Content Warning: Discussion of Psychological Abuse, gaslighting, terms such as crazy

With November being Family Violence Prevention month, I want to talk about a form of emotional abuse that is perhaps more insidious than physical violence: gaslighting. As a specific form of emotional manipulation, gaslighting causes one to call in to question one’s own sanity. A partner purposefully (or sometimes non purposefully, through psychological defense mechanisms) attempts to exert control on the other by making them psychologically unstable.

This makes the gaslit partner have to rely on the other while they contemplate their sanity. Gaslighting makes you feel as though you are going crazy and, even deeper, like you’ve lost yourself. You begin to doubt everything that makes up who you are – your beliefs, your values, your worth, your reality. And when that happens, what are you left with? In some ways, you feel like an empty shell of your former self.

“He told me that I was the reason he was depressed and angry all of the time. He said that to me whenever I got angry about something he had done, or a poor choice he had made for the family. And it’s not like I acted bad when I was angry, I just wanted to talk it out.  It got to the point where I couldn’t let myself show my anger anymore, because somewhere along the line I started to believe that my anger was the problem, and not his behavior that led up to that. It’s actually funny to think that I believed my angry reaction was the problem, and not the fact that he stayed out all night with friends and got fired from work. But this whole thing had me going to different psychologists and counsellors for years, trying to get help for my “anger management” issue. Everything that went on in the relationship, we both started to blame on my anger. It took a long time for me to figure out that I wasn’t the problem”.

If you find yourself in this situation, the first step is to recognize that you are gaslit, and how drained you have become. This can be extremely difficult, since one of the very side effects is believing you are the source of the problem. However, some clear signs you are being gaslit in a close relationship are:

  • constantly second-guessing yourself and your choices,
  • having trouble making decisions,
  • frequently asking yourself, “Am I too sensitive?,” and
  • making excuses for a partner’s behaviors to family or friends.

The next step is to ensure your safety in whatever way you can. If you are physically safe, the next steps in this process involves discovering yourself again, filling your “empty shell” once more. Here are small ways that can begin the process of rediscovering yourself:

Write down what you value. What do you value? Family? Spirituality? Respect? Write down your top ten and rank them from most valued to least. Then, think about ways you use these values in your life with others.

Write/type a paragraph on all the roles that you have. Ask yourself “who am I to others?” Perhaps you are a parent, aunt, cousin, friend, grandfather, teacher, etc. List them.

Carve out time to reflect on your own unique qualities. What makes you stand out from the others? Is it a quirky personality? A sarcastic sense of humor? Reflect on these positive qualities

Explore your character traits. The VIA character strengths can help you figure out your top character traits. This positive psychology tool provides you with a list of your top character strengths. Read the list and reflect on the traits. Do they accurately capture you?

Write a list of your qualities, beliefs, and values that guide how you treat others. Ask yourself based on your values, roles, qualities, and character strengths, which of these guides how you treat other human beings?  Then reflect on if you are being treated in the way that is important to you.

Validate yourself. Emotions are normal human experiences. The brain creates these emotions for good reasons – we can’t control our initial emotional reaction. (We can, however, start to control the way we behave when we feel emotions intensely). It is important to remind yourself that all of your emotions are okay to feel.

Check in mindfully on a daily basis.

Take time out of your day to do a brief mindful exercise.

S – Stop

T – Take a moment and take a breath

O – Observe what is happening in each of your 5 senses. What are you seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting? Observe what is happening internally. Non-judgmentally ask yourself “What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What body sensations am I experiencing?” Just notice these things and move on.

P – Proceed

Take it from a survivor, it can take time to understand that you are not the problem. Like fuel to a flame, gaslighting can leave you feeling as though you’ve exploded into pieces of your former self. It’s time to collect those pieces and bring them back into wholeness once more.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Writing can take on many forms and do many things for people. It can be a fascinating or soothing hobby, a career, a passion, a job. But writing can have a more important role. Writing can be a coping strategy that can assist in stress relief, can increase feelings of positivity, can help manage anxiety, and can help to process trauma. Writing can be a form of therapy. Writing may do this in the following ways:

  1. It can help you honor yourself and your life story.

Vocalizing your story can be hard. Putting words to your pain can be excruciating. Putting your inner words and dialogue onto paper can be an effective alternative to speaking your story out loud. Moreover, it can provide emotional release and can validate your experience.

  1. It provides a way to share your story with others.

Some stories are traumatic. Some stories are hopeful. Some stories are either, or and both.  Sharing your story for others to read can provide normalization to others – that is, it can let others know that other people share similar pain. This, in turn, can provide positive benefits for the writer. Writing can provide a loud voice in order to share experiences.

  1. Writing can let unconscious material become conscious.

Writing out a traumatic event can help process trauma with the help of a professional therapist. Often we cope with stressful or traumatic things by compartmentalizing. It is as if our brain contains different compartments in which we can put different memories and emotions in an attempt to store them away for later.  Some memories and emotions can end up in our unconscious. Writing whatever flows out of your mind, called free association, is a way to tap into what may be stored within the unconscious mind.

  1. Writing has a calming effect on the brain.

Writing, particularly by hand, stimulates the same areas of the brain that meditation does. It engages the brain’s motor areas and memory pathways, and forces the mind to slow down while the hand catches up. This has the potential to allow more space for learning and memory integration.

Moreover, writing in cursive has further benefits. Handwriting is rhythmic and provides sensory soothing to the brain, which can decrease a negative emotional experience. It integrates sensation, movement control, cognition, and causes a calming slow-down effect.

  1. Writing can inspire hope.

Writing your future story can instill hope, create soothing imagery within your mind, and produce calm. It can also help you to set goals and perhaps start to plan a way to work towards the goals.

  1. It can help heal pain from relationships.

Writing apology and forgiveness letters can help right wrongs. Further, penning undelivered letters to those who have hurt us can assist with healing the hurt without ever having to make contact with that person.

There are many ways that you can write. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Get a notebook and start a journal.
  • Create a blog and type out your story.
  • Write letters to your future or past self.

Remember, you are the author of your life-book. Every day can be a blank page on which to record, explore, hope, uplift, remember, and design. Writing regularly can restore, rebuild, and heal.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan – new staff Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you’ve likely heard all of the mainstream advice – eat well, exercise, talk to a counselor, take medication, get lots of sunlight. I have found, though, that there are little tricks that can bolster you up if you are finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning due to your depression. Please note that this is anecdotal advice from my personal experience and is, in no way, a replacement for medical advice.

50c195121cf255765cd19f6d2d459796Talk the talk.

A long time ago I read an article exploring why evangelical Christians generally have better mental health than their secular counterparts, and it turns out that part of the reason has less to do with religion and more to do with how they talk. “I’m so blessed.” “I’m so loved.” “Look at the gifts all around me.” It’s an appreciative, grateful, and generally positive way of looking at the world.

And I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

So I do. I talk about how wonderful my life is. I am openly thankful for the things I have. I focus on how lovely people are. Whether or not God is included in those conversations is entirely up to you – but no matter your belief system (or lack thereof), you can start saying (out loud) how great your life is and how appreciative you are of it. It makes a huge difference and is loosely related to psychological techniques including Behavioural Conditioning and the interruption of Automatic Negative Thoughts.

il_fullxfull.738763364_69vkSurround yourself with lovely reminders.

When I’m having a rough morning, I try to clothe myself in gifts – a dress my mom gave me, a scarf from my sister-in-law, or a shirt from my partner. I wrap myself in these things and I feel all the love that has been shown to me, and I suddenly become much stronger, and much more outward looking. Plus – I look fly.

runawayRun.

This is one of the hardest, but ultimately (to me) one of the most important ways to stay happy. And by “run,” I don’t necessarily mean “Strap on your shoes and hit the treadmill” (although that helps too!).

I mean, every time I start to feel those monsters creeping up – lethargy, apathy, lack of appetite – I run: I go shopping. I go to the movies. I go to the mailbox. I go over to a friend’s place. Every opportunity I have to get out of the house, I take: Yes, I’ll help you move. Yes, I’ll go to the park with you. Do you need help painting your house? Planting a garden? Organizing your sock drawer? I’m available to volunteer. I’m available to work. I run and I keep running until I can happily collapse, safe in the knowledge that, at least for that day, the monsters couldn’t get a grip on me.

hijab-fashion-2014-4Dress up

If you’re like me, you have no real reason to get dolled up, and about a million reasons – including sweaty gym sessions and an inordinate love of the snooze button – not to. But getting dressed up can be surprisingly helpful.

Just like slipping into pyjama pants after work can be instantly relaxing, putting on dress clothes and doing your hair can immediately make you feel more productive. After getting dolled up, I suddenly feel weird sitting in bed. I feel the need to accomplish things. I look great; I feel great; and I itch to get things done. It’s a good combination.

So yeah, you might mess up your makeup the instant you hit the gym, and yeah, you might need to do more laundry as you systematically mudify all your nice clothes, but if it means you feel better, then it’s worth it.

tumblr_lvwdafR7351r27f9oo1_500.pngImprove your space

I used to think I didn’t care about how my place looked. And maybe if you’re reading this, you think the same about yourself. But space can be tricky – for myself, as a perpetual renter, grad student, and generally cluttered human being, I didn’t get attached to spaces and didn’t see the point in investing time and effort into the apartments I was only staying in for 8 months. But speaking from recent experience – it’s worth the time. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the marginal cost. The moment everything is put away, sparkly clean, and looking fabulous, I can instantly feel the clouds lift from my brain. A clean sense of space leads to less cluttered, more thoughtful behaviour in other areas of my life. I clean up my workspace (my computer) by closing my millions of useless tabs. I manage to maintain only one glass of water rather than grabbing a new one every time I get up. I update my phone. It’s remarkable, really.

So break out the Pinterest inspiration board, go buy a mop, and get to work!