Look I’m computer nerd, not a Jonny Quarterback. Love doesn’t come my way often. Therefore, I am embarrassed to admit that I am an easy victim of Gaslighting. And it is very horrible because I very much love every inch of this person to this day. So I’m going to tell a difficult long story… but it is just a tiny piece covering about 3 months of a 10-year story.
It will be difficult to read, as it was difficult to write. But I didn’t find out I was being subjected to this kind of abuse until 10 years after it started, because although I had heard the term, I didn’t really know what gaslighting was, nor how to recognize it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you’ll be able to escape this kind of cruel abuse faster than I did by relating to my story.
If you are someone who knows me personally or professionally in real life, I highly encourage you to turn back now and read no further. Being this kind of victim is embarrassing to me… and I’m very much still coming to terms with it and untwisting my mind. And this might be too much information and too private. I’m posting this because I think it represents a flavor of gaslighting that is both unique, revealing, and identifying it might help other people recognize a bad situation.
When reading, look out for these red-flags of gaslighting behavior.
- holding hostage what is near and dear
- Words without action / words not matching actions
- controlling sources of information
- Denying provable realities / rewriting versions of events
- making weak promises, unkept, upon completion of certain tasks
- vilifying defectors
- positive reinforcement used as confusion
- using confusion as a weakening mechanism
- aligning people against each other
- wearing down slowly with time
- blatant lies
10 years ago. I met the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. If my low self-esteem hadn’t immediately dismissed her as unattainable, it would have been love at first sight. But instead, it was love at first conversation… as somehow, some way, this girl talked to me…and continued to talk to me. She reached deeply into my soul, plucked out all my insecurities, and made me believe that I was special and beautiful. She would talk to me for hours on the phone, 12, 14, 16 hours even. I was so excited to talk to her that I’d keep logs of our phone calls, their times and lengths, and look at them to make myself feel better, special, when she wasn’t around. I would glow inside when I thought about how devoted to and in-love with each other we were and how much time we spent talking. I professed my love to her for hours on end, I told her she was the greatest, sweetest, most beautiful, genuine human I had ever met in my life… repeating, over and over, in different ways for hours upon hours.
But there was one problem. She had a boyfriend who was abusive, emotionally and physically. I got all the signals that I was supposed to rescue her from him. But when I tried, she said that although she felt trapped with him, that his sociopathic lack of emotion was comforting to her. In her own words, she had too much emotion of her own.
I thought, obviously, I needed to save her. I needed to save her from this madness. She stayed locked away in this grey, drab, building, with cement walls and cement floors in an apartment for which she had no key. And I just wanted her to let down her hair and let me climb up the tower to rescue her.
In between our 12 hour marathon phone calls, she would disappear entirely. She would promise to call the next day, but then leave me alone for several days, even a week. Having just heard all these stories of abuse from her partner, I initially worried about her, obsessively, during these times. She would tell me that she was a heavy sleeper, that she had sleeping disorders and would fall asleep for long periods of time. She told me that if I wanted to reach her I had to call her repeatedly at least 10 times in a row before giving up. I did this, I called her 10 times in the morning… 10 times in the afternoon… 10 times at night. 3AM, 4AM. I had no idea when she would answer, but I was told to just keep trying, and I did.
She and her boyfriend would show up to our favorite bar, on our favorite night, and she would find me from across the room, shoot me with her brilliant, laser-beam eyes and immediately our eyes, locked, would draw each other close and I would be awash in her love with our bodies close together and our noses almost touching. It was usually loud enough in the room where she and I could sit close to each other and I could profess my love to her repeatedly and sycophantically urge her to leave the abusive man that was standing literally 3 feet away from us as she told me sad stories of how he hurt her mentally and physically. She would praise me, make me feel more loved than I ever felt… but she would never leave him. She would, on many nights, find some way to convince him to go home without her so she could stay behind and be with me. On one of the first nights, I knew her, she literally gave me this look of terror as if to convey the message, “Don’t leave me with him!” As the night was ending. So I stayed and stood guard as we went to an after at party until 6AM with him and her. As I left, giving a couple of friends a ride home, I was completely convinced she was 100% in love with me and proclaimed it confidently.
These late nights happened often. We stayed up and stayed out all night, holding hands in the park, going for walks, bearing our souls to each other. I had to work at 9AM the next day, but it never stopped me from staying out with her until 8:30 in the morning or later. Every one of those nights I hoped would be the night that she would stay with me, but every night, I took her home. Sometimes he would be leaving for work as we were arriving long after sunrise. If he was not home she would invite me in, and she would put her head on my lap and I would pet her hair tell her she was beautiful, over and over, until she fell asleep. Sometimes she would look at me as if begging me to kiss her, but I did not. On those days I would be hours late for work as I stayed with her in the mornings, in this cement box apartment for which she didn’t even have a key (being late was acceptable as I worked mostly-flexible hours).
By this point I was deep, deep into this cult of 2. She was the cult leader, and I was her disciple… and already, unbeknownst to me, I was a victim of Gaslighting. She would profess to love me more than anyone on the planet while gazing passionately into my eyes, but also repeatedly reinforce that we could not be together, and sometimes argue that she never gazed into my eyes and that it was all just in my head. Despite being “#1” she would disappear and clearly put other people ahead of me. She would say the same thing for 10 years, as recently as 1 day ago. This was a mix of positive and negative reinforcement.
The cards were on the table, she knew I wanted more… but she was giving me reasons that we couldn’t be together. The primary reason being that I was “too emotional” and confusingly… she claimed she didn’t want a boyfriend to actually love her (makes zero sense). Other excuses would follow over the years when circumstances changed… Yet in the very next sentence, I’d ask her what was wrong with me… what could I do better? She’d tell me there was nothing wrong with me and erase all my insecurities. I just stayed where she wanted me, a lapdog. And interestingly all the boyfriends she had over the 10 years I’ve known her had all the negative qualities that she told me she couldn’t accept.
Her negative words were paired with positive body language and physical contact that gave mixed signals, and her positive words of praise and love were paired with actions of abandonment, for hours, days, and eventually, down the line… years, once I became her reliable disciple. In another example she would tell me that she was in the car, driving to my house and would be over in 15 minutes, and then make me wonder where she was for 6 hours before giving up… only to show up the next day with another, newer man. I’d be worried sick. Did she get in a car accident? Who is this random person you are with that doesn’t even live in this state? And of course, when I worried about her and couldn’t reach her… I obeyed her command to always call 10 times before giving up, I might have called her 100 in those times.
Being with her was a constant tornado of confusing signals, emotions, and words. I felt really mixed up virtually all the time as she would state something in very concrete terms and then completely contradict it minutes later with an action. It was a slow but constant psychological torture I could probably come up with thousands of small little memories that were completely messed up. But some of the events were bigger and more profound….
At the end of one night she went into an apartment building with a friend we were dropping off. I assumed she would be in and out, but she made me wait in the car for 2 hours and didn’t answer my calls, but eventually she came out looking all disheveled. We went back to my place and I put her favorite band on my dance floor, and we slow danced for a bit and then kissed. Immediately, she fainted, went limp in my arms we went all the way to the floor. I had to pick her up and carry her up the stairs in my arms and put her on the couch. When she woke up the next morning, she acted like it didn’t happen, and simply called her boyfriend to pick her up. I became sad that she was leaving again… And I asked her if she remembered kissing me the night before. In my heart of hearts… I wanted her to say “yes, and I love you”… but… instead… she told me she didn’t remember, she blacked out. Even though she might not have appeared drunk, she said her medications might affect her in unpredictable ways when she was drinking. She became upset, and told me that she would have to tell her boyfriend about it.
I thought it was the end, but it wasn’t. (I mean… seriously how is this not the end?) What happened, in fact, is that somehow, I got invited over to his apartment and the 3 of us sat around. I was clearly depressed, and they made it seem like they were trying to include me in their circle and tell me that everything was alright.
But it wasn’t long before she was tired of me looking glum, and berated me in front of him. She told me that I could never let that happen again and used many hateful words to describe me. I don’t remember the exact words, but I know that they made me feel shameful, and remorseful. I instantly felt like I was no longer welcome, like I got hit by a bus… so I hung my head in shame, stood up and said…. “uhhh… I’m just going to go now…” My voice sank down to it’s lowest possible octave. I walked out the door, never expecting to see her again…
I got 20 feet down the hall…. To my shock… she chased after me.
“Stay!” she begged, pulling me by the arm.
“I don’t want to go in there,” I said.
“We don’t have to go in there, we can stay out here.”
I was her disciple, so if she asked… of course I stayed… I would have followed her anywhere… Maybe I was worried that he was going to hit her if I left? I don’t know. I was embarrassed, I loved her, so of course I stayed. But instead of going into his apartment, we stayed in the hall… in a crazy twist of events….she laid on a couch/bench in the hallway outside of his apartment… and I sat on the floor, our faces inches apart, like we were many times before… and I gazed into her eyes and I held her hand for hours and I told her how beautiful she was, and how much I loved her. She told me she loved me repeatedly and filled me up like never before.
She eventually fell asleep with a glowing smile on her face. And I just continued to stay with her all night, holding her hand, while she slept… the sweat from our palms co-mingling until the sun was bright in the morning.
I went to work late, on zero sleep, utterly confused, in love, but heart broken at the same time.
But according to her, NONE OF THIS HAPPENED.
The thing is, though… I kept a journal of all our interactions. Although to be honest I am recalling this from memory, simply because I don’t want to relive what’s in the journal. Initially the journal was created to document the events of abuse she said she was experiencing, but eventually it became a crappy memoir/novel that I never published and honestly never want to read or revise ever again. My only point in saying this is to point out that I had a DAILY log of events and experiences that were written while these events were FRESH in my mind and I was contemplating the meaning of it all. Because I trusted her and was worried about her abusive situation, I even SENT her every journal entry I wrote as I wrote them. I even copied our mutual close friends, because I was concerned for her safety and thought we should all try and get her out of this bad situation. When she bothered to read them, or IF SHE EVEN READ THIS TODAY… she would tell me that “THIS NEVER HAPPENED!”. “YOU’RE REMEMBERING THIS WRONG!” “YOU’RE MISINTERPRETING THINGS!”. She would tell me that “it didn’t mean what you thought it meant.” “You’re just obsessed with me.”
At the same time, the words of love, and starvation for more never ceased… they went on for months until, when she didn’t show up for her own party at my house, which she was supposedly co-organizing with me (which is what was said on the invitation, although she ditched me on every night we were supposed to get together and prepare)… I became upset… After all I had bought her a cute $500 sexy wolf costume, at her urging, with the promise that she and I were going to spend Halloween as a wolf pair together (another unkept promise). When she didn’t show, I got drunk quickly, and found a beautiful friend and we slept together that night at the party in my house. Eventually she called me at 7:30AM the morning after, while I had still had this other, beautiful, love interest literally sleeping on my shoulder. She told me she couldn’t come to the party because she was getting dumped.
The girl on my shoulder overheard what she was saying on the phone… “Tell her you’ll go rescue her”, she said. I got out of bed with 25 people still in my house, left a beautiful woman in my bed, literally the 2nd most beautiful woman I’d ever met, and drove across town to go pluck her out of his cement apartment… only to find that they hadn’t actually broken up. She, in fact, never left his apartment that day, if I recall, and instead he left her there alone with me and she just made me wait around for her until she fell asleep in my lap again and I let myself out.
All this was a tornado! A mess! A trail of destruction! This was just the beginning of a 10 year story.
Obviously, there’s a ton of Gaslighting there. A key principal part of it was the blatant positive messaging mixed with messages of “you’re not good enough.” Combined with saying things while doing nothing, no apologies ever rendered. A ton of Gaslighting would follow. She controlled me, and she controlled him. Eventually her stories of abuse would be used to drag him through the mud and get him banned from many places and hated by mutual friends and her family… but telling that part of the story would take me another 10 chapters. And I’m not accusing her of fabricating any stories of abuse per se… I know there’s at least some truth to it. Of course… I’ve never talked to him about it, because she controlled who I talked to, so I couldn’t get his side of the story.
I ruined my potential for future love, for what gain? What gain for her even? Was it just a demented sport?
Of course I spent money on her, bought her things… usually with zero thanks, but I don’t think she was out for money, despite the fact I did volunteer a lot of it. But I suppose if I were a person of lesser financial strength, the money part might have been severely damaging… and if I’m being honest with myself, I actually almost declared bankruptcy during that time. But other than that, I ran countless errands for her… she had a particularly hard time being an adult on her own despite pushing 30 at the time and maybe just wanted someone to do things for her, fetch her meds, buy her expensive makeup, and tell her she’s pretty. Truth be told, I would have done even more for her if I had more time and access with her, and despite now recognizing that she has (deliberately?) been abusing me over 10 years, and she is now pushing 40 years old and is just as bad at being an adult… I still do love every inch of her. And as of this moment I am actively trying to train myself to escape this inappropriate emotional attachment. (Writing blogs about it isn’t really helping I’m sure)
But for years, I even told myself, (and my most recent partner) that there was never anything romantic between us, because all of the statements of “this never happened” and “you’re misinterpreting things” got into my head and rewrote what I accepted as reality… Maybe I did misremember things….maybe I was just too emotional and in love. All the questioning of reality and motives and her impeccable charisma caused me to cave-in and accept her version of reality. But the true reality is that they happened… and if she had no love for me, countless actions on her part were blatantly reckless over the years. I was brainwashed so badly… I actually believed her versions of my own memories. No reasonable person can explain away every sentence of this story and conclude that all this romance was just in my head… and this story only covers a tiny part of a much bigger story inside a much much bigger story full of thousands of red flags.
But that night in the hallway and that kiss (which wasn’t the last nor most passionate) inspired me to write a song in the day that followed. When I wrote it.. I figured it was an ordinary longing love song… but now I realize, 10 years after I wrote it, that it describes gaslighting in every single word…
I was just sitting on a hard drive in my studio, I hadn’t listened to it in years… I never really regarded this song to be special, let alone complete… super rough… I usually write stuff that’s way different… but I listened and I seriously cried… holy crap… did I write this about me?
Kissing and Crashing (Gaslighting)
What does it mean when our eyes meet?
Does it mean that you care about me?
And if it’s nothing to you, then why
do I still feel the need to try?
Can’t figure out why I’m still kept in the dark
And peering out at things I’m not supposed to see
Your body tells me things that your words just won’t say
And I’ll never know the things I’m supposed to believe
What does it mean?
What does it mean when I hold your hand
And walk with you across this land?
Dreaming of rainbows and packs in the wild
And the simpleness of a happy child?
These fairy tales don’t need to be disbelieved
My eyes can’t tell if you’re an illusion or what
The palms of our hands sweat and tell me it’s no dream
and fairy tales are real if you believe them or not
What does it mean? When our eyes meet?
What does it mean when our lips touch
and you collapse into my clutch?
And when you wake you don’t remember much
and I just feel so fucking dumb?
Then you treat me like I’m terrible and diseased
And tear me down in public, and prompt me to go
Then chase me down the hall and apologize,
then let me hold your hand and gaze into your eyes?
What does it mean when our eyes meet?