Hear ye, hear ye betrayed partners. Gaslighting does not just happen to you, and it does not just stop happening and then you are fine. Gaslighting is something you participate in. Gaslighting is something that takes a significant toll on your ability to trust your own perceptions and think clearly. Gaslighting is also something you have to unwind from over time. Healing from gaslighting is a process, not an event. It takes time and effort on your part.
For most betrayed partners, there is a phase of gaslighting where they are truly in the dark about the reality of their relationship. In this phase, the cheater has lied and manipulated the partner successfully enough that the partner truly doesn’t know about the affair or the sexual acting out. The cheating is truly hidden and secret. This phase is not what we are talking about in today’s post.
In this post, we are talking about the second phase of gaslighting. This is the phase where there has been some discovery of the cheating behaviors. Some amount of information about the cheating has come to light and the cheater is caught in the dilemma of trying to calm you down while keeping undiscovered secrets and behaviors hidden. At this point, the gaslighting ramps up and becomes a toxic dance between the two of you. This is when you, as the betrayed partner, may unwittingly participate in the gaslighting – just as I did (see my previous post).
When I say gaslighting is something you participate in, what I am talking about is the crossroads where the words and events that are happening meet your fears about what those words and events might mean for you and your relationship. For many betrayed partners, it is easier and feels safer to move into denial, minimization, justification, and self-doubt than to face the reality of what is happening. In my own relationship, I know that when I let myself look fully at the truth, it was terrifying. Living in confusion felt safer. Until it didn’t.
The words and behaviors of my spouse threatened the survival of my relationship because I knew I could not stay with someone who was treating me the way I was being treated. However, I was also completely unable to tolerate the idea of potentially losing my relationship. That loss and the feelings of abandonment that accompanied it were too overwhelming for me to face. So instead, I moved into confusion, chaos and self-doubt.
This dynamic is called Betrayal Blindness which I think is a much better term than denial. Betrayal blindness occurs when we do not allow ourselves to know information that we could and should know because the implications of knowing are too frightening for us to face. Betrayal blindness is how we get caught up in participating in gaslighting. We allow ourselves to be manipulated, to question our perceptions, and to engage in self-doubt and self-blame because at a primal level that is easier than facing the reality that the person we love most in the world is lying to us and manipulating us in ways that shock us to the core.
This is a core truth for all betrayed partners:
To begin to unwind from the detrimental and harmful impacts of gaslighting, we have to be willing to face the fears that have made us vulnerable to the lies and manipulations of the cheater.
From both personal and professional experience, I can tell you that we can only do this with support. Our fears are real and significant. I could not have tolerated the feelings that staying grounded in reality brought up for me if I had not had both a great therapist and an amazing circle of friends to support me and hold my fears and anxieties with me. Your process of healing from gaslighting will be no different. You cannot do this alone. You need others who will ask you the kinds of questions my therapist asked me, who will help you to connect to and work through the emotions that come up as you move into reality, and walk with you as you slowly become resilient in the face of gaslighting.