Have you ever heard of the term gaslighting?
No? For years I hadn’t either but I’m here today to tell you what it means.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that’s used to plant a seed of doubt into someone’s mind that makes them question their own version of reality.
- They can tell you a downright lie which you even know is a lie.
- They can deny they even said something despite you having the proof that they did.
- You’ll be told that you’re too sensitive, paranoid, mentally unstable, silly or unhinged.
- They’ll discredit what you say making you feel as if you’re crazy.
- They’ll change the subject or make statements like, “You remember it all wrong.”
- They can minimize your feelings. “You’re just being too sensitive.”
- They deny or avoid certain things
- They’ll tell you that you “Have it all wrong.” eventually leading you to doubt yourself.
You’re left constantly second guessing yourself, wondering what’s the truth and what’s a lie.
It can promote anxiety, depression, and can even cause mental breakdowns when pressed.
Your partner may make you feel like you can’t correctly remember specific scenarios. You might feel neurotic or as if you’re ‘losing it’. You might feel the need to withdraw yourself due to the depression, overwhelming feelings of hopelessness or even find it difficult to trust your own judgment. You might be afraid to voice your feelings or find it impossible to stand up for yourself.
When I finally got away from my abuser, I thought I could ‘bounce back’. As if some how I could return to any form of normalcy. I moved from the apartment we shared back to my parents because I couldn’t live where everything took place. My life was in unpacked boxes while the nightmares plagued me, from the discolored patches on the walls that covered the holes to the sickening stench the place possessed. I blindly believed that the independent woman that lived before I was abused would immediately come back and I could shrug it off.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, I didn’t want to hear any empowering “You’re free now.” statements. I didn’t want to go see a counselor. I just wanted to forget it all happened and bury all the feelings I had regarding the situation and leave them behind. It wasn’t until I was sitting with my sister in the car one day that I realized exactly how wrecked I actually was inside. She wrapped her arms around me and I just cried.. I cried until I was gasping for air.
My mother tried to do everything she could to help me through the pain I was experiencing but it felt different coming from someone who was unbiased. My sister didn’t judge, she didn’t tell me what a monster he was, she just sat there silently with her arms wrapped so tight around me. Sometimes we just need someone who will listen to us get out every little bit of what’s eating us out even if they don’t say a word. In that moment, I needed someone to just BE THERE.
As most of you know, Monday was court for temporary orders for my daughter and much to my surprise, it went really well. Although my anxiety was at an all time high because this was the first time in 10 months that I had seen my daughter’s father, I stood my ground and was determined that I would not falter, no matter what may happen. I never thought I’d get over him, I never thought that I would look at him without missing who he used to be and when I saw him Monday with his new girlfriend, it made me realize that the person that I fell in love with wasn’t real, it was all fake, HE was fake and he would never change. The first thing my attorney said to me upon seeing him was that she thought he was still on drugs and even though it broke my heart because he wasn’t willing to change for his own flesh and blood, it actually relieved me in a sense that I’d never fall in love with him again.
Of course seeing him after such a long time had my heart pounding, especially due to the fact I thought I might have to take the stand and tell my story, all over again and who wants to do that? Who wants to relive the pain of what they’ve been through? Nobody. Much to my surprise though, I didn’t have to. We went into the judge’s office, my husband told the judge that he hadn’t seen his daughter in 8 months because he had been in jail, the judge asked why he was in jail and he told him for family violence and the judge pointed to me and asked if it was against me, he said yes and then the judge asked him why he thought that he shouldn’t give me sole custody and give him supervised visitation. The response after that still makes me shake my head because he actually tried to tell the judge that he believed that there were circumstances in which abuse was okay and the judge just looked at him and said, “No, there is NO excuse for laying your hand on a woman.”
It was funny because he continued to try to argue with him about it and then mentioned the tools that were in the car that got repossessed. Now I don’t know about you guys but if you’re put in a situation where you might possibly lose rights to your kid, tools should be the last thing on your mind but it wasn’t his. He asked the judge what he was supposed to do about his tools and the judge just told him that it wasn’t his problem. He gave me sole custody, gave my husband supervised visitation and now he has to pay child support. I think what bothers me the most is that despite everything that he has been through, he’s still not willing to change, he’s still not willing to put his children before himself and that breaks my heart for my daughter.
In 2011 I met a guy online who I’d talk to for hours on the phone and text constantly. When we finally agreed to meet in person, I was beyond excited. The first weekend we spent together was great, he was cute and different than any guy I’d ever been with before even though he told me the next time he came to visit he was moving in which I’d brushed off as a joke. It wasn’t but despite the alarming speed our relationship grew, I stayed with him regardless. I hadn’t dated anyone in a while and had this fear that no one would want to be with a single mom.
A few months into the relationship, we got into trouble at Walmart and I got arrested while he took off running leaving me to take the fall. I’m by no means a Saint but I’d never been in any serious trouble with the law and going to jail was one of the most terrifying experiences to me. After I got out, my parents came to get me and he was already blowing my phone up apologizing for leaving me. Now there were already signs that I should have left him: substance abuse, him leaving me there, being hesitant to introduce him to my family and that gut feeling when he got angry that he might hurt me. I knew the state of his life already but I genuinely believed I could fix him despite that internal alarm screaming at me.
We eventually got back together and within that time I found out I was pregnant leading us to get married. Marriage has always been a big deal to me especially my family being there to share the moment with but our wedding wasn’t anything like that and my family wasn’t there. Shortly after we got married, he hit me for the first time. I can’t recall what caused the fight but he asked me if I loved him when we got married, he didn’t believe me when I said yes so I told him no which led to him pushing off the bed. He pulled me back up off of the floor then punched me in the head.
I should’ve believed him when he said things wouldn’t be the same afterwards because they never were. Despite helping him make sure he was able to see his son, get back and forth to his jobs and giving all of my time to him, things still got worse. Time went by and the abuse ranged from punching, kicking, spitting in my face, pulling my hair, depriving me of sleep to fight to eventually choking me until I was unconscious. It wasn’t just physical though, he’d yell at me while I was driving, call me stupid and told me no one would ever love me and he was all I had. He isolated me from my family, punched my hand until it was broken because I wouldn’t touch him and burned me with a cigarette. He told me my family was against our marriage which drove a wedge between my mother and I.
They had tried to get me away from him but my failed relationship with my son’s father had me yearning to not create another broken family and some how the abuse was penance for allowing things to fall apart. So much time was spent wearing sweaters to cover the bruises which he’d show to his friends as if they were some trophy. The first time he hit me around my son I was seven months pregnant. He told him to shut the door while we went to the living room to ‘talk’. I was told to stand still while he hit me stating that “This is the pain you’ve put me through. Now you have to just stand there and take it.” He threw punches, kicked me once I was down, hit me with a plastic flute until it broke then pulled the connector to a wooden chair off and hit me in the head with it.
The tears didn’t come anymore with his threats of leaving. Part of me wished he just would’ve even though I’d tell him to stay to keep him from hitting me. I’d try to convince myself that we should work because of our daughter and because I really believed that I’d never be able to survive without him. He’d apologize, shower me with gifts, bring me lunch at work and tell me how much he loved me. This would last for a little while until something set him off again. He’d constantly accuse me of cheating and go through my phone and email picking out random contacts I was ‘cheating’ with even though I’d never been unfaithful. He’d gaslight me until I began to question my own sanity. The second time he hit me around my son was when we’d taken a vacation to Dallas and then to Memphis. I’d forgotten to grab his clothes from the closet when I’d grabbed mine and he just lost it. He called me selfish, pulled me off the bed and pushed my head against a door hinge then hit me with a plastic hanger until it broke leaving a gash on my arm.
My son asked why he was hitting me and I was told to lie and say we were just playing around I was 8 months pregnant. The last time he hit me was March 16, 2012 exactly two weeks before my daughter was born. He was coming down from meth and running on three days of no sleep. We were having the typical fight of him asking if I was cheating. I told him no, he didn’t believe me so I told him yes. He was going to beat me no matter what I’d said which I’d just accepted. A part of me wanted to die just so there was no more pain because if I was as terrible as he made me believe I was then why live?
I’d considered giving up custody of my son just so he wouldn’t have to be in that toxic environment anymore. He kicked me, punched me, choked me multiple times until I blacked out. The one time I tried to leave prior to this incident he pinned me against the wall and choked me until I passed out. I believed with every fiber of my being that this was it, he was going to kill me. He sprayed Shout in my eyes and hit me with the brick of a laptop charger. The abuse continued for what seemed like an eternity until he finally calmed down enough for me to ask him if he wanted to go to the store since he was out of cigarettes. Some how through everything, I’d made up my mind that this was going to be the last time he hit me.
My first glimmer of hope was after we went to the store and got to his friend’s house so he could get weed. He took the keys and my phone with him but once he was inside the house I took off running to the first house I saw with lights on. The ladies inside let me use their phone to call my mom once I explained what’d happened. I just needed to get away from him, give him time to calm down. That’s what I thought anyway. Shortly after the police were contacted, he turned himself in and was locked up for two months. Hours after he’d been released, his family had contacted me begging to see my daughter and allowed him to talk to me despite the emergency protective order that’d been in place. He’d called me while he was in jail so had his friends.
The last time I saw my abuser I told my family I was going to church but after service was over I went back to him. Six days I was housed up in a hotel with him and his family so they could see this little girl and things were good until I wasn’t able to get a U-Haul which was going to be used to move our things to the apartment we’d decided to get to start a new life away from my family. I was torn. I didn’t want to lose my parents like I’d lost my condo or my car. They’re small material things, yes, but they were all that I had to show my independence. It was the first time I’d lived on my own and the first new car I’d ever financed but, without him, I couldn’t afford either.
When his dad and I got back to the hotel, I could already tell he was in a foul mood but still I wanted to console him. He didn’t hit me but he yelled for about 10 minutes until the police showed up which were tipped off by my parents who had someone follow us to find where we were staying. It’s been hard to come back and I still struggle even five years later. I struggle with my self esteem, I struggle with standing up for myself and cannot bear any form of confrontation out of fear of what it could escalate to so I apologize even if it’s not my fault. The journey is long and that silver lining takes so long to appear but you deserve so much better. What abusers put you through isn’t love, it’s the need to control and manipulate due to their own insecurities.
When seeking help for domestic violence, call from a public pay phone or another phone outside the house if possible. In the U.S., you can call 911 for free on most public phones, so know where the closest one is in case of emergency.
It’s important to know the pattern when it comes to an abuser. The cycle of abuse is a social cycle theory developed in 1979 by Lenore E. Walker to explain patterns of behavior in an abusive relationship. The phases usually go in the following order and will continue until the batterer is stopped.
Not all relationships follow the same cycle, and individual experiences vary, some stages – especially the honeymoon or calm periods, may shorten or be left out completely, especially as the abuse intensifies over a period of time.
Each stage of the cycle can last from a few minutes to a number of months,
- The abused may seem to walk on eggshells to avoid confrontation.
- Abuser seems irritated or moody.
- Communication begins to deteriorate leaving the abused feeling alone.
- Abuser may withhold affection.
- Any type of abuse occurs
- Abuser apologizes for what happened.
- May promise it will never happen again.
- Blames victim for provoking the abuse or denies it ever occurred.
- Minimizes or denies the seriousness of the abuse that took place.
CALM before the tension starts again.
- Abuse might stop or slow.
- Abuser acts like the abuse never happened.
- Promises made during honeymoon stage may be met.
- Abuser may give gifts to victim to reconcile.
- Victim believes or wants to believe the abuse is over or the abuser will change.