Ticket to the Gaslight Circus (Part 2)

I have quite the hodgepodge of tattoos: violin f-holes on each forearm, a fox sleeping in grapes on my calf, a half finished raven coverup on my right bicep, a baby blue elephant on the inside of my right bicep, a snake in a lotus on my back, and a dragon spilling a purse full of coins on my left bicep.

My most recent tattoo is on my wrist. In a simple type face it, reads “SOLUM VERBIS,” Latin for “only words.”

I’m not going to get all mushy with double meanings and all that jazz, because I feel like that is pretty self explanatory, but I want to begin part 2 with the reminder that when it comes to the stories of our pasts, how we tell that story is much more important than the actual string of events. The great storytellers across history are not masters because they know how to string together good beats of a narrative. They are masters because they know how to transcend what is ostensibly a mere timeline and turn it into a tactile experience. Storytellers are alchemists that make fiction feel so familiar that it is easier to suspend disbelief than actually pick apart the reality they have built.

Emotional abusers do this with our stories. They simultaneously construct a false narrative for us and tell us how to feel about it. Their efforts are usually so direct and convoluted that we just assume that no one would go through that much trouble just to manipulate us. They keep us trapped in the gaslight circus not through force but through misdirection and distraction.

A bird will never feel like it is caged if it never hits the bars.

They aren’t perfect though, and eventually they’ll slip up. The big-top tent collapses on top of us. The facade burns away, and we are jolted into a reality without our abuser. It is a scary moment. It’s terrifying honestly, and some people would rather remain living the fantasy of the gaslight circus than admit that they have been bamboozled the entire time.

I’m not devaluing anyone’s choices, and I’m definitely guilty of willingly keeping up blinders when others tried to warn me of my own abuse. I do want to offer the sentiment that you are better off living autonomously, even if the severance with your abuser seems like it will destroy you. It did for me! I was right too! It completely wrecked my world for months. I gave myself time to be miserable, and then I forced myself to stand up and get moving again.Yeah, I fell down a lot. A lot, but I got back up every time, dammit!

The hardest thing to shake was the gaslight. Still, I am suspicious of peoples’ ulterior motives. Gaslight is just so hard to see if you guard isn’t constantly up. It can be exhausting, but damn, being able to spot a liar quickly is a skill I wish I had four years ago. I could have saved myself a lot of headache, and while I am not an expert, I do want to give you some tips and tricks for combating gaslight!

  • Accept that your feelings are valid. Everything you feel is real, even if those feelings aren’t particularly helpful. No one gets to tell you that your personal, subjective experience is wrong.
  • Understand that feelings are influenced by thought processes. Editing your story for yourself is the most effective way to take control of your mind. No one gets to feel for you.
  • Learn to say “no.” Yeah, you can just disagree with someone. If someone can only respect you when you are giving them something they want, they aren’t worth your time
  • Trust your instincts instead of someone else’s memory. Gaslighters love to pull the “I specifically remember xyz” card. If it smells like a fish, it probably is.
  • Remember that someone else’s feelings don’t have to be your own. Just because someone you care about is miserable, it doesn’t mean you also have to be miserable.
  • Learn what projection looks like. I’ll talk about projecting in the future, but understanding that people will often use others as a scapegoat for their own shame is a valuable thing to come to terms with.
  • Be patient with yourself. Being manipulated doesn’t mean you are stupid! It means that someone else is an asshole that needs to control others in order to feel secure.
  • Set healthy boundaries. This one is really difficult because it is a case-by-case kind of deal, and your boundaries for each person you know will likely vary wildly. Find what you are and are not comfortable with broaching with your friends, family, and acquaintances and hold to those standards.
  • Stop apologizing for the behavior and actions of other people.
  • Find ways to love yourself. Gaslighters love to pervert the best parts of you into something seemingly monstrous.
  • Learn Grey Rocking Techniques to diffuse and minimize abusive opportunities.
  • Find a network of support and listen to their advice.
  • If needed, seek professional help. Sometimes the web of manipulation is too intricately knotted inside our identity that it is nearly impossible to start unraveling. At that point, a therapist or counselor may be your best bet to conquering the manipulation.
  • Speak your mind honestly and apologetically. Don’t be an asshole, but also don’t be afraid to stand in your truth unflinchingly.
  • If you feel like your are being taken advantage of, ask your self why your manipulator would say or do what they are saying or doing. You will find that their actions do not match their words and that they are often living by double standards.
  • Don’t settle if it feels like you are constantly on the losing side. Not everything is your fault, especially not for someone else’s short comings.
  • Learn when to walk away. Ideally, you will get to a point where you know when to walk away before the gaslighting has even begun. It’s hard. It’s tricky and sometimes it will feel like a defeat, but surviving another day as an emotionally fulfilled person is NEVER a defeat.

I could probably add to this list all day, but this post is already long overdue due to the holiday.

The ringleader of the gaslight circus isn’t difficult to find, as the spotlight is normally on them. The hard part is maneuvering through the fog of deception once they begin to lay out their smoke screen. With enough exposure to emotional abuse and gaslight, people sacrifice their entire reality just to keep their abuser happy. It’s heart breaking to watch, especially because a lot of the time victims are too demoralized to leave even when the truth has been laid bare.

The best way to combat gaslight and other similar forms of manipulation is to avoid it all together. It’s like a slow acting, invisible poison. With enough prolonged exposure, anyone can fall victim to its toxic fumes. That is why developing a healthy self image and sense of resolve is so crucial to living a fulfilled life as a dynamic, lively adult. The truth is, there are just fucking assholes out there that are going to try to tear you down ruthlessly, but that doesn’t mean that we have to just roll over and take it.

I really hope this little series helps, but I realize that there is so much nuance when it comes to abusive relationships. I completely understand that I am not going to be able to hit on every point that may be relevant to your situation, but that is why I have my contact page! Please, please, please feel free to contact me if you need advice, support, or maybe even just someone to listen.

I am so unbelievably grateful for those of you who have already chosen to correspond with me. I had been thinking about posting this series for a while, but I wasn’t quite sure if the timing was right. After hearing from a couple of you, though, I felt it necessary to finally get all this out. Thank you for the encouragement, and with each passing day, it seems like Ghosts like me are less and less transparent.

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