My husband lied to me. In fact, I am sure he is cheating on me. It hurts. I tried to talk with him to explain how much it devastates me, but he replied, “You are too sensitive.” I know that I have a soft heart. I want my relationship to work out. I want to do what is right. Why do I feel so confused? Am I too sensitive – could he be right?
If this scenario hits home with you, you might be a victim of gaslighting.
What is Gaslighting
Feeling sensitive to something that we should have emotions for, like trauma or relationship issues, is a sign that we are mentally healthy. This is not what a narcissistic person wants us to believe so they use a form of manipulation called gaslighting in an attempt to convince us otherwise. Gaslighting is typically emotional abuse that leads the victim away from their own reality, i.e., questioning “Am I too sensitive? Could he be right? I am confused! I feel like I am losing my mind.”
Is Gaslighting Emotional Abuse?
Is gaslighting always emotional abuse? No, but gaslighting is always manipulative.
Do you know someone that refuses to be wrong? This person might be self-centered, and they might believe that everyone should like/feel/believe what they do, but they might not entirely have a narcissistic personality. They may possess empathy. So, when this person wants to prove themselves right, they might resort to gaslighting, “You are crazy to not believe in this!” While this is an example of manipulative language, it typically is said out of an emotional reaction versus intentional, and it is not used as a tool to mess with a person’s mental reality (i.e. emotionally abusive).
Typically, emotionally abusive gaslighting terms are used to validate a narcissist’s own behavior and to deflect the blame onto their victim.
Common Gaslighting Terms
Here are some common gaslighting statements similar to “You are too sensitive”:
Highly Sensitive People (HSP)
There is a personality trait called HSP (highly sensitive people), studied by Dr. Elaine Aaron, and other professionals. HSP is not a disorder or a condition. It is thought that people (compared to non-sensitive people in the general population) with HSP have an increased or deeper central nervous system that is extremely sensitive to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. Studies have not pinpointed the cause of HSP, but it is thought to comprise 15-20% of the population.
If your sensitivity disrupts your day, or if it leaves you dysfunctional, seek professional help – seek a therapist or a counselor. I am not suggesting that everyone that feels sensitive needs to seek therapy. There is a huge difference between having a big heart versus struggling with the ability to behave or react appropriately because you are too sensitive.
Develop an Awareness to Combat Gaslighting
The best way to combat gaslighting is to develop a higher awareness of what is being said. What does the narcissist’s gaslighting really mean? What are they really saying/thinking?
I am not suggesting that you sit around and think about gaslighting 24/7, but I am suggesting that you process it when it happens. Go beyond the surface. What are they really saying/thinking? What is the true meaning behind their statements that I am too sensitive? What are they trying to accomplish by saying this to me?
Develop a mindset that denotes, “Yes, I am hurting. These (gaslighting) statements do go straight to my core, but to grasp what is really going on, I must unravel the truth.” Once you determine the truth, your (realistic and healing) work begins.
What To Do (when You Are Gaslit with “You are too sensitive”)
Ask yourself the question, are you too sensitive? In complete reality, should you be upset, or is it reasonable in your circumstances to feel upset?
Again, take a look at what the person gaslighting you is really saying. What are they trying to accomplish by saying you are overly sensitive? Are they attempting to contort reality?
As you ask yourself these questions, I want you to let go of any desire to be right or wrong. It does not matter if you are right or wrong. There is no need to argue.
Ask you dig in and ask these questions, pay attention to your level of sensitivity but do not accuse yourself of being oversensitive. Allow yourself to feel anything that you are feeling – do not block your feelings. Do not brush your feelings under a rug. Denial is not healthy, and it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Intuition is a great tool. When something feels wrong, it typically is wrong. So, when you feel a sense of hurt, shock, abandonment, or frustration over someone’s behavior, lack of empathy, or gaslighting, have some compassion for yourself.
Healing reality will set in once you allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, and you accept that the gaslighter’s behavior is wrong.
Talk to Others
One of the worst things that you can do is to not talk with others about your circumstances.
It can be difficult to step out and talk with others, especially if you are doubting yourself, and if you do not know who to trust. But, the longer you hold the issue that you are having inside, the longer it takes to heal, and the more difficult it becomes to sort it out – it simply becomes overwhelming.
Who can you talk to? A trusted friend, a mental health professional, or a life coach. If you cannot afford to hire a relationship life coach, consider hiring one that is still in training. Coaches who are in training are often looking for clients, and are willing to coach pro-bono or at a deep discount.
Join a local or online support group. Look for groups that keep your identity private and anonymous.
You might consider Meetup.com. Most groups meet once a month and many meet in private and safe areas. Check out this page for Emotional Abuse groups on Meetup.com (and then, narrow your search down to groups in your local community).
Action Step - Prayer Time for Women: I want you to see the truth - how God sees you! I want you to continue to pray if you are in an abusive situation. Abuse is never okay. Psalms 120-134 touched my heart. They were sung by people as they traveled to the temples for annual feasts. Each psalm points to a step along the journey in a distant land in hostile surroundings. (If you are in the midst of manipulative gaslighting by a narcissist, you are also in a hostile situation.) Here are a couple of the psalms that particularly spoke out to me: Psalm 120:7 I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war. Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Heavenly Father, These psalms lifted my heart. They spoke to me as if my name were written on them. I am for peace, but the one that troubles me is not. As I decipher his words, the words that sting my heart, please help me to have the wisdom that I need to keep my feet on the path that you have designed for me. Help me to be the one that you created me to be - not one that desires to fulfill an evil role. My help comes from you, and you alone. Even when the help comes from the mouth of man, it is still help carried through a message from you. I am grateful for this! In Jesus' Name, Amen (If you refer to yourself as being Christian, and even if you do not, I hope you find "Prayer Time for Women" helpful.)
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