like a database,
holding our beliefs, habits, expectations and our memories - all of the things
that are stored on a deeper level. Our conscious mind dips in and out of that
subconscious information, and those things can influence our behaviour and
choices in ways that we often don't consciously recognise.
In hypnosis we can
reframe erroneous, outdated information which is not serving us positively
anymore. We can look at our behaviours,
habits and thoughts in a different way, and suggest alternative ways of
perceiving and behaving which can allow us to move forward more positively and
Adapted from an article in LoveLocalMag.com May/June 2016
by Vicky McLeod, Meridian Wellbeing Hypnotherapy
by Vicky McLeod, Meridian Wellbeing Hypnotherapy
Sometimes when we have an issue or a problem we see it as being about someone or something else, "if only they were different...", "if only circumstances were different..." I wouldn't have this problem. On a deeper level it's important in empowering ourselves to remember that we can't change other people, and we can only influence the parts of our circumstances that we have some control over.
I find it helpful to remember something I was once told, that when we point the finger of blame at someone else, or something else, there is always one finger (or thumb) pointing away - to chance, luck, nature, whatever, and there will also always be three fingers pointing back at you. This has stayed with me through the years.
In every situation I have 3 times as much influence over how I let it affect me, how I respond, how I perceive it, how I react, what I do thereafter. No one can make us feel anything. This is our choice. Undoubtedly what others say and do, and the circumstances we find ourselves in can be negative, hurtful or uncomfortable at times. But we can decide what we do with that experience thereafter. We decide how long it will affect us, and how much time and energy and feeling we will invest in it. This is where we can take back control.
Hypnosis is actually a state of altered consciousness that we naturally go in and out of ourselves throughout the day. When you are concentrating so hard on something that you have become immersed in it, such as with a TV programme, movie, or activity, so that your attention becomes disassociated from your current surroundings, you are experiencing this natural state of hypnosis. You will notice that your perception of time and your awareness of your surroundings becomes altered. Using hypnosis in a clinical setting enables the use of this natural state in a very focussed and specific way, to help tackle any particular problem or situation that we want to positively change for ourselves. Self-hypnosis can be used to address any problems, by helping you to see yourself the way you want to be - with the problem fixed. Repeatedly seeing yourself in this way helps the subconscious to come to believe that is actually how you already are - it then facilitates your behaviour to match your new dominant self image, whether that is as a confident public speaker, a non-smoker or a healthy eater.
A client recently reported that they had dreamed that someone was trying to attack them. They were attending hypnotherapy regarding managing stress and conflict at work. I asked them if they could remember anything significant that had happened to them the day before the dream. They immediately recalled they had attended a heated and rather aggressive meeting in which several conflicting colleagues were trying to thrash out a resolution to a problem. My client's role in this meeting was to provide factual information and advice, however they remembered feeling very uncomfortable during the meeting, and recalled being glowered at by one of the more aggressive colleagues, when the factual information presented exposed holes in their argument.
Expectation Fulfilment Theory shows that our dreams help us to process arousal which we were not able to process at the time. In a situation like the one above, where the client felt a series of emotions but had to temper and inhibit their reaction, our subconscious mind can help us to work through and find resolution to the situation in our dreams, by processing and resolving the situation for us while we are asleep, deactivating the arousal at a more appropriate time.
Dreaming is the deepest trance state we go into and there are three essential principles to understand:
- Dreams are metaphorical translations of waking expectations.
- But only expectations that cause emotional arousals that are not acted upon during the day become dreams during sleep.
- Dreaming deactivates that emotional arousal by completing the expectation pattern metaphorically, freeing the brain to respond afresh to each new day