“Darling … You’ve got to learn not to take the bait … They’re just doing it to get you!”
Those are the words my mom would say to me, as I ran crying to her, seeking comfort from the teasing that my brothers and father used to do periodically when I was a little girl.
I so desperately wanted to be in on their jokes, to be included in their camaraderie, to not be made fun of or laughed at … and … from my perspective, it didn’t happen … and, they were merciless.
They made fun of what I said and how I said it.
They laughed at the way I looked.
They would promise to stop … and then keep on even more.
Moments of inclusion in their worlds frequently ended with me in tears, as they would say or do something that they knew would upset me.
And, as I lost it, they would laugh, and then grow quiet, knowing that my mom would reprimand them and demand that they “Stop it.”
“We didn’t mean to, we were just having fun,“ they would say.
It wasn’t fun.
Sometimes they would deny saying or doing what I so clearly knew they had said and done.
And, what was most puzzling, they were not like that all the time. They did not pick on me 24/7. Just sometimes … and I spent many years waiting for it, anticipating it, dreading it … relieved when it didn’t happen, and, heart broken when it did.
Did my brothers and father love me? Yes!
Was that their way of showing it? Yes!
Did it make it sting less? No!
“Don’t get mad, get even,” my mom counseled me.
I learned to fight … mostly with words … and I was good at it.
Later in life, I replicated all of that in my relationships with friends, co-workers, bosses, boyfriends … opening myself up to being treated poorly by others, then faulting myself, wondering what was wrong with me, thinking I was actually losing it, doubting myself … and fighting back.
What was the common thread in all of those relationships?
That I wanted desperately to be acknowledged, validated, valued by other people … and was unwilling to acknowledge, validate, value me …
And how did I present myself to the world? As a victim, at times pathetic, doubting myself, unsure, defensive, and, ready to attack.
Times have changed.
Gaslighting is a term in vogue now, used to describe a form of psychological abuse designed to invalidate your very being … basically who you are … The term comes from the movie, Gaslight (1944) with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, in which a husband uses a variety of techniques to convince his wife that she is insane, so he can have her committed to an asylum and steal her inheritance. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036855/)
Gaslighting can be done by others to you as well as by you to you.
And, it is not a life sentence. With some changes in attitude and perspective, you can be free of the effects of it, and, learn how to deal with situations when they arise.
As always, the work begins with ourselves!
Where to start?
When you find yourself replaying a conversation with someone, or an event that ended up with you doubting yourself or wondering what’s wrong with you, or ready to attack, ask yourself:
“Do I have a problem with this person, or does this person have a problem with me?” And then ask yourself:
“Is this person trying to create an upset with me, so they can have control? Do I have to take the bait? Or is there something else possible?”
When you lose it, who has control? You, or the person who said or did whatever it was that was upsetting to you?
I have found that there is a lot of grace in life. With a willingness to have a look at what I’m actually up to, with my demand that this change, with the courage to be and/or do whatever is required for freedom from functioning in that way, and, with patience and kindness to myself, anything is possible!
For more information & to register for Anne's upcoming Gaslighting - Can you do it or are you the effect of it?