Born Under the Gaslight: Five Steps to Heal
Reject the lie, and start living in the truth.
14-year-old Olivia sits at the dinner table with her family, picking at her food. While the others talk in the background, she is absorbed in her own thoughts, trying to sort out in her head why her math teacher seems to hate her. “Why don’t teachers like me? I try so hard, but I must be doing something wrong that I don’t know about,” she worries for the six hundredth time.
“Olivia!” her father says suddenly, breaking through her reverie. “When your mother talks, you listen!” Startled and overwhelmed in the moment, tears come to Olivia’s eyes. “There you go again,” her mother says. “You don’t even bother to listen when I talk, and then you pull out the tears. I’ve never seen such a selfish kid.”
Olivia has been called selfish many times by her parents. They use this word often when they are not happy with something that she did or said or felt. In reality, Olivia is anything but selfish. She is by nature a kind and caring child. She worries a lot, and she feels things deeply. She keeps it all inside because she knows that there is not room for her worries and feelings and problems in her childhood home.
As Olivia goes forward with her life, grows into a young adult, and then gets married and has children herself, she will be troubled by a contradiction that she can’t resolve. Deep down, she knows that she’s not selfish. But she was labelled that at every turn by the people who are supposed to love and care for her most, her parents.
Last week’s blog, Were You Born Under the Gaslight?, was about the effects of growing up in a family that delivers messages that contradict each other, and/or contradict reality. In such a family you grow up walking on shaky ground, unable to trust yourself, your world or the people around you, and feeling deeply invalid and alone.
Is the Gaslight Effect a life sentence? How can a child like Olivia, once grown, get her feet back on the firm, solid surface of earth? How can she learn to trust herself? How can she realize that she’s not crazy?
There are seven billion people on the earth, and no two childhood experiences are the same. Everyone born under the gaslight takes with him his own unique set of challenges. But there are some particular steps that you can take to move yourself toward health, strength, self-confidence and happiness.
Five Steps To Move Forward From the Gaslight
- Tune Into Yourself: As a child, you were taught that you’re perceptions and feelings were wrong, but it’s not true. Now you will have to fully accept that you’re not crazy, and that your feelings and perceptions have value. Pay attention to yourself.
- Learn and Practice Meditation / Mindfulness: Mindfulness is helpful for many emotional issues. But here it offers an extra bonus. It will not only help you focus your attention inward to accomplish the first step, it will also help you to ground yourself. If you’re riddled by self-doubt, question the reliability of your own perceptions, or are out-of-touch with your own feelings, mindfulness can help. The mindfulness skill allows you to focus your attention inward whenever you need to check in with yourself.
- Accept That You’re Not Flawed: You’ve spent much of your life wondering about yourself. What’s wrong with me? Or maybe even, “Am I crazy?” Now it’s time for you to let go of that. Put the real problem in its actual place: your childhood.
- Start Trusting Yourself: No matter how strong your feelings are, they are there for a reason, and they make sense. Your perceptions are real, and they matter. Stop believing the gaslight, and trust yourself and your feelings instead.
- Reach Out For Help: It’s difficult to do this kind of recovery all alone. Did others made you think that reaching out is wrong? Guess what. They are wrong. Talk to a friend or family member who has a proven history of trustworthiness. Or find a trained mental health professional who you feel a click with. Then talk to that person, and let him or her be your guide as you walk away, farther and farther from the gaslight and toward your own inner truth and light.
Healing from the gaslight is a special challenge, mostly because it’s hard to trust yourself (and maybe others too). And trust is the foundation of everything.
Essentially, living under the gaslight is like living under a lie. The lie is, “The world doesn’t make sense.” The truth is, the world does make sense. And you make sense, if you only start to understand yourself.
So now, it’s your turn. It’s your time to shine. Do the work, and you’ll feel your feet meeting the ground. You’ll feel the warmth of your own emotions, and your own reality.
You’ll be living in the truth, not the lie.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable when it happens. To find out if you grew up with CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty.