This might be a disjointed post, but that mirrors the state of mind I’m in when I’m experiencing the impacts of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term for prolonged emotional and psychological abuse which is designed to make the victim doubt their own perceptions of reality. It’s a particularly harmful type of abuse and the impacts of it can last for years after the abusive relationship ends. The lasting impacts of gaslighting can be invisible or vague to the outside eye, but are extremely powerful and terrifying to the survivor.
Much gaslighting and emotional abuse is perpetrated by sociopaths and various types of narcissists. These folks lack empathy. They lack the ability to understand the feelings of others. They can exhibit levels of cruelty that are difficult to fathom, but they often “pass” as normal, functional human beings. They often have good jobs, and often live ordinary lives. They can often appear to be quite charming, especially in short controlled (always by them) interactions. The cracks in their normalcy only begin to become evident when you get to know them over longer periods of time, then the signs of missing empathy and humanity begin to peek through. But by that time you are quite likely hooked, trapped and unable to escape. For those that have only short interactions with the sociopath/abuser, they may continue to think that he is a basically “good person,” model employee, good father etc. This can add levels to the gaslighting, because the victim/survivor has difficulty being believed, when her abuser has so much “street cred” as a decent person.
My abuser regularly spreads lies about me. He tells anyone who will listen how crazy I am. He also tells people in the community, including people who interact with my children, how crazy I am. He tells them how I never took care of my children, how I never bonded or attached to them (they were both raised with me as a stay home mom, exclusively breastfed etc), he even lies and says they were in daycare from birth! He tells people what a good caring person he is, how sad it is that despite his love, he just wasn’t able to cure my severe mental illness and the marriage ended. These are the type of lies he tells to others.
While we were together, he used my PTSD against me. Basically saying that it was because I was crazy (from being abused as a teenager) that I didn’t like what he was doing (abusing me) and that any “normal woman” would be okay with it. He used me being “crazy” as a trick to keep me trapped for years in the relationship. When I tried to get away he threatened me saying that the police wouldn’t believe me because I was “crazy.”
All this is emotional abuse. It’s all gaslighting. It all made me and makes me doubt my own reality.
Being abused over a long period of time is complex. Because the abuser is also someone you are in a relationship with. You never really know when the abuse will happen and when things will be “fine.” You never know when you’ll sleep through the night and when you’ll wake to be assaulted. You never really know…
Thus for many survivors (myself included) waiting can be a huge trigger.
One way that I try to cope with ongoing fears of abuse is by never upsetting anyone. This means that I worry a great deal that anything I say or do, or don’t say or don’t do, or might say or might do, or might not say or might not do…might have terrible consequences for me or someone I care about.
Gaslighting has conditioned me to believe that everything is my fault. That I’m potentially to blame for everything around me. And it has made me unable to adequately determine what is and is not my fault. It has left me with very poor conflict management skills. In a conflict situation, I freeze. I say or do whatever I think will get me out of the situation quickly. I say or do whatever I think will be safest in that moment, which isn’t necessarily the best option long term. My PTSD brain kicks in and I don’t behave in a rational thought through manner. I don’t have control over this. I’m not being passive aggressive. I’m not being manipulative. I freeze. Or I’m trying to stay safe. Even if there is no ACTUAL danger, in my mind there is.
Gaslighting and triggers related to gaslighting leave me doubting myself in every possible way.
I can go to work, give a presentation, feel good about myself, feel I did an adequate job and then go home. An hour after arriving home I can be completely convinced that I made a horrible mistake, said something offensive, said something my coworkers would not have said, said something that could cause irreversible harm to someone, embarrassed myself, brought shame on my organization, made all my coworkers hate me etc…
It’s an extreme reaction!
I’ve spent entire weekends ready to quit my job, convinced that a single email I sent has ruined everything I’ve worked for in 4 years. That everyone will hate me and want me fired.
These are trivial examples, but they illustrate the impacts of gaslighting that still remain in my brain. I literally doubt reality ALL the time. I somehow think I’ve done something wrong, even when I have done nothing at all.
I need a lot of reassurance. This isn’t entirely because I lack confidence or skills. It’s because I can, at a moments notice, begin to doubt everything I knew to be true a few minutes early. I can get to a place where I even doubt I was abused. I can believe that maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I made things up. I need reassurance about things most people consider self evident. I know it’s frustrating for those around me. I know it doesn’t always make sense. I know you wish I could just love myself. But I can’t. I need your patience and reassurance. I need to hear that you believe me. I need to hear that it’s not my fault. And I’ll need to hear it again tomorrow.
These are the lasting impacts of emotional abuse perpetrated by a narcissistic abuser.