So I got a wake up call this weekend, all thanks to a quote that I saw posted on Instagram. It read, “you gotta start being sick and tired of your own shit, sis. That’s when you’ll start making the changes that need to be made in your life.”
And it hit me. I find myself again and again in dating situations where I am not treated with respect, or ultimately am used. And while that is not entirely my fault, I also know the following about myself:
- I’m a giver, and I will do almost anything for people that I care about, even if I just care a little
- I often take responsibility for things that are not my fault
- I care what people think of me, even when that person is disrespectful to me
What’s worse, is when I express my frustration, I find myself gas-lighted… and then somehow I end up being the one to apologize, and made to feel as if I did something wrong. A.K.A I get gaslighted.
A recent example
I recently started talking to someone. At the outset, it felt so different. He said that he wanted to get to know me, and when I asked how we’d do that since he lived in another state – he said he wanted to talk to me every day. Woah, every day! In my last relationship I was criticized for wanting to talk even every other day. Imagine my surprise. Someone who is interested in my daily life.
It was great. And I was comfortable talking to him right off the bat. I usually describe myself as shy, but this time that wasn’t the case. That made me feel excited. And I felt even more excited when he told me he was coming to Ohio and wanted to come see me. Me? You want to come see me? Hell it’s usually like pulling teeth to get a guy to make a plan.
Here’s where I started to misstep. Out of my excitement, I made a dinner reservation for the night he was coming because it was Pride weekend in Columbus, and I knew it would be hard to find a place to eat. I cleaned my apartment, and I got all done up. And then I sat. Hours passed, the reservation passed. And then I found out he was finally in Columbus by seeing from his social media that he was at a party. I was upset, and this first time he was apologetic. I let it go because he had been at a friend’s birthday party, and I was just some new girl.
Did it register as a red flag for me? No not at all. Instead I blamed myself for having high expectations.
He’d be in Cleveland for a month, and though not for a good reason, serendipitously I would be in Cleveland the next couple of weekends to take care of my mom. We hung out that first weekend. I got ready to go out, and was dressed and ready to go by 10 PM. It was 12:30 AM before I heard from him. But nonetheless, I ubered downtown and we had a fun night. But,, here’s a list of things that I’ve apologized for since:
- Being upset he wasn’t replying to me the following weekend, and didn’t make an effort to make plans even though he said he wanted to see me
- Driving to his neighborhood because we were going to meet up, but then sitting there for hours and finally hearing from him that he forgot
- Picking him up at 4 AM to go get his car, being promised breakfast / hanging out that day, and then being upset because that didn’t happen and I was ignored
- Being sarcastic, him not understanding my sarcasm and thus accusing me of it not being sarcasm
Why was I apologizing for my feelings in reaction to his mess-ups? Should I be apologizing for asking to have my time respected and for there to be open and clear communication? Why am I feeling bad about myself right now after he posted that when he sees one “flaw,” he backs away from a person. Am I really flawed for wanting those things?
I had a total flashback to my past relationships at that moment. I was letting myself get walked all over, and I was seeing that as a reflection of me and not as a reflection of that person.
My number one issue is the gaslighting. So let me tell you a bit more about what gaslighting is, and how you can deal with it.
Gaslighting occurs when a person engages in certain behaviors or says certain things that make you question your reality – ultimately allowing them to maintain control. Here are a couple of examples:
- Denying that they’ve said something or done something even though you have tangible proof otherwise
- Their actions don’t match their words
- They tell you or others that you’re crazy
- They project. For example they’re a cheater, but they constantly accuse you of cheating
- They tell blatant lies, so that your constantly forced to question whether something is true or not
- They tell you that everyone else is a liar, and that they’re the only one with correct information
- Even though they constantly tell you that you don’t add value, they randomly throw in a compliment. And what they normally compliment you on is something that serves them.
- They will advantageously forget any of their past negative behavior
- They will disengage from listening to you and claim that they don’t understand what you are trying to say
These are just a few examples. Some common things that gaslighters will say to you are:
- “You’re just over-sensitive”
- “You always jump to the wrong conclusion”
- “Stop taking everything I say so seriously”
- “You’re reading too much into this”
- “Why would you think that? What does that say about you?”
- “You are just paranoid”
GASLIGHTING – IS IT HAPPENING TO YOU?
So how do you know if you’re being gaslighted? Besides some of these behaviors and phrases, a big part of it is how that person makes you feel as a consequence. Consider the following:
- Do you often ask yourself if you’re being too sensitive?
- Do you make a lot of excuses for that person’s behavior?
- Are you always apologizing?
- Are you often made to feel like you’re crazy in the relationship?
- Do you always wonder if you are good enough for them?
For me. This comes up as me always apologizing. Always. And then making excuses for that person. It was never their fault, somehow it was always mine.
how to deal with it
Personally, I will say that if you feel like something isn’t right. It probably isn’t. In a past relationship I continually made excuses for why I wasn’t allowed to see my significant other consecutive days in a week, or for them being extremely late, or blowing me off. In that relationship, it turned out that I was being cheated on. Now it isn’t always that severe of a reality, but at the end of the day, being gaslighted is extremely bad for your mental health. Here’s what you can do.
- Identify that there is a problem. Trust your gut. Answer those questions above for yourself. Just by doing that, you’re taking a huge step.
- Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. You cannot control what you feel, and your emotions should always be respected by another individual. Their actions have an effect that they are responsible for, even if they didn’t intend them to have that effect.
- Sort out the truth. One thing that is helpful for me is to replay or even rewrite a discussion I have had with a gaslighter, and the discussion that got us there. Where do you start to abandon your own perceptions and begin to take on theirs? How did you feel during the conversation?
- Take a minute to visualize the situation. How would it have gone ideally? Do you feel like it is possible with that person? If not, envision yourself without the relationship, feeling positively and having a strong support system.
- Talk to your close friends. Ask them for an objective, brutally honest opinion on the gaslighter, and if being in that relationship has changed you.
- Give yourself the permission to let go, or stop interacting with that person in your life. Identify all the other people that you would consider as a part of your support system.
- Abandon trying to decipher who was right and who was wrong. Focus instead on how you feel. Emotional well-being is always more important.
- Remind yourself that even if you are right, you can’t control anyone’s opinion of you or of the situation. The only opinion you can control is your own. Do you like the person that the gaslighter makes you become?
- Consider what you would tell a friend in this situation. Write it out, but address the letter to yourself, and read it back when you’re finished.
- Make a list of all the totally awesome things about you.
Their GASLIGHTING ISN’T about you
One thing that is important is that there is a distinction between a real disagreement and gaslighting. What makes gaslighting distinct is that only one of you is actually listening and considering what the other person is saying and the other is simply insisting you are wrong and calling you crazy. Conflict is important in relationships. But this sort of conflict is unhealthy.
I’m never going to make this guy understand that he did anything wrong. But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me. Remember that how someone treats you is more reflective of them, than it is of you.