The Glamour of Gaslighting
Glamour: Enchantment, magic (archaic)
Gaslighting is the manipulation or twisting of information. To be a victim of gaslighting is to be an audience at a magic show where the magician carefully and skillfully distracts and controls our attention and perception. Gaslighting seduces us into believing in a particular reality.
It’s all fun and games until the glamour doesn’t match our experience and we try to hold two realities. Trying to hold two realities is like being torn in half. In a very short time we feel forced to choose. If we’re in a primary relationship with a gaslighter, we might choose their reality over ours, because we love them. We trust them. We have a history with them, a commitment. We’re loyal to them. We need them. They have power in our lives.
Gaslighting is abuse.
Let that sink in for a minute. To be with a gaslighter is to be with an abuser.
Gaslighting can and does kill people.
Some of us are sitting ducks for gaslighters, because we’ve already been trained to doubt our feelings, thoughts, perceptions and memories. We’ve already been shamed for expressing our experience. We’ve already been silenced. We know we’re damaged, broken, ugly and wrong.
It’s a match made in heaven for a gaslighter.
I use the word glamour because being in the power of a gaslighter is like a magic spell. It’s like a mind-numbing drug. It’s an emotional cancer that gradually saps your strength, your ability to think, your joy and your power. The more you struggle, the more exhausted you become. The harder you try to understand what’s happening, the more confused you are. You fall into a dark pit of madness.
Think I’m exaggerating? Think I’m dramatic?
Well, lucky you. You’ve never been with a gaslighter, then.
Fortunately, there is a cure. There’s a way to take back our power and our lives from a gaslighter.
We have to turn on the lights. We have to twitch aside the curtains, look behind the props, get close enough to see the greasepaint, the wires, the hidden tools and tricks. We have to go through denial, humiliation, pain and loss. We have to consent to see what’s been happening, and then, just like that, it all dissolves and we realize…
It was all just an illusion, a glamour.
We’re not crazy, after all.
It wasn’t love we were getting (no wonder it didn’t feel like love!). It was gaslighting.
Here’s an example of gaslighting:
Two single people, Mary and Bob, age somewhere around 45, embark on a committed, monogamous relationship that will endure for eight (long) years.
Both parties have jobs, families and friends, histories and their own homes and activities. Both are financially independent.
Mary’s all about relationship. She thinks of Bob as her primary priority in terms of time and energy and looks forward to spending time with him. She assumes, without really thinking about it, he feels the same way. In order to achieve maximum time together, she tweaks her schedule so she has as much time off as possible when Bob does and refrains from making plans during any time they might have together.
Time goes by and Mary and Bob see movies together, go out for modest meals, take walks and drives, go to art shows and concerts and generally enjoy one another’s company, including the occasional overnight.
Bob works long hours at a stressful job, so Mary is understanding of his needs for time alone on the weekends, and she gladly takes responsibility for planning some dates and time together, including sharing costs.
Very gradually, without really noticing, Mary finds she’s the one doing all the work of planning time together, and she notices what feels like resistance. Bob is late. He’s tired. He has to work on days off. He brings work home. He can’t spend a night together because he’ll be late at work. Or he’ll be going in early for work. Sometimes he doesn’t want to go through with weekend plans at all.
This is hurtful and frightening. Mary is deeply invested in the relationship. She doesn’t want to feel the hurt and disappointment that occurs when Bob breaks a date that she’s looked forward to all week. She becomes less interested in making dates, but, ever hopeful, keeps all her free time open in case Bob should suddenly decide he wants to get together.
One day Bob expresses hurt and disappointment about not getting enough attention from Mary.
Mary is devastated. She loves him, but realizes she hasn’t conveyed it properly. She’s mortified and apologetic, and tells Bob (truthfully) he’s her priority and she’d love to spend more time together. She realizes he’s very sensitive and does everything she can to express love and appreciation for him. She resolves to do better.
Strangely, in spite of what Bob says, he seems less and less available. Mary, knowing how he feels now, tries harder and harder to get it right.
A movie comes out that Mary wants to see. She knows it’s shameful and disloyal, but the idea of taking herself to a movie, sitting where she wants, being in time for the previews and just relaxing is attractive. She doesn’t think Bob would be much interested in the movie anyway, and he hasn’t said a thing about weekend plans. In fact, he hasn’t called her or been in touch all week.
Mary takes herself to the movies and has a great time.
Later, Bob says, “I didn’t say I wasn’t planning on seeing you! Why are you putting words in my mouth?” He’s deeply injured.
Mary’s ashamed. No, he hadn’t said that. She just assumed, since he hadn’t been in touch… Now she can see how hurtful and unfair it was to have assumed. Now she’s wasted an evening she could have spent with Bob. She doesn’t deserve such a good man.
Bob’s heard about that movie and he does want to see it. He insists Mary go with him, and she does, conciliatory.
It’s the least she can do.
Mary, determined to do no more assuming, now begins to ask from time to time, “Are you planning on seeing me this weekend?” She’s already learned that trying to make a date doesn’t work, and she knows if she says she wants to see him he’ll feel pressured.
For some reason, this question, like so many others, causes problems. Mary assures Bob she understands if he wants a weekend to himself, that she’s not trying to pressure him, put him on the spot, or make him responsible for the relationship. She just wants to know so she can make plans if he’ll be doing other things.
Grudgingly, Bob answers, “I’m not planning on not seeing you!”
Mary has a panicked moment of feeling crazy the first time she hears this, and every time thereafter. What does Bob mean? She can’t get it to make sense.
So it goes. Fast forward to the inevitable last day Mary sees Bob.
Mary, with the feeling of stepping off a cliff, looks Bob in the eye and says, “Will I see you sometime?”
He shrugs, grimacing.
Mary gets ready to turn on the lights.
“You’re not planning on seeing me again, and you’re not planning on not seeing me again.” She’s word perfect.
“Well,” she says quietly, “I’ll make some good plans for myself, then.”
The lights go up. The curtain comes down. The dazed audience gropes for coats, purses and other belongings. The eight-year-long show is over.
Mary walks out, feeling permanently maimed but free at last, and spends the next three and a half years putting herself back together. It’s the most painful breakup she’s ever had, far worse than her experience of divorce.
The glamour is broken.
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