“Gaslighting by parents can extend way into adulthood, but it may have particularly harmed you during your childhood. Children need to learn to trust themselves, and when they’re taught that what they see, hear, or feel isn’t real, that can lead to a lifetime of self-doubt.” ~Suzannah Weiss
Some of us grew up in families where our feelings and what we were experiencing were denied or pushed aside, what some people call “gaslighting.”
What is that? When someone—often our caregivers/parents—sows seeds of doubt in our minds that make us question our own sense of personal truth and reality.
They did a good job of convincing us that what we saw, we didn’t see; how we felt, we didn’t feel; and what we wanted, we didn’t want.
This left us feeling very confused about what was true, and as we grew up, we had a hard time trusting ourselves. We searched and searched for someone “out there” to give us answers on how to be and what was right for us.
We didn’t feel comfortable making decisions, and many of us became co-dependent, anxious, and sometimes avoidant. Some of us disassociated because the stress we experienced from denying our truth and the emotional abuse that was happening was very challenging.
If you’re getting uncomfortable, imagine what that’s like for a little soul.
This was what I grew up in. Constant shame and blame for how I was being, what I was saying, and how I was experiencing things.
As a child I had an issue with getting dizzy. It really scared me and I experienced a lot of panic internally. My dad told me that I was just imagining it and to “get over it.” I didn’t know how to soothe myself except for eating, and I started to believe that there was something wrong with me.
Around age five I remember crying really hard, pretty much throwing a tantrum when my dad made me go up to the puppets who scared me, and he filmed me and screamed at me to stay there.
No one ever asked me, “Hey Deb, what do you want?” It was more like “This is what you’re going to do, think, and feel” and if you don’t, you won’t “get the reward.”
I always wanted to be with my parents; I felt scared and alone without them. I was very clingy, and my mom would tell me to go outside and play and shamed me for wanting to always be with Mommy and Daddy.
“If you don’t do anything right, don’t do it at all.” This was the hidden and not so hidden message in our family system. The problem with that was no matter what I said or did, it wasn’t right in my family’s eyes; it was wrong, stupid, or I got punished for it.
Many people, especially my dad, teased me for being fat, eating all the time, and dressing like a boy. I didn’t want to wear a dress and take ballet; I wanted to play sports and ride my skateboard.
I didn’t have any say in what was right for me, everything was chosen for me according to “the family rules.”
There was a lot of yelling and the silent treatment, a mixed bag of emotional experiences. If I spilled milk or broke something, they would scream at and sometimes punish me, as if I did it purposely.
I didn’t really know how to make sense of what was happening, especially people getting angry with me whenever I asked for anything and/or shared how I was feeling, and this created a lot of anxiety.
Eventually I disassociated through self-harm, going numb and using substances like food and sleeping pills and compulsively exercising.
Some may say coping in this way was a bad thing, I say it saved me. It gave me a way to escape from the stress I was experiencing.
I had a hard time concentrating in school because my nervous system was overactive. The teachers and my parents called me stupid; in actuality, I was a pretty damn smart little kid. That’s how I found coping mechanisms to protect myself and keep myself safe.
Self-love and self-honoring were so far from my comprehension that, in order to learn them, I had to first allow myself to feel whatever I was feeling and see the ways I was denying myself, which wasn’t easy. It went against what I learned in order to feel safe and loved by my family.
My healing journey was to stop gaslighting myself, allowing however I was feeling and experiencing to be okay. You see, the way people treat us when we’re little often becomes the way treat ourselves as adults.
I can’t change what happened to me, but I can notice how I treat myself today. When I catch myself denying my personal reality, thinking “I shouldn’t be feeling that way, wanting what I want, or needing what I need” I take a deep breath and sit with it.
I recently fell in love with someone. I got really excited about the feelings I was having because I haven’t had them for a long time. I finally took a risk and asked her out, but the feelings weren’t mutual, and I instantly felt rejected.
At first, I judged myself and told myself I shouldn’t feel for her if the feelings aren’t reciprocated; I was trying to protect myself from the hurt. But what hurt most wasn’t her rejecting me; it was my judgment about why she rejected me.
As I went deeper, it triggered a childhood wound of needing to reject/abandon myself to get love and acceptance from someone else. That part of me needed my acceptance and loving. I also needed to remind myself that my feelings weren’t “wrong.” No feelings are wrong.
The whole “good/bad/right/wrong” man-made song is why we have a hard time honoring how we truly are inside. This is where the healing takes place; we need to see the misunderstandings that lead us to believe what we believe, and this is not done with our conscious thinking.
Our conscious thinking is a story maker, always weaving stories about what things mean based on our beliefs about ourselves and the world. It’s a protector, it’s part of our conditioning; how we’re truly feeling is most often in our “unconscious memory.” Why? At the time we experienced these things we didn’t have the emotional maturity, so a part of our psyche tucked it away. But now, as adults, we can access our unconscious memory, starting with shadow work.
Shadow working is inner child healing. It’s the first step in healing and living authentically, and it is a process; the key is to let go of judging ourselves for how we’re being and be more compassionate and loving.
To get started with shadow work, I would suggest noticing when you’re “triggered” by someone else. Instead of pointing the finger, take a deep breath and allow yourself to feel however you’re feeling.
Most often, the people who trigger us reflect back to us what we’re carrying internally, how we treat ourselves and/or what’s asking for love and healing. For example, if someone ignores us, that can trigger an abandonment wound and our unlovability. The shadow would be to notice how we’re abandoning ourselves.
If you’re in a place to write, at the top of the page start with “I’m upset because…” Keep writing as long as you need to and then read what you wrote. You’ll notice “why” you’re really upset as long as you’re not “blaming” the other person and you stay connected to how you’re feeling.
If you don’t have the option to write, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What am I believing is true about myself and/or this situation?” Ask yourself why you feel this way. Most often it will take you back to the original cause. However, we do have a protector part that may keep us from seeing what’s really going on internally; this part does it’s best to keep us “safe” and it does this by keeping us from feeling our deep hurt and pain.
This is where compassion is really important and being willing to see honestly, because that’s not so easy. Most often what comes forth is the idea of not being good enough, not feeling worthy, and/or not feeling lovable.
Realizing those are misunderstandings we bought into because of what happened to us is where the true healing takes place. This is where we do inner child healing, this is the root cause of what we’re experiencing, this is where we give that part of ourselves unconditional acceptance, compassion, love, and a true understanding
What’s important is to get our minds and bodies in alignment with our truth: we’re beautiful, valuable, worthy, and lovable all the way through. This shifts how our energy is flowing in our body; when our energy pattern shifts internally, our views of ourselves, others, and our reality changes to match our energy.
About Debra Mittler
Debra Mittler is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch people’s hearts and souls. She enjoys assisting others in loving and accepting themselves unconditionally, feeling at peace in their body, and living authentically. Debra is a leading authority in overcoming obstacles and supports her clients by holding a space of unconditional love and offering encouragement, effective tools, and valuable insights allowing them to experience and listen to their own inner wisdom.