Breaking Free From Gaslighting


First off, I am a survivor and not a victim.  I say that out loud to myself from time to time, because I find it helps me regain my power and control over the situation that I found myself in a few years ago (sorry I cannot give a specific timeline due to circumstance outside of my control).  Why did it take me so long to come out and write about it?  Because, it was difficult for me to put a label on it, and publicly address what happened to me, especially as, until recently, many of the people I considered extended family read my blog and knew this man.  The silly thing is, the fear of not writing this post, is a key reason why I need to.  I need to break any and all control that my former mentor, and confident has/had over me, and I need to do it from a place of serenity and autonomy, and try not to let the fear of him getting upset and isolating me any further (I still am keeping his full identity anonymous as this is about healing and not about starting a witch hunt). This is my experience as I am Breaking free from gaslighting.

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What is Gaslighting?

When I first read about the term gaslighting, I dismissed it as the latest buzzword.  A trend to label behaviour that was most likely a form of abuse and required a person to just get out of the situation.  For the most part, I dismiss labels, and by doing that I feel that I can be more fluid and not allow them to define or trap me.  However, as I recently discovered, I needed this term in my life, to come to full terms with what was happening to me, and just how bad things were about to get.  If you want a fuller description of gaslighting, please check out this link, but for the context of this post it is someone who never apologizes without making you feel guilty.  It is someone who makes you feel isolated and that everything wrong is your fault, and claims to love you unconditionally with caveats that are completely unachievable.  They lie repeatedly, refuse to take any personal responsibility, and what for me was even worse, they tell everyone that you are the crazy one.  Honestly, there were times that the magnitude of how cruel the whole situation was, I could barely catch my breath.  And being isolated from all my family friends, and not realizing how deep the isolation actually went, I would naively turn to them for help and end up making an even bigger hole for myself, by proving that I was the crazy one who was off kilter. 

All I can say, is that even though he tried numerous times to turn my partner against me, and drive a wedge between us, my partner has the most incredible B.S. detector I have ever met and he called him out for exactly what he was, and what he was doing to me.  Without my partner, I may have crumbled and gone crawling back to this man because I honestly was left with, a feeling of complete nothingness. 

Where Am I Now?

While I still feel the weight from time to time of this person’s years of abuse, and occasionally find myself asking if I am stupid or weak, I have far more good days than bad. I have incredible friends who ensure I do not feel alone, and are happy just to sit in silence sipping a beer with me if I need to, sometimes it’s not enough.  There are moments, that I dream about him, and honestly wake up believing that things are back to how I idealized they were when I was younger.  I feel this incredible calm, that maybe this nightmare I have lived is over, and I am free.  I go back and forth between fantasy and reality, sometimes worried that I will never know the truth.  I am not fully free of this man, and for my mental sanity, I have to just accept that for the time being and continue to find peace in what I can control.  And that, is how I move forward with my life, and how I can forgive myself for living so long with the mental hell of my past.  

And please, out of respect for me, and my families privacy as I continue to work through this difficult time, do not guess who this person is, or try and reach out to that individual.  There is zero good that can come from that.  And I have learned that the only person that I can control is myself.  I am not looking for apologies, answers, or even acknowledgment.  I am simply taking care of my own mental health by writing this very painful post out, and continuing to heal with purpose.

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Overcoming the Female Competition Myth

When I was little my mom raised me to believe that you could only have one female best friend.  She told me that women couldn’t get along in a dynamic greater than a pair scenario as we were too jealous and competitive.  She taught me that I should always have one best friend at a time and be happy with that.  Anything more was trouble.  This was reaffirmed during the bullying I experienced in junior high when one by one, the girls I befriended would turn on me and attack in groups both physically and emotionally.  It was a hellish time, and one that unfortunately was a large part of growing up and I dare say there are few people out there who do not have their own experiences with a bully or two.  It made me leery of women, especially in groups.  It took until my 30’s to hush the voice of “they are laughing behind your back” whenever I would go home after a girl’s night.  That strong distrust that was cemented was difficult to over come. 
As I came to recognize the reality of my female mis-education, I realized that I had actually compartmentalized my female friends and gave them titles so that they were no longer competing for that one prized spot of best friend.  For example, my cousin was family, so she was more than a best friend.  I had my childhood friend who was long distance so she was my oldest friend.  I had the girl who I called my sister in high school and I had my 2 wives.  Writing it out like this makes it seem so calculated and yet, each one of these titles came organically and played a major role in who I am today.  
Having grown up with these preconceived notions, I knew I was not allowed to have a bunch of female friends for fear that we would always fight and compete with each other.  And as I result I feel I missed out in one big way, I did not have the female on female exploration that media says you are supposed to in college or university.  I had women around me, but I was incredibly selective of who I shared what with.  And I felt I needed to spread my feelings and secrets around.  No lady in my life knew everything about me.  They instead each filled a very select role and place to ensure that they all were equals at the end of the day.  If there is no head honcho of best friend then there is no person to rise above for supremacy, thus competition is eliminated.   
Now I find myself a little unsure of where to categorize the women in the couples that we date.  I don’t have a natural tendency for intimacy with them, but I do have curiosity if that makes any sense.  Women tend to smell better, are softer, and have all these qualities for compassion that males do not.  So I find myself asking time and time again, what do I do with the female female dynamic?  Will this become a strong friendship, will this turn sexual.  Where will the two of us find ourselves down the road and what name will I give her?  Will she be a girlfriend?  A partner? Or something more removed, like my partner’s partner? 
I now firmly believe that female competition is a myth.  One on one especially, woman want to help, to listen, and build a strong community, not fight or vie for supremacy.  I wish younger me knew this, and had learned to forge better and stronger relationships with women.  Perhaps though, I would still find myself in the same place, a little unsure, a little nervous, and of course excited to explore new relationships in their entirety.

Online Dating: How to Handle the Rude or Crude

I am just old enough that I have experienced the shift from picking up at bars to the anonymity of the online dating world.  Having experienced organic and sometimes raw first meetings, either by chance or by booze I am aware of the lack of tact that certain people can have.  As a result, I have witnessed men getting slapped for being rude, or having a drink thrown at them.  I personally have kicked a guy in the nuts as hard as I could to stop him from harassing me on the dance floor.  The simple fact is, if a guy was rude, there were consequences.  Taking a guy back into an alley to knock sense into him, was a real thing.  Cops were rarely called.  It wasn’t always about violence.  Instead, it was about dealing with people who crossed a line and setting a standard of acceptable behavior.    
Again, I started dating at a time when there were consequences.  Now, enter the world of anonymous online dating.  For the most part, I find it feels consequence free and this is a growing problem.  There is such a thing as a cyber bully and that has serious consequences.  But what does one do when a guy is simply a jerk, rude or sends dick pics. Your options are to report and block them which can seem extreme and unsatisfying or just ignore it and hope they go away.  It is a whole new way of interacting.  You do not know this person or their motives or their body language as they type away and you shouldn’t have to. 
Here is the most recent interaction that I had which necessitated a behaviour correction.  I had a guy message me on a popular dating site where I clearly state I am with someone and looking for couples.  He sent a pleasant enough message but when I looked at his profile said he was single.  So, I nicely let him down, saying we weren’t looking for the same thing, and finishing with my standard good luck!  The guy decided to pursue me further, by saying he was in a relationship too.  When I inquired why he didn’t state that anywhere on his profile, he piped up that “it is privacy”.  I replied by pointing out that this information wasn’t on his profile, and openness is important to me, so best of luck to him yet again.  And then this guy gets mad.  He writes a message back stating that “his DG thinks I am ugly and a bitch anyways”.  I assume DG is dog, or perhaps GF?  I have no clue, either way, this crossed a huge line.  So, what does one do? 
As I mentioned earlier, it is just not satisfying to just block or ignore behavior like this.  It seems empty, unfulfilling even.  But your choices are limited here.  And so for a long time I wouldjust ignore and delete the messages, but after talking to E about it, I realized that this is not a solution.  These messages are a form of harassment and if a stranger’s message makes me feel bad, I should act.  Also, I realized that they were probably sending the same type of messages to other women.  And that was enough incentive to make me take action.   
Now, I report these messages.  And I encourage others to do the same.  I am still not 100 percent comfortable with what feels like tattling, but that is what this online environment has created.  Those are the only safeguards currently in place for us.  These are strangers so you cannot verbally or physically spank them when they are bad.  But we can use the tools at our disposal to take action.  If a person cannot handle rejection in such a risk free environment, then perhaps having their account shut down or suspended is reasonable.  I know calling in the site moderators feels passive aggressive, but I am getting over that.  It is better than ignoring it, or hoping it goes away.
Online dating is changing the way we interact.  Social media is severing how we communicate with other humans.  It makes us indifferent and unprepared to handle one on one interaction.  We need to stop ignoring and move towards action, even if it feels a little strange at first.  Stand up to rude, or crude internet behavior with whatever tools you have.  Be a person of action, in a world of inaction.  Recognize that this is a form of bullying and intimidation.  It is unacceptable to treat another person with cruelty or rude words, even if you do not know them.  Who knows, maybe if you get blocked enough times from online dating sites, you might have to go and meet new people in the real world with real consequences.  And that could be just the kick in ass you need to change.

Bullying is Obviously Bad, Not Knowing How to Deal With it May Be Worse

I read a blog on Halloween about a father who was no longer allowing his children to watch the Charlie Brown Halloween special because it focused on bullying.  Here is the link to his blog if you are curious.  My initial reaction after reading this blog was outrage that the parents would rather hide this TV show from their children rather than watching it as a family and having some open dialogue about the subject of bullying.  But then I began to think about this a little further, this is an excellent example about just how sheltered the next generation is becoming and how ill prepared they are going to be with dealing with many members of our society especially when it comes to dating. 
When I was younger I was bullied for being too skinny, I was bullied for just not fitting in and being too small in general.  It sucked and I remember for all of grade 8 and 9 wearing a big oversized navy blue hoodie to help me not stand out anymore.  I soon learned to ignore the whispers and to just deal with people on an individual basis only, I hated doing anything in a group where I would have to draw attention to myself to be heard.  As I grew into my body, I developed the skills to only stand out when I wanted to, the more common solution I found was to just blend in.  I watched people I knew get bullied for being too tall, for being too smart, or for being too fat.  At some point or another we were all targets for something.  I hated going through this, but I am so much stronger and more aware of situations now that I am an adult then I would have ever been had I been sheltered as a child.
I have dealt with bullying in the workplace a couple of different times with grown adults and it absolutely sucks to deal with.  But how in the world are the generation of protected youths going to possibly deal with my generation or the generation ahead of me when they start adult interactions with us.  There are skills that are critical and will be missed.  What is even more concerning to me is how will this effect relationships.  It seems to me that as a group of people develop a weakness, there is a group of people who with equal force develop a strength.  I have watched with great sadness loved ones not stand up for themselves while being bullied or abused in a relationship.  Our generation has empathy for these abused individuals and a desire to help them because we have the skills learned from our childhood bullies, but I do not think this upcoming  generation will be quite so lucky.
As a child I recall my mom telling me when I was being picked on, that the other child was probably picking on me for a reason that had nothing to do with me.  As I grew up I learned that this was almost always true.  If I deserved harassment for something I did, I knew it.  When I was picked on for unknown reasons then I knew something must be going for that child at home or somewhere else.  It did not make it alright, but it helped me deal with my own anger and emotions in a more positive way, and kept me from picking on someone who was smaller than me when I got the chance.  
I have used this to find my voice when guys try to pull something on me that I am not comfortable, or a woman for that matter.  I cannot be pressured or coerced to do anything that I do not want to do.  If I had not been bullied as a child I would not have that same skill set as an adult.  I would be so eager to please that I would likely act in a much more submissive way.  I would be ill equipped to say no.  I am not saying this to scare any would be parents.  I can absolutely empathize with the pain in watching your child get bullied, but with talking with the child, helping them through it, and teaching them empathy it goes a long way to building a whole individual capable of dealing with the good and bad out there.  Of course if there is every violence or threats that are of an adult nature the police need to be involved, but again conversation about adult behavior and child behavior is necessary every step of the way. 

It will be interesting to see what new relationships form for the next generation and what sort of issues that they will deal with.  I hope they will be more capable of dealing with abuse and bullying than it looks like now.  Bullying is a harsh reality of our society, and in a relationships where intimacy exists our younger generation needs to practice saying no and finding their voice.