Recently someone asked me to explain gaslighting to them, and I started in on a very sterile definition. As I was talking, I came to a startling realization: I’ve been gaslighting my parents, and specifically my mom, for years.
My entire life people have commented on how much my sister resembles my mom, and my dad, and everyone else in my family. When I was little, people told me I looked like a Carrico. Which will mean nothing to most of you. The point is, my sister looked like my parents, and I looked like I belonged in a different family. So, I started insisting that I was adopted
I get that it’s insensitive now, I do. Adoption is beautiful. It shouldn’t be turned into a joke, or mocked. But we all learn and grow, and this is an area where I’ve changed (albeit recently), but stick with me, because this is important to talk about. And it’s so easy to do it, or be caught in it, without realizing.
Anyhow, here’s how I spent years gaslighting my mom about my existence. It basically went like this:
“Mom, I’m adopted.”
“No, you’re not. I know. I was there when you were born. I remember.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you don’t remember correctly. Or maybe you’re lying. You adopted me though.”
Ugh, my friends. I was [am] not the best kid. This is a conversation we’ve had consistently. From the time I was, oh, I don’t know, maybe eight, up until extremely recently. (Seriously, I just realized how bad this was on so many levels. Continued growth is important, y’all.) Did you catch it though? The insistence that the life she had experienced wasn’t real. Me undercutting her truth with lies, subverting her sanity by weaving my own narrative that undermined her lived experience.
That’s gaslightling. And it’s a big freaking deal.
Clearly my mom never got to the point where she questioned whether or not she had given birth to me, but you can see how this kind of thing happens, right? I wasn’t intentionally being malicious when I did this, I was trying to make a joke, but it was still harmful. I can promise you that it’s not something I’m ever going to do again.
And this all leads us into some super serious domain…
Gaslighting is a thing you can do without even realizing it, and it’s also something people do intentionally to manipulate a single person, or a population. Subtle chipping away at the reality one knows is true, until one questions whether or not they are remembering correctly at all. Someone’s partner telling them that they never yelled at them, never hit them; that they aren’t abused, they provoked their situation; everything is their fault. A group of parents, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, friends being told by conspiracy theorists with syndicated radio shows that their families didn’t die in a tragic school shooting, but that their entire story is a lie. A country constantly being informed by a man running for national office that he never said things they have evidence of him saying. Millennials being inundated with the idea that it’s their fault that when they were children they were given participation trophies, that they’re responsible for economic problems that began when they were in high school. Systematic subversion of sanity.
If you want to know why women stay in abusive relationships, why people are willing to believe propaganda that history easily susses out as harmful, how an entire generation can appear to become apathetic toward their world, reading up on gaslighting is a good place to start. Here’s the thing though, even if you don’t care about any of that, you should look into it a bit further, because chances are it is something you will experience, or are currently experiencing. Maybe without even realizing it.
My friend Kristie is a rock star (go read her blog!) who has done a lot of research on the subject, so I asked her for her recommendations for continued reading to give to all of you. She sent me this list:
- The Gaslight Effect by Dr. Robin Stern
- The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evens
- This video by SOML
I truly do hope you go on to learn a little more about this from someone infinitely more qualified than I am to talk about it. I also hope you spend some time thinking about what gaslighting is, and how it weasels its way into our everyday lives, trying to change how we interact with, and see the world. It’s there if you look, so stay on guard. Pay attention.