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  • Writer's pictureLiz

Gaslighter....Denier....You're a Liar

“Gaslighter, Denier, you’ll do anything to get yourself farther;” That line keeps playing over and over in my head. The song is Gaslighter by The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks).

Admittedly the song lyrics don’t have much to do with specifics of this post but I think you’ll understand why I mention it soon enough. Plus, I like the song. Enjoy.

I was taken aback by the response I received to my last post:

“I have brain damage, what’s your excuse?”

Painfully shocked.

364 people read the post and over 200 people (you read that right), contacted me personally to share their stories of mistreatment since they had a TBI. That’s not much activity to a lot of bloggers but for me that was a huge response.

Over and over I read stories of TBI survivors being subjected to shame and gaslighting.

What the hell is going on??!!

What is wrong here? People get hit on the head and they are deserving of guilt trips and being told their experience is not real?!

I’m so fucking angry.

I’ve previously shared several experiences I’ve had. They were painful. But I tell you, reading how a woman who was a victim of domestic violence, be shamed because she went back to her abuser after her TBI… her doctor made me almost lose it.

The woman had a life altering head trauma. Clearly, her ability to manage her life choices have been impacted. How many domestic violence victims suffer TBIs? There’s no data on the specifics of this causal type of TBI because it simply isn’t thought of. No one asks the victim "how many times have you been hit in the head?". Could it be because domestic violence primarily impacts women and children? Ya’ll know how much women and children are valued in this world. Don’t get me started.

Gas lighting is defined as:

Gaslighting is colloquialism for a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is successful in having the target question their own reality, memory or perceptions.

For me, gaslighting is particularly abusive to a TBI survivor. We struggle with a slew of cognitive issues. One of course, is memory issues.

Now, when someone tells you did something, said something and you KNOW what happened (such as you wrote down what happened because you take notes constantly like so many of us do to get through the day)…….. and that person insists the opposite occurred……that’s abuse and it is gaslighting.

A TBI survivor with memory issues can struggle to get through each day’s basic tasks, handle work (if you can work), children, pets, remembering to eat, take meds.

I, for one, have note pads all over the place.

In the beginning of my injury I wrote everything down in my monthly day planner (still do) …..and I mean everything. It was the only way I could keep track of what I did or dealt with from one day to the next. It was the only way I could share what was happening to me with my doctors and therapists.

Note taking has been vital for me.

Now a gas-lighter enters the mix. Wham!! What a blow to one’s sense of reality! We have a freaking brain injury and now you’re trying to victimize us?

Gaslighting comes from many sources: narcissists who want to control you, domestic abusers, people who lie simply to get what they want, people who have to be right and need to convince you that you are wrong, people trying to win an argument ( I call them “history re-inventors”). Ultimately it's about control over another.

How do you know if you’re being gaslight?

According to Robin Stern, PhD, author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” signs that you are a victim of gaslighting include:

  • no longer feeling like the person you used to be

  • being more anxious and less confident than you used to be

  • often wondering if you’re being too sensitive

  • feeling like everything you do is wrong

  • always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong

  • apologizing often

  • having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is

  • often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)

  • making excuses for your partner, friend or family member’s behavior

  • avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your abuser.

  • feeling isolated from friends and family

  • finding it increasingly hard to make decisions

  • feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy

I certainly have felt some of these when people have tried to convince me I did something or said something that I didn’t do.

Having a brain injury has made me question myself countless times.

We’re vulnerable whether we want to be or not. We become reliant upon others to help us remember. When that need is turned on a TBI survivor, that is the ultimate violation of trust.

I'm going to something deeply personal with you.

Since my TBI I’ve experienced gaslighting at the hands of my husband.

Now, let me say this. He is not a bad person. In fact, he's a good, kind, caring person. He has struggled and suffered deeply with the loss of who I was, too. He has struggled with not being there when my accident happened - he has blamed himself, when being there would not have made a difference.

He has struggled with not being able to “fix it” for me. Our caregivers are survivors too.

When we would argue, in his pain and frustration he would tell me I said something or did something that I didn’t do. Now we all know that when we argue with a partner, someone can easily re-invent history or tweak events. That’s not what was happening. He was telling me things that never happened. I would question myself. I was terrified that I was losing my mind. I knew I hadn’t done what he stated I did. Later, I would find evidence that would support that part of my brain that knew the truth and challenge him with it. It really threatened our relationship. I hated him for what he was doing. He was supposed to be my safe place….and he wasn’t. The person who vowed to love and support me in sickness and in health, wasn't. Talk about feeling isolated and depressed.

It’s taken a lot of painful conversations and him getting into personal therapy as well as a TBI caregivers support group to shift things.

I’m five years in and he was just now taking HIS recovery seriously. At the time of the gaslighting events I was convinced he must blame me for getting injured and resent me.

Why else would he gaslight me?

I now believe it was his grief that drove his abusive behavior.

In the beginning, I didn’t know how to address what my husband was doing. After discussions with my two brain doctors, they pointed out to me what he was doing was a form a gaslighting. If I hadn’t shared my experience with them, I don’t know that I would have found a way to understand what was happening to me and begin to fight against it.

And I tell you, I fought. I was so damn angry. When my husband would try to gaslight me, I called him what he was in those moments - a gas-lighter. I demanded that he stop lying and trying to gaslight me. I stopped taking it.

I shared the response I received to my last post, with my neuropsychologist - one of the doctors who identified the behavior - and she surprised me. She’s been practicing for nearly 40 years. She said one of the common struggles she hears from her TBI patients is that they are being subjected to gaslighting. Even as I write this, I’m shaking my head in frustration. What can be done to stop this abuse?

What can be done?

Intolerance. Period. Zip. Na-da.

Do not be tolerant of gaslighting. Speak up. Demand it to stop.

If it’s a caregiver, demand that he/she/they see your doctors and hear it from them. Talk to your doctor(s) first so you will have the unconditional support you need to address it.

Demand he/she/they get into a TBI caregiver support group.

Not all gaslighting is driven by a sick mind. I do believe it can be brought on by a traumatic event. In my case, I think my husband could not accept that my TBI had really changed me. He had to hear similar stories from other caregivers to really start believing and accepting me where I am at. Then his behavior began changing.

If a gas-lighter is in your inner circle and you know he/she loves you and has changed since your TBI, be intolerant of the behavior, seek support and demand therapy.

If the gas-lighter is someone who is not within your inner circle, get rid of him or her.

Get that person out of your life. I mean it. A gas-lighter is seeking control and you have no power over him/her except to draw a strong boundary and no longer accept the abuse.

It’s called extreme self-care.

It’s called putting our recovery first.

TBI’s are a quiet epidemic and gas-lighting is it’s dark shadow. The only way change can happen is if we speak up about what is happening to us. You’re not imagining it. You don’t deserve abuse no matter how challenging you’ve been since your TBI.

I have this image in my mind where TBI survivors everywhere (that’s millions of us) are wearing t-shirts that say “ I have a brain injury and you don’t get to gaslight me”.

I wonder what kind of conversation starter that would be.

What if we be the saying on the t-shirt and say no to gas-lighters? Say no.

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