There seems to have been an uptick in articles and interest in gas lighting. Or maybe it just appears that way to me because I’m addressing my own history with gas lighting.
As there are plenty of articles about gas lighting. I want share the aftermath, at least my aftermath.
For years, I had an abusive friend – I’ve had a lot of abusers in my life. She consistently undermined my feelings, my memory, and my sense of self. Her treatment of me, and others, was supported, reinforced, and repeated by those in my very toxic circle. This included the people I love and trust the most.
Sometime over the last 6 years, I lost the ability to trust my emotions. Let me illustrate. If an event or someone’s actions make me sad, I don’t know if I am “supposed” to be sad. I assume that my sadness is silly or worse simply wrong. In these interpersonal situations, I work to show no emotional response – Alone, I struggle to determine if my feelings have any validity. Ultimately, I decide that they do not.
I struggle to express even things as trivial as a TV I enjoy. Again, I am left unsure. Is my enjoyment, my love of a novel overblown? Of course it is. It’s ridiculous and wrong. So I limit what I say. I question everything I feel – and find myself wrong.
As one might imagine, this makes any relationships a struggle for me. If, in the normal course of friendship, I am hurt by another, I say nothing because I assume that my hurt is wrong, stupid, foolish, and certainly misguided. So I do not express my feelings, and I distance myself. Obviously, my feelings are wrong – obviously I’m “crazy.” I try to figure out if my feelings are “correct” even though my therapist tells me there isn’t anything “correct” or “incorrect” about it.
Even when I do finally reach a place where I can express my feelings, I am often shut down. For example, my fear, my discomfort at seeing my Ex has too often been called me “giving up, letting him win, or making something out of nothing.” I understand intellectually that these people are probably trying to be supportive or motivating, but it simply sends me spiraling back into doubt. Even something as simple as stating that a movie or TV show is problematic is me making “a big deal out of nothing.” So I retreat again. Now I can recognize that for other people this is just normal discourse, but for me, it is a minefield of doubt. It leads to denial of my feelings, confusion, and a kind of terror.
My husband has begun to understand this. It leaves him a terrible catch 22. As he cannot tell me if my feelings are “correct” – even if they are. He tells me over and over that whatever I feel or don’t feel is fine. I understand that he cannot tell me what to feel, as that becomes another kind of gas lighting. But sometimes I wish he would. I wish someone would.
I am working on regaining my sense of self. Working to trust what I feel, and to believe that those feelings have value. Some days are easier than others.
When I finally broke free from my abusive “friends,” I wanted to leave all of our mutual friends behind. I didn’t wan to have to explain why she and I had parted ways. I believed then that no ne would believe me – because wha I was feeling must be wrong. After time and therapy, I wanted to speak my truth. So when a couple of mutual friends/acquaintances asked what happened, I told my truth. My truth was rejected. Once again, I was being told my feelings were wrong, my memory was wrong, I was wrong. I don’t think these people were being malicious or cruel – I think they, like most people, don’t understand. For me, when someone suggests that I am “making a big deal out of nothing” or that I “need to get over it” or that they “don’t remember ever seeing anything like what I am describing.” Here’s the problem for me, I already doubt most of what I can remember of that 5-6 years. I cannot trust my own memory. It is not an exaggeration. I literally am not sure what actually happened, what my gas lighter rewrote in my memory, and what my own doubts have rewritten. So when these people, people who claim to care about me, doubt my accounting of my emotions and the events I experienced – I fall into a spiral of despair. I think I have made progress, but all of my gains are dashed away. It’s wrote when that person expects me to justify or prove what happened.
I am two years into therapy, and I am still struggling. Some days I feel confident, secure about what I feel. Those days I may even feel like I can talk about my emotional life – I don’t, at least not with people, but I feel like I can (I usually write). More days, I plant a fake smile on my face. I nod, I feign comfort, and do everything I can to not scream or cry or show any kind of emotion at all.