Until my marriage starting falling apart, I didn’t know what gaslighting meant. Unfortunately, I know too well what it means now.
Gaslight/ˈɡaslīt/verbgerund or present participle: gaslighting
- manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.“in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband”
The cruelest thing gaslighting does is it takes away your truth. Gaslighting makes you doubt your own reality and, if you are unfortunate enough to suffer with depression and/or anxiety, it takes away almost everything.
During the final few months of my marriage, my husband accused me of cheating. I knew it was untrue, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Refused to discuss it. Told me that was why our marriage was ending. Accused me of lying. It mattered not one bit when I discovered that it was actually HIM who was cheating. I was still one who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
More than two years later, I am questioning everything in my life.
I have always believed myself to be an honest person, quite often to my detriment. As a kid I wished that I could lie to my parents about my misdeeds without the dead giveaways of my bright red face and my stumbling speech. Over the years, I learned to take pride in my ability to speak up for myself, and in my trustworthiness and honestly. But after being accused so many times of being a liar, have I gotten it wrong all my life? Am I really a person who can’t be trusted to tell the truth, as I’ve been told? Do I really twist reality to my benefit, as I’ve been told? I honestly don’t know.
I had been the primary caregiver of my children for most of their lives. I took great pride in my children and was proud to have raised three people with whom I enjoy spending time. But did I get that all wrong, too? Was I a bad parent? Have I really done such horrible things that I deserved to have my legal guardianship of my youngest son stripped from me? I honestly don’t know that either.
Did the fact that for a few months this past summer I thought my life was no longer worth living and my actions caused me to be involuntarily confined to a psychiatric hospital really cause my former in-laws “a great deal of pain?” So much pain, apparently, that not one of them reached out to me while I was in the hospital or when I returned home?
These days I feel like I’m living that song by the Talking Heads:
“and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? And you may ask yourself, am I right? Or am I wrong. You may ask yourself, my God, what have I done?”
My God, how did I get here? And, how the hell do I get out of here?
I want to be able to trust my instincts again. I want to be able to trust that my truth is reality. I want to know that I count. I want to know that I am a good person. I want to know that I did the best I could in my marriage and that its demise wasn’t all my fault. I want to know that I’m not perfect, but I’m learning and growing and trying to be a better human being.
How do I undo years of gaslighting? How do I stop needing to constantly plead to deaf ears that I am telling the truth? How do I convince people who have been my family for more than 25 years to pick up a phone call from me, or to just listen to what I have to say? How do I stop being invisible to people who were such a large part of my life for more than half my years on this planet? How do I get them to treat me like a person? How do I convince myself that I’m okay? How do I convince myself that I’m enough? How do I convince myself that I am worthy of being loved?
Because I want out of this Talking Heads song now. I want a new song. I want to trust myself again. I want my power back.