After writing this article, I found it vital to come back to the beginning and state this piece is NOT meant for those in a physically abusive relationship. I am discussing the psychologically abusive partner. Being unsafe comes in many forms…not being physically safe requires a level of aid not found here. Carefully research your options and execute with caution, the path you choose when leaving your abuser. Also, while he/him is the choice pronoun below, know that she/her is just as applicable, and while statistically, it happens less often, some women are also guilty.
“You’re crazy.” “You need to have your head examined.” “You make up stories in your head.” “I worry about your sanity.” “You’ve completely lost your mind.” Has your significant other ever spoken these words to you? In a dispute, does he escalate quickly, dominating the situation by saying (or yelling) until he’s spewed his poison, immediately leaving, even (especially) if you’re in the middle of a sentence, taking away your voice in the relationship, and with it, the feeling you’re worth being heard? Does he refuse to answer your calls or texts for hours while he’s gone, long after he’s had time to calm down, continuing to stonewall you, when you’ve begged for this exact treatment to stop? Once he’s gone, do you see nothing of him for 13, 18, 24 hours? Have you ever questioned yourself, repeatedly, in these long days and nights of unwanted solitude, because you KNOW what you heard, but he vehemently denies it? You were the only two people in the room. There’s no one to take your side, so being told on an ongoing basis that your voices must be talking again puts you in ping pong hell of being angry that he’s manipulating you and worried that you really are losing it. Pause: This is the perfect place to tell each of you that answered, “Yes” to any of the above, you are absolutely, positively sane. You aren’t hearing voices. You don’t need your head examined. And, for the love of all that’s holy, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. You ARE dangerously close to having him figured out, and that is extremely threatening to him. If you are already relating to these words to the point that you’re moved to tears, know that you are not alone, although that is precisely what he wants you to feel. You’ve asked at hour seven for him to please just come home. He won’t. You are isolated and you hurt so badly, you just want to explain how this treatment kills a piece of who you are to your core, and if you just choose your words better next time, he would understand, and he would stop. How many ways did you just blame, “YOU?” If he would only sit down, look you in the eyes and connect with you, he’d finally realize just how much he is damaging you, and he would never do it again. Don’t waste your breath, my sweet humans. He knows. He knows you better than anyone. He knows you are sensitive. He knows you are hurting. He knows you want him to come home. He’s apologized for all of it before…remember? He promised never to do it again. He calmed down, hugged you, and you crumbled. Sobbed. Relieved, but broken. You think, “He gets it. He’s sorry.” Until the very next time this same behavior suits him, again. Once more, he is deciding when you can participate in a conversation, or when he grants access of himself to you… he is in control. And, he likes it like that. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but, it gets easier after you accept that HE KNOWS. It’s a part of the plan. If he gives in to your rational requests, he loses his power. If he doesn’t grant and take away your permission to interact with him, he loses his power. If he doesn’t verbally assault your character and chip away at your self esteem, he loses his power. And, a gaslighter MUST keep their power. Gaslighting is defined as, “A form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception and sanity.” Right about now, group hug…the hug you’ve waited for, for far too long…know that my arms are wide open in a virtual embrace, and that there are others around the world who know EXACTLY how you feel. The manipulation tactics of every gaslighter are all disturbingly similar. Put two gaslighters side by side and you will NOT find two sets of behaviors. Surprised? They are predictable. Once you know this, something in the world feels a little safer. While you can’t predict their next episode, you can rest in the knowledge of their actions always being predictable. Embarrassment of our situation keeps us from seeking support when it’s most desperately needed. For those who have sought comfort by laying the ugly truth at the feet of a trusted friend, the response is likely, “Get out of there.” “Leave him.” “Why are you with him?” “He’s a monster.” “He’s a narcissist. Walk away.” These very things may have crossed your mind. But, by the time you’ve ended the conversation, you find yourself pointing out his good traits, because you feel you’ve painted such a bad picture of him, so now you are defending him. “He can be so sweet. He brings me gifts for no reason. He buys me flowers because he knows I love them. He is affectionate when he’s not mad. He is good to me, in between the fights.” And, this part, too, is very true. Every word of it. I’m only going to say this once. IT DOESN’T EXCUSE THE SHIT TREATMENT OF PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE. I’m not here to tell you to stay or leave. I’m here to tell you, you have so much more power than he wants you to believe. When you stop giving him what he wants, control of the situation, you kill his power. When he threatens to not come home tonight, agree to it. Tell him to be safe and you’ll see him whenever. Don’t change your mind and text him in 2 hours. Relax and enjoy your safe physical and mental space while he foolishly awaits the text he thinks he’ll receive, asking him to come home. When he gives in and fishes for an invitation to do just that, calmly tell him that getting a hotel was a good idea, and you’d like to be left alone. Then, stop communicating. Why the advice in mitigating the situation instead of telling you what your confidant expressed, “Just leave…?” I know it isn’t always that simple. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy, doable and can be accomplished with little effort. We know better. We know that, often, there is no truly feasible option but to stay, for now. Whether financial, logistical, or that you love him enough to not give up, yet…for YOUR OWN REASONS, to whom you owe no explanation, you have chosen to stay. I am here to flip on your power switch and inform you that more control than any gaslighter can ever have over you…YOU are in charge. Once you identify what you’ve been experiencing, you are armed. Gaslighters are manipulative, but, remember…predictable. You don’t need a new game every time he gets angry. If you have started to feel your sanity slipping because he has succeeded in making you question yourself, arm yourself with a recording app. Use it. When, during the argument, he begins the tired routine of challenging your sanity, know that the 3rd person who can absolutely back you, just arrived. If you doubt yourself, listen to the recorded conversation. (No, it is not illegal to record a conversation of which you are a part.) This is for YOU. This is the foundation upon which you will eventually reconstruct the parts of yourself that have become fragmented, lacerated, neglected and abused. When the gaslighter discovers you are recording the disputes, rest assured, there will be fiery anger. Now, there exists proof, where before, there was none. They may threaten to leave you for recording them. Why? If they’re willing to say it, and you’re doing nothing with the recording but checking the sanity he’s told you is half gone, there should be no problem, whatsoever. It is empowering beyond description to hear, right there in his own words, the very statement he denies having said. It is an exhale of every fiber of your being, to listen, calmly to HIS tactics and virtually name them, in order, as he doubles down, talking over you, attempting to elicit an angry response so he can pretend you’re crazy for reacting to his manipulation. You will eventually feel less and less like engaging, and more and more like letting go. If he leaves, he leaves. It may be difficult in the beginning, but how would it feel to refrain from any communication on your end, as well? He won’t be expecting it. And, he will most definitely be expecting an invitation to come home. What if you could refrain from this, also? Let him have more space than he bargained for. You just killed a little more of his power. Most importantly, you are getting your own power back. It’s unfortunate that, to achieve this, you must simultaneously erode his ill-gained dominance over the relationship. You won’t “change” him, but your new reaction forces his hand. He has no choice but to “be changed” by your decision not to be controlled. You may not get him to speak after he’s lost his temper and left, or come home within a reasonable amount of time, or treat you as an equal by giving as much worth to your words as his own. To take back your power, you don’t need him to. You don’t need his permission, or his input. You don’t need anything more than a moment of clarity when you rise up and decide that was the last time you will ever allow the abuse to take place. You reached your limit and you must now live it. Whatever unravels or heals in the future, you don’t have to know. You just have to begin. Let. Him. Go. In your heart, you may still feel love for him, but mentally and emotionally, he is gone. He’s left you feeling single one time too many and you are now aligning your life as a result of this treatment. If you desire unconditional love, and you have never, ever gotten it, because his go- to threat is to end the relationship, accept that he is not fully yours, anyway. The more you can accept these facts, the more ground you will gain in finding YOU, again. Where he goes, what he does, and for how long…is no longer where any of your energy will flow. Your focus is now on YOU. What will you do with all of the free time you now have, where before, you cried, for hours, longing for his presence and desire to work things out? If you don’t have a plan, devise one. Choose how you will spend the hours that he erroneously believes is causing you pain in his absence. Will you meet a friend for lunch? Hang out with your dog at the park? Nap? Go for a drive? Gaslighters are masters of triangulation. They will choose those closest to you and make statements that cause you to doubt the loyaly of your loved ones…this is especially effective when he names your kids, your parents, your siblings or your best friends by informing you that all of those people “know how you are.” Look it up. I told you, gaslighters don’t have unique tactics. He may even go so far as to send you out in search of negative information about yourself. If he angrily says your exes know the truth about you, and suggests you ask them what it was REALLY like to be with you…consider taking his advice. It may do you a world of good to reconnect with someone who is not only happy to hear from you, but is dismayed at the purpose of your call. More empowerment. (Don’t be surprised if they assume this guy is digging his grave and wants to give it another shot.) You’re a different person, now. And, it feels incredible. You know the truth about your family, your best friends, your EXs, and that the world, at large, does not have a problem with you. And, that therapy he loved telling you you needed? It helped. You learned a lot of truth about yourself, and it didn’t come from him. Finding yourself after being subjected to this kind of abuse takes time. It’s not static. You’ll progress and regress. You’ll feel empowered and powerless. But, each time you refuse to be controlled by letting go, you realize he can’t pull on the end of a loose rope. Let him go. If you eventually choose to let him go in every sense of the word, but you need to know you truly tried, try. But, never mistake trying for submitting. He can join jiu-jitsu for that shit. You are an equal. For as long as you are not treated as such does your devotion slowly drain. For as long as you are made to feel like you have no partner in the toughest hours will you start to think “single.” Once you know there is zero hope, you must decide what to do. If you found yourself bristle with frustration, anger and bitterness while reading this, you, my friend, have survived one of the most damaging forms of abuse. It’s a widely held clinical belief that clients heal from the impacts of physical abuse more easily than from psychological abuse. It manifests in sleep disorders, eating disorders, physical ailments and a host of other quality-of-life-diminishing markers. Find a therapist. Find a confidant who will honor where you are on your path without forcing their opinion on your life. If they can’t support you unless you do what they say, they’re not your confidant. Finally, tell your partner, calmly and matter of factly, that the treatment is over. He will no longer be dominating the relationship. You are taking your power back and he is dismissed. You’re done talking. Remember, YOU get to finally say when a conversation is over…you get to walk out when he starts the broken record, you get to relax when he storms out, perplexed that you are no longer the person he’s abused for so long. You aren’t out for revenge. You are out to locate all those parts of yourself that were intact when he met you. And, those times he DOES apologize that it’s so brief and loud that it sounds like anything but an apology? You get to refuse that, now, too. An apology is sincere and indicates there will be a change in behavior. A gaslighter angrily apologizes and immediately deflects blame to you, then demands that YOU want to keep the argument going because you didn’t bow to his raging “I’m sorry but…” It’s draining. It’s wrong. And, you don’t have to do it, anymore. And, if this is the only place you ever hear it, it bears repeating…you are perfectly sane, with no need to doubt yourself. You heard correctly and your memory is not fading. You were simply paired with a gaslighter and they don’t come with neon signs when you meet them. We find out over time, usually after we’ve invested a significant amount of time in the relationship. You’re not crazy. You just have a lot of work to do. Ruin a gaslighter’s day and take your power back. Get some support and do not disclose to him who it is. This is simply more ammo. He doesn’t need to know who is helping you through something he inflicted. Keep your network close and private. Much love and light to all who know too well, the sting of this treatment. May you heal, fully and with as little repercussion as possible. As always, I’ll carry the light. Peace, you sane, grounded, empowered Warriors.