Anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year.
As a survivor of domestic violence and someone who suffered an extreme escalation of abuse during Christmas and New Years, I wanted to devote a post to something near and dear to my heart: Gaslighting.
The holiday season can unearth some of the most insidious displays of mental and emotional abuse due to the heighten awareness of holiday perfectionism, or the ideal that the holiday season must be a perfectly executed event to show how “functional and loving” you are as a couple. Decades ago, psychologists and relationship counselors down-played this tactic as passive-aggression. Now that domestic violence and abuse has seen a new wave crash into the public’s consciousness, we shouldn’t second guess a gaslighter’s tactics and intentions.
As a disclaimer, I support women AND men removing themselves from toxic or unhealthy relationships with gaslighters, however it takes incredible strength to leave.
Until then, here are five lessons I learned the hard way:
Gaslighters thrive on your unstable perception of “their” reality. My ex constantly changed his story on a daily basis. He was working late one moment and the next he said he was at a friend’s house. Then he would tell me he was doing remodeling work at said friend’s house. The stories were never constant. I felt like my view of reality was severely skewed. I couldn’t trust my own perceptions. I became a bobble head to the whims of my gaslighter. It wasn’t that he was a pathological liar. He was carefully aware of my confusion and manipulated any situation to his liking.
During the holidays, stay aware of people, places, and things in chronological order. Sounds simple, but a gaslighter is a master in twisting the facts to suit their whimsy. Hold them accountable and trust your gut. If he/she tries to set you up for failure, as in “Return that immediately! I told you my mom doesn’t like jewelry!” when you specifically recall him pointing out a pair of earrings in the style she likes, do not waiver. Let him return jewelry. Chances are, he/she won’t.
Don’t try understanding the Gaslighter, as in “Why is He/She Doing This?” I had a terrible time coming to terms with the fact that my then-fiancee exhibited psychopathic or anti-social disordered behaviors. I read psychology articles and books on narcissism, psychopathy, anti-social disorder, borderline and bi-polar disorder. You name it, I read it. I also sought help from psychologists. Although this was a great checklist for identifying behaviors, it still didn’t answer the aforementioned question: Why is he being destructive for no reason?
Gaslighters enjoy creating chaos and havoc because it is about ego, “winning,” and dominance. If you haven’t read up on it, I suggest Googling “narcissistic supply.” It will give you a powerful lens to their modus operandi (method of operating).
Gaslighters want others to view you as “needing” them. Right before Christmas last year, my now ex-in laws visited our apartment to see baby Andrew. They brought food and gifts and we all settled into the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” of a new baby. Suddenly, as I was serving everyone else, my ex screamed “Why the fuck do you have the TV on? You never remember to turn off the g-ddamn TV! Jesus Christ!” This was in front of his immediate family. Everyone fell silent. Somehow it was MY responsibility to turn off the blinking TV monitor (the cable box was off). Never mind that I had cleaned and fed the baby for six hours straight prior to his family’s visit, I was made to look like the simpleton who clearly needed strong patriarchal guidance. I am not a mousey woman, so I stood up for myself and said, “You will not talk to me that way,” and excused myself to the kitchen. His mother made excuses for my “forgetfulness” while I sat almost in tears out of embarrassment. My ex stormed in after threatening to expose our engagement was off (it was off months earlier), saying, “You want me to tell them it’s over? That we aren’t engaged? Is that what you’re making me do right now?”I asked, no begged him, not to make a scene in front of his family.
Knowing what I know now, I should have let him do it. Blown the cover off the farce. In the end, everyone secretly knew who the bad guy was. It wasn’t me. Call his bluff.
Gaslighters want to manipulate your self-image to suit their ego. My ex was constantly accusing me of affairs while I was (very) pregnant or after I had just given birth. He actually accused me of leaving in the middle of the night while he was asleep to “whore around.” I knew where I was- sleeping next to him! Hearing the word “whore,” “slut” “disgusting” on almost a weekly basis briefly altered my self-image and made me question if I was deserving of love. “No one will ever love you but me when they hear about your past!” My past is like a fairy tale in comparison to his, so actually, he was dead wrong about that one. I’m not a whore. I’m not disgusting.
You are worthy of love. I have been lucky to experience it after him. Which leads me to…
Gaslighters want to hear about your past as “blackmail” material. My ex pulled every uncomfortable emotion and feeling of my inner thoughts for his arsenal. When I wasn’t moved by my old anecdotes during fights, he took my laptop, journal and cell phone to steal material that had happened well before we met. He then threatened to send my coworkers, family and friends intimate details and “proof” of text messages two years in the past so that I might lose my job, stay isolated and remain dependent on his income and company. Until I agreed to “make-up,” he said sheepishly, “I would never really send anything.”
You have the power to change your situation. Don’t let a gaslighter keep you hostage. Leave. I did.
Lots of love to those who are still looking for their way out.