How I Healed From Gaslighting

Glenna Gill

Putting the pieces of my mind back together.

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In the most abusive days of my previous marriage, I fully believed my two young sons didn’t want or need me as a mother. It seems crazy now to write that. These days my boys and I are close as can be. My head was so messed up that I couldn’t see the truth. My abuser made me think the boys were happy and stable and didn’t need me coming around and messing everything up.

Where would I get an idea like that? It’s what my monster of a second husband told me for seven years straight. Every time I cried for my kids, my ex made sure to let me know they weren’t crying for me. He brainwashed me into believing the boys had moved on from me and now thought of my ex-husband’s girlfriend as their mother.

“Why don’t you worry about your REAL family?” he’d say, putting an arm around me. “OUR daughter is right here. Focus on us.”

Of course, when he told me to focus on my family, that really meant I should focus on HIM to the exclusion of everybody else, even my children.

I didn’t know then that he was gaslighting me. I’d never even heard of that word. My husband spent seven years taking parts of me away and replacing them with pieces of himself as if we were interchangeable robots or something. By the end of our time together, the changes were complete, and my mind was gone. Everything confused me. My normal photographic memory of certain events couldn’t be trusted, so I had to rely on his version. Instead of standing up for myself and my morals and values, he programmed me to stand up for his beliefs. When I finally found the courage to leave him after six previous tries, all that was left was a hollowed-out shell where my soul used to be.

The National Domestic Hotline documents five techniques that gaslighters use to control their victims:

Withholding: The abusive partner presents not to understand or refuses to listen.

Countering: The abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately.

Blocking/Diverting: The abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts.

Trivializing: The abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant.

Forgetting/Denial: The abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred.

SOURCE: National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org

After I broke free of the toxic relationship with my husband, I still had trouble thinking for myself and making even small decisions. I just couldn’t trust my own instincts anymore. Somewhere, in the deepest part of me, was the Glenna that I used to know, but I had no idea how to find her again. The friends who left along the way simply thought I’d become a “bad” person. Unfortunately, that left the only person to lean on as my abuser, the one who made it necessary to lean in the first place.

I tried for so long to make it work that I actually did go crazy enough to be hospitalized for a few days. I’d been crying non-stop before that and wanting to hurt myself. My husband didn’t really care except if something happened to me, he wouldn’t get his trusty robotic wife back.

There’s only so far you can push a person after years of being yelled at for nothing, getting shocked out of a sound sleep every night for no reason, and feeling isolated by my friends and family. He used my children against me often because he was jealous of them, nothing more. I loved them much more than him and he hated it. Controlling me assured him he’d get the attention he wanted.

Instead of knowing my own worth and breaking up with him, I tried harder to please him and be the woman he wanted me to be. According to his insults, I was too crazy to be a good wife, too crazy to raise children, and too crazy to function on my own. He spoon-fed me these insults on a daily basis until I wasn’t sure what was right or wrong. Part of me knew I’d simply been shaken off my foundation, but I wasn’t sure about being “crazy.” Most times, I agreed with my husband just to get him to leave me alone without knowing what I was agreeing to support.

I tried for so long to make it work that I actually did go crazy enough to be hospitalized for a few days. I’d been crying non-stop before that and wanting to hurt myself. My husband didn’t really care except if something happened to me, he wouldn’t get his trusty robotic wife back. There’s only so far you can push a person after years of being yelled at for nothing, getting shocked out of a sound sleep every night for no reason, and feeling isolated by my friends and family. He used my children against me often because he was jealous of them, nothing more. I loved them much more than him and he hated it. Controlling me assured him he’d get the attention he wanted.

I left him the day I realized that staying would be signing my own death warrant. There were times he was crazier than he ever accused me of being, and he’d started to push me around. The night he tackled me down on a wood floor and pinned me like a wrestler, I knew it was him or me. For the first time in years, I chose myself.

Putting not just physical but the emotional distance between me and my abuser was vitally important. He could only mess with my mind if I gave him access, so I stopped all interaction between us. I changed my phone number and my email and blocked him from all social media. He tried every way he could think of to manipulate me into coming back, and then he moved on to his next victim. I’m sure that’s the way he thought of her, as someone to use and use until there was nothing left.

When an abuser tells you that your thoughts and feelings are “wrong” all the time, it’s hard to gain back your self-confidence. I used to catch myself saying “I’m sorry” to everybody else whether I’d done something wrong or not. Saying those words was my default mechanism to diffuse scary situations, but when my life improved so did my over-apologizing. For the first time, I was given the space to remember what I believed in and held dear. I’m no longer afraid of saying my truth because somebody might disagree with me. I am who I am for better or worse.

I spent a lot of time going over everything in my mind to try to make sense of my failed marriage. This is as a result of having experienced trauma, and I know there are lots of things that made no sense at all. You can’t make sense out of nonsense. The past is better left in the past. Moving forward had to be my focus, and when I concentrated on that, I finally made progress. I no longer need to “figure out” why everything happened. There’s a bigger world out than the one where my ex-husband had me trapped.

Because of my experience, I can usually spot a gaslighter a mile away. I went through it the hard way but also know that gaslighting can start out very subtle. Sometimes we don’t realize it’s happening to us until we’re knee-deep in it. I believe everyone out there is likely healing from something, but I also know where my true strength lies, and it’s not in another person.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL
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