The healthiest relationships can be tricky. Although I saw the flying red flags in my relationship, twenty months in I realized I was suffering from a form of emotional abuse referred to as gaslighting. A manipulative tactic in which a person gains power and control by planting seeds of uncertainty in their victim. It’s terrifying to admit it, however, I lived with a narcissist who controlled me. I survived a relationship of gaslighting and I am stronger from it.
To say I am naïve is partly true. Not that I was sheltered as a child. I know right from wrong. Just as a child is aware that bullying is wrong, I knew physical abuse in a relationship was wrong, too. But I wasn’t aware that there was something worse than knowing when something is wrong. That something was not knowing emotional abuse was wrong and accepting it. After fifteen years of relationships identifying emotional abuse should have been easy, but love got in the way and made it tough to decipher the manipulation.
It started out with small fights that eventually lead to wars. I gradually thought I was losing my mind. How could this sometimes charming man be so dangerous? Feeling guilty for ever doubting he was wrong I would punish myself. Doubt myself until the point where I felt I needed to see a therapist to explain what I was doing wrong. In my case he was insecure among many other things, and had a deep desire to control me in order to reclaim his own control. The mental war going on in my mind lead me down the darkest path. Moments so weak I felt incapable of everything because he told me I was.
He needed to maintain the confusion to gain power so he never accepted responsibility for anything. He would blatantly lie or withhold information from me but accuse me of lying. If I tried to argue my defense he would call me crazy and a psychopath. At the time I didn’t realize I was feeding his fuel giving into this behavior. Anytime I spoke up and recalled the facts he would deny or redirect the blame onto me. To make matters worse, when I was at my lowest he would push the knife deeper. He rarely said anything nice but blurted the evilest words when I didn’t give into his control. He constantly turned everything into a fight and reminded me how he could replace me by buying a better version of me, and how money would always be more important than I was.
I started to believe the lies he told me about me. I cried nearly everyday. Which became the slow demise of me. He weakened me because I stopped trusting my intuition and listened to him. For the first fifteen months of our relationship I didn’t leave the house or see a single person because I was afraid he would leave me and I was nothing without him. A tragic reality for someone who maintained a high level of confidence and self-love for nearly thirty years before him. I justified everything he did and tried to convince myself it made sense. Was I was wrong? Maybe it was my fault this time? He would lock me out of my house and text me cruel things when he accused me of being at fault for anything. I slept on the couch more than our bed and felt alone everyday.
Every time I forgave him which rarely came with an apology he would make promises to be better. Work harder. He never delivered. His actions never lived up to his words. But I continued to make excuses second-guessing myself. Once I realized I was the victim and not to blame I tried to leave. He begged me to stay. He offered things to help with my career because I was a struggling entrepreneur new to owning a company. When I wouldn’t accept he would demand until I caved and allowed him to help. As soon as things went South he would try to take everything away from me or dangle a carrot over my head like he owned me. He would use my career against me to make me feel bad when we didn’t spend enough time together but wouldn’t take time away from his unless it was convenient.
When I finally started inviting friends back into my life and socializing I realized I was developing a form of Stockholm Syndrome. I slowly started to standup for myself and take my life back into my own hands. I focused on my mental health and stability. Meditation was how I avoided reacting. Though I am still working on myself I am acutely aware that everyone is at risk of gaslighting. When I acknowledged he was projecting his insecurities onto me he would become harder on me, but I could tell he was weakening. He had no use for me anymore because I would no longer allow myself to be the victim. He told me I was incapable of accepting help from anyone which made it impossible to love me.
Gaslighting increased my anxiety and left me depressed. I was close to a mental breakdown before I saved myself. I am rebuilding myself and no longer feel susceptible to this behavior. If you are in a relationship and suffering from emotional abuse I urge you to be honest with yourself and talk to a professional, family member or friend you trust. There is help out there. Gaslighting is toxic and can slowly kill you if you allow it to. You are not alone. Stay grounded, focus on your happiness and trust your gut. You know what you deserve and you owe it to yourself to have it.