Gaslighting refers to when someone – intentionally or not- manipulates your perceptions of reality. It’s a horrific form of emotional and psychological abuse and is overlooked because gaslighting is often done by people we know, trust, and love.
The internal relationship I have with my eating disorder is the most painful yet intimate relationships I’ve ever had. I became so certain that what my eating disorder believed was the Truth. It was insistent in trying to convince me that I was anything from unworthy to disgusting to horrible, etc.
In many ways, my eating disorder is the ultimate gaslighter.
What does internalized gaslighting look like?
My eating disorder eroded my own perception of my world. The very act of having to question and verify reality is in and of itself destabilizing.
The effects of gaslighting can look like my eating disorder telling me “You’re so dramatic – that never happened” when I try to confront it with my healthy voice.
The effects of gaslighting can look like the inability to function independently. Despite the toxicity of the relationship, eating disorders lure you in with unhealthy codependency.
The effects of gaslighting can look like obliterating your ability to trust your own judgement, self, and intuition.
The effects of gaslighting can look like interfering with your ability to make your own decisions because of fear.
My eating disorder’s goal, and really the goal of a gaslighter in general, is to be superior, to manipulate, and to control another person’s life. The effects of gaslighting are dizzying, in part because it’s common to be unaware of it for quite a while. My eating disorder decreases my self-esteem and confidence, makes me feel helpless, and worthless at times. Gaslighting prevents the development of any self-trust.
So how do I fight back against the ultimate gaslighter when battling an internal villain feels insurmountable?
Recovering from gaslighting requires:
- Allowing myself to make mistakes, despite my eating disorder’s tendency towards perfectionism. I often have trouble countering the thought that my own mistakes are what got me into this “situation” in the first place. My eating disorder’s words still ring in my head – “ It’s your fault.” “You can’t do anything right.” “You deserve this.” When you’re constantly hearing that you’re doing something wrong, it’s only natural to question whether you can do anything right. In spite of what my eating disorder has drilled into my head, I am able to realize that the pressure to be absolutely sure that everything I did was the “right” thing to do was self-imposed. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that I’m a “bad” person. I also try to remember that rather than setting an unrealistic goal by being healed perfectly all the time, I think of recovering from gaslighting and my eating disorder as an ongoing process.
- Making my own choices. With the pressure I’ve put on myself to be perfect in recovery, I’ve convinced myself that I’m terrible at making decisions. After years of my eating disorder treating me as if every decision was a poor choice, any small decision is challenging. I can walk up and down aisles in the grocery store 15-20 times without putting a singular item in the cart. I’m afraid of choosing the “wrong” item or I berate myself into thinking that I don’t deserve certain items. Combating indecisiveness often starts with trusting myself in a way that I was never allowed to do when I was being constantly gaslit. Rather than obsessively focusing on right or wrong, I’m beginning by trying to trust my intuition again, which is in essence, the opposite of gaslighting. I shall seek defiance in the face of my eating disorder’s relentless persuasion.
- Developing distance from it. It’s not possible to detach or separate myself from eating disorder completely. That’s the problem with having an internal rather than external gaslighter. I can’t physically relocate. The important thing to be able to do though is to distinguish the world of my eating disorder and the real non-disordered world. Recognizing the harm of my eating disorder is the first part of healing. I’m trying to embrace my truth and the emotions that come with it. In doing so it means I’m trusting myself in a way I once thought was impossible.
In strength and healing,