This morning, I was browsing Facebook, as you do, and I came across a meme that talked about how victims of gaslighting often develop a tendency to over-explain themselves.
And it hit me hard because it’s so true.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse and manipulation where one person tries to alter someone else’s reality. For example, someone telling you that you’re remembering something wrong, or that something didn’t happen, when you know it did. It’s not a lapse in memory or a mistake, but a concentrated effort to undermine you and make you question what you know so that they can avoid accountability for their actions.
I still feel the after-effects of gas-lighting.
When confronting a problem in my current relationship I basically feel like I have to have a powerpoint presentation complete with times and dates and specific instances.
It’s still in my head that everything I say is going to get denied, invalidated, or ignored. I am always wrong. What I think happened – didn’t. Unless I can prove it. And even if I can prove it, it doesn’t matter because – let’s change the subject.
Someone listening to my feelings and accepting them at face value? That’s still new to me. It’s wonderful but new and unfortunately, someone treating you kindly and respectfully is not a magic wand that erases all past trauma.
In my last relationship, I had to keep notes of things that happened or were said so that days later I could make sure it had really happened. I’d screenshot conversations so I could have them saved to defend myself. I questioned my sanity so many times that it nearly led me to have a mental breakdown.
Eventually, it got to the point in the relationship where I would just rollover and not even argue.
My truth wasn’t worth defending anymore.
My ex was an alcoholic and an addict and everything in our relationship was my fault. There were so many times when I asked myself “Am I bad?” I questioned my motives, I questioned myself, and who I was and most of all my sanity.
I never said that. That never happened.
Those words defined our relationship.
If I tried to confront her with proof of something, she’d ignore me and change the subject. Her favorite line was, “You’re stressing me out right now and I just can’t handle it.” Conversation over. I wasn’t allowed to be upset or hurt or have feelings – ever.
I wrote her an email once and I listed every single lie, deception, manipulation, and horrible thing that she’d ever said and done to me. Everything I wasn’t ever allowed to talk about it.
Do you know what she did?
She apologized. She owned up to everything and she said she was sorry for what she put me through and she validated every single feeling I had.
I felt seen and heard and acknowledged and I broke into tears.
Proof – finally – everything that had happened had happened and I was allowed to be upset about it. I felt relief in that moment. I had tried so hard to convince myself that things “weren’t that bad” and maybe I just wasn’t being understanding enough or compassionate enough or I was too sensitive, it was my fault, it had to be. Yet here was validation that I deserved an apology!
A week later, it was back to the same thing. Everything was my fault. She didn’t do that and if she did do it, then it was because of me.
Being in a relationship with someone in addiction was hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I think about all of the things that she did, things that I can’t even put into words, and my brain doesn’t understand it. How could I stay in that situation for so many years?
My heart reminds me that I stayed because I believed that underneath the substances and the spiraling out of control was someone who was meant to be in my life. I felt guilty when we’d break up because I felt like she needed me and I was just this horrible person who was leaving someone when they were at their most vulnerable.
In reality, it was just the worst kind of co-dependence. All we did was perpetuate a toxic cycle.
The final staw in our relationship was when she told me that she didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t buy her a new phone and put her on my phone plan. I said no. That was the end for me. I’d spent three years with her and I’d financially supported her 80% of that time while she promised she would pay me back.
The way she felt entitled to the phone – I just couldn’t deal. Like after everything I’d gone through, a phone would be the sign that I really cared?
So I moved on. I can’t explain why that time was different but it was. It was my rock bottom. I started dating, found a new relationship, discovered happiness, but the gaslighting didn’t stop.
She’d send me texts blaming me for ending the relationship while completely ignoring her ultimatum about the phone. She called me a liar. Told me that she was the one who always loved me and I just used her.
When I’d bring up the phone it would go completely unacknowledged. When I brought up her other relationships or when she’d told me she had fallen in love with someone else it would just go back to the accusations. In the reality I was supposed to live in – I was a heartless person who rejected someone who was faithful and loving to me and who never did anything wrong.
I blocked her. And blocked her again. And again.
The only way to get away from gaslighting is to cut off all contact.
I wish that I could magically forgive – to be honest, I haven’t yet. It feels like every few weeks I discover a new trigger that was born from that relationship.
It shaped me into a new person, one that sometimes I wish I wasn’t. I’m less emotional, I’m less open, I have a habit of trying to let everything go because in those three years I had enough confrontation and discussions to last the rest of my life.
I don’t like that I still bear marks from all of that, even though I know it’s part of growth and being human – we all have marks.
I’m starting to heal though, really heal, not just the surface stuff. I’m learning how to reclaim some of the pieces of myself that got hidden away.
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Love the gaslighting meme, but the layout and text are a little confusing. The word “you” is used to describe both the gaslighter and their victim and the flow chart jumps back and forth between the two. Maybe one color for descriptions of the act, and another for the fallout?
Has anyone gotten some real way to effectively handle these type of situations? . Someone help please.
I thank you for this. Everything you said from the PowerPoint presentations all the way down to having to write everything down so you’d have something to go back to, hit me like a ton of rocks. It’s been over a year since me and my narcissistic gas later broke up but yet I am still living with the confusion and Aftershock of it all. We share a child together and I have to see him everyday which doesn’t help but I pray every night that I can somehow get past this, just erase it from my mind so I can quit thinking about it and just move on. But hearing other people that share the same effects of that type of person, it’s kind of like a little hug that I can’t get anywhere else. So thank you for your post. It is kindly appreciated.
Thank you for sharing this,. This spoke to me and mirrors my current relationship which feels like it is finally coming to an end. From getting a power point presentation to screen shots, to constantly having to defend REALITY and not sink into their reality. Especially the part about being too stressed out to have a conversation about your own thoughts and feelings and then being completely shut down and invalidated. I’m sorry you had to go through this and I’m sorry I’m currently going through it.
Dig in the internet. You’re gonny find lots of stuff on this.
See a therapist if you feel like talking to someone.
Good luck man. It’s going to be good.
I’ve been with a narcissist gas lighter for 8 years. Our 8 year anniversary is actually tomorrow and two weeks ago my 16 year old son and I escaped him while he was in the bathroom at the hotel we were staying at. I had gotten to the point of just giving in to the gas lighting and accepted that I must just be crazy or for some reason deserved the treatment I received. It wasn’t until my son that hadn’t been in close proximity of the gas lighting until that road trip that I finally had the validation I so needed. My son looked at me and said “mom he’ll say something to you and when you confront him about it and repeat it back to him word for word he’ll say your wrong or he didn’t say that and he’s trying to make you think your crazy but your not” in that moment I made the decision to take my son and just run and not look back. We had a couple hundred dollars in our pocket and were 8 hours away from home and had nowhere to go or anyway of getting home but thank God for my family that got us on a flight that night and kept us hidden long enough fir our abuser to move on and accept that I wasn’t putting up with it anymore and that I did truly have people in my life that cared about me and were willing to do whatever it took to get me out of that relationship and some help for the damage he had done to my self esteem and trust in my own judgment. I came to the conclusion that once my abuser realized I had family in my corner and they were on to him and his games of control and confusion he moved on and lost interest in our marriage and me. He had lost his power and control and for him that wasn’t satisfying anymore. It’s only been a few weeks but the change in my thought process and ability to stay focused on one thing at a time is amazing. I don’t have all that confusion and need to prove myself right anymore and it’s so freeing not having to constantly prove to yourself your not crazy. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for my son and I now that our dictator is gone. And I’m so thankful for my son and his insight and courage and trust in his mother to just run and believe in me enough to know I’d get us home safely and sound and together just the two of us. He had every right not to trust my judgment after putting up with the lying and cheating and manipulating and finally the physical abuse for as long as I had but he did and for that I’ll never ever be able to put into words how much that meant to me in that moment. I just needed for one person to trust my judgement or not tell me I was crazy and to whole heartedly love me enough to still see the person I was before the abuse began and I lost myself and who I was and what I stood for and believed in. He still saw his mom and a strong woman that loved him so much that when I said go he didn’t hesitate a second. He’ll always be my hero and I hope to someday be the strongest woman he knows. Thank you for your article. It validated so many things that after a few weeks you start to forget about and wonder did I do the right thing? I now know 100% I did the right thing and whatever struggles we have ahead of us won’t ever compare to the damage my abuser was doing to my brain.
There is someone using your gaslighting graphic to promote anti-trans rhetoric, Dina McMillan:
Thank you so much for letting me know. That’s so disappointing and made me feel a bit sick. I’ve asked them to take it down. Thank you for letting me know.
Thank you! I looked Dina up after reading some of her self-promotion of DV work and was very disturbed by the content of many of her tweets.
One good thing was that when I googled contents of the graphic to see if it was in fact hers, it led me to your site, which _is_ helpful! Thank you for your work.
Warm wishes, n