Updated: Jan 9, 2020
"I never said that."
When indeed he did. It's a flat out lie...and he knows it
"I would have never agreed to that, you're make it up."
So you are either lying or I'm crazy.
Oh. That explains it.
Did you get that idea from one of your brothers? You aren't smart enough to come up with that yourself.
Hm. Did I? I don't think I did. But if you said I did maybe I'm wrong?
"Just because this happened doesn't mean we need to get a divorce"
Actually, what just happened could put you in jail...pretty sure its a big deal..but you're probably right.
"You always over react to stuff like this, see why I can't tell you anything?"
I guess I'm just really sensitive. What's wrong with me?
This is a very normal thing to happen in marriage. Stop blowing this out of proportion."
I don't know of a single person who would be ok with this but I'm probably just naive, I guess.
"It's not even that big of a deal."
It really feels like it is, though.
"You think you're perfect but you are so far from it. Everyone can see that"
No, you point out all my flaws. I know Im not perfect. But maybe I act like I think I'm perfect? Man. I hope I don't make anyone else feel bad by acting that way.
"Are you seriously bringing that up again?"
Well, yeah because you did it again. But I guess I shouldn't? Maybe I just need to keep quiet more.
"I don't remember"
It was yesterday...weird.
"I never told you I'd be home at that time"
I swear he said he would be home by 6:00 and to have dinner on the table.
"I was at the office I swear! You're so paranoid."
There I go again...making a big fuss out of nothing. I'm sure he really was at the office like he said. Its just that my gut is telling me he wasn't. His stories don't match up. But I over analyze everything, I guess.
These are just some "Off the top of my head" examples of phrases that were used in my previous marriage all the time.
Deep down I knew I couldn't be THAT off on SO many things. I knew I wasn't forgetful. I knew I didn't make things up. I knew what I knew.
But he was so convincing. Could my intuition be that off? Because...why would he steer me wrong ya know? I guess I wasn't on the ball like I thought I was? Maybe lack of sleep? Maybe pregnancy brain? Maybe I really was losing it?
Could I be legitimately crazy?
Nah. Dude was gas-lighting me.
Gas-lighting is a term that came from a 1940's movie called Gas Light. In it the abusive husband slowly dims the gas lights in their home and pretends nothing has changed. He does this to have his wife doubt her own perceptions.
I remember the first time I realized what was going on.
I was sitting in my closet-turned office (cuz I'm fancy like that) ingesting the words he was so eager to share.
I repeated them in my head over and over again.
"You think you can make a difference in this world but you can't. You think you have a positive effect on people but you don't. You think you are good at so many things but you aren't."
You'd think I would have felt insulted. You'd think I would have been mad. But honestly? I felt thankful to him for telling it to me how it was. For not sugar coating it all and telling me the truth.
It sucked that I tried so hard in life and wasn't getting anywhere. He helped me see that.
And shame on all of those people in my life for lying to me. For complimenting me. For feeling bad for me and telling me anything other than the truth. It really did make me mad when people would compliment me. Why did they have to lie like that?
The longer I sat there contemplating what my husband had said, the man who's words I learned to just accept as doctrine or else, the man who was supposed to be my number one support, the man who was supposed cheer me on and to lift me up...that guy...I concluded something.
Either he was wrong, or every other person in my life was wrong.
I sat there trying to figure it out. Because certainly my husband wouldn't just say those things, right? He wouldn't intentionally hurt me like that? But wait...everyone else in my life showers me with compliments and tells me how amazing I am. Like, not JUST my Mom. Everyone!
I sat there processing those things for a couple minutes.
OH. MY. GOSH!!!!
Guys. I'm not kidding. Years removed from the situation and I get how NUTS this sounds but that moment is THE moment I gained even the smallest amount of power because I realized that HE was wrong!
He was the liar. HE was the one who was insulting me. Everyone else was right! And they saw me for who I was. And LOVED and supported me and believed in me. They saw my efforts matched with my heart. They saw my natural talents, my beauty, all the good parts of me.
They weren't lying when they complimented me. They weren't making things up to make me feel better. They weren't making me feel crazy.
I walked up to him and fought back with all the strength I could muster up.
"YOU ARE WRONG!"
I yelled it at him. No, screamed it at him with fists clenched and tears rolling down my face.
"I DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THIS WORLD! I DO HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON PEOPLE."
I didn't just crumble. Not this time.
I'm sure I looked like a hot mess but I felt SO powerful in that moment.
My brain had been hijacked. It had been taken over. It had been manipulated so bad.
That was a hard realization to have. Not knowing what was truth and what wasn't. Not knowing how long this had been going on.
Its an odd feeling.
Ugh. Sometimes I still get pissed. How dare him, or anyone do that to another human being.
Honestly? That was the beginning of one of the worst fights we had ever been in. It was ugly, and scary, but something I saw coming for a couple of years.
I don't regret standing up for myself, though. That defining moment was crucial in my healing.
I don't know why my brain shifted that day. Or how I was able to see that he was poisoning my soul.
I didn't even know what gas-lighting was.
But I do now.
I'm now remarried. My poor husband, Jeremy. If he even comes close to telling me my recollection is wrong about something I flip out inside and go into fight or flight.
Not once has this man ever intentionally hurt me. Even during our ugliest fights. He has never insulted me. He throws compliments at me like I'm the shiz. Do I know he isn't gas-lighting me? YES!
But my brain is like...ok, see! It's starting! He went this long without doing it but here we go! He is going to start to change. You need to protect yourself. RUN!
This all happens in a split second.
And then he comforts me. Walks me through the reality. Holds me until I'm calm.
Why would someone manipulate someone like that? Well, it doesn't just happen overnight. And, it's not a behavior they are born with. I was reading an article about gas-lighting on vox.com and they described the gaslighter pretty well:
"the technique is a way to control the moment in the relationship, to stop the conflict, to ease some anxiety and feel “in charge” again. It’s a way for someone to deflect responsibility and to tear down someone else, all the while keeping the other person hooked, especially if what they are hooked on is the desperate need to please another person — or prove that person wrong.
People aren’t born gaslighters like they are born introverts or extroverts. A gaslighter is a student of social learning. They witness it, feel the effects of it, or stumble upon it and see that it is a potent tool. It’s a cognitive strategy for self-regulation and co-regulation. To be frank, it works."
Ok, so that's about the person doing it. What about the person on the receiving end? Years and years of second guessing their sanity! Here is a quick list I found of signs and symptoms of someone who has been a victim of this vicious tactic.
No longer feeling like the person you used to be
Being more anxious and less confident than you used to be
Often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
Feeling like everything you do is wrong
Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
Having a sense that something’s wrong, but being unable to identify what it is
Often questioning whether your response to your partner is appropriate (e.g., wondering if you were too unreasonable or not loving enough)
Making excuses for your partner’s behavior
Avoiding giving information to friends or family members to avoid confrontation about your partner
Feeling isolated from friends and family
Finding it increasingly hard to make decisions
Feeling hopeless and taking little or no pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Guys, I was all of that plus more.
I'm still not all the way rewired. I have to be very intentional about not saying sorry. I have to remember that I am intelligent enough to make a decision by myself. I have to continually do work to remember that all bad things are NOT my fault. That I'm a sensitive person but I don't typically over react to situations enough that would cause someone to think I'm losing my mind. I don't remember being an anxious person and anxiety RULES my existence still.
When I left I struggled looking people in the eye. I struggled having a conversation with people. I struggle forming sentences. I was SO used to being controlled I didn't know how to just exist within myself.
One more example of how troubling life was at the time and how confusing things could be...and then I'll wrap this post up.
I was on vacation with my family. I have 6 amazing brothers. I love them all and look up each one of them.
My husband at the time and one of my brothers were walking next to each other. I was walking behind them. There was a fork in the sidewalk because a palm tree had grown in the middle of it. My brother went left, husband went right.
I went left.
Boy, did I regret that. Husband grabbed my arm and walked sternly with me to the side of the beach.
"Why did you go left? Why did you choose to go left back there?"
"Um...because? I just was walking and that's the way I decided to go?"
"Don't even give me that. You went left because your BROTHER went left. You ALWAYS do what they tell you to do. You would follow them to the ends of the earth. You are supposed to follow me! You are supposed to do what I tell you to do. You are supposed to walk where I walk!"
I truly was confused. Did I make a wrong decision? Should I have gone right? I mean, I didn't mean to follow my brother...does that make me a bad wife?
I wasn't a bad wife.
Or a bad Mom.
Or a bad daughter.
Or a bad sister.
I wasn't obese.
I wasn't ugly.
I wasn't dumb.
I wasn't less than because I grew up poor.
I wasn't less strong because I had been bulimic and not anorexic
I wasn't stupid because I didn't get a bachelors degree
I wasn't a horrible person that should be put in jail
I can, indeed, make my own decisions
These are all things I've had to rewire. Things I've had to figure out if they were true because he told me they were true and I believed him.
If you are experiencing this, I'm so sorry. It's not ok.
The first and most important thing you can do is realize its happening.
Second, seek help from a mental health expert. I did a crap load of therapy and still struggle with it a bit here and there. Limiting beliefs caused by someone who was supposed to build me up but tore me down one piece at a time.
Third, DON'T take ownership of this happening to you. You were lied to, you were deceived, you slowly but surely worn down over time. He didn't do this all the time but JUST enough to make you question EVERYTHING! Try not to feel stupid once you realize what has been happening. Find power in your newfound freedom of knowing that you are NOT crazy.
I'm not going to sugar coat it...the road out does indeed feel like you are crazy. You will have to relearn how to trust yourself. You'll have to relearn how to make decisions for yourself. You will have to try and figure out who you can trust. Who is telling the truth.
But, girl! You are strong. You've got this!
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