Gas-lit stories I have told myself

I’ve written in the past about the stories I’ve told myself, and also now recently gaslighting. 

I wanted to write a little bit more about the actual stories I’ve told myself that I’ve been working to un-do. 

I’m bad: Which truly umbrellas all of the things below. Not only does it umbrella them, but it also gives leverage for my brain to believe all of these other negative things. You are bad, so people do not want to hang out with you because they don’t like you, because you are not whatever enough. For example if you want to hang out with a friend, and they say that they cannot. It’s not because they don’t want to, but probably because they are busy, or may have their own anxieties that have nothing to do with you. What I’m about to say is totally real, and I sometimes fall into this thinking still, but more often than not, I do not give it fuel but… I seriously thought, and have thought that people have not wanted to hang out with me because I was ugaly, gross, and fat. I’ve spent too much time in my own anxiety, over analyzing what I say, how I should have said it differently, and investing in things to “be better” (makeup, dieting, etc) for other people. None of this makes a difference to other people, you want to want it for yourself, or do these things if you want to to be a healthier version of yourself. 

I have believed I’m not good enough: I think this is the most present thread that runs through my brain unconsciously and consciously. More unconsciously than consciously now. You know that phrase old behaviors die hard? Yah, when I’m feeling like at my worst, it’s generally because nothing really brings me joy and I think what is the point. 

A few examples: 

Recently I’ve been making an effort into applying for jobs. I’ve been really trying to work through some of the I’m not good enough for more advanced jobs because of whatever non-existent reason other than my own anxiety. Up until recently I’ve done a lot of avoidance of applying for new jobs because I have this ingrained belief that I’m not good enough. The fears (and stories I tell myself) that run through my brain are: I’m a terrible writer (for cover letters), there are always better candidates, I’m not good at selling myself. 

For the last few summers I have been going to a friends house to help her with her garden. She is someone I’m building trust with, and I feel so blessed to have met her. She is a new friend who is accepting, and kind. Last summer I texted her and said, I feel like I’ve been super lazy because I haven’t been doing much with the garden. She texted me back and said… You are not lazy and other positive things that helped me self validate back things that were positive. I had these ideas, that she thought I wasn’t doing enough with the garden, and that had turned into something bigger than it needed to be. It turned into anxiety, more avoidance, and paranoia. What helped was addressing the issue at hand, which was my feeling of being not good enough. I can’t remember what I said, but maybe something like I feel like I’m not doing enough, like I’m lazy, (and not the huge emotional drama that goes with it), and because she is great, she responded how she did. With compassion, understanding and consistency. 

I have believed people do not like me because of:  I just wrote about this about being bad. But seriously, it has been ingrained in my brain before, especially in finding partners. I am too fat, I’m too ugly. I have felt like because I was too fat and ugly, that I wasn’t deserving of someone who treated me better. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. I do not believe that now, just so yah all know. But it’s true, it’s sad, and awful that I let myself feel that way.  I want to emphasize that I would victimize myself so much when I was in my 20’s about people not liking me, that this was my biggest paranoia and also a gaslit thing I did to myself. I would actively make up stories about things people were gossiping about me, just to validate my own paranoia roll. I mean seriously! It doesn’t fucking matter what people think about you. 

I have believed I’m ugly: I have fueled this belief with so many things; being fat, acne, picking, comparing and contrasting myself to others. These are my own personal validations I’ve had in the past. Also, it was validated based on what people have said to me (to my face or behind my back) in the past. This is something that is an issue that we have across our world about what beauty is defined by and what people say is more beautiful than someone else. I’ve been learning not to compare myself to others in terms of my own beauty, and it is fucking hard. It’s also something I consistently work at. 

I have believed I’m fat (truth and): Not funny, but literal truth. I am fat. I’m not 280lbs anymore or close to it, but I’m fat and have fat. AND it shouldn’t limit me from life. It has built up this stigmatization that because I’m fat, means that I can’t do things. I shouldn’t wear certain clothes, I shouldn’t go certain places and I’m lazy. It often means that I am less than and I’ve believed that for most of my life. It means so many things it is not. Truth is… I’m fat, and I kind of just laugh about it now.

Funny side story: Last spring I had lugged all of my painting stuff to a park nearby from my apt. I was carrying a backpack full of things and some canvases. It was obvious I was struggling, and had to put things down to rearrange my stuff. A man kept watching me (not in a creepy way), he just noticed I was struggling. He yelled across the street if I needed help, I assured him I didn’t. I was only a block from home. He asked if I was pregnant (not sure why that was important, other than assumptions he was making and also to show his further concern about my predicament). I just responded with this laugher in my voice, no, just fat. I wasn’t offended or upset, mostly just thought it was funny. He was of course embarrassed, but his assumptions at this time didnt affect me or my life. 

As you can see above, a lot of these are intertwined, and have similar messages. I do have a lot of body dysmorphia, and I’ve come a long way in my thinking. It’s not as severe as it use to be, and It’s not really a surprise that these thoughts don’t change overnight, but with practice, it gets better and they get quieter while your new ones take the lead.

Gaslighting and Trauma

Medical news today defines gaslighting as “a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.”

As a survivor of a gaslit child, I really wanted to write about this because of the effects it has on your everyday life. It is also a cycle of society we see and accept, and most people do not even know it’s happening. It’s a tactic that people use to gain control. Oftentimes, people who gaslight others, are ones who have been gas lit themselves. I didn’t even realize how large of an issue this was until our most recent election. If you say something out loud enough that isn’t true, because you want that to be people’s reality, more and more people will push it as the truth, and eventually it will be so ingrained in people’s brains as the truth, that it will just be their reality. Also, if you think something is true (that isn’t true), you are gaslighting yourself, and that my friends is the cycle of cyclical gaslighting.

As a child, and growing up in my early 20’s I didn’t even think that my childhood was that bad, and to be honest I can’t remember most of it. I made excuses for myself, and him. I often would say, well I didn’t get beat or sexually assaulted. This was the reel that I built in my brain for years, and all that did was just shove it down even more. I shoved it to a place where I was 280lbs. I shoved it with sex and relationships with men who were less than what I was deserving of. I shoved it into debt that, well let’s be real, my dad paid off when he died. I do not want to dis-value other peoples experiences, or trauma. There are people in this world who have seen, heard, and been a victim to so many horrific things. I am just saying no matter what experience you have, if I hadn’t validated my own experience and addressed it as it is, I could not be here where I am today. 

When you are not accepting the truth about your past, it’s perpetuating the cyclical gaslighting and giving it power. It turns into you constantly lying to yourself, altering your reality in which later can create confusion about what actually happened. Even though giving it light is painful, you are helping yourself move forward and heal from what happened to you. 

For most of my life, I have been paranoid about humans, and their objectives with me. I have been confused in my own truths and realities, my inner self has been super chaotic and panicked. I have been known to create stories in my brain about what people are thinking and let them be true. I would be anxious, panicked, and would constantly worry (when I say worry, I really mean panic, and live in fear of my own anxieties) about what people thought about me. When in reality, it does not matter what people think about you. If you are doing a good job, or are doing what you need to do and validate yourself in that, then that’s all that is important. 

Until recently,  (age 35), 3 years after my dad’s death, years and years of therapy and practicing new behaviors I have been able to really learn how to trust myself. The biggest piece of this is re-parenting yourself, it’s validating your inner self. It builds trust, it builds confidence, it builds acceptance of yourself, and it builds a more positive inner monologue. 

For the last 6 or so years I have been working with the best team who literally, only wants the best for me. I’ve been so lucky to have had them be a part of this part of my journey. I do not think I could be where I’m at without them. Their consistency, and accepting nature is what has helped me come so far. I’ve been able to change the story I tell myself in my brain, in a safe and healthy work environment. 

Un-doing gas lighting is still happening in my world, but I’ve gotten so much better at seeing my current reality. It’s been a slow and consistent process. 

I do want to write about one example that really made an impact on my process, I had a severe ptsd reaction to it and ended up having to go home from work. I was on the phone with a Probation Officer, whom I was not prepared to talk to her or ask her questions. Towards the end of the conversation she said I was interrupting her and being quite hostile. I was confused by what had just happened, and anxious. My body was shaking, and I had things rolling through my brain. I left work. I was crying, I spent the afternoon completely traumatized. I hadn’t been triggered like that in a long time. 

I remembered interrupting her (which I totally owned up to) , and I do not remember being hostile. To me hostile means rude, calling names, intimidating and something larger. Like awful, and I was anything but awful to her on the phone.  It was her tone on the phone, and her calling me hostile that set me off. It was a trigger of being blamed by my dad for his reactions as a child, and obviously it had a reaction on me. It made me question my tone, our conversation and what I had said to her. Just because someone says something to you about yourself, doesn’t mean it is true. It’s what you validate in yourself that is important, because I was not hostile on the phone with her. I’m not a hostile person, seriously, I do not have it in me. 

This example, though, was a turning point in my healing and a lot of grief came out. It helped me learn to validate my own experiences and my current real-ity.

Recent Lessons Part 1

 by rachael

Pattern revealed: 

I will never forget the moment that I was on the phone with my therapist a month ago or so. It had been a busy day, and I had scheduled the appointment with an agenda. It was dark, it was cold outside, I had just gotten out of a chiropractor appt and dialed her up in my car on the phone (because that’s how we see our therapists these days). At some point I became silent and became really still. All I could say was fuck. I realized what I needed to do, and didn’t think that I could get out of this dilemma without hard work, once again. Our personal work is never done.  

The pattern is: Whenever I try to implement new routines in my life, I do them well, really well at first. I think a lot of ego gets in the way. I am a people pleaser, I’m doing good and I get positive praise. It is a vicious cycle. After a while I go into a full on mental health crisis. I feel like I have to fight myself to continue. It feels like anxiety, and rage. It comes across as procrastination, and falling into old habits. I neglect what I, Rachael, really wants to do. It feels powerful than myself, bigger even, and I envision it with it’s bags packed, running away giggling and keeping myself in complacency, or it goes extreme and it becomes a monster that is fed with my bad habits. It’s resistance, strong willed, bull (I’m a taurus, if you believe in that sort of thing) resistance. You might think I’m kidding, but while I was on the phone with my therapist, it just sort of clicked. It helped to view it as something separate from myself. It is a part of me, it’s luggage I didn’t even know I had. Separating myself from the luggage when I’m calm, helps me open it up with less emotional charge so that when it does come up I can start to unpack it slowly. With knowledge comes power, and the ability to see and feel the other part less and less. 

This anxiety with transitions and new situations that are hard (seem hard) is not a new feeling to me. I have been successful before. It was when I started to address my eating disorder (and now that I’m writing this, grad school). That was fucking hard work. I know where it stems from, and I know why it keeps coming up. That is a whole other topic and I probably could write a book on trauma and the impact on the brain, especially as a child. It feels really hard to live a normal life (what is normal anyway) when the past comes up in ways that are unexpected and uninvited. 

First step in addressing this is acceptance. I know it’s not going away and at some point I invited it along for the ride. When I had this level of commitment with my ED Journey I did something that felt a little silly. I literally laid in my bed and introduced myself to the part of myself that was the ED part and said: “Rachael, meet Rachael (ED Rachael). I know you are not going away, it is time to step down and let Rachael take the lead”. **Disclaimer, I didn’t say this so eloquently at the time, but it is a constant reminder now, helping my true self take the lead. 

Second, I processed it for a while, okay a long while (To be fully honest I did a lot of checking out). Some could say I got swept up into the month of December with Christmas and watched a lot of Christmas Movies. Fourth, I started to set some goals. Actually I had been setting goals all along, but it is really important to remember that you do not hold a lot of weight to follow through. High expectations for yourself is important, yes, and also there needs to be a level of self dignity, patience and less beating yourself up in the process when you are creating new patterns (whole other post). Lastly, practice practice practice and more practice.I will be honest with you, I do not know what will come next or what it will look like,but it is important to be honest with yourself. If you are not honest with yourself, you eventually gaslight yourself into something you are not, and live that message. 

One last thing that I wanted to include was a message from my therapist, that I haven’t had the chance to put into practice yet is: Any feeling, acknowledge its existence, welcome it, thank it for coming, and also thank you for wanting to keep you safe. 

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day.