Home→Forums→Relationships→Is this gaslighting?
- This topic has 8 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 4 years, 6 months ago by Anonymous.
October 23, 2018 at 8:15 pm #232843
So I am starting to wonder whether I have been a victim of gaslighting both with my father and now with a long-term relationship which ended at the beginning of the year.
So the first example is when I was discussing the end of our relationship with my ex and I mentioned that I am a person who needs more support and attention and that he had not been able to give it to me because he is a fly-in, fly-out worker. His reply was along the lines of ‘that is just an excuse for not having sensitive conversations’. So, really I was trying to express my own version of reality and he pretty much straight out denied that that was really a good reason for our relationship breaking down.
Secondly, I was discussing my situation and life with my father and I said something like my job is responsible for destroying my life, to which he replied ‘no it didn’t’ or something along those lines. I understand that he was probably trying to make me feel better about my life, but the effect again was to make me question my own understanding of what had happened. This may sound like a small example but it relates to a much bigger picture of our family life. For example, I recently tried to discuss with my father my own interpretation of my teenage years when I felt that he was constantly angry at me and I had a sense that he wanted to destroy me. Although he apologised he later said to me ‘you have hated me for 20 years’, so basically turning the situation around and making himself the victim of my ‘hatred’ when I was actually the child in the relationship and was only responding to what I felt around me. Also, his interpretation did not take into account how things have changed over the years as a result of me getting older and trying different ways of relating.
I think the important thing in both cases is that neither my ex nor my father really attempted to ask me why I believed what I did they just straight away decided what they thought was right or wrong about my own understanding. I believe this is called ‘reinterpretation’, where someone reinterprets what your own version and understanding of something.
I am now starting to wonder if this may be at the very core of my lack of confidence in life. I have often avoided risk in life and have also been quite hesitant about making new friends or starting relationships. I think this is because deep down I have felt that I have never really defined my own boundaries and have never really learnt how to defend them. So therefore it is better not to get involved with people because they might infringe on my boundaries and I will have no way of defending myself. Perhaps this is because I got used to a situation in my own family where my psychological and emotional boundaries were routinely flouted and this has left me with a deep sense of mistrust towards others (especially men). I have never really been able to put my finger on why I am so hesitant in life but I think this may be it. It’s sort of a feeling of being fundamentally weak, vulnerable and disarmed in life. And this is why I have often clung to situations, like jobs, study or relationships, that have given me a feeling of solidity and boundaries because I think ultimately they were a substitute for having my own emotional and psychological boundaries.
I wonder if anyone would have any suggestions for how to identify when someone is gaslighting you and also how to develop your own internal boundaries so that I can feel confident to walk through life knowing that I can determine when something is working for me or not.October 24, 2018 at 6:33 am #232929RebirthandRestart2018Participant
I’m not an expert by any means, but both of the examples you’ve given certainly give off an air of either gas lighting or pure and simple passive aggression. Did you challenge or further probe your ex and father when they said those things to you? It can be hard to do that if you feel you have weak boundaries and don’t feel assertive enough in yourself, so don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t try to discuss it further at the time.
Signs of gas lighting are typically to try and make you question your version of reality and situations. You feel minimised, second guess yourself and your memories of things. You also made to feel like you’re being overly sensitive and afraid of speaking up.
The examples of the statements your father said to you appear to be huge assumptions on his part of YOUR life experiences and feelings towards him. He isn’t the person who is in that job, so he doesn’t have the direct experience to tell you that it isn’t destroying your life. What he could have done, is acknowledge how you feel about your job and ask you why you feel like that. As your father and elder, he also should have the responsibility of asking you how you feel about him – if he truly does feel you hate him (which is a very strong and negative word). He doesn’t sound like he is very well equipped to communicate with you in the way you might be however. (This is just my take on the situation based on what you have described).
If you feel you have been frequently knocked back early on in life, then it makes sense for you to have put up a protective barrier and ‘play it safe’ as a adult. Developing boundaries is a new concept to me also, so I’m happy to share my experience so far. Firstly, your boundaries are dictated by your values. Your values are the things that are integral to you as an individual, which are things you deem important and essential to your wellbeing. This can be something like “mutual respect, open, honest and direct communication is what I need and want from a loving relationship”. This value is key to getting your own needs and desires met. The boundary you associate with this is basically what you will and will not accept in relation to this statement, such as “I will not keep entertaining someone who does not have / give the same level of priority to open and honest communication”. In essence, your boundaries are the things that give you empowerment based on your values. I learned the majority of this from Natalie Lue (Baggagereclaim.com). She has a weekly podcast and thousands of blogs relating to emotional baggage that we collect over the years and how to deal with it moving forwards in a healthy way.
I hope this helps you start your journey.October 24, 2018 at 7:28 am #232949AnonymousGuest
Let me know if my explanation is helpful to you: when you talk to people, much of the time they are talking to themselves, they hear their own voices, so they really are not listening to you. If your voice is interrupting what their own voice or voices, they will correct you so to fit what you say with what they believe to be true, a belief that existed before you said anything.
Most people think what is convenient to think, that is, what makes them feel better to think. If what you tell a person doesn’t make them feel good, confuses them, distresses them, they are likely to reject it without consideration, simply because what you said doesn’t feel good.
This is why it is important to be very careful to not based your understanding of reality on what other people say, especially people who hear a whole lot of their voices while you talk, not hearing you at all. When you have the fortune of talking to someone who actually listens to you, and then respect your thoughts and feelings, my goodness, that is wonderful. Doesn’t happen that often.
anitaOctober 26, 2018 at 10:55 pm #233615
Thanks for the replies.
To RebirthandRestart2018 I think you made some really useful insights. No I didn’t really challenge either of them at the time. I have this tendency to always pause before I respond or react to things. I think this is something I learnt growing up in a home with a parent who had a very volatile temper. I think this is a defensive strategy that I have learnt and it worked in my family home because I found the ways to sort of go ‘neutral’ or blank to avoid giving rise to further confrontation and emotional outbursts. Obviously, this strategy is probably not serving me well now as an adult because I know I tend to go into emotionally blank states and also don’t speak up when I don’t like things because I fear expressing strong emotions. So, I think this may be another side effect of this defensive strategy is that I allow things to ‘slide’. People can say fairly confrontational or even hurtful things to me and I will never react to them with my true feelings at the time. I always want to give myself a bit of ‘time’ to process their words and see how I feel about it. But I think that it also leads me to de facto accepting things that people say or at least not challenging them and I guess this is really just acquiescing to whatever their interpretation. I think later I realise I didn’t like something or I should have challenged it but it is kind of too late and instead of those being expressed at the time, the feelings I had transform into a quiet resentment. I guess I am the classic passive aggressive people pleaser.
So I am starting to see how not being able to express my real emotions in an appropriate way at the appropriate time allows other people to sort of project their own interpretations of my situations onto me. Even though I may not accept them, if they were not challenged at the time they can become the de facto interpretation and it leaves me feeling quite disempowered and uncomfortable because all the emotions are sort of boiling under the surface. I have also mentioned these things on other threads in relation to expressing anger.
I have never really thought about boundaries being a reflection of your values. I have thought about my own values in terms of politics and society, but I don’t think I have ever thought about my own values in interpersonal relationships. I think I have always felt so grateful to have a friend or a partner that I kind of didn’t worry too much about whether the relationships were always matching my values or serving me. I remember a few months ago I did a yoga retreat and there was a truth telling session and we were asked to say what are the things that we will not accept in a relationship and I was the only one that couldn’t answer. I had just never thought about it. So I guess I still have a ways to go in considering what I want and need from my relationships.
To Anita, I also found your comments useful. I like the concept of how people have their own narratives about you and that maybe your own narrative actually disturbs their narrative of you. But actually your life should be your own narrative and the other person should be able to listen wholeheartedly. I think that this was definitely a problem in my previous relationship. Somehow I never really felt heard or understood. I often felt that when I was trying to share how I felt about something, especially if they were negative feelings, then I would get stonewalled. It’s like he just couldn’t relate or somehow those negative feelings were a reflection of my own failures as a person rather than maybe a basic human response to a stressful situation. So, this caused a lot of problems in our relationship. As I am a person who tends to swallow my emotions rather than express them, I often had things bottled up for possibly months at a time before I would try to express them to him and then when I did I tended to get a fairly non-responsive reaction. I felt that he had his own understanding of what was happening but wouldn’t let me know about them and instead would just go silent. So we really had incompatible communication styles, especially in relation to emotions.October 27, 2018 at 5:41 am #233637AnonymousGuest
You are welcome. I am impressed by your profound insight as expressed here: “I have this tendency to always pause before I respond or react to things. I think this is something I learnt growing up in a home with a parent who had a very volatile temper… I found the ways to sort of go ‘neutral’ or blank to avoid giving rise to further confrontation and emotional outbursts… I tend to go into emotionally blank states and also don’t speak up when I don’t like things… I allow things to ‘slide'”
This adjustment worked for you in your childhood home, but it is not working for you now. The results now is that later you realize you “didn’t like something… but it is kind of too late”, and stuck with those unexpressed feelings, they “transform into a quiet resentment… and it leaves me feeling quite disempowered and uncomfortable because all the emotions are sort of boiling under the surface”.
My mother too was very volatile, confrontational, angry. And I did “sort of go ‘neutral’ or blank” myself. Later in life, or outside the interactions with her, I kept that blank state of mind, not evaluating situations and people, not being able to determine when harm was done to me, and so I was harmed and lived a dysfunctional life. I was simply not all there, so I didn’t promote my best interest in life.
You mentioned a recent conversation you had with your father. How is your relationship with him now and do you think it is still harming you?
anitaOctober 29, 2018 at 10:00 pm #234433
Thanks for your response again. The question you have asked me is probably one of the central defining questions of my life. I suspect that my relationship with my father has caused me all kinds of troubles in my adult life.
I would say that as of now, we have a good relationship. As he is now getting quite old and I am also not young anymore, I guess he has mellowed out more and I have over the years learnt different ways of relating to him that have allowed a good relationship to develop. I am pretty happy about that. But I think the calm exterior of our current way of relating tends to mask some deeper unresolved issues. I don’t think that he has any idea how much contorting I have had to do to keep a calm face on things and how much inner turmoil that has caused.
The fact is, during my teenage years I had an extremely negative image of my father. I saw him as an imposter into our family home (the relationship between my parents broke down when I was still a child but they were on and off living in the same place throughout my teen years – though they never thought to clarify what their actual relationship was and whether we were happy with their strange arrangement). I felt that he had sort of ‘given up’ his role as a father when he initially moved out but then the constant coming and going made me feel like he wanted to keep his fatherly authority but not actually be there in a caring, comforting way. There were also frequent verbal confrontations with him. There was also one incident of physical violence where he slapped my face after I said something to him when I was about 14 or 15. I was so shocked I almost can’t really remember if it happened or not.
So those years set in place a very deep resentment and anger towards him. But because he had a very volatile and terrifying anger, it was impossible to express the depth of those feelings directly to him. So I learnt to keep those feelings bottled up and maintain my calm exterior. And part of that was learning how to control my emotions when I sensed that a confrontation may occur. It also learnt how to manage the flow of conversations so that trigger issues could be avoided. I think some of the trigger issues related to when I wanted to talk freely about myself, my goals, ambitions, dreams etc. I often felt that he did not really want to talk about anyone else, that somehow he would find a way to wedge in his own dreams, ambitions etc into the conversation instead. It was like instead of a father, I had a very competitive older brother but who as a father figure had the tendency to wield his authority in an extremely domineering and destructive way. I think the overall effect was that I learnt to minimise myself, control and bottle my emotions and reduce my needs so as to not rock the boat in the family home.
In my adult life, I have often struggled to find my way in life. Somehow I have felt scared of going with a clear vision of my own life. Instead I have often ended up compromising situations. Attaching myself to institutions (educationally), organisations or relationships as a way to give me some stability and strength. I still fear being really on my own and directing my own life, though I am now really in that situation after the end of a second long term relationship.
So, I guess, long story short, I still have huge amounts of anger and resentment towards my father (and probably my mother because she never took a strong enough stand) but I have no idea how to get those emotions out and just move on. A couple of months ago I did discuss some of these things with him, but it sort of degenerated and ended with him saying ‘you have hated me for 20 years’ – which indicates to me that he is not really ready to hear or understand how his behaviour has really affected me and my siblings).
I suspect that those bottled emotions probably have had an impact on the breakdown of my two relationships. One idea that has occurred to me is that maybe I have wanted to end my relationships as a proxy way of ending the relationship between my parents. Like I am kind of acting out what I wanted to see my mother do, but instead I am ruining my own life because I allowed two (generally good albeit needing improvement) relationships to end. I feel like as a child in a dysfunctional family I had no choice about how things went, so as an adult I am always sort of striving to get out of relationships and avoid commitment because I was kind of stuck in a dysfunctional dynamic within my own family that I felt I had no control over and still feel like that. So is it possible that until I get some resolution of those old emotions I will not be able to truly move on and create my own healthy relationships and life? I hope that is not the case, but I am starting to wonder if I can just keep ignoring those old feelings without them somehow bringing me down.October 30, 2018 at 9:17 am #234535AnonymousGuest
About your current relationship with your father, you wrote: “as of now, we have a good relationship… I am pretty happy about that… I think the calm exterior of our current way of relating tends to mask some deeper unresolved issues… I think the overall effect was that I learnt to minimize myself…. I still have huge amounts of anger and resentment towards my father”-
Isn’t interesting that you described your current relationship with your father as good, one you are happy about while at the same time stating that currently you are very angry at him and that the calm in your relationship with him is not real, but an exterior, one masking anger?
Is it benefiting you or harming you to maintain that exterior, to keep masking the anger at him?
anitaNovember 7, 2018 at 7:42 pm #235913
I have been thinking about your comment a lot and that is why its taken so long to respond.
No I don’t think it is helping me to keep all those feelings bottled up under the surface. I think it generates a lot of self-loathing because I kind of beat myself up and ask myself ‘why haven’t I ever just said what I really think?’ It makes me feel weak because I never found a way to express those feelings. But the problem is that this pattern of swallowing down negative emotions is such a big part of my personality and my way of being that it is hard to isolate it to just one relationship. I think it kind of permeates my whole life. Until very recently I wasn’t even able to identify those feelings as ultimately stemming from feelings of anger. It’s like anger was so impossible for me to feel that I couldn’t even identify that feeling, let alone the way it became subjugated into resentment when it went underground and unexpressed.
Somehow I learnt some extremely unhealthy coping patterns in my family home and I have never really been able to identify them until now. I think that underlying all of this subjugation of feelings is fear. I felt that expressing real feelings would lead to anger from my father and so I learnt to hide them and in fact I prided myself on my ability to maintain a calm exterior and not be ruffled by his emotional outbursts. But now I realise that I have paid an extremely high price for that coping strategy – I don’t know how to express myself fully and honestly and for sure that was a major part of my long-term relationship breaking down. I became a people pleaser through fear of expressing myself fully in my own family. It gets to the point where I don’t know what I feel or what I want.
So, I am in this position where I have identified the problem and I know where it comes from and how if affects my life, but I really don’t know how to move forward from this point. Do I deal with these issues in my own life first and gain confidence in expressing myself in different ways, or do I directly express myself to my family of origin and hope that that will somehow be a catalyst for change in my own life? I really need a clear roadmap and direction to deal with this that I can follow step by step.November 8, 2018 at 8:04 am #235981AnonymousGuest
The step by step roadmap will have to have these elements:
1. Your patience. It will be a long, difficult road to take. You will feel anxious and uncomfortable a lot of times along the way. Sometimes you will despair, asking yourself what-is-the-point. It will take what I call excruciating patience, that is more and more patience, persisting and continuing the walk through the distress, through the darkness along the way.
2. Your relationship with your father as is needs to be discontinued. I don’t think you are ready at this point to confront him, not yet. Maybe in the future, maybe not. But the as-is relationship has to end. Minimizing and severely limiting contact is a good idea.
3. Your adjustment was made according to the value of surviving your family of origin, a worthy goal. Now as an adult, you are no longer dependent on them, financially; you can feed and shelter yourself, correct? If so, develop and dedicate yourself to a new value: to-thine-own-self-be-true. Give yourself the voice you silenced. (But be prepared for the anxiety involved in locating that voice and then voicing it).
4. Practice locating and making your voice heard every day in small ways. No opportunity is too small to practice this. There is less anxiety when you practice this in a situation where you don’t have a lot to lose, so start there. Practice in small ways for as long as it takes. Only after this practice will you be a able to voice and assert yourself in more significant life situations, where you may have more to lose, or risk losing.
Post again anytime.