Are you in a relationship which leaves you questioning your sanity? I read this article on Gaslighting, featured in the link a few months ago and it immediately grabbed my attention. Awesome to learn that it even has a label! I wish that I would’ve known about gaslighting 10 years ago because had I been able to spot this form of very subtle, yet highly manipulative behaviour, it would have saved me from so much suffering and self-doubt. I hope the article on gaslighting will give you an “aha” moment, as it did me when I first stumbled across it. It now makes perfect sense why my ex would happily let me go alone to couple therapy – after all, I was the one with the problem. Or the many times that he would deny conversations that we had existed. Or the way he would take a small grain of truth and twist it into something totally unrecognisable and present it as fact. So much so that you are left very confused and thinking maybe I have got it all wrong! If any of this resonates with you, chances are you are not wrong, nor are you crazy but you probably have been subjected to gaslighting! According to the article:
The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.
I now realise that I could fill a whole book with all the instances of being gaslit! For today, the one example that springs to mind occurred around 7 years ago when my family moved from my country to my husband’s country to start a new and happier life. I was looking for a job in my profession as a teacher. As a family, we desperately needed to start earning and It was expected that I should look for a job because I had always been the bread winner. At this point we had been married for 8 years and my husband had spent this time busying himself with various money-making schemes (which he always sabotaged) alongside being a half-hearted student. So there we were, new immigrants with lots of huge uncertainties and I was nervously preparing my CV (resume). I was perhaps expecting a little encouragement, but instead I remember being quite shocked by his reaction. He said to me quite seriously that no-one would really want to employ me! According to him my qualifications and work experience were just typical of thousands of other applicants and I was nothing special! My initial reaction was that this was harsh criticism to say the least, and I was angry at this very unfair criticism and I went into defence mode. He retaliated of course with more criticism and “evidence” of my shortcomings. But interestingly, this is where the gaslighting effect really worked. I later started to think that he may have a point. We all know that It can be tricky securing a new job and so I started to put myself down and minimised my qualifications and my unique experiences that I had to offer, his criticisms still ringing in my ears. At this point in time, I was newly living in a foreign country and I was slightly nervous about being able to just slot in to a totally new environment. I was absolutely more vulnerable. I also believed that he must be right because it was vital that one of us needed to get a job in order for the family to survive. It would therefore be absurd that he would deliberately sabotage my chances of securing a job, wouldn’t it? That would have been just crazy! For a while, I also held the false belief that my husband wanted the best for me and supported me. Of course when someone says something so negative and discouraging to you, warning bells should be ringing loud and clear. The warning bells for me did ring but I dismissed them. I ignored my own intuition and truth, as I did many times in this relationship, to my detriment.
So you may be wondering why did he do his best to sabotage my chances of finding a good job, putting the whole family at risk. I will never really know for sure but I now believe that along the way, something went badly wrong with his way of thinking. In reality, because of the poor choices he made, he knew that deep down HE was nothing special. He definitely had lots of potential and coupled with coming from a privileged background he also had many opportunities, but he wasted everyone of them. Therefore when we moved to his home territory, he didn’t want anyone to notice that he wasn’t capable of getting a job, yet his wife was. Also, It was easier for him to mislead people about his “achievements” when we lived far away from his friends and family. I believe he suffers from Narcissisitic personality disorder and as a narcisist, he always had to be more knowledgeable, superior and the best at everything. But the truth was that despite being academically very able, his arrogance prevented him from ever finishing university or being able to work under someone – therefore when he made those negative, damaging comments to me, he had a long pattern of starting something then not completing it. He would argue with experts which was embarassing and would opt out of any situation in which he thought he might “lose” or come out second best. This resulted in a pattern of perpetually walking away from things, developing no inner strength.
I first really noticed this destructive pattern when he abruptly decided to quit his first university course after studying for 3 years. At the time I tried to convince him to complete the final module, so that he could at least graduate with a basic degree but he would not be persuaded. He always had lots of “evidence” to back up his ideas: on this occasion a whole string of allegations to suggest the university were highly incompetent. He could also be very charming and convincing and would beat you down with his arguments, so I was silenced and we never talked about it again. I recently had a conversation with a friend of his who thought that he did graduate from this university. Did the friend get it wrong, or was he also deliberately misled? The really annoying thing is that his friend was doubting my account of the situation – that’s how convincing gaslighters can be! To date, he has now “studied” for 9 years and has changed universities and courses many times. In addition, he started many businesses but never put in the hard work to make them a success. As a consequence he has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of our money (we lost our family home) but also money from his friends and family. Typically he chooses to blame everyone but himself. He also chooses to put others down in an attempt to make himself feel better about his own inadequacies. I feel pity for him that he can not live an authentic life and it’s such a tragic waste.
Thankfully, for me education is powerful and I hope that the next time someone tries to gaslight me I will be able to recognise it and then act upon it positively. I don’t want to repeat the pattern in any future relationships. My soul’s lesson here must surely be to always follow my inner compass and not let other people’s egos distract me.