[This post is by Rebekka who blogs at Becky's Kaleidoscope about books, health and personal development.]
Have you ever been in a relationship, where your partner made you feel like you were going crazy? Eroded your sense of reality and made you doubt your own judgement?
“Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”
This destructive tactic takes its name from a movie, from 1944, named Gaslight, in which the husband attempts to get his wife’s jewellery by having her declared insane. He makes her insane, by making the gas lights flicker on and off. When she asks him about it, he tells her she’s crazy, the lights aren’t flickering at all.
My Abusive Relationship
He never hit me. But at times I wished he would, because at least then I’d know his behaviour was wrong. With emotional abuse it’s all different shades of grey, and with the Gaslighting component it’s so easy to lose trust in your own judgement.
Princess, he’d call me, but not as a term of endearment. No, if I’d dare state a preference he disagreed with (say, suggest we watch a different movie, or have something else for dinner), he’d speak to me sarcastically: “Well we must do whatever the Princess wants. Everything has to be however you want it.”
Of course that wasn’t true, rather the opposite. I’m very accommodating and have a huge sense of justice. He knew that, and he used it against me.
He would flat out deny he had said something, making me paranoid and causing me to save every single text, email and chat conversation to be able to go back and prove what he had said. In which case he’d tell me that I was being “difficult” or “overreacting”.
I would be interrogated over every text, and I was so scared of receiving a message from any male acquaintances because of the interrogation, which I would be subjected to afterwards. (Of course this did not mean he didn’t have female friends. Double standards were the norm for so many areas of our relationship).
Yelling, swearing, giving me the silent treatment. Punching holes in the walls. Threatening to break my laptop.
Or the times when I would take a bath to take a break from it all, and have a moment of quiet and peace, and he would pick the lock to the bathroom and stand over me. Yelling at me. Rarely have I felt so vulnerable, as I did lying in the bathtub with him towering over me.
Why Would Anyone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?
Reading about abusive relationships you might wonder, why would anyone ever put up with such atrocious treatment? Especially a smart, capable and intelligent woman.
The thing is, these relationships don’t begin like this. In the beginning they’re wonderful. You’ll be treated so well, and then slowly, slowly he or she will begin to crawl under your skin.
A sarcastic comment here, a degrading remark there. Questioning your behaviour and your reactions, telling you, you are overreacting or being too sensitive.
Slowly you begin to lose yourself. Lose your trust in yourself and in your own judgement. You start to believe they’re right. Besides, they tells you how much they love you. How no one could ever love you as much as they do.
You live for the good times. Try to believe it, when they say they’ll change.
And after all, maybe you are overreacting. Maybe you are being too sensitive. Maybe you should be more understanding.
And so you try. You try to understand, you try to shut down your feelings so you won’t “overreact” or be accused of being “too sensitive”.
But it’s never enough. It only gets worse, and soon you are forgetting who you are, and what you wanted. You distance yourself from your friends and family, because you are ashamed, but you don’t know what to do.
You begin to go inside of yourself during the abusive episodes. Solely focusing on breathing.
How I Escaped
So how do you escape?
It might take more than one try.
It did for me.
In the end, it was a mix of an escalation of his behaviour and finding out that he had been emotionally (and probably physically) cheating on me, that gave me the push I needed to finally leave him.
The biggest turning point came the night I spent sleeping on the living room floor, with the dog – because I “preferred the dog over him”. That night I swore to myself that I wouldn’t come back, and I told my best friend to promise she wouldn’t let me go back.
Finding out about his emotional (and probably physical) infidelity just sealed the deal.
Still, it wasn’t easy. Giving up on something you’ve invested so much time, money and emotions in.
But getting through this, has taught me a lot about how resilient and strong I really am. It has taught me so much about the importance of trusting myself, and my own judgement and never letting go of that.
How You Can Leave an Abusive Relationship
The first and most important step is to stay safe. The end of a relationship is the most dangerous time, as the abuse might turn physical (if it isn’t already). You can read much more here: Help for Abused & Battered Women: Protecting Yourself and Escaping from Domestic Violence
Begin listening to yourself.
Take small steps to regain your sense of self, to figure out what you want and how to get there.
Forgive yourself when you fail.
Accept support from those who love you.
Ask for help.
Educate yourself. Learn about abusive relationships. Emotional, physical, psychological abuse. Gaslighting. Learn about your options and the resources available to you.
Don’t give up.
Always remember that you are worthy of being treated right. You deserve to be in a loving relationship.
This is not your fault.
You can read much more about psychological and emotional abuse here: Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships and Sophisticated Abuse – Rooted In Being.
Are you, or have you, or someone you know, been in an abusive relationship? How did you get out of it? Please share your story, if you want to, or any words of advice you might have.
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About Rebekka: Passionate Danish, feminist, writer at Becky’s Kaleidoscope, about books, health, personal development and other random things. She’s also on Twitter @rksteg where she shows a more personal and random side, frequently tweeting about atheism, tea and her up-coming move to Dublin.