A naive tale
So I’m old.
I’d never heard the phrase “gaslighting” until the last few years. I don’t think the actual term has been around long. At least, not in the way it’s referred now – as a way to manipulate people.
I started thinking about this here this morning, because of a conversation with my husband.
Long story short, my husband and I were talking about his coworkers, one of whom had taken the day off, and the boss had no record of it, so the employee was insisting the boss just forgot. I made a comment that it was “gaslighting at it’s finest.”
My husband didn’t understand what I meant.
So I explained it.
How a manipulator would not just lie about something, but lie to the point that they convinced you that you were wrong, that you’d seen/heard the wrong thing and didn’t know what you were talking about. Even if you witnessed, say, your spouse in bed with someone else, they would convince you that you didn’t actually see that. That they could do it so well, that you’d question your own senses and perceptions.
He asked me if anyone had ever done that to me.
I immediately responded, “No, never!”
Anyone who knows me would not question this. I’m an opinionated, loud, mostly confident female who has no problem telling people to shove their bullshit up their ass. Though I’m a lady, I do it with an eye-roll and a “well, aren’t you special” type comment. I’m the embodiment of this RDJ image.
After this conversation, I went about my day.
And that’s when the universe showed me a few moments in my past that I didn’t really remember.
Memories of the very naïve young woman I once was, and how, as a matter of fact, manipulated a few times so thoroughly, I honestly thought I had done some horrible things and had no memory of them.
To the point, I thought there was something wrong with my brain.
One incident was simple enough. I was dating a boy, and we had plans for the night. I called him to confirm—I think he might have been running late? Something made me call and verify, but I can’t remember what. Anyway, he basically told me he wasn’t going out with me that night because he was playing video games and drinking with his buddies.
I remember getting mad. I remember telling him I hoped he had fun with his friends, and not to call me again. I didn’t scream. I didn’t yell. I probably growled through my teeth. Then I hung up.
I was pissed. Because I thought that was wrong, to have a date planned and cancel because you wanted to get drunk with your friends.
I took a little bit to calm down.
Then I called my BFF, who happened to be dating another friend of this guy’s (this is how I met the guy—through mutual friends). Somehow, in that time I was calming down and freshening up, the guy I was seeing had called my BFF and her current man, telling them that I had gone crazy.
“Medieval” was the word he’d used. That I’d gone medieval on him, threatening all kinds of crazy things because he was going to hang out with friends instead of with me.
My BFF believed him.
That’s how good he was at manipulating this scenario.
When I was questioned—and it wasn’t just an “oh, wow, heard this thing, what happened?” scenario, it was an interrogation—I remembered popping off something, but I didn’t recall getting all crazy. I couldn’t remember that.
And I was confused.
I couldn’t figure out what had happened.
Had I really done something? Said something so out there and crazy?
Surely, I hadn’t done that.
Because I’d never actually done that before, had I?
Well, I didn’t think so.
At least until I remembered this other thing, a few years before this one.
I was eighteen. Dating my first real boyfriend. We worked together in a bar. He was the DJ. I was the really awful barmaid. (And, oh, how I was. Waitressing proved to be my failing time and time again.) There was a fight one night—not that unusual in that particular bar. My boyfriend walked to the edge of the crowd but didn’t step in and break up the fight. Maybe he could have, maybe not. It was broken up fast enough, as I recall. I was behind the bar with the bartender, a girl who happened to be roommates with my boyfriend. We were all in the same circle, and it was pretty chill.
But after, like a couple of days later, my boyfriend questioned me about the fight.
Said that it was heard, that I’d made some off-handed comment about “Oh look, there’s my boyfriend. Just watching, but not a man enough to step into the fight.” Something like that, anyway.
I couldn’t imagine who’d heard me. There were people at the bar who were interested in my charismatic and rather handsome boyfriend, so I always felt eyes on me when I was there, but when I was behind the bar, I felt safe, in a way, because people couldn’t come back there.
Anyway, this comment really bothered my boyfriend. Seems like we could have had a massive fight about it. If I remembered saying that.
I vehemently denied saying it. I might have thought something along those lines in my head at the moment, (and I said so) but I said I would never say that.
At least I didn’t think I did. And who was the only person who would have been able to hear me say such a thing?
Time moved on. He and I stayed together for a while. I moved away. He moved on. I moved on. I never got it out of him for sure who had told him that I’d said this thing, but from memory, and my gut, it was likely the roommate.
Did she have a thing for him? Probably. Most everyone who met him did, in some way, shape, or form. And he was friends with everyone, never met a stranger, so it would be easy for anyone to be attracted to him.
Did she gaslight me? In a backward way, so that I questioned my sanity?
I did, between these two incidents, for years, questioned that I had some kind of mental switch, or that I had multiple personalities that would just say things that I didn’t remember.
Life moved forward.
Flash to back now, where I’m a bit more intelligent. A bit less gullible. And give zero fucks about what I say, and to who.
And I see, that even I, when I was young and naïve, anyway, could be gas-lit. Those two, small moments impacted me for years. My trust, mostly of myself, was damaged for a very, very long time. I hardly ever spoke my mind—to anyone—for a long time.
Just in case.
Just in case I really had been mean and hurtful and could do it again.
When a person endures that day after day, year after year, it is stunning that they can make it out with any semblance of strength and clarity.
So is gaslighting a thing?
I’d say so.