"That Never Happened" - Experiencing Gaslighting


Gaslighting is when someone distorts reality, which has the intentional or unintentional effect of causing another person to doubt their own perceptions. It has become such a commonly used term that there are even songs about it. In the Chicks’ (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) song titled “Gaslighter,” Natalie Maines sings about someone cheating on her and trying to convince her she was imagining it:

You just had to start a fire, had to start a fire
Couldn’t take yourself on a road a little higher
Had to burn it up, had to tear it down
Tried to say I’m crazy
Babe, we know I’m not crazy, that’s you

The term first originated from the 1944 movie Gaslight (based on a play written in 1938), in which a husband tries to prevent his wife from realizing that he’s a criminal by altering her reality and trying to make her believe she is imagining what’s happening. The title itself specifically comes from a scene where he makes the gaslights in the attic flicker and, when she asks him why they’re flickering, he tells her that she’s hallucinating it.

Gaslighting is a very common behavior that is used in many different situations and relationships to gain power and control. It also occurs at a group level, often with women and other marginalized groups, whose experiences are frequently dismissed, seen as “crazy” and “too emotional,” and judged by double standards (Sweet, 2019).


Healthy ways of dealing with negative behavior involve acknowledging it, reflecting on why it happened, and trying to learn from it. Gaslighting occurs when the person is aware, either consciously or unconsciously, that their behavior is inappropriate in some way, but they are unable to acknowledge this because they cannot handle the guilt and shame associated with it. It is very commonly used as a narcissistic defense, because narcissists attempt to compensate for a core of shame by presenting themselves to others (and often convincing themselves) that they are perfect. They cannot admit to negative behavior (even if it’s actually quite minor) because it’s too threatening to this image. Narcissists also become immune to this sense of shame by developing a sense of shamelessness, which allows them to engage in unethical and cruel behavior that others wouldn’t.


There are several common tactics that gaslighters use to manipulate others. They can have a preferred strategy that they use the majority of the time or cycle through several of them, especially if the first ones they use are not having the desired effect. These tactics include:


Gaslighting can feel very disorienting, almost like having whiplash. It often causes us to leave a situation completely confused, wondering what just happened or thinking that something was wrong, but not being able to pinpoint what it was. It can lead to intense rumination where you go back and analyze every detail of a situation to ensure that you’re not imagining it. It’s exhausting to do this and it’s scary to feel like you can’t trust your own perceptions. Once you start to uncover what really happened, it can be extremely upsetting, disturbing, and infuriating. Gaslighting, especially when experienced repeatedly, can cause adverse psychological effects, including chronic self-doubt, shame, isolation, depression, anxiety, impaired relationships, trauma, and physical symptoms related to stress (Christensen & Evans-Murray, 2021, Pietrangelo, 2019).


Trying to have a conversation with someone who’s gaslighting you is incredibly difficult and draining. Here are some strategies for how to communicate with them:


It is important to give yourself time to identify that you were gaslit and process what happened. You can use mindfulness strategies to detach from your thoughts and reduce the urge to ruminate about it until you’re ready to reflect on it or if the distress from this is interfering with other aspects of your life. These might include meditation or thought diffusion techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, such as saying to yourself “I’m having the thought that…” before a distressing thought in order to distance yourself from it (Harris, 2006).

In order to process the feelings that arise from being gaslit, we need to identify and validate them. We often invalidate ourselves and say that we shouldn’t feel a certain way or that our reactions don’t make sense, but when we try to understand why we might have reacted that way, we realize it makes sense and stop criticizing ourselves. In the case of gaslighting, it is an extremely unpleasant experience, and it makes sense that you would experience negative emotions in reaction to it. It’s very helpful to practice self-compassion, which involves noticing these difficult thoughts and feelings and being kind to yourself about them. Many people describe self-compassion by saying it’s like speaking to yourself the way you would to a good friend.

Sometimes knowing that you were gaslit can stop you from criticizing yourself, but other times this just makes us feel bad and blame ourselves for being manipulated. Unfortunately, gaslighting is a very common behavior because it’s effective. The very nature of gaslighting makes it so difficult to identify what’s happening because it disorients you and makes you even wonder if you’re being paranoid for questioning the gaslighting behavior. Many of us also want to give others the benefit of the doubt and think that perhaps we did misremember or misinterpret their behavior because it can be so difficult to accept that not only did the initial hurtful behavior happen, but that the gaslighting did as well. It’s important to be self-compassionate about the pain you have experienced from both. Try to remember that the problem isn’t you, it’s the person who did the gaslighting.

Taking a Broader View of Sex

When many people think of sex, they think of penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse. They may also think of orgasms and ejaculation. However, as a sexologist, I take a broader view of sex. There are at least five circles of sexuality, and I include foreplay as well as aftercare in the sexual experience. Foreplay and aftercare are just as important, even integral, for sex as orgasm and/or ejaculation.


In U.S. culture (and many others), we’re encouraged to think of sex as having an endgame. There’s something to achieve, accomplish, reach. Many people enter into a sexual experience thinking it “has” to end in orgasm or ejaculation, but that’s not true. Foreplay — glancing, gazing, touching, talking, and even fantasy exploration — is a part of sex.

So too is aftercare. The word “aftercare” originates in the bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM) community wherein the Dom/Domme checks in with the Sub and vice versa to process, debrief, integrate, and regroup following a BDSM scene.


Aftercare following “vanilla” or “traditional” sex would be great as a regular practice! However, aftercare throughout a sexual experience would be even better. The aftercare process between two, or more, humans allow for potential healing through vulnerable connection wherein the people involved express their feelings and share past experiences. Let’s get our healing on through sexual expression by incorporating aftercare!


Let’s also stop thinking about intercourse as the “main event.” The idea of foreplay is a heterosexually focused concept, and it can limit and restrict the sexual experience even for heterosexual partners.

“Foreplay” Can Be a Problematic Idea

As I’ve written about before, I have a problem with the concept and word “foreplay.” To start with, the word itself designates a before. Etymologically speaking, foreplay comes from the root word “fore,” meaning before, ahead, or in front of; plus “play,” meaning an activity for enjoyment and recreation. However, the word “foreplay” assumes the fun has not already begun! If looks and energy are being exchanged and consensual touching is resulting in pleasure, doesn’t that mean the fun has already started? This view of sex is so limiting!

Sex Isn’t Linear

Calling, texting, holding hands, talking over tea or a glass of wine, caressing, admiring, stroking, massaging, tickling, kissing lips and necks and arms and bellies and inner thighs are all forms of play (fore and beyond). Sex is not linear – it doesn’t start with kissing, progress to foreplay, and culminate in heterosexual intercourse. Sex could go from talking to kissing to talking to hand-holding to caressing to massaging to intercourse (if applicable and desired) to massaging to stroking, etc.

The other thing about foreplay is it’s heteronormative, because if foreplay is the lead-up to sex, that means digital, oral, and anal sex are not sex. (Hi, Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman.”) Well, no. All of it is sex. It all counts, which the queer community has known and has been teaching us for ages. PIV sex is not the only kind of sex. It’s not superior sex, either. None is better or worse than another. Plus, there’s the matter of people with disabilities who may not have the capacity for anatomical penetration, as well as those who prefer outercourse. Employing the concept of foreplay means these folx will never have sex, which again, is just plain wrong.

Sexual Activity Is Not Just About Orgasms

Lastly, the way foreplay is often presented in heterosexual relationships is it’s the “work” beforehand to turn on a woman to get to the “fun stuff” or “real sex:” penetration, orgasming and/or ejaculating. There’s nothing wrong with orgasms and ejaculations, but focusing on them so much leaves pleasure out of the equation. I know that may sound paradoxical because orgasms seem like they would be inherently pleasurable. However, when it’s the focus, dissociation from the body can occur. Pleasure-oriented sex means focusing on pleasure during the entire sexual experience – not just at one specific point. Also, if you’re focused on pleasure, orgasms and/or ejaculations are effortless byproducts of the play – they occur as a natural progression.


Our view of sex has a lot to do with how we experience it. Given everything I’ve written above, you might be asking, “How can I have better sex?” Discuss potential scenes, likes, dislikes, hopes, and desires. Let sex be play as opposed to filled with “musts” “have to haves” and other rigid approaches. Pleasure and anxiety cannot coexist, so when you are playing, if anxiety arises, voice it to your partner(s) so you can move through it. If voicing it doesn’t feel safe, neither is playing with this person or people. You can always shut down a scene anytime. Yes, even midway!

And again, incorporate aftercare. What we need in this world is more attention to each other’s internal landscapes so healing through sex can occur. The way we pay attention to each other’s internal landscapes is also by paying attention to our own. Notice what’s happening in your body. Pay attention to what feels good, not good, safe, not safe. The more you have an understanding of yourself, and are able to communicate that to your partner(s), the better your sex life will be.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder & How to Spot It.

To understand what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is and how to spot it, we must first position the disorder within the larger context of mental disorders. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is housed within the Personality Disorders section of the Diagnostic and Statistically Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), including Paranoid Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (for a fully comprehensive list, see the DSM-5).

personality disorder is “…an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment” (DSM-5).

Although Narcissistic Personality Disorder and even the words “narcissistic” and “narcissism” have become widely sensationalized by mainstream media, it is essential to remember that there are critical criteria to meet the official diagnosis.


According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder require the presence of five or more of the following:

  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance. For example, one might exaggerate their achievements to seem superior to those around.
  2. Preoccupied with fantasies about unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. One can become hyper-focused on “long-overdue” admiration of their strength or privileges.
  3. Believes that they are “special” and “unique and can only be “understood” by those with elite social status. For example, one may describe the people in their life as “ordinary.”
  4. Requires excessive admiration. As a result, one may have fragile self-esteem.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement. For example, one may become frustrated by waiting in line because “they should be allowed to skip to the front.”
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative. Often, one may form friendships to advance their own needs or desires.
  7. Lacks empathy. For example, one may be preoccupied with their concerns and have difficulty recognizing the needs or feelings of others.
  8. Is often envious of others and believes others are envious of them. As a result, one may imagine everyone is always looking at them or wishing they could be just like them.
  9. Shows arrogant behaviors. For example, one may complain about a retail worker being clumsy or stupid for making an understandable mistake or error.



Covert Narcissism: The Quiet Counterpart to Narcissistic Personality

Codependency and Narcissism May Have More in Common Than You Think

The Arduous Work of Treating Narcissism: A Therapist’s Guide

Practice Attunement to Feel Seen and Nurtured in Your Relationships?

There’s a very important factor that determines whether one or both parties in a relationship feel seen and nurtured. It applies to relationships across the board, from romantic to platonic, therapeutic to familial. And without it, miscommunication, fights, and hurt feelings are common. That factor is attunement. I’ll give the clinical definition first because it’s a word we often use in the field of psychotherapy and so you have a full picture of what attunement is and then I’ll describe attunement in layperson’s terms.

Attunement is a “kinesthetic and emotional sensing of others knowing their rhythm, affect, and experience by metaphorically being in their skin, and going beyond empathy to create a two-person experience of unbroken feeling connectedness by providing a reciprocal effect and/or resonating response,” according to clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Erskine.

A lot is happening in that sentence. However, some keywords are “sensing,” “empathy,” and “connectedness.” Putting them together, you could say attunement is sensing another person’s experience and using empathy (as well as action) to create a connection. Another way of putting it is reading the “emotional room” of another person. It’s sensing when another person needs comfort versus space. It’s understanding when to support your partner versus when to let them flounder. If that sounds difficult, it is! It is a learned skill that takes conscious practice.

The first place we experience attunement (or not) is childhood. An infant is not able to express with words when they are hungry, tired, or have a poopy diaper. It’s up to the caregiver to make that assessment and do something about it. This is where pediatrician and child psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott’s principle of the “the good enough [parent]” comes into play, meaning, reacting to an infant responsively and sensitively over time allows the infant to be appropriately dependent and to transition to an increasingly more autonomous position. But attunement doesn’t stop in infancy – it’s relevant throughout a person’s life. The key is not just becoming aware of another person’s feelings, it’s also taking appropriate action.

It’s one thing if a caregiver hears their kid cry and says, “Oh, they’re hungry,” and another thing to actually feed them. The same is true with adults. Empathy is an excellent first step that invites curiosity about another’s experience, but it only goes so far. Action, even if it’s just listening, is what creates attunement. I’m not saying you have to be a mind reader and intuit what another person needs. Nor should you assume someone else’s feelings. Checking in and communicating are always important in mature, adult relationships.

A word of caution: There is such a thing as going too far with attunement and becoming codependent or turning into someone who relies on being needed. A codependent is someone who likes to swoop in and give to others, compulsively. With codependency there’s a sense of sacrifice – the person is sacrificing their time, their energy, or even their sense of self. That’s not what I’m advocating. Healthy boundaries are important for successful, safe relationships and that means recognizing each person has limits, including you.

Instead, emotional attunement involves the perspective that you’re on the same team as your partner. You are working together, supporting one another as you navigate your emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. When this isn’t done, it’s a form of abandonment and it erodes trust in the relationship. Attunement builds trust and rapport. So how then do you create emotional attunement? Keep reading.


Find your safe space

One step required for emotional attunement is safety. If you don’t feel safe expressing your emotions, attunement will be difficult. Safety is created with both verbal and nonverbal cues. For instance, if the person you’re in relationship with – a friend, a coworker, a parent – shuts down and emotionally withdraws whenever you express anger, you’ll quickly learn they are not a safe person for you to be angry around. You won’t want to clue them in to how you’re feeling because it’s worse than keeping your anger bottled up.

Related to safety is also expressing your own emotions in a safe manner. If you punch the wall when you’re mad, you’re not a safe person to be around either. Emotional attunement requires feeling your feelings, even when you want to push them away, and doing so in a non-harmful manner. That could mean taking space when you need it and communicating that with your partner. It could also mean working with a trained professional.

Listen before you speak

Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, really listen to what the other person is saying. By giving someone your full attention, you’re letting them know you care about their experience, which is crucial for emotional attunement. You’re also signaling that they matter because you’re not centering yourself in the conversation, meaning you’re not making the conversation about you and what you can contribute. (By the way, I have a PDF about this if you’re interested.)

Ask questions

Attunement may sound like mind reading, but I promise, it’s not! Ask questions if you don’t understand something the other person is saying. That helps them feel seen and known. It indicates you’re present with them because you’re really trying to learn what’s going on for them.

Notice nonverbal cues

The reality is sometimes we don’t know how we’re feeling, or our outsides don’t match our insides. You’ve likely had the experience where someone says they’re fine and clearly, they’re not. Nonverbal cues like posture, facial expressions, and energy levels will help you discern how the other person is feeling and act accordingly. It’s also important to ask questions here when you notice the nonverbal cues to ensure you’re not making assumptions. For example, “I’ve noticed you’re lying down a lot. Are you tired? Or is there something else going on?”

Share reality

A huge part of emotional attunement is being on the same wavelength with someone, or in other words, sharing their reality. If your partner is sad about losing the job they hated, reflect back that sadness: “I hear you. It sounds like you feel sad.” If you respond with, “That’s great, babe! You didn’t like that job anyway!” your partner won’t feel seen, heard, or understood. You don’t have to agree with them, but demonstrating you understand how they’re feeling will go a long way.

Spot your triggers.

Every person has something they are sensitive about. It could be physical, like going bald, or something related to past trauma like being cheated on. Whatever it is, it’s important to be aware of what your triggers are so you can communicate that to your partner. Doing so will support you in not becoming reactive and together, you can potentially avoid an emotional landmine. Identifying triggers goes both ways – encourage your partner to share their triggers as well (if that’s appropriate) so you know what to avoid or how to support them in feeling safe.

Emotional attunement is a process and a skill that takes practice. It’s not something learned overnight but there are actions you can take today to feel closer to the people in your life and vice versa. Share this article with them, and together, build the sort of relationship that is satisfying to you both.

What Is Self-Care Decision Making

Self-care-based decision-making is the habit of regularly asking yourself whether what you are about to do really serves you. That may sound fairly straightforward, but simple is not easy, especially when people tend to equate self-care with selfishness.

Psychpedia Self Care Article

There seems to be a boatload of confusion about the difference between healthy self-care and selfishness. Is that selflessness and generosity or is it the quickest way to work yourself into feeling overwhelmed, physically ill, and resentful?


How can taking good care of yourself lessen your ability to be there for others in a supportive, loving, and useful way? By healthy self-care I am referring to setting good boundaries, getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, not abusing substances, taking time to simply be, and investigating what energizes you and what depletes you. All those behaviors allow you to have the necessary emotional and physical stamina to be more useful to yourself and others. Last but not least, when you give, you will not give to the point of feeling overwhelmed and resentful.

Psychpedia Self Love Article

Overwhelmed resentment, especially when it’s left to fester, often results in physical issues. Healthy self-care is a preventative life strategy. A holistic way of taking responsibility for yourself so that you can actually function at a higher level while feeling more grounded and nourished.


Is it always thinking of yourself before other people? If so, that’s not what I mean. Healthy self-care is setting good boundaries, stopping over-giving, and truly being in touch with what serves you and what exhausts you. They are never selfish behaviors as they ultimately help you and everyone else. Not only that, they set an example for other people of what it means to have a more balanced life imbued with true kindness to yourself and others.

Psychpedia Selfishness Article

Shifting from over-giving to healthy self-care requires awareness of what you have been doing as well as how you would like to do things from now on. It can be helpful, at various times during the day, or when journaling, to ask yourself:

You may want to start with one question, as it’s quite a lot of self-inquiry at one time. Those are simply suggestions.

Your own body, mind, and spirit are always telling you what’s right for you. The difficulty is acting on that knowledge; especially, if you call it selfishness.

It’s not a competition between what’s good for you and what’s good for the people in your life. As hard as it may be to believe, when you take really good care of yourself it will always redound to other people’s benefit.

All day long you have opportunities to decide what you’re going to do. If you’re in the habit of taking good care of yourself your decisions will be filtered through that lens. If you’re in the habit of over-giving your decisions will be filtered through that lens. Only you can decide which truly nurtures your heart, mind, body, and soul. It’s never too late to switch gears. It’s never too late to patiently, gently, and lovingly take care of your own sweet self.

Psychpedia Self Confidence Article

*Source: Nicole Urdang MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC - https://holisticdivorcecounseling.com