Have you ever felt the sting of a past experience jump out at you—and it triggered memories of abusive gaslighting, which led you to question, “Where did that come from? I thought I had buried all of that!” It happens to most, if not all of us, that have experienced gaslighting.
When these memories arise, we often wonder, “What can I do to make this go away?” There are steps that we can take, but it does not involve changing the gaslighter or hitting the delete button on the memory.
From the mouth of a non-brain specialist (me), I believe that we have no control over the elaborate encoding and storage process that takes place in our brain, but, I do believe that we can change the impact and guard the trajectory of specific memories (because memories are a product of a physical change within our brain).
“Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.” – Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, author of the book Switch on Your Brain.
Are boundaries a part of mental real estate? Yes! When we set boundaries, we change the “structure of (y)our brain through (y)our thinking.” We create a mindset of hope (a feeling of expectation and desire for certain thing(s) to happen) vs. allowing the undesirable memory to grow larger and to mentally beat us up. When we have no boundaries in place, we allow the past to become the present and the future, and we add to the unpleasant memory with the lies that we unconsciously accept (i.e., gaslighting—”You are crazy.” “You are too sensitive.” “You made this up.” “If it weren’t for you…I wouldn’t be like I am.”).
So, let’s go back to the first two paragraphs of this blog. Something triggered you to remember the narcissistic words said to you via gaslighting, and now you are wondering why. You thought you had buried “all of that.” You in-turn blame yourself for being sensitive (remember, you aren’t being sensitive…these memories have unconsciously been hard-wired into your brain), and you chastise yourself for remembering the episode(s) to begin with! Ugh! What do you do? Set a boundary.
The abuser/narcissistic person may or may not be in your life today, but by setting a boundary in place, you develop a mindset. You change your brain and subsequent memories which affects how you react when the memories pop back in. The boundary must be strategically set on realistic expectations, the foundation of: I am not the problem.
Let’s dig into the boundary I call I AM NOT THE PROBLEM: The narcissist typically blames you because they do not take responsibility for their own behavior. They blame you when they do not get what they want. They blame you because they lack empathy (and refuse to see the situation as it truthfully is). The narcissist attempts to gaslight you as a means to alter your reality and to gain control of you. But, you are not the problem!
When you gain the mindset of I AM NOT THE PROBLEM, you set a mental boundary that bolsters you from the abuse of gaslighting and any memories surrounding it. Your (long) mission statement is (and repeat after me), “Regardless of what I do, I cannot change (insert name of gaslighter). I accept this, and my role in life does NOT involve taking responsibility for the repair of (him/her). I am rooted in the truth that despite any emotionally abusive words, I am the owner of my values, my beliefs, and my thoughts. I trust my instincts. I trust myself. Nobody can, nor will, remove that TRUTH from me.“
So, the next time a gaslighting memory pops up, or, when you find yourself in a gaslighting situation, visualize and declare the boundary I am not the problem. 1) You are not over-sensitive. 2) You cannot change this person. To change, they must admit that change is needed, and they must accept professional help (and, by the way, therapy for Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically does not work). 3) Do not react. 4) Do not wonder why you cannot forget the gaslighting.
You cannot permanently bury your memories, but when they do make an appearance you can be the master alterer before your brain puts them back into storage.
Disclaimer: As a life coach, I do not “treat” mental or brain issues. I coach. I guide through a series of listening and asking questions. I help clients reach their goals—everyday life goals that people can achieve without therapy. Clients who need treatment for trauma, disorders, or any mental issues or illness, are referred to therapists and counselors.