Being Gaslit

You may have heard or read the terms “gaslit” or “gaslighting.” Short synopsis: These terms come from the play Gas Light and the subsequent movies named Gaslight. The concept of the play and film is that a newlywed starts seeing and hearing odd things. She thinks she’s going crazy and becomes desperate — “unmanageable,” as some people call it. (Spoiler…)

Turns out there is nothing wrong with her. Her new husband is manipulating her environment to make it seem like she is crazy.

Most of our experiences don’t rise to the level of murder or any other criminality. It feels like it should be criminal, but mostly it’s just cruel and shameful. Wikipedia does a great job of describing it, which makes me question why I’m writing this article. Why am I writing anything? Who am I?

I experienced gaslighting when I was 15 years old, though I didn’t have a word for it. I tried to tell my psychologist (yes, I had a psychologist in the 10th grade — back off!) about problems at home. She would always say “We’re not here to talk about your mother and your father. We’re here to talk about you.” WTF? I was 15 years old. By law I had no responsibility regarding what happened in my life. I had no recourse. What was I supposed to do? Move? Was her plan to show me how to change myself so that I could fit into a bad situation? I’m no psychologist, but I don’t think that’s how therapy works.

So I was an angry kid and I’d spend those sessions staring at the duck embroidered on the hem of her long skirt. I don’t know what was stranger — her having a skirt with a duck embroidered on it, or that she seemed to always be wearing it. It’s possible that all of my memories of her distilled into one duck-staring session. Also the letters on her license plate were her initials and her initials were LSD. Appropriate — I always felt outside of reality when I was there.

Later, in college, I got gaslit by someone I let stay with me because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. I still didn’t know the phrase “gaslit,” but she gave me a framework for the way it felt and then she did it to me herself. She said that psychological manipulation is when a person repeatedly tells another person that purple is really pink and four is really five (I think she got that from 1984) and they start to believe it. They start to question their own reality.

After she told me that, I had a way of understanding what was being done to me when she started lying and stealing — telling me that she didn’t know what happened to my wallet and the two hundred dollars in it. Telling me the futon was hers because she’d been sleeping in it, even though I was the one who had bought it and was making payments.

Twenty-five years later it’s happening again. I’m being gaslit every day. When I’m able to extricate myself from the situation, I’ll go into detail.

For now all I can do is tell myself I’m the normal one. I’m the sane one.

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