This article is a follow-on from my previous article which explored gaslighting and the impact it can have in a relationship. Since that article, a lot in my personal life has changed and it inspired me to look into the idea of whether a gaslighter can unlearn their traits. I stumbled across an article exploring unlearning self-gaslighting traits and once I looked into it, I found the lessons it tries to teach self-gaslighters in order to unlearn their behaviours can be used on other types of gaslighters- in this case, relationship and romantic gaslighters. From my own experience, I know a gaslighter can change, typically they learnt their behaviours from previous relationships, so it only makes sense that these can be unconditioned but I wanted proof. Alas, this article was born.
Recognize the pattern or behaviour
The first step is recognizing behaviours or patterns that are traits of gaslighting. This can be difficult to do by yourself (if you are in the position of gaslighter) so the best way to discover those patterns is to speak to the people you have hurt in the past. Ask them what made them upset and what things that you directly said or did caused that emotion, this conversation of course can be extremely hard to have – I should know, I’ve had several with a partner- however, it is the best way to see your actions directly from the source.
You cannot change on your own
No matter how strong and motivated you are, you must have someone or a group of people to depend on and to, basically call you out on your BS sometimes, to allow yourself to change for the better. We do not see the signs on our own (that goes for both parties) so having an outsider’s perspective can be extremely useful and can speed up the first step. However, it is best to make sure these friends or supporters have your best interest at heart. Sometimes, especially in ‘lad culture’, the so-called supporters do more harm than anything by making jokes of the situation which can lead to confusion. The gaslighter might then believe his or her actions are valid and rather a joke of the party, making them want to continue this on-going joke.
Change your vocabulary
One thing can gaslighters are unaware that they do is using language which sparks a desired emotion, this emotion usually upsetting the other individual. The simplest tip for this recovery step is think before you speak. Ask yourself several questions- Will this hurt my partner? Would I like being spoken to like that? Am I misleading them? Am I saying things that I know will affect them or start an argument? From my own experiment, my partner now thinks extremely carefully about the language he uses, he makes sure that he thinks before making jokes that seem light-hearted to him. He is able to read my moods better too, knowing when he can joke with me and when to be serious, when to take a different approach in the conversation matter or just how to act around me in general. This did not happen overnight I assure you! It took a lot of open conversations between one another, a lot of tears and hard work.
Learn when a issue is a real issue
Gaslighters will victimize themselves by usually over-dramatising small events to a much larger scale. Instead of fueling small issues into larger ones, take a moment to breathe. Think, is this really worth bringing up or am I just trying to get attention? Sometimes, you have to admit that you are fighting a battle which really does not need to happen. Of course, when an issue needs to be discussed then bring it up, do not be afraid to step on anyone’s toes because that will not solve anything! Open communication is the biggest step to recovering from gaslighting and from being the gaslighter.
People forget small details and that’s ok
One issue I have is my memory is terrible because of my dyslexia, instead of remembering either 5 + or – 2 pieces of short term memories, I can only remember 3 or 4. This caused issues in my previous relationship as I felt as if I was always on the naughty step for forgetting small details. This is a huge part of gaslighting- being made to feel bad for forgetting things- and it is something gaslighters who wish to change need to understand. Forgetting is normal! Try to not criticise someone harshly for forgetting things, people are busy and we are constantly having new images refreshed in our memory, meaning some things get thrown out! Instead of getting mad, just remind the person of the fact they forgot and move on, do not dwell on it or allow it to manifest into a bigger problem.
Accept that you may have a bad rep
One thing gaslighters must remember is that their ex-partners may have ‘bad-mouthed’ them and therefore, your friends or associates may see you in a bad light. You have to accept that what you did was wrong and that it happened, but that you are moving forward to be a better person. People may not believe you at first, people may judge you if you start a new or old flame, however, all you can do is prove them wrong! Be the person they do not think you are and show them that you had a blip in your life, like we all do, but that it will never happen again. People will slowly believe you and when they see it with their own eyes, word will spread.
Make amends with the person/people you hurt
This can be one of the hardest steps, however in my opinion, it is the most important. Making amends allows you to complete several of the previous steps but it is mostly for the victim and yourself to get closure, to move forward and to prove that you are doing better. My partner worked for weeks breaking down barriers, building trust through very intense conversations about our feelings and previous relationship. From there he proved to me what he had done to better himself and he continues to prove that daily. I was hesitant to let him in at first, but I was given the closure I needed to recover from the gaslighting and I was also able to build a new relationship with him. If it is a non-romantic relationship then still have those intense talks, still make the effort to right your wrongs.
It is possible to change the person that you have become. As I said before, if you can learn the behaviours, you can unlearn them and uncondition yourself; it just takes time, effort and a support group. Much like the victim, you are not defined by this experience and should not be shunned for it. You can right your wrongs.