I Was the Victim of Gaslighting: How Treatment Helped Me Heal After a Nervous Breakdown
Abuse in a relationship does not have to be physical to cause long-lasting damage. Gaslighting, the act of undermining a victim’s sense of reality and their own sanity through lies and manipulation, can lead to serious mental health issues: depression, anxiety, even a nervous breakdown. Gaslighting is a slow process that can take time to recognize and heal from, but treatment helps. Whether the victim recognizes it earlier or only gets help after a mental health crisis, the right treatment can bolster self-esteem, aid recovery from mental health symptoms, and restore normal function.
Gaslighting is a particularly insidious type of abuse. It sneaks up on you, makes you feel as if you are the one going crazy, acting irrational, or being overly sensitive. It doesn’t necessarily include physical abuse, but it is damaging and devastating.
My experience with this kind of emotional and psychological abuse stretched my nerves to their breaking point. After going through a nervous breakdown and losing all ability to function normally, residential treatment saved me and healed me. My story is a warning and a source of hope for others.
How It All Started
I never in a million years expected that I would end up in an abusive relationship. I hate to admit it now, but I judged women who were. Didn’t they see what their boyfriends or husbands were doing to them? Why did they accept it? Why didn’t they just leave?
My experience with abuse began with a guy who seemed so perfect. I met him at a friend’s party. He was a friend of a friend of a friend, and we hit it off right away. He loved cats, which was huge for this crazy cat lady; he enjoyed the outdoors like I did; he was into fitness and also loved to relax with a good bottle of wine.
The relationship became a whirlwind. We seemed so perfect for each other, and it was all very exciting and passionate. Within two months we were living together. The first thing that went wrong had to do with our shared love of wine.
After a party where I had maybe one glass too many, he sulked for days and told me I embarrassed him. The next week, when I had two glasses with dinner, he criticized me. He told me that my friends talked about how I drank too much. Before long, he had convinced me that I had a drinking problem and to give up alcohol completely.
Then, He Had an Affair
After I gave up drinking, things went back to relationship bliss. He was so happy with me, and it felt great—as if I had accomplished something. Of course, I know now that my drinking was never problematic. The return to happiness was short-lived.
I started to notice things that seemed suspicious: he got secretive about his phone and changed his password; he stayed late after work more frequently and often came home smelling like he had been drinking; he became distant with me, not wanting to stay up talking like we used to.
When I confronted him about these things, my boyfriend told me I was crazy, outright. He didn’t beat around the bush. He said I was paranoid, suspicious, delusional, insecure, and overly sensitive. Then he was nice about it, reassuring me that my fears were unfounded. It was so confusing. I vacillated between feeling certain he was having an affair to feeling stupid and questioning myself.
I found proof. I managed to get into his phone and see text messages. I confronted him about it. But he got angry. He showed me his phone, and the texts had been deleted. He told me that not only was I crazy and imagining things but that I had violated his privacy and trust.
How Gaslighting Led to My Nervous Breakdown
The affair and the alcoholism were the two main ways that I now know my boyfriend gaslighted me. But every day was something. He persisted in belittling me, then admiring me, telling me I was imagining things then praising me for being smart and successful. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I had a nervous breakdown. I know it’s not an official mental health term or mental illness, but there is no better way to describe what I went through. The stress of the abuse led to a complete lack of functioning. I couldn’t go to work because I just stared at my computer screen and even cried. I stopped seeing friends and family. Ultimately, I didn’t get out of bed.
Thankfully, my best friend had been concerned for a while. I don’t blame her for not speaking up sooner, because my boyfriend could be very convincing. But when she hadn’t heard from me in a week, she came over to find me in bed, not having showered for days.
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Getting Treatment for Breakdown and Trauma
My friend helped me leave my boyfriend. She gave me a room in her apartment, but I still couldn’t function. I couldn’t just get over it. She convinced me to see my doctor, who suggested a psychiatrist. Because I couldn’t even make myself a meal, I realized I needed more than just some therapy, and I didn’t want to be medicated out of a depression, either.
I decided to go to a residential treatment center, a place where I could relax, focus on me, and actually heal. My therapist there explained gaslighting and helped me see how none of it was my fault, that I wasn’t to blame. I realized I was not overly insecure or sensitive. I wasn’t crazy. I was the victim of abuse.
I also came to recognize that more than a year of his abuse had left me traumatized. The breakdown was a symptom of this, not the underlying problem. To heal, I would need to go back over my abusive experiences.
Therapy included some trauma-focused strategies, which were painful but helpful. I also went through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), learning how to stop my negative thoughts in their tracks and change them. I attended group sessions for support and benefited from the camaraderie and experiences of those who had been through similar situations.
Treatment was more than just therapy, though. Being able to let my guard down and face my recent past would have been impossible anywhere else. I needed that time to heal, to learn from others, to enjoy healthy foods and outdoor recreation, and to not have to worry about work and other responsibilities.
Healing After Emotional Abuse
Leaving treatment felt like starting a new life, starting fresh. I can’t say that treatment completely healed me from the trauma of the abuse. But what it did was give me the tools to keep moving forward and to be ready to build on the therapy I went through in the facility. It empowered me to take control of my life and my wellness again.
Gaslighting will always be something that happened to me. It’s now a part of me and my past, but I don’t let it define me. I am not a victim anymore. I understand that it was never my fault, that I did nothing wrong. I also understand the power of taking care of my mental health. I never take it for granted anymore, and I hope that by hearing my story anyone else who has suffered abuse can learn and take a step toward healing.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.