I’m not a therapist qualified to explain gaslighting other than the dialogues that I’ve reexamined in my own life in the past year and a half. A great starting place is here. A better than I care to write explanation comes from here where I borrowed:
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 film, ‘Gaslight,’ where a young woman named Paula falls madly in love with her suitor, Gregory. After an intense romance that led to marriage, Gregory begins to display pathological narcissistic behavior, leading to Paula’s insanity. In one scene, Gregory tampers with the gas light in the attic, causing the house lights to dim. When Paula mentions hearing footsteps in the attic and the lights dimming, Gregory tells her it’s completely her imagination, making Paula question her judgment. Gaslighting is now the widely used term for when a narcissist truly messes with your head.
My friends didn’t approve. They wanted someone handsome and smart and someone that treated me well and I couldn’t see that he wasn’t all of this. I had love in my eyes and I couldn’t see. I had to protect him from their jokes and their mean because I wanted him to be okay and they wouldn’t have let me keep him.
There was a time when my opinions were met with defiance. I saw it was yes and he insisted it was no. I said it was this way and he thought my eyes were tired, I couldn’t see in the lighting we had. It was no and it was always no, but I saw yes and said it was no to stop fighting. I hate fighting and I’d rather be wrong.
Seasons shifted and friends melted away. He didn’t like who I was with her and she was crass and loud and didn’t like how he treated me, but this was normal, right? Choosing the one that kisses you and letting go of your friends that know you and see the energy shift in you that came from him is what you do when your love is all consuming. This is what it looks like when you feel love . . . Right?
I wanted a night out with friends and we were meeting at a bar, but he insisted he should drive me and wait outside the bar with our kids in the family van until I was done. I was being selfish and he was trying to protect me from myself. It wasn’t control because he was so upset about having to do it. Even if I didn’t want him to. That’s normal, right? It’s what a caring husband is supposed to do, isn’t it?
Friends told me he was flirting but he was always a flirt. He got it from his grandfather and I should accept that because that’s who he was. He once got in a fist fight with a complete stranger outside of our apartment building because he got a smile that seemed to say I was doing what he was. I was covered in puke and running after baby needs and at a loss because I had no idea how to be a mom, but he thought I had energy or desire for anyone other than him because I was so tired, too tired to look at him. Or anyone.
I started to shift around him afraid of his anger or worse, his sadness. My actions made him happy or sad. I made him do things and say things so I behaved in his way as best I could, chafing at what was right because I felt it was wrong. I stopped questioning if it was right because it didn’t matter anymore.
I had errands to run . . . Target and groceries and he was home with kids, but an hour was enough and at that point he would text me for my location and when would I be home because he needed a break to run and go play and be with friends and I needed to be home with the kids because my time to run errands was a freedom he couldn’t afford.
I would lose myself in a book or two or three in a day. I would escape in another world so I wouldn’t have to see what was in mine. I would write until he would look for my words and use them against me. He took the part of me that felt safety and freedom in crafting worlds of fiction and he made me feel that being a bookish broad took my marriage from me.
Last week was:
“For the record, I really fucking hate you.”
” . . . pussy that reflects badly on you is the open gape between your crusty thighs. I hope you catch something from all the whoring around you do and die so I can be rid of your skanky ass once and for all! Try not to knee yourself in the saggy tits!”
Joke’s on him, I have no sex.
“Not the good Christian abandoned wife you pretended to be . . . Glad people finally get to see your true colors.”
Yes. I’m finally writing!
It’s been a year of this including text messages from his “special friend.” They both think I’m physically unattractive and a bad mother. It’s been a dialogue I have no control over and a trust that is so broken that my need to control is fueled by this underlying fear and I’m faced with my inability to take risks.
My internal dialogue is I’m a single mom to autistic kids and that is a bag of rotten tomatoes no one will seriously want to invest in. If he does, I worry he wants to victimize my kids. So there is space and distance. And fear and I’m not looking for serious relationship material. I can’t have that right now. It’s not allowed and I won’t allow it.
But there has been space. There has been enough distance to see that my life and who I am has nothing to do with what he told me. The shades of his lies still color my view and I will always wonder if I’m seen the way he saw me. I will be insecure until I remember I don’t have to be. It creeps out in new conversations and I look like there is a compliment I’m trying to find, but it’s really a moment of forgetting who I am.