This morning, I was browsing Facebook, as you do, and I came across a meme that talked about how victims of gaslighting often develop a tendency to over-explain themselves.
And it hit me hard because it’s so true.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse and manipulation where one person tries to alter someone else’s reality. For example, someone telling you that you’re remembering something wrong, or that something didn’t happen, when you know it did. It’s not a lapse in memory or a mistake, but a concentrated effort to undermine you and make you question what you know so that they can avoid accountability for their actions.
I still feel the after-effects of gas-lighting.
When confronting a problem in my current relationship I basically feel like I have to have a powerpoint presentation complete with times and dates and specific instances.
It’s still in my head that everything I say is going to get denied, invalidated, or ignored. I am always wrong. What I think happened – didn’t. Unless I can prove it. And even if I can prove it, it doesn’t matter because – let’s change the subject.
Someone listening to my feelings and accepting them at face value? That’s still new to me. It’s wonderful but new and unfortunately, someone treating you kindly and respectfully is not a magic wand that erases all past trauma.
In my last relationship, I had to keep notes of things that happened or were said so that days later I could make sure it had really happened. I’d screenshot conversations so I could have them saved to defend myself. I questioned my sanity so many times that it nearly led me to have a mental breakdown.
Eventually, it got to the point in the relationship where I would just rollover and not even argue.
My truth wasn’t worth defending anymore.
My ex was an alcoholic and an addict and everything in our relationship was my fault. There were so many times when I asked myself “Am I bad?” I questioned my motives, I questioned myself, and who I was and most of all my sanity.
I never said that. That never happened.
Those words defined our relationship.
If I tried to confront her with proof of something, she’d ignore me and change the subject. Her favorite line was, “You’re stressing me out right now and I just can’t handle it.” Conversation over. I wasn’t allowed to be upset or hurt or have feelings – ever.
I wrote her an email once and I listed every single lie, deception, manipulation, and horrible thing that she’d ever said and done to me. Everything I wasn’t ever allowed to talk about it.
Do you know what she did?
She apologized. She owned up to everything and she said she was sorry for what she put me through and she validated every single feeling I had.
I felt seen and heard and acknowledged and I broke into tears.
Proof – finally – everything that had happened had happened and I was allowed to be upset about it. I felt relief in that moment. I had tried so hard to convince myself that things “weren’t that bad” and maybe I just wasn’t being understanding enough or compassionate enough or I was too sensitive, it was my fault, it had to be. Yet here was validation that I deserved an apology!
A week later, it was back to the same thing. Everything was my fault. She didn’t do that and if she did do it, then it was because of me.
Being in a relationship with someone in addiction was hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I think about all of the things that she did, things that I can’t even put into words, and my brain doesn’t understand it. How could I stay in that situation for so many years?
My heart reminds me that I stayed because I believed that underneath the substances and the spiraling out of control was someone who was meant to be in my life. I felt guilty when we’d break up because I felt like she needed me and I was just this horrible person who was leaving someone when they were at their most vulnerable.
In reality, it was just the worst kind of co-dependence. All we did was perpetuate a toxic cycle.
The final staw in our relationship was when she told me that she didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t buy her a new phone and put her on my phone plan. I said no. That was the end for me. I’d spent three years with her and I’d financially supported her 80% of that time while she promised she would pay me back.
The way she felt entitled to the phone – I just couldn’t deal. Like after everything I’d gone through, a phone would be the sign that I really cared?
So I moved on. I can’t explain why that time was different but it was. It was my rock bottom. I started dating, found a new relationship, discovered happiness, but the gaslighting didn’t stop.
She’d send me texts blaming me for ending the relationship while completely ignoring her ultimatum about the phone. She called me a liar. Told me that she was the one who always loved me and I just used her.
When I’d bring up the phone it would go completely unacknowledged. When I brought up her other relationships or when she’d told me she had fallen in love with someone else it would just go back to the accusations. In the reality I was supposed to live in – I was a heartless person who rejected someone who was faithful and loving to me and who never did anything wrong.
I blocked her. And blocked her again. And again.
The only way to get away from gaslighting is to cut off all contact.
I wish that I could magically forgive – to be honest, I haven’t yet. It feels like every few weeks I discover a new trigger that was born from that relationship.
It shaped me into a new person, one that sometimes I wish I wasn’t. I’m less emotional, I’m less open, I have a habit of trying to let everything go because in those three years I had enough confrontation and discussions to last the rest of my life.
I don’t like that I still bear marks from all of that, even though I know it’s part of growth and being human – we all have marks.
I’m starting to heal though, really heal, not just the surface stuff. I’m learning how to reclaim some of the pieces of myself that got hidden away.