Updated: Nov 3, 2020
I had no idea what gaslighting was or what it meant...until I had lost myself to it.
verb gerund or present participle: gaslighting
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
I found myself saying certain phrases so many times over, that it was the way I viewed myself and expected that the rest of the world did too.
I'm sorry (as a response to EVE-RY-THING!)
Oh that's my fault...I dropped that ball.
I'm not enough.
I'm too much.
I think I'm losing my mind.
I might actually be going crazy (I started driving myself to a facility to check myself in)
What is wrong with me?
I am not smart enough
and my list goes on.....
A few years ago I would have looked at this list and thought, "that girl has self esteem issues...". That girl did, but it was not that simple...God, I wish it had been.
I'm a strong-willed, justice oriented, really smart girl...and I was from a very young age.
It required voices from others to change that in me. The saddest part for me...I let it happen. I didn't see what was evolving. I thought I was stepping into new arenas that maybe I just wasn't smart enough for.
I thought if I just learned more, educated myself more and used my ravenous work ethic, I could get smart enough. I could prove I belonged in this arena.
It started with me standing up to it. (Good Job Jess!) I didn't know to call it gaslighting.
I questioned why my personal character was part of my job evaluations, reviews and my raises (things like integrity, loyalty, ethics). I had worked with my husband in full-time christian ministry as a pastor's wife for 10 years prior (an environment my abuser had been a part of with us). Before my first review in this new job, I was asked to fill out a self evaluation that I would bring to the review. My abuser would fill out the same evaluation of me.
We talked through each question and why we gave the ratings we did. I asked, "Why are you rating my integrity as a 2 on a scale of 1 to 5? You know that integrity is one of the highest values I have and you've seen me live a life mission for this value."
I had rated myself a 5. My abuser said he couldn't give me a 5 because there needs to always remain room for growth and improvement. So...apparently my character needed growth and development in order for me to be (or excel) in my role. I wasn’t evaluated on group growth, program development or acquisition....the actual tasks of my job.
The next several years, guess what I did? I looked for how I could grow and improve my integrity. I wish I could go back and tell myself that integrity isn't something you grow...it's something you either have or you don't. There is no scale for it. But DAMN IT....I was going to grow in it. I had to. I needed to rise in my job, my abuser’s favor, and in my self confidence for the next review. And when values are a strong part of who you are, then they are the things you don't want to be absent of. I did not want to be a person lacking character and values.
This was just the beginning of a very long, twisted, complicated and destructive relationship and work environment. Toxic.
The game between us lasted for many years. I lost more of me each day of it.
It effected ALL of my relationships because, frankly, I was a paranoid, insecure, crazy person.
I have recently heard a new song and, of course, Taylor Swift can put things into words that I couldn't. It’s called Mad Woman, from her new album, Folklore.
"Every time you call me crazy
I get more crazy
What about that?
And when you say I'm angry
I get more angry
And there's nothing like a mad woman
What a shame she went mad
No one likes a Mad Woman"
A gaslighter deeply embeds themselves in twisting and manipulating the true narrative. They do this through conversations with you and with others. What a victim is left with is an inability to see what's real and actual anymore. The gaslighter can then have the reality they want for themselves.
Why would I let this happen to me?
My abuser was my friend. Someone I trusted. Someone I asked others to trust. I thought I mattered. I thought I had value relationally with my abuser. I actually looked up to my abuser for skill sets I didn't think I had. And I was loyal as fuck.
After nearly losing my marriage and other relationships in my life, I had to uncage this lost story of me. I had to come back to the reality of who I actually was. It was in the healing of these other relationships in my life, that I started seeing what this abuse was doing to me. If I was going to find, heal and rebuild myself, I would have to face this abuse too. It didn't initially seem connected but over time, therapy, life coaching and personal self care....I saw it. It had to end if the relationships I truly valued were going to heal.
How do you stop a gaslighter?
I decided it wasn't up to me to stop their behavior. That‘s futile with a gas lighter. Isn't the point that they flip the narrative and move responsibility away from themselves?! It was up to me take my story back and write the truth. I walked away...for good. My abuser could not have power in my life or my story if I wasn't there.
It's not that I wasn't strong enough to stay. It was that I was strong enough to leave.
From this, I have birthed new and beautiful things. It hasn't come easy or without cost. I'm sure that as I release this blog, it will reach my abuser's hands and the war could ignite...the cost could keep growing. But because of the depth of pain, struggle and healing I have had to do, I am passionate about helping other women see their way to freedom too.
My gaslighting experiences don't start and end with one abuser. I am being made aware of the patterns that existed in my family, my faith’s theology and the leaders (men and women) in the churches I grew up attending. And....in our politics, in racism and, of course, in our President.
I'm blowing the lid off all of it. We are living in a culture that has integrated gaslighting at the root of its climb to success.
And for this reason, I see it as a justice issue.
If I'm going to engage the fullness of my spirituality and my relationships, it has to be on truthful ground.
So I'm writing the ‘gaslighters of the world‘ letters. I don't want to give them credit for their ways or call them out by name. I want to help women (maybe you) hear their power, resiliency and strength in these letters. I want them to take their pen back, too. You can find a few of these letters throughout this blog, but I'm also posting them on my Instagram feed periodically for anyone who needs them or needs a way to speak up through sharing on their platforms. If you're one of these womxn, I'd love to hear from you. You can always DM me, post a response, share a post or email me. I will believe you.
I also want to support womxn through my coaching services to walk forward into the TRUE STORY of them. I want to support the birth and/or resurrection of their innate beauty and truth. I believe the world needs these stories lived and heard in our communities.