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Positive thinking and gaslighting

I recently ran into the suggestion that people who have experienced gaslighting are unlikely to cope well with positive thinking strategies. It was a real ‘lightbulb’ moment for me. I find positive affirmations incredibly stressful and panic-inducing. I do ok with very small ones – statements like ‘it is ok not to be perfect’ and ‘shit happens’ and ‘you can get through this’ don’t stress me out.

But, the kinds of things I’ve had recommended to me – like standing in front of a mirror and saying ‘you are beautiful and I love you’ to my reflection makes me feel physically sick. Even thinking about it twists my gut up.

Being gaslit involves taking onboard things that conflict with how you understand reality. For the person who has escaped that, being able to protect your own version of reality is incredibly important. Even when that might not be helping in other ways. I can say ‘that is a face, and it will do’ to my reflection, but that’s all. 

A while ago I tried experimenting with ‘positive’ affirmations and I ended up in a state of crisis and distress. Part of this is that a gaslit person will often have had to deal with being told that things were fine, normal, safe, reasonable and appropriate when that simply wasn’t true. I am better off with lower self esteem that feels real to me than telling myself I am great and facing the breakdown of my reality, again.

Realising this also raised for me some things about how CBT doesn’t work. I expect CBT with a therapist is an entirely different ballgame, but my experience was of being given a workbook. The workbook was based on the assumption that everything was ok really, and that I was panicking about nothing. That wasn’t the case, so what was supposed to be therapy felt like gaslighting. 

There can be no meaningful interventions if we don’t allow for the possibility that things aren’t ok. Saying ‘my life is good’ when your life is clearly hell, isn’t going to make you well. Imagining that there’s nothing to be afraid of when you have genuine reason to fear for your safety, isn’t going to fix anything. If the only problem is what goes on in your head, then maybe positive affirmations will help you. But, if what you have exists for reasons, you aren’t going to magic it away by doing something that feels like lying to yourself.

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