By now, most people realize that deceiving someone is trying to separate them from a core belief in themselves and their reality. In a genuine gaslighting situation, an abuser will often say things like Are you sure that’s how it happened? I don’t remember it that way. Or maybe it’s like this: I think you took my words too seriously. You are too sensitive and don’t know how to take a joke. In extreme situations, the abuser suggests that something is seriously wrong with the victim, that they need professional help.
I’m quite familiar with this phenomenon because my narcissistic ex did it all the time. His favorite method was to try to argue a pointless point for hours on end, insisting that he was crazy. But here’s the really crazy thing:
He knew when he was doing it. I just didn’t know that I had gotten really good at doing it to myself.
I questioned my memories a lot. Sometimes my mind would go blank and I would think, in my numbness and dissociation, that maybe it wasn’t so bad.
Only it really was. So here are the ways narcissistic abuse survivors enlighten themselves. To be honest, sometimes even well-meaning family members join in. There may be more than four, but these are the ones I got really good at.
Gaslight Lie #1: I should be over this by now.
My divorce became final seventeen and a half years ago. I haven’t lived with my ex for almost twenty years. Y Wouldn’t you know? I still get distracted sometimes. My last hard trigger was realizing that an acquaintance was the victim of some pretty serious abuse and didn’t even know it. It was like walking and talking to myself in a way. I even witnessed an exchange between the couple that left me sore and shaking for a couple of days. And it was just a text message.
It wasn’t about them. Meanness and control were all too familiar to me. My body still remembers things that my mind has at least somewhat reconciled. I’ve learned this: healing from trauma, spiritual growth, and reaching real maturity is usually measured in decades. Sometimes friends and family will try to encourage and say All of that is in the past now. I even tell myself. But time does not heal anything. Jesus and intentionally seeking healing does. And he takes the time he takes. Period.
Gaslight Lie #2: Maybe it wasn’t abuse. Maybe it was just a bad game.
This is minimizing abuse for one simple reason. Admitting that someone who was supposed to love you tried to tear you apart piece by piece hurts. It really hurts. And the questions that follow are usually not legitimate questions, but they should be asked and answered anyway.. It was my fault? Is there something wrong with me? Could I have prevented it? These are just more iterations of the ways we light up ourselves.
Here is the truth. Your spouse knew what he was doing. They chose to do it. You are in no way responsible for your actions. Whenever I doubt myself or my version of events, I count certain occasions. I remember the time he stormed into the bathroom while I was in the bathroom, brandishing a shotgun and threatening to kill my dog if I didn’t get rid of him that day. I remember the bad names. I remember the animals that he hurt. I remember. And it’s okay if you do too. We don’t need to reflect on them to live in anger. We remember so that we will be wiser next time. So we don’t ignore the red flags and the knot in the stomach. We remember to survive and ultimately thrive.
Gaslight Lie #3: I should have handled everything differently.
I still wonder why I didn’t tell the judge about the extent of the abuse. That is until I remember how deep a traumatic bond can go. I couldn’t even tell myself what was really going on, let alone a judge. We question ourselves and our supposed weakness over and over again. In truth, dating may require all the courage and effort you have. If you didn’t break that traumatic bond right away, if you didn’t lose the fear they’ve worked so hard to instill over the years, you still deserve an incredible amount of credit for standing up to your abuser and walking away.
Sometimes the family gets into this and peppers us with questions about why we didn’t call a lawyer sooner. Why don’t we call the police? Or the worst: Why didn’t we leave earlier? Trust me, I have asked myself these questions and I still get the same answer. To be abused at the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath is to be a prisoner mentally, physically, financially, and emotionally. And the only one who can get us out of our prison is us. Take a break. And tell your family to back off.
Gaslight Lie #4: I should stop talking about it. If she was over it, she wouldn’t have to talk about it.
The only cure for the kind of cognitive dissonance that occurs when a spouse turns out to be your enemy is what psychologists call rumination. We tell our stories over and over again to help our minds understand the depth of betrayal. I’m not saying you should bore all your friends by repeating the same thing over and over again. I’m saying you should have one or two people who love you enough to go on and on.
We need people to help us renormalize what is abuse and what is not.
Or you have to pay a counselor who will listen to you and not try to fix it. You are not broken; you are mending the way people mend, by telling your story.
And eventually, you will come to terms with your story. I told my wonderful husband my story the other night; that of my beautiful boxer, Brin, who I had to get rid of. I said it without anger. The words came out peacefully, but still painfully. I am sad for her.
But sadness is an old friend of mine. I am even a friend of anger.
Twenty years later, I don’t have to pretend I don’t know them. I hug them when they come to visit and see them off when they are ready to go. But I’m still here and Jesus holds me steady, he won’t let my foot move now that I’m all his. And he still listens to my story