Patrick Hamilton clearly was onto something a few generations ago.
In his 1938 play called “Gas Light,” a husband tries to convince his wife that she is insane. He does so by altering small elements of her surroundings and insisting that his wife is only imagining these changes.
In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has garnered a lot of attention—to the point where even the National Domestic Violence Hotline has included a description about it on its blog. “Gaslighting” describes the experience of having one’s own reality manipulated by another, something that many people can relate to.
Resources about this phenomenon help make their readers aware of what might really be going on in a relationship. For instance, if the wife in the play had come across a newspaper article describing this dynamic, it may have allowed her to realize that her perception was accurate all along. And what a relief that could be!
While insight into the dynamics of gaslighting alone can be a great asset, awareness also has its limits. Often, we need more than simple awareness to create a change in any area of our lives—we need the right tools.
Helpful tools for moving beyond gaslighting.
Like many issues, the antidote to gaslighting has an external and an internal component.
On the external level, the most obvious solution is to limit contact with people prone to gaslighting as much as possible. Manipulative behaviors tend to lose their strength as you gain more distance and less frequent exposure to them. This also provides the space and safety to explore how one really feels and get back to one’s own equilibrium.
On the internal level, it is necessary to get back to a place of self-trust. One of the main things gaslighting does is make people doubt their own experiences. Even in healthy relationships, fully trusting one’s own experiences can be challenging at times. That is because, for all the talk about individualism, humans have been communal beings throughout most of our history—depending on others for our very survival. And as communal beings, there is a way in which we frame our reality by considering how those around us are acting and how they are perceiving the world.
When people get manipulated or otherwise hurt in relationships, the damage caused needs to be repaired where it originated—in relationships. As spiritual teacher Sandra Glickman says: “Wounds created in relationship, as so many of our deepest wounds are, are most fully healed in, and by, relationship.”
One extremely helpful approach for healing relationship wounds and getting to a place where one trusts one’s own experience is a little-known spiritual practice called greenlighting. This was developed in the 1990s by a spiritual school called “Waking Down in Mutuality” (now also known as “Trillium Awakening”).
Greenlighting could be described as a form of profound compassion and radical acceptance for one’s inner experiences, or the experiences of another person. As such, it differs radically from the idea of “fixing” oneself or somebody else—thinking that something needs to be “fixed” assumes that it is broken.
At the same time, greenlighting is very different from passive complacency. As a term borrowed from the film industry, it refers to the stage where a project is given the permission to go ahead, which allows it to move out of the development stage. That a project receives the “green light” doesn’t mean that it’s already a polished and finished movie that can be shown on the screen.
Greenlighting involves treating your experience of life like that movie project—something that is simultaneously okay just as it is, while also being in flux and having the potential for further development. It is a way of constantly saying, “Yes!” to all of whom one is, to one’s entire past, current, and emerging being. In short, it is the exact opposite of gaslighting.
As such, greenlighting is the perfect antidote for healing it.
There are two ways in which we can experience greenlighting: by another person or by ourselves. Typically, we first need to receive this type of holding and support from somebody else before we can more deeply give it to ourselves. This might require finding the right person(s) to receive greenlighting from.
Of course, not only those who have been gaslighted can benefit from greenlighting. People who receive greenlighting over time typically become more compassionate with themselves and develop deeper self-trust. Experiencing this type of support and holding can help all of us become more of ourselves, and discover what is not our truth.
Intriguingly, other people can be an invaluable asset in enabling us to stand in our own truth—just as long as they are the right people!
If you liked this article, I also invite you to check out my complimentary short meditation on clarity for complicated relationships here.
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Image: Flickr/Per Gosche
Editor: Travis May