One of the most awful weapons of abusers is known by a term that I learned way too late. It’s called gaslighting, and the entire purpose is to make you think that you are the crazy one.
If you want to know more about the term itself, click on the link above or do a quick search. There are lots of places to find information about it. The purpose of this post isn’t to define the word or give examples; it’s to assure you that you aren’t crazy.**
Let me say that again: YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.
Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams’ character finally breaks through to Matt Damon’s character? He repeats this line over and over again: “It’s not your fault.” I remember watching that movie many years ago and being genuinely touched by this tough-as-nails kid weeping in the arms of his court-appointed psychiatrist.
Yes, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but there’s something about that scene when he lets go of all the self-doubt and self-loathing that has always stuck with me. I didn’t quite have that breakthrough moment, but I felt something like it when someone close to me said, “I think you’re in an abusive relationship. I’m worried about you.”
I was on the phone with this person, someone I had not spoken to in a very long time, someone who very well could have written me off, someone who had long recognized the signs. I don’t remember everything about that conversation, but I remember breaking down. I sobbed. For the first time in years, I felt the odd embrace of being understood. Though I had never really been able to articulate what I felt, someone else knew what I was going through.
I wasn’t crazy. Through hot tears and an impossibly tangled knot of emotions, I found myself admitting that I was unhappy, that I had been physically and emotionally abused. My wife had cursed me, insulted me, belittled me, mocked me, threatened me, slapped me, scratched me, punched me. My wife had abused me.
It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t my deluded mind trying to rationalize my own transgressions. I didn’t make it up. The abuse was real. It was embarrassing to admit at first. It was humiliating, but it was necessary. I had to be honest about what had been happening.
I wasn’t crazy, and neither are you. How do I know this? Because you found this page, and you have read this far. Who else would be interested in reading about a grown man’s tearful confession that he had been victimized by a little bitty woman? Unless you really are a sociopath who finds some morbid enjoyment in my story, you are not crazy.
She wants you to think you are. She wants you to take the blame for everything. She wants you to apologize, to beg forgiveness, to promise loyalty, to feel dependent. She is controlling you by making you believe that you are the monster, that she is the victim. You’ve tried to reason with her, haven’t you? You’ve tried explaining yourself, right? It doesn’t work because her reality is different from the one you inhabit with everyone else.
Think of it this way: let’s say two people are having a discussion about physics. One believes that the law of gravity is pretty consistent; it applies to everyone equally. The other argues that Harry Potter isn’t affected because he can fly. In his mind, that is a reasonable claim. After all, Harry Potter is a wizard who is able to fly using magic, defying gravity at will. It would be perfectly rational to make that argument, except Harry Potter doesn’t actually exist.
This is what it’s like to argue with a gaslighter; if you don’t accept the insane reality she claims to experience, then you’re the one who’s crazy. It makes sense to her, so that means it must be real.
I’ll say it one more time for good measure: YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. The best way to be certain of this is to talk to other people. Family and friends are great resources. Find a counselor if you haven’t already. Look for blogs like this one and others by people who have experienced this before. When your sense of reality is confirmed over and over again, you will begin to see just how sane you are.
**Well, you might very well be able to diagnose yourself with one of the many disorders listed in the DSM-5. Most of us are bound to have at least one at some point.