Recently, I’ve been bombarded with information about gaslighting, and at some point over these last few days I realized that I had fallen so very prey to it in my past that I have not yet recovered. I think I subconsciously set this blog up for me to work on the effects of the gaslighting because on some level (more conscious than subconscious now), I had realized that there was something just wrong with my interactions with people.
A little while ago the Boy said (jokingly) that I had quite a few deep seated neuroses to work on, and while it was a joke, there is some truth to it. Hence, I asked him what he meant.
His response was that I cared too much about what other people think. Maybe he’s right, but it’s because my reality has been twisted so much by others that it is hard for me to believe my own interpretations sometimes. And unfortunately for him, he (whether intentional or not) often caused me to doubt my own reality so that I needed confirmation about what was happening between us way back in the day.
I spoke to him about it briefly–without going into too much detail about what gaslighting was. I think I was afraid to even give him the definition of gaslighting because I didn’t think he would understand how he did such a thing, or, after looking at some of the warning signs, I was afraid that he would accuse me of doing it in return. The more my reality seemed to unwind with our situation, the more I needed to rehash it to make sure I wasn’t making it all up in my head, and that went very sideways…very often.
I needed confirmation that I wasn’t just crazy.
Unfortunately, as he needs things to be simple, the more I needed confirmation that I hadn’t been crazy when I saw things a certain way, the more he seemed to resent the rehashing. I always assumed it was because he didn’t want me to remember things the way they truly were, and if he was intentionally gaslighting me, that may very well be the case.
But I really don’t think that was his intention, which is why I would need to discuss it with him. I needed to know where the breakdown happened. At what point did my reality of the situation fracture from his? And which of our memories was the most accurate representation of the truth?
I needed to be reassured that I wasn’t just absolutely insane. I needed to know that what I felt had been real, and not all in my head. And with his inability to do that for me (because he was uncomfortable with the situation), it made my reality actually splinter.
There were too many other things in my life that were directly opposite of what my expectations had been. My job was awful, and even though I was making more money than I ever have before, I wasn’t able to stay on top of my debt for some reason. Meanwhile, my grandfather passed away and I had not expected it to hit me so hard. I needed someone to lean on, and I didn’t really have anyone, not even the Boy.
Instead of being able to lean on the Boy, he was making me question my view of reality. Gaslighting.
So what is “Gaslighting”?
The articles linked in this post* will tell you that gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which one person convinces the other that their memories are incorrect. The person being manipulated gradually begins to doubt their reality so much that they become completely dependent on the other person because they can’t trust their own memories, perceptions, anything!
For me, I think that perhaps it is something I’ve been dealing with for a long time.
Every fight I’ve ever had with my mother ends with her telling me that she remembers things differently, and even when I relate it word for word (I have a slightly eidetic memory) to her how the conversation went, she turns it into a guilt trip about how I always have to be right even when I’m wrong.
When I was younger, after one of those arguments, I would purposely hit myself on my legs, leaving deep bruises because then I knew I wasn’t crazy. I knew I was remembering things correctly because I had painful proof of what had truly happened.
My body was the only thing I had control of; even my memories weren’t safe. Memories that I was really certain were accurate would be brought into question. I would want to race to tell my father about it because, as the child, I needed an adult to be on my side. I needed someone to believe me.
I’ve never told her I used to do that, so hopefully this doesn’t become a new fight for us…I don’t need the negativity, and I don’t blame her.
Right before my move to Houston, the worst fight came, when I was told that if I didn’t do as she asked, I “wouldn’t have a family any more.” This has been my biggest fear since I was itty bitty, so I know I didn’t make it up, but when I told my father about it (and my brothers for that matter), I was told that that just didn’t sound like something my mother would say. I think that’s when the crack in the fabric of my reality first happened.
I know I didn’t make it up. I remember the fear and the instantaneous tears, but I had no witness, and everyone believed it to be untrue. Even my mother told me she would never say such a thing…but I know it happened. It was one of those things said in anger, and so not meant. But it was said.
So, when a year and a half later things started falling apart with the Boy, because all the things I thought he wanted from me suddenly weren’t, and when suddenly there was a whole slew of women in his life that he was attracted to or had been dating or wanted to date that he was telling me about while I was trying to actively date him, and simultaneously keep the rest of my life moving forward, suddenly my world went spinning.
Had I misread that many signals? Had I imagined the way it felt when he kissed me, or the way his breathing changed before that first kiss? Was I wrong about what it meant that he would talk to me at all hours of the day and night? And about what it meant that he wanted me to meet his friends? And meet his mother…to give her the keys to his place?
It didn’t help that the friends he had introduced me to were purposefully making me feel foolish, and accusing me of being clingy, sneaky, snooping, overstepping my boundaries, and wanting more than what I wanted. They would make jokes at my expense, or purposefully drag a joke out that I didn’t get until I felt like I was an idiot for not getting the joke, leading me to try to correct the joke. At which point the Boy would look at me like I was actually an idiot and then tell me it was a joke…
Definitely a gaslighting technique…albeit probably not intentional.
And when one of them accused me of looking through the Boy’s things to find out information that the Boy had told me about, not only was I offended, but his friend was so adamant that that is what I had done, I began to wonder if I had somehow forced the Boy to tell me this information.
Suddenly I not only doubted my memories, but the image I was projecting.
Was I really that clingy? Did I come across as one of those women who snoops? I am not a snooper! I think once you feel the need to snoop then it’s over. Look at how things went with Superman. I didn’t need to snoop, but once I stooped to snooping, it was time to move on.
But here were these men accusing me of being that girl.
I needed the Boy to tell me that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t making it all up. He couldn’t do that for me. The more I tried to tell him how I perceived it, the more he just told me that wasn’t what he wanted anymore. He couldn’t understand why I needed to know about the part that was past. And I couldn’t understand what had happened to make him change his mind. Nor could I explain myself because I didn’t know why I needed to know so badly.
Unfortunately, the more I pushed him to see what I saw, I think I may have inadvertently become the manipulator. I needed so strongly for him to see it my way, to know that I wasn’t just crazy, that I began forcing my point of view on him…even when I was actually wrong.
We talked about it recently. It caused another fight, as much as I wish it hadn’t, but I finally got the answers that I needed. Our communication is broken.
But I understand why now.
I think that the knowing why and how it became broken may actually help to fix it. Of course, it may be that he doesn’t want to fix it now, but at least I’m aware of what I did to cause the problem. I know now why the smallest doubt can become a huge fissure in my self-esteem and my communication.
It may very well have been what happened with Superman.
For that matter, it’s probably what has gone wrong with many of my relationships. It is probably why I am so needy. I need to know that the guy isn’t going anywhere. I need to be reassured that my reality is actually based in reality.
One day, there will be a man who is willing to hug me and tell me not to worry, and who can discuss it with me rationally until I no longer doubt what I know to be true. One day someone will hug me and kiss me on the forehead and tell me it’s going to be okay, and I’ll believe him.
*Be sure to check out both Gaslighting articles: