Friday, October 30, 2015

"Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity." - Wikipedia

9 months ago, I wrote a blog entry about emotional abuse in relationships. It wasn't exactly my finest piece of writing ("HEY EVERYONE, PEOPLE WHO SOCIALLY ISOLATE YOU ARE PROBABLY BAD!") but it got a bit of attention, because a lot of people seemed to relate.

I described a relationship where a partner would isolate me by lying to me. Whenever I saw any of my friends, he'd flip out and accuse me of cheating on him, or ignoring him. It would get pretty nasty. But when I confronted him about it, he outright denied he ever got angry. To me, it was a pretty obvious pattern of behaviour. But according to him, it wasn't. When I made my accusations specific, he'd make an excuse for that specific occasion, where it was my fault, and I was lucky I had such an understanding and supportive boyfriend as him. He'd say I was paranoid, and obviously couldn't remember it properly. He'd say it was ok, because I was his, and he forgave me. For months, I was obsessed with arguing him into seeing my point of view. I thought it was all a misunderstanding; that once he understood how awful he was making me feel, he'd apologise and stop hurting me so much. I eventually grew tired with arguing it out. I stopped provoking him, I stopped speaking up. He never did understand.

A kindly soul in the comment section (A phrase which, not surprisingly, has zero hits on Google) identified that behaviour as gaslighting. I'd never heard that term before. I started reading. And god, my eyes were opened.

I remember the first time I read a list of symptoms of social anxiety, and it blew my mind because I had no idea it was a thing. Suddenly these horrible feelings I was experiencing weren't just me being an awkward twat; other people were talking about it, it was a thing and other people understood what I was going through. Discovering the word gaslighting felt like that. I read article after article, and identified with a lot. I had a name for something I'd experienced. It helped me understand my history better. And it got me to thinking about how it still effects me now.

I suspect the main way it effects me is in my expectations; part of me always presumes it's going to happen again. I struggle communications problems, because I still believe that I won't be believed. That there's probably no point speaking up, because I'll be argued out of what I'm feeling anyway. Instead of bringing up issues relatively quickly, I'll spend months internally reflecting on them, hashing out what I'm feeling with third parties, preparing counter arguments in front the mirror. I build myself up for exhausting arguments; it still surprises me when what I think or feel isn't dismissed.

I suspect that through "losing" my reality to gaslighting years ago, I've become hyper protective of it now. I'm terrified of being argued out of it. My reality is not up for debate. I've come out of the mindless haze I lived in for so long where I didn't trust my own head, and I'm very aware of my thoughts, my feelings and my intentions. I like them. I don't want to lose them. 

Which makes me a little shit to disagree with. Because however much of a wise oracle I like to think I am, I get things wrong. Regularly. Sometimes other people have insights I really need to listen to. Sometimes my presumptions are wrong. And when people call me out on that, I just stop listening to them, because I think they believe that my thoughts and feelings don't matter.

I don't hear, "You've got the wrong end of the stick." I hear, "I'm going to completely disregard your reality. Try this one, where you're a little bitch."

Which is unhealthy. I need to listen to other people. I need to consider what they're saying. I need to believe, most of the time, that people aren't lying to me or overriding my reality, or I'll end up a lonely, self important bitch.

I just need to learn how to do that while holding tight to my own reality. I'm not losing it again. I like it in here.

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