When we take on the journey of recovery together, I take care and time to educate the individual as to what was happening to them as their story unfolds. I am always meet with an array of responses, from shock, disbelief, profound sadness, guilt, shame, anger, fear, reflection, loneliness and an array of physical symptoms (panic attacks, flashbacks, anxious negative thoughts, fatigue, eating disorders, dissociation, abreaction, etc.), but they also express relief at finally knowing what had been going on in the relationship, and the amount of “losses” they were dealing with.
I think many of the stages are very similar to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief, which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But still, I find that the individual holds the key to even more strategies for guarding the various levels of defense that I have mentioned here.
I am always amazed at how surprisingly resilient these victims are. All our strategies for surviving are incredibly intelligent, and together (the client and I) welcome each and everyone as a teacher for our learning and understanding. When this happens, it allows for all the fragmented parts of the soul to return home where they become like special guests at a glorious Banquet, one unifying whole sitting at the Table of Recovery.
When a therapist experiences this work they will truly appreciate and understand the deep suffering these victims have gone through daily. The fact that these clients have survived the torturous effects of the disorganized narcissistic personality disorder is in itself a miracle and a testament to the human spirit.
Robin Stern names some of the warning signs of the effects of Gaslighting, I am merely expanding on some of these below:
What are the warning signs of Gaslighting?
Because a victim has had their confidence eroded by the constant gaslighting, they live in fear of doing the wrong thing and making their situation even more dangerous for themselves. They invariably find themselves asking “what if”, and always trying to second guess themselves. This often affects how they problem-solve and make decisions in their life.
2. Asking “Am I too sensitive?”:
Projection and blame are the hallmarks of gaslighting, and the victim becomes hyper-sensitive to the constant humiliation of their abuser. They hear countless times that they are “too sensitive”, that they soon begin to believe the lies. As a result, they look for approval before doing anything, fearful that they will make more mistakes that will end in more humiliation. This form of gaslighting makes the victim doubt everything about themselves, so they constantly ask, “Am I being too sensitive”.
Living with the narcissistic Dr. Jekyll and Mr/s Hyde, the victim finds themselves always apologizing for “never doing things right”, they even apologize for their very existence; it is a way of avoiding more conflict with their aggressor. An apology is not just something the victim does to be polite; it is a powerful strategy for staying safe while in the war zone, and a means to disarm the anger of the gaslighter. Most importantly, the power of apology is that it can take the shame off the narcissist and redirect it towards the victim, therefore avoiding some of the narcissist’s rage.
4. Lack of joy and happiness in life (melancholy):
If one lives under the constant tyranny of the gaslighting narcissist, they can expect extremes of lethal hostility. Many victims go through physical and mental torture that can cause them to suffer a personality change, leaving them feeling confused, lonely, frightened, and unhappy. Often they continue to carry this melancholy even after they escape from the abuser.
5. Withholding information from others:
Victims experience great shame about their situation; they get tired of trying to cover up their abuse as they go along. When well-meaning friends and family members tell them they are being abused, they avoid the subject, and soon they learn to withhold giving more information in order to avoid further conflict.