Gaslighting

The term Gaslighting appears often these days. I recently read an article titled “Employers Gaslight Employees to Return to Office”. The title left me with a knot in my gut. As we recover from Covid shutdowns, employers are anxious to have employees return to the office, but gaslighting them? Clearly this was written by someone unfamiliar with the impact of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a long term, insidious tactic used to convince a person that they are crazy. It is not a simple manipulation used to get what one wants.

Here is an example of gaslighting.

Throughout my 23 year marriage, my ex and I would occasionally go to couples therapy. We never had more than 2 sessions with the same therapist, and the sessions never changed the substance of our relationship. Our final attempt at therapy happened with a male therapist who was close to our home and took our insurance.

Our 1st session started as they always did, with each of us sharing the issues we were having. As usual, I did most of the talking. My ex simply said “she doesn’t want sex”. (To be fair, I didn’t want sex with him. He was a serial cheater who, behind my back, had a vasectomy so he didn’t have to use a condom, and I was afraid of what I might catch).

At the end of the session the therapist said “I’d like to see you each separately if that’s ok. I’d like to start with you MurphyCee”. (obviously he used my real name).

The thoughts that ran through my mind were those I’d been programmed to have. Thoughts like “I knew it – it is all my fault” and “see, you have to want sex to keep your marriage intact” and “well you had to see that coming; you are the crazy one”.

Two days later I went back to the therapists office. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I went. I was desperate for someone to “fix” me, but I’d long ago given up hope that this could happen. Hope springs eternal I suppose.

When I got there, the therapist’s wife was there. He told me that she was a PhD also, and asked if I was ok with her joining us. I said sure and we all sat down. I have only 2 other memories of that hour. That is what gaslighting does. It robs us of memory, sanity, all sensibilities.

My first memory is the therapists opening statement. It went like this (paraphrased)

You are in an abusive relationship and I am worried that if you don’t get out, you will die. My wife is here because she runs a shelter for abused women with children, and together we’d like to help you get out. We know you have no resources, no money, no job separately from your spouse, and we understand how terrifying that is. We have a truck and we can go right now and get you and your children packed up and moved out. We can hide you and help you start building a life free of abuse.

Not what I was expecting.

My second memory is of me standing at window, staring out into the parking lot, my entire being in a state of total paralysis. I have no memory of what I said or how the rest of the session went. My sense is that I defended him; defended my life, as I’d been programmed to do. My sense is that I denied their allegations. Most likely I recounted my “transgressions”, reciting all the ways I’d failed as a wife and mother. Honestly, I don’t really know what I said. What I do know is that I left that office. Alone. I went back to my life.

This is the result of covert abuse and gaslighting. It took many more years of pain for me to get out. Once out, it took several years of therapy for me to fully accept that I’d been in an abusive relationship.

I wish I had wisdom to impart on those currently being victimized. Unfortunately, those being abused by a narcissist are not reading this. They have no idea what is happening to them. As far as they are concerned, they are the problem. I wish I could do more.

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