Gaslighting

gaslighting
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You might have heard the term “gaslighting”, which is being talked about more and more on social media, in entertainment, and in therapeutic and support groups.  Recently, it was used by Rebecca Humphries to describe the behaviour of her ex boyfriend, Seann Walsh.

 

What is ‘gaslighting’?

Gaslighting, first and foremost, is a form of mental/emotional abuse.  Gaslighting is a type of manipulation used to cause someone to doubt their feelings, memories, and sanity.  The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband does a number of things, including dimming and brightening the gas lamps, and convinces his wife that her perceptions and memories are faulty and that she is going mad.

Gaslighting can take many forms in modern relationships.  It usually creeps in gradually, so it is hard to recognise it as it happens.  It usually occurs in parallel with other forms of abuse, and is covered by coercive control laws.  However, gaslighting isn’t confined to romantic relationships – it can happen in any relationship including family, work, and social organisations.

Gaslighting can involve claiming things happened that did not (or that things did not happen which did), saying the victim is imagining things, labelling the victim’s feelings as irrational/”crazy” or wrong, and false accusations.  Eventually, the victim is unable to trust their own feelings, memories and judgements – and has to defer to those of the abuser.  This gives the abuser a lot of power, and leaves the victim lost, confused, and unable to work out what has happened or why.

Anything which makes you question your reality can come under the banner of gaslighting.

 

What can you do if you think you are a victim of gaslighting?

  • First of all, remember that this is not your fault – but you can do something about it.  You have value as a person and don’t have to live like this.
  • Confide in a friend or relative, someone who won’t force you to do anything until you are ready and won’t interfere.  Stay safe.  If you don’t know anyone you trust enough, try one of the helplines on my Useful Links and Other Sources of Help page.  Talking to an organisation such as the National Centre for Domestic Violence can also be very useful if you choose to end the relationship.  They can offer advice on how to do it as safely as possible.
  • Try to build a support network that isn’t influenced by the gaslighter.  Gaslighting, as with other forms of abuse, flourishes when the victim is isolated.
  • Listen to your gut.  Learn to trust yourself again.  Do you feel on edge, confused, frightened?  Ask yourself whether or not you trust your perceptions, and if not, when and why did you start feeling that way?  Who convinced you not to trust yourself?  Is your confusion or fear centred around a person?  Ask yourself why they are ‘right’ and you are ‘wrong’ – look at the evidence.  Look for patterns of undermining and manipulative behaviour.
  • Seek a therapist who can help you untangle what is happening.  You may need help to see your feelings as valid, and learn to trust your own judgements again.  Find ways to rebuild your self-esteem – you are a valuable and worthy person!  A therapist or counsellor won’t tell you what you ‘have’ to do, but will help empower you to find your own way and live your own best life.
  • Decide whether you want to stay in the relationship with the person who is gaslighting you or not.  Seek ways to draw stronger boundaries and reduce their hold on you.  If you think you cannot continue to have any relationship with them at all, that is fine.  We don’t have the power to change other people, or ‘make’ them see their behaviour is wrong.  We can only control what we do.  You can’t “win” against a gaslighter, but you need not “lose” yourself.

 

Links:

Psychology Today: 7 Stages of Gaslighting In A Relationship

Relate: Gaslighting – what are the signs and how can it be addressed?

Psychology Today: 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting

Medium: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Gaslighting

Useful links and other sources of help

Contact me/office hours

There are also various directories online to help you find a counsellor if you are unable to see me, or I might be able to recommend someone.

The benefits and how to’s of crafting

crafting
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I saw a great online article the other day, “5 Key Ways Crafting Heals Us” which is part of the Crafting to Heal series on the PsychCentral blogs.  Handicrafts have always been popular, but it’s only in recent years that I have seen talk of how crafting can be helpful for mental health and wellbeing.  Knitting is even being taught in schools again, and has had benefits such as improving concentration and behaviour as well as promoting a useful skill.

The Vercillo blog linked above explains the various ways crafting is beneficial – not just in distracting and soothing the mind, but also in promoting self-belief and pride in accomplishments.  There is something in small, repetitive movements that quiets the mind – and of course having something tangible to show for it at the end can boost self-esteem!  Similarly, Carl Jung’s favourite way to work through confusion was by carefully arranging stones with his hands.

I’ve written recently about embracing creativity, but how do you start?

I’ve met many adults who admire knitted, crocheted or sewn items, who say they cannot knit/crochet/sew and wish they could.  Taking up a new craft can be a daunting prospect, so here’s my top tip – get a children’s starter set.  Honestly!  In my experience, adult kits can assume a level of knowledge and ability you might not feel ready for, and often steps are missing or taken for granted.  Children’s kits are more likely to be simple and offer more detailed descriptions, clearer diagrams and more complete instructions.

Once you’ve mastered that, and you might be surprised at how quickly you do, move on.  You need not spend a great deal of money – there are lots of free videos and tutorials online, and charity shops and small stationers often have good value materials.  Online discussion boards can also be a good and easy way to ask for help and share your successes.

Many libraries and community centres run crafting and art groups, often at very low or nominal cost.  Some children’s centres also offer groups for both children and their parents.  This would also give you an opportunity to meet new people and build your confidence.

The biggest hurdle is likely to be your self-belief.  You might have spent many years saying, “I’m no good” or “I’ll never learn that”.  Try adding the word “yet” and see how that could change.  I’ll leave you with a quotation by Ira Glass to think on:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Good luck!

Book: “The Happy Brain” by Dean Burnett

The Happy Brain book
The Happy Brain

I enjoyed Dean Burnett’s first book, The Idiot Brain, which I reviewed here, so I was very pleased when The Happy Brain was announced.

I loved it.  This second book is, I think, even better than the first.

The Happy Brain is the result of Dean Burnett’s attempts to discover exactly what makes us happy.  Is there a ‘secret’ to happiness, and what is it?  Many people claim to know the ultimate key to being happy (and it’s always something different).  So what can a neuroscientist tell us?

What Burnett discovered is that the things which make us happy vary hugely person to person.  Some of the reasons are evolutionary, some are social, and a lot of it is still unclear.  The key point to come away with is that brains are incredibly complicated – it just isn’t realistic to simplify it down to one action or item that is guaranteed to bring us happiness.  In some ways this might seem frustrating or dispiriting – after all, we all want to be happy and ideally as easily as possible.  On the other hand, it is reassuring to realise that your brain is doing amazing things every day and there’s no need to rely on other people to tell you what you ‘have’ to do to be happy.

Burnett carefully explains the various structures and parts of the brain, what we know about them and how we think they work.  The descriptions are clear and helpful, linking brain activity to thoughts and actions we all experience.  He also talked to various people about their happiness (or lack of it), and reflected on his own work and experiences.  I found myself nodding along to so much of what he said, noting how many experiences are universal.

Much like his previous book, The Happy Brain has a lovely chatty style.  I laughed out loud at several points – Burnett’s style is breezy and fun, classically self-deprecating and enjoyable.

This isn’t a self help book.  It won’t give you all the answers, and Burnett explains why.  What it will do is ask a lot of questions, and get you thinking.  The main point I came away with is that our happiness depends primarily on other people – our interactions, our relationships, our internal model of how the world works.  Sartre may have said “hell is other people”, but perhaps heaven is too?

Self reflection

self reflection
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I’ve written quite a bit about self care and self esteem.  Now I want to look at self reflection.

First of all, what is self reflection and why is it a good idea?  Self reflection is, in its simplest terms, looking at ourselves and our behaviours closely and with a sense of acceptance.  It means looking at who we are and what we have done, warts and all, without shying away from the difficult bits.  It’s a serious exercise that helps us learn more about ourselves and how we interact with the world.  By having this knowledge and understanding, we can work out whether or not we are doing what is best for ourselves and the people around us.  As with any journey, the first step to going anywhere is working out where you are starting from!

Self reflection can help us to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are.  We can identify patterns of thought and behaviour which are helping us or hindering us.  We can reflect on how other people see us, and work out whether what they see is accurate and how we wish to be seen.

It’s important to retain balance – don’t overlook the things you are unhappy with, but don’t beat yourself up either!  We all have good and bad sides, helpful behaviours and harmful behaviours.  We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake would be failing to learn from one.

So how do you self reflect?  It’s up to you!  Here are some ideas:

  • Daily journalling or Morning Pages
  • Mindfulness
  • Expressing your feelings creatively – such as painting, drawing, or making music
  • Scheduling a set time to ask yourself questions about how you handled the events of your day
  • Using worksheets, prompts, or exercises such as this one or these
  • Read books, or watch films/TV shows and think about who you identify with (or would like to), and why

It’s up to you!  What will you discover?

 

 

 

 

Stopping to smell the roses

pride, roses
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I’ve written before about pride, about creativity and achievement, and about the issues of perfectionism and imposter syndrome.  So where do roses come into it?

In my recent post Picking up paintbrushes, and other things, I discussed the thoughts and feelings that might be holding you back from expressing yourself creatively.  So… say you’ve now done your creative work.  What then?

For many of us, life is a constant movement upward – searching for the next achievement, the next promotion, the next ‘level’.  When was the last time you stopped, looking around and really enjoyed the satisfaction of your achievements?  How long was it before you were pushing yourself to the next thing?

What holds you back from taking a moment to feel good?  What stops you sharing your joy with others?  Do you worry they won’t approve, or that your achievement doesn’t match up to something they have done?  Is expressing pride “unseemly”?  Do you temper your achievements by focussing on the bits that went badly?  Are you able to take a compliment, or accept congratulations, without coming up with excuses as to why it didn’t really ‘count’?

There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t take time to pause and feel a bit of pride.  Partly this might be due to the way we were brought up, or by the way our educational and corporate systems can push this kind of thinking.  Partly it might be because being modest and self-deprecating is typically British!

I’m not saying to stop entirely and never go for the next thing, if you want.  Equally, it’s okay to find a level you are comfortable at and stay there.  It is worth reflecting on why you are making the choices you are, who you are trying to please, and whether it’s all actually making you the happiest and best ‘you’ that you can be.

At the end of it all, what will you regret more – not pushing on and on and on, or not allowing yourself to really feel the joy in achieving what you have?  Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.  Give someone the gift of accepting a compliment without batting it away.

It might be more satisfying than you think!

What do those roses smell like?

Bullet journalling

bullet journal
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Bullet journalling has been around for a few years and is getting ever-more popular.  I don’t intend to give step-by-step instructions here, as there are already so many good “how to” guides on the internet (I have linked to some below).  Instead, I’m going to explain why I like the bullet journal (“BuJo”) system and why I think it can be helpful for busy or stressed people.

I have been bullet journalling for a year.  It started when I realised I was using a rolling To Do list app on my phone which usually had about 30 items on it and most of those repeated regularly.  I had already checked which things were really necessary, as discussed in a previous post The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s, and they (almost) all were.  As I ticked each item off, they simply shifted to the bottom of the list ready to be done again the next day/week/month.  It meant I wasn’t feeling like I was actually achieving much.  It also meant that each time I looked at the app I felt both slightly overwhelmed by all the items on it and frustrated that so many items were sitting there but could not be tackled yet.

I needed a new system.  Enter bullet journalling.

Bullet journalling appealed to me because it was simple, flexible, and I could use my pretty stationery.  The idea with bullet journalling is that you lay out your calendars, lists, to dos etc in a way that feels most helpful for you.  The indexing system means you end up with no blank pages, but you can always find what you are looking for immediately.  How many times have you picked up half a dozen diaries or planners in a shop, but rejected them because they didn’t have quite what you needed or you couldn’t get on with the layout?  Bullet journalling enables you to make up your own.

Even better, you only need any notebook and pen.  Many companies sell beautiful notebooks and will insist that you “need” dots/lines/certain paper/certain pens but you don’t.  Please don’t feel you must have specific (and expensive) supplies before you can begin.

Nor do you just use it as a diary.  You can use bullet journalling to track your habits (such as exercise), plan financially (keeping track of your spending or saving), event planning (such as a big party you need to organise), list ideas (such as knitting projects)…  A bullet journal can be anything you need or want it to be.

Bullet journalling is creative.  Not just in how you choose to create your system, but in any art you add to it.  You can find many examples online of people who produce artistic spreads if you’re looking for inspiration.  There are also plenty of bullet journalling discussion groups on social media if you need help or advice.

This system can be useful for busy people because it encourages planning out and getting through things efficiently and productively with the “rapid logging” system.  While you are free to spend lots of time making your bullet journal pretty, you don’t have to.  Setting up a monthly spread does take some time, but saves time and trouble later.  This is because you have already made decisions about how and when certain things will be done.  You can tackle each day’s list without worrying about other things that will be happening later.  This can also be really helpful if you are using pacing techniques to manage chronic illness.

The act of writing things down with pen and paper makes you more likely to really think about them.  You are less likely to do that when it is so quick and automatic to type something into an app.  Considering carefully what you are committing to is an act of self care.

You can use your bullet journal for anything you need to.  While I have decided to keep mine just for my personal things, you can use yours for work as well.

The important thing is doing what helps you the most.  It might take you a while, and you might go through a few different systems before settling to one.  That’s okay, there is no absolute right or wrong.  As the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, said, “Forget about what you see online.  It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels and most importantly, how it works for you.”

 

Original bullet journal website with complete guides.

Slightly more quick and easy bullet journal starter guide.

A very user-friendly guide, with options to download help sheets.

 

Book: The Little Book of Resilience by Matthew Johnstone

Emma Thompson/Opis Counselling

I have written about some of Matt Johnstone’s books before, and The Little Book of Resilience: How To Bounce Back From Adversity and Lead a Fulfilling Life is similar to those in many ways.

Resilience is a vague concept.  It’s easy to say that resilience is the ability to recover from bad events, but hard to put into practice.  What exactly does resilience look like?  What can we actually do to increase resilience?

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explains what resilience is and why we need it.  It provides examples of the kinds of life events which might cause us distress and why we feel how we do.  The second part gives practical suggestions of ways to care for yourself and approach problems to improve resilience.

As I have read elsewhere, when we feel at our lowest we tend to overestimate the threats and underestimate our resources.  This book discusses both.  It is worth building up and keeping aware of our resources before things happen, so they are easier to reach for when we need them.  It can also help to practice seeing things with curious, non-judgemental observation so we see threats more realistically when they arise.  Johnstone’s book explains how to do these things.  There is also a useful list of resources and helpful organisations in the back.  If we know what our immediate reactions to things are likely to be in advance, we are more ready to deal with them and remain in control in the moment.  A description of negative automatic thoughts and how to recognise them can be found here.

This isn’t a difficult book to read – it has short sentences and is filled throughout with the author’s charming illustrations.  If you want a really meaty, in-depth book of instructions then this isn’t for you.  Rather, this book is likely to be helpful and accessible when you feel overwhelmed and can’t think straight.  Its simple, clear guidance is gentle and uplifting, and won’t take more than an hour or so to read.

Picking up paintbrushes, and other things

creative
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I don’t think I have ever met anyone who isn’t creative in one way or another.  Yet I more often hear people say they aren’t creative than that they are.

Where does it come from, this denial of creativity?  Perhaps our ideas of what counts as “creative” are unnecessarily restricted and judgemental?  After all, it is creativity in action to put together a meal, plan a nice outfit, come up with stories about why someone is doing something… yet those things are rarely seen that way.  Does something have to appeal to others, or produce something that is openly admired, to be deemed “creative”?

Do we only consider something creative if it involves a certain level of skill?  Do people deny their own creativity because they fear their creations ‘aren’t good enough’?

As children, we made up games, painted, drew, danced, sang, thought up adventures…  We didn’t care what anyone thought, we just tried it and had fun.  Yet in adulthood that quite often stops.  Why do we hold back?

Creating something is a way of expressing yourself.  That in itself can be really scary.  But in my experience the scariest aspect is the fear that it won’t be ‘good enough’.  What does that mean?  Good enough for ourselves, or for others?  Who makes the rules about whether something is good or not, and what is their agenda?

It’s really common to give something up after one or two attempts.  You might convince yourself you’ll “never learn this!” or maybe someone told you to give up because you “aren’t very good” (ouch).  So I turn to Jake the Dog from Adventure Time for one of my favourite quotes: “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”

Only you can decide if you are satisfied by your creative efforts or not.  If you starting something new, the chances are you won’t be satisfied straight away.  Bear in mind Jake’s words.  Go ahead and be bad at something!  Better yet, actively try to be bad at it (within reason – don’t hurt anyone!).  Free yourself from visions of what the finished result will be and see what happens if you just plunge into the process.

Splash paint all over!  Clash colours!  Dance with the joy of a toddler!  Make a soufflé that collapses!  Write a terrible book!

Try Creative Self-Care for more ideas.

What would you create, if the end result didn’t matter?

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

I have written about gratitude previously, when I did my ten-part series on the positive emotions.  Gratitude is more than saying “thanks”, it is a deep and meaningful appreciation for someone or something.  It helps us to acknowledge what we have and our good experiences, and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Time has an article on the various health benefits of developing your gratitude, and just a quick google search will bring up many more.

So, am I saying that being thankful for things will solve all your problems and make everything okay?  No, I’m not.  What fostering gratitude will do is help you develop your resilience.

Resilience is our ability to keep going when times are tough.  It’s what enables us to take life’s knockbacks and keep picking ourselves up again.  Developing resilience is a skill.  It is affected by our optimism, our tolerance of our emotions, our ability to reframe things mentally, and our gratitude.

Many people find gratitude the easiest one of those to start with, because it gives you a solid foundation based on where you are right now.  You might prefer to start elsewhere, and later blog posts will focus on other aspects of resilience.

You might be in a bad place, and asking yourself, “What have I got to be grateful for?!”.  You might find it hard to think of anything, but working hard on this can pay off.  Start simple when thinking about what you have.  You have access to a computer to read this right now.  You have air to breathe.  You have time to be here.

Try turning what seems to be a negative into something to be grateful for.  For example, you might be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of laundry you have to do – but you can be grateful for having so many clothes.  You might be grieving for a loved one, but can feel gratitude for having known and loved that person.

Some people find it helpful to write a gratitude journal.  Each day, write in your journal three different things you are grateful for.  They can be big or small, silly or serious – nobody’s opinion on your gratitude journal matters but yours!  You might want to keep it to yourself, or share it with a loved one.  Make it work for you.

Developing your gratitude can make it easier for you to see and connect with the good things in your life when it seems that things are going badly.  It can provide you with a solid foundation of resources and identity.  When we are feeling low, we tend to overestimate threats and underestimate our resources.  Developing our gratitude can help redress that balance.

What are you grateful for?

 

Changing the future

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Ideas about time travel appear in all sorts of sci fi stories I enjoy*.  I recently saw a showerthought** posted online by a user named kai1998 on Reddit.  It said, “When people think about travelling to the past, they worry about accidentally changing the present, but no one in the present really thinks they can radically change the future.

This idea really struck me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Of course, in sci fi, our protagonists are in the past and trying to avoid their present being changed for the worse.  For example, Star Trek: First Contact and The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V “Time and Punishment”.  It is a given in time travel stories that even the smallest change made in the past will have a devastating effect on the future.  But if you asked someone what small thing they could do today to have a massive impact some years down the line, I expect most people would deny having such power.

The difference, of course, is that we don’t know what the future will look like.  So we don’t know what impact our actions will actually have.  You might feel powerless to make any changes, that your life is being controlled by factors outside you.  Or it might seem frightening to think of having such an impact on the world.  Anxiety might cause you to do nothing at all, for fear of doing something “wrong” or ending up with a bad result.

Perhaps you think it’s too late to make changes, that your life has been set.  You might have lost hope that things can change for the better.

So there are all sorts of reasons you might avoid making changes.  Ask yourself, what exactly is holding you back?  What can you do about that?  Is it a real block that you cannot get past, or fear based on what you fear people might do or say?  What would you do if you need not be afraid of failing?  What would you choose to do, if it were all up to you and no-one else?

Imagine yourself from 10 years in the future, coming to visit the Present You.  What advice might they give you?  What might their life look like, and are you happy at the thought?  How might you improve it?

Or even ask Future You from one week in the future what they think about a decision you are trying to make right now.  Are they likely to be happy or unhappy you have made certain choices?

The future is unwritten.  Pick up a pen!

 

*  Just don’t ask me to explain the paradoxes in the Terminator series.  I’m not sure anyone can work all those out.

**A showerthought is a casual realisation when you are doing something that doesn’t require your full attention (such as showering), yet seems like a revelation.