For those of you who don’t know what the term “gaslighting” means. No fear. I didn’t either until recently! This description is short and very clear. Okay, got it? Now, new to the marriage scene and very young and naive, I had never heard of this term much less actually experienced it.
Here’s my first encounter with gaslighting.
One snowy night, we’d been shopping at an outlet mall with our very young (7 months) son. Alex actually had left me in a store that day and took my son without telling me.
He did this often when he was mad and we were out in a public place. He’d just leave. Sometimes he took the car, other times he’d be right around the corner. He did it to make sure I understood he was mad and had no intention of me “ruining his day”.
On this day, I couldn’t find him and my son anywhere and he was not answering his phone. I sat in the car and cried. Waiting. I fell asleep and they still hadn’t come back to the vehicle. I went to each store trying to find them and eventually found them in Pac Sun playing with sunglasses. Alex acted quiet and nonchalent as if nothing was wrong. I was sad and annoyed, per usual. But silent. Talking would only start a fight.
We started driving home in silence and our son fell asleep peacfully in the back.
“Nicole emailed me a few months ago.” Alex said calmly.
Nicole was Alex’s fiance a year or so before I met him. They went through a rough break up and she was crazy, so I was told.
“What? Why?” I said, incredulous that this was the first I was hearing about it.
“I don’t know. She was talking about all kinds of stuff. Asking me questions.”
“What kind of questions could she possibly have for you?”, I spat. Nicole was married with a young son as well. Why on earth would she contact Alex?
“She was claiming we’d had sex during one of our camping trips.” Alex said.
“WHAT? Your ex fiance is contacting you in a sexual nature?!” I was sitting straight up at this point. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. “Did you tell her to leave you alone?”
“No. I didn’t.”
Uhm. What? I thought. “Uhm. WHAT THE HELL!?”
“Allison, calm down. It’s not that big of a deal.” Alex said smoothly. His eyes staying focused on the dark mountain road.
“Alex, our son is sleeping 12 inches from a conversation we’re having about you and your ex fiance exchanging emails of a sexual nature for months.” I said through gritted teeth.
Alex sat in silence. I fumed next to him. I couldn’t believe HER. I couldn’t believe Alex wouldn’t stand up for his family. By the time we got home, I was livid. I put our son down in his crib and went into our room to change for bed. I was crying, pulling my sweats on. Alex sat on the bed.
“It wasn’t true”. He said softly.
“What?” I stopped and looked up. “What do you mean?”
“I made it up. I wanted to see how you would react.” He stood. “And you did exactly what I thought you would do! You got mad! I can’t trust you to trust me at all!” Alex exclaimed.
I was slack-jawed. He’d done this before. Calling me and telling me he lost his job. Telling me he wrecked our only car. Then he’d follow it up with a “Just kidding!”.
“You were joking?! That was a JOKE? You made that up just to see how I’d react!? WHAT in the world is wrong with you!?” I yelled. I really wasn’t holding in my feelings at this point. I was furious and completely raising my voice at this point.
“Oh wow. You are crazy.” He said calmly. “I can’t even talk to you like this.” He left the room and went to watch tv.
Still mad, I got into bed. I knew I shouldn’t have yelled. I was not that kind of person and it always made him more angry. A few hours later, Alex came into the room and laid down beside me. He wrapped his arms around me and whispered in my ear asking if I was still awake.
I turned and said, “Why would you hurt me like that?”
“Allison, I have to tell you something.” He said quietly. “I was telling you the truth. Nicole did write me. I said I lied because I saw how sad you were and didn’t want it to be true. I’m so sorry.”
I couldn’t understand. I was too tired to absorb what I was hearing.
“Get away from me. You’re insane and I can’t believe anything you say.” I shrugged him off and went back to sleep. I was too tired to keep talking and my eyes were swollen from crying for hours.
The next day at work, I Googled an email address for Nicole and wrote her the email I thought Alex should have written in the first place. I calmly pleaded with her to leave my husband alone.
She wrote back that she had no idea what I was talking about.
After confronting Alex with this information, in true Narc fashion, he said she was “insane” and reamed me for contacting her. Telling me that was inappropriate and of course she would deny it.
Days later I got the truth out of him that he did, indeed, fabricate the entire story. After days of arguing and tears. I saw so plainly, he was mentally unstable.
The gaslighting is so dangerous because it can seriously affect the mental stability of the (in this case) woman. She thinks she really is crazy. She can’t remember details of conversations. They eventually are broken to the point where they lose all sense of confidence in their memory. Forced into a state of dementia and dependancy.