Gaslighting

16 Apr

I have mentioned a few times that I found a website called www.survivinginfidelity.com that is a great resource for everything that I have been going through.  Not only do they have forums and support groups, but they also have resources and FAQs that are packed with great information.  As I was browsing through the FAQ I found one on what they call “gaslighting.”  The first part of the answer describes this behavior perfectly:

“This term is taken from the movie “Gaslight” where the husband (Charles Boyer) tries to make his wife (Ingrid Bergman) think she is going mad by convincing her what she thinks she is seeing isn’t real. When the WS is either caught or suspected, he/she may try to convince the BS that they are not seeing what they think they see or that something didn’t happen, even though everything points to the fact that it DID happen.”

I have never seen the movie and I hadn’t heard that particular term before but it is SO accurate.  I even tried to find the movie on Netflix or cable so I could watch it, but 1944 movies don’t seem to be in high demand.  Anyway, it is something that my husband did to me early in our relationship.  It is really hard to accurately describe how it feels to be on the receiving end of gaslighting.  It is disorienting.  It reeks emotional havoc.  It is a terrible, self-doubting experience.  It is incredibly cruel in the way it turns your own mind against you.

Let me give you just one excruciating example from my life.  A few months after my husband (then boyfriend) moved in with me (about a year into our relationship) I started feeling very uneasy about his behavior.  I won’t go into all of the reasons right now because they aren’t really pertinent to this particular story.  I will say that I had already experienced gaslighting on a smaller scale, and I was starting to see quite a few signs that things weren’t quite right.  Around the same time we moved in together we also decided to combine phone plans (actually I added him onto mine).  One day when the anxious feeling was especially strong I decided to log into the phone bill online and do some peaking around.

I don’t know what I expected to find.  Most of me was hoping that all my fears would be assuaged, and I could get on with my day blissfully.  Part of me knew that there was nothing good waiting for me on the other end of the “Call and Message Details” link.  I clicked bravely and held my breath as the data loaded… and felt it all knocked out of me when I saw page after page of calls and texts to a number I didn’t recognize.  Still, I tried to rationalize, go through a list of possible reasons in my mind, try to convince myself one of his friends or brothers got a new number without me knowing (after all, they are his friends and family, so its possible).  I did a reverse phone lookup (those things are quite amazing), and I could feel my stomach winding up into a tight knot – it was a cell phone registered to someone in Madison County.  As far as I knew, he didn’t have any friends or family there.  I called the number trying to get more information and got the voicemail for some woman.  A woman I had never heard of.

I don’t even know how I got through the rest of the day.  It was all a blur of mind-numbing pain, confusion, and deep hurt.  When I got home from work that night he wasn’t there yet, and I found myself pacing and restless, unable to sit down or stop my racing thoughts.  I decided to go to a local park.  I had an overwhelming need to get out of the house – away from all the walls that seemed to be closing in on me.  While I was driving there he called me.  I managed to answer the phone even though my hands were shaking from a combination of anger and anguish.  He was cheerful, called me “baby,” and said that he was on his way home to me and couldn’t wait to see my face.  I remember just feeling shocked that he would sound the same – that he could seem as loving and happy as he always did – when my world had just imploded.  I don’t know what I said, but I know that he caught on very fast that something was wrong.  I told him that I needed to talk to him, and I told him the park where I would be.  He acted like he was completely unaware of what could possibly be the matter, but he put on the concerned, supportive boyfriend voice and said he would meet me there.

Those first few minutes alone in the park were surreal.  I went over to the swing set and just started swinging.  I wasn’t crying.  I wasn’t planning what I was going to say.  I was just sitting there, swinging between two worlds – the one I had in my mind where I had a loving, devoted boyfriend and the real one that I was about to confront where he had been cheating on me.  The motion and breeze on my face were comforting, and the calm and still of the park at night were a direct contrast to the swirling madness going through my head.  All too soon his headlights cut through my reverie, and it was time to face reality.

©2008-2012 ~goose77

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman being gas...

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman being gaslighted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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17 Responses to “Gaslighting”

  1. tripb September 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    WOW, that brought back feelings from my own experience… every cheater is also a liar, they go hand in hand… and they will do or say anything to make themselves look innocent… turning things around on an accuser is their go-to move.
    Since my ex, if anyone accuses me of infidelity, I’m immediately done… I ALWAYS look at It as them reflecting their guilt on me. I may be a little damaged.
    Great writing… and sorry that you belong to the club, it sucks.
    Gaslight is a wonderful movie by the way…

    • beautifulmess7 September 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

      It does suck. He never accused me of cheating, just of not trusting him and snooping… Turns out I had every reason TO snoop and NOT to trust him.

  2. dbiscuit July 27, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    oh how i wish i could say that i have no idea what this is like. but i can. i think one of the stranger parts of our recovery was that my relief that i wasn’t crazy trumped my horror at the disclosures.

    • Blythe August 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      This is story that really hits home for me. I’ve been the “crazy”, untrusting snoop a time or two myself. The realization I have come to is that the behavior, both mine and theirs is unhealthy. I believe men lie about these situations if they care or don’t want to lose what they have. I also believe they do it because they can, not because they’re monsters. Women have the right to say this “what ever behavior it is” is not acceptable for them. I had the right to walk away at anytime when I wasn’t being treated the way I thought was right. I didn’t have to resort to snooping around to try prove anything. Just having that feeling is a big red flag for me that I need to pull back. If I feel that a particular behavior is inappropriate then guess what, its is. I’ve allowed many people to tell me my thought, feelings, wants, and needs are off base and shouldn’t have. Now I let people know this how I see it, if they try to gaslight me I tell them to stop and let them know they’re responsible for their own feelings. I am willing to walk away and lose someone who isn’t right if it means saving myself. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helps people find their own voice and trust in themselves.

      • beautifulmess7 August 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

        You are so right. I know all of those things now. I grew so much form the entire experience. I have become stronger, more assured, more self-confident. You are right that red flags alone are enough. My reactions were unhealthy. I am working every day to make myself a better person. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. emotional tornado July 6, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    I’m glad I finally found the background for the term gaslighting. I had figured it out in context but it makes more sense now. I think years of my marriage were gaslighting. I was cut off and lied to all the time. There was always some reason, another lie. Everyone needed help moving or working on their car etc, etc. Always a lie for why he was gone or was going to be gone. He had a whole life going that I didn’t know about. I worked so hard at being a good wife & mother here that I didn’t fight it. Being bitchy wasn’t part of being a good wife. Now I know that calling him on his shit is not bitchy. It is standing up for myself.

    • beautifulmess7 July 6, 2012 at 8:05 am #

      Exactly! You have a right to have a good husband. That means knowing what is really going on.

      I am so sorry you had to ensure years of gaslighting. You are so strong! I definitely would have cracked under that emotional strain.

    • beautifulmess7 July 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      I found something recently while reading Codependent No More that really resonated with me. You reminded me of it with your reply. Here is a quick exerpt:

      “Maybe we’ve been taught to not trust ourselves. This happens when we have a feeling and we’re told it’s wrong or inappropriate. Or when we confront a lie or an inconsistency and we’re told we’re crazy. We lose faith in that deep, important part of ourselves that feels appropriate feelings, senses truth, and has confidence in its ability to handle life’s situations. Pretty soon, we may believe what we are told about ourselves – that we’re off, a tad crazy, not to be trusted. We look at the people around us – sometimes sick, troubled, out-of-control people – and we think, ‘They’re okay. They must be. They told me so. So it must be me. There must be something fundamentally wrong with me.’ We abandon ourselves and lose faith in our ability to take care of ourselves.”

      So yes – you have a right to stand up for yourself. When you feel like something isn’t right, trust yourself. You aren’t bitchy. You are empowered to take care of yourself.

  4. The "ME" Project April 18, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    I read this while I was at work yesterday, and it literally made me sick to my stomach- it was almost EXACTLY my story. Do these guys go to school to learn how to be so cruel and lie so blatantly? That was the thing I still don’t get- how could you lie like that? I mean, where do you get the balls?
    You really laid it all out there, girl. That had to be hard for you if it was that painful for me to read. I hope it helps you let all that stuff go a little bit more. Good writing!

    • beautifulmess7 April 18, 2012 at 9:19 am #

      Thanks! It is amazing how many women’s stories are almost identical. It really makes you wonder… How are all of these men screwed up in exactly the same way? I really don’t know.

      It was hard to write, but it’s better than keeping it all trapped in my head.

  5. beautifulmess7 April 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Ben, thanks for your thoughts and support. It was hard to write, because it brought all those emotions back up for me. But it was also a relief to find all the words to express myself, write them down, and remind myself of where we came from and how much better things are now in comparison.

    You said, “Presumably wanting to get caught implies feeling guilty about it, which then implies a core decency that I suspect was what allowed you to hold onto the relationship when everything finally blew up.” I would certainly rather believe that than the alternatives, which are that he really was that stupid, he thought *I* was really that stupid, or he didn’t really care if I found out or not.

    I think he has at least proven that he does care about my feelings, even if he wasn’t thinking of them at all at the time. I know I’m not stupid. And I really think that he did know he would get caught, felt guilty, and simply didn’t have an exit strategy at all. I do know that I was “lucky” in the sense that he didn’t take things underground, find a way to keep things going without me being able to track it, and that I found what I needed in the way of proof within a relatively short period of time. Some others on the forums were not that lucky and the gaslighting went on for much, much longer.

    Honestly, though, I do believe a lot of this type of behavior stems from deeper issues. Not necessarily a “fundamental character flaw,” but certainly not rational thought. In fact, some of his behavior is so far away from something that anyone with a normal thinking process would do that I have to believe him when he says it was something that was ingrained into him from a young age. Certainly not the cheating part – but the lying, hiding things, keeping emotions inside, fearing to tell the truth, etc. I try to remind myself that those patterns are hard to break, even when you are really trying. It gets me through… That and knowing that he really is a good, decent human being who does love me.

  6. Ben April 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Wow, that’s a powerful story– you do a great job laying out just how terrible it was to have to go through that, evoking such strong emotions. I know it must have been difficult to write, but I hope that it also helped you to heal some in the writing and sharing of it.

    By the end, I couldn’t help but think that somehow he wanted to get caught… I mean, it seems really dumb on the surface to continue doing that sort of thing over the phone when you already know that your significant other has her radar up that’s something’s not right and has the means to check it. Presumably wanting to get caught implies feeling guilty about it, which then implies a core decency that I suspect was what allowed you to hold onto the relationship when everything finally blew up. I’m guessing you believe this to be a matter of a horrible, horrible mistake instead of a fundamental character flaw.

    You must be a heckuva woman to have the strength to both forgive AND give him the chance to learn to be a better man.

  7. najaorama April 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Great post. I had not heard of gaslighting before but it sounds maddening. Thank you for sharing.

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