Woman's partner gaslighted her into believing she had postpartum depression

Libby-Jane Charleston


Was I losing my mind? Photo: iStock

Sandra had always been a confident person, but after a couple of years with Jason, she was drowning in a sea of confusion and self-doubt.

As told to LJ Charleston:

What began as subtle belittling became worse and worse until he was so openly critical I began to believe he was right.

When I told him I was due for a promotion at work he said: “You will totally fail in that role. You are not organized enough, you can barely organize your kitchen cupboard. I feel sorry for whoever has to work for you, you should turn down that promotion or else you will embarrass yourself and get yourself fired.”

He was so convincing that I actually took his advice and rejected the promotion because I started to think: “Maybe he is right, I’m more of a follower and not a leader so I would fail in that job.’”

When I became a mother I struggled a bit in the beginning as many first-time mothers do, but I thought I was doing a pretty good job as our daughter was thriving and was a happy little baby.

Even as a mother, I was a failure

But Jason kept telling me I was doing everything wrong, from putting her to sleep in ‘the wrong position’ to holding her incorrectly – the list of my ‘bad motherhood’ examples was endless.

He also told me I was a terrible driver even though I’ve only ever had a minor accident (I backed out of a friend’s driveway and hit an electricity pole and dented the car) and nobody was hurt.

I didn’t think it was such a big deal but he started to get me really paranoid about my driving. When my sister invited me to come away with her family on a weekend Jason was away he wasn’t happy about me going along.

“You’re such a bad driver, you’ll have a car accident, there’s no way I’m letting you drive our baby all the way to the beach for a weekend,” he said.

When I cried about missing out on a beach weekend he said: “There’s something wrong with you, you’re over-sensitive, you cry over the slightest thing. You’re nuts. You need professional help."

I used to work as a copywriter in an advertising agency so I was always a good writer and decided I wanted to write a book about the early days of motherhood. But when I told Jason, he was horrified. “You could not write a book, you can barely write a shopping list,” he said.

He also made me feel like a bad mother because he was angry that I would ‘neglect’ our daughter by taking time out to write a book.

Am I a bad mother? Is it neglectful to write a chapter of my book while my baby is sleeping? But he had me convinced that it was a bad idea, not only because I’m apparently not a good writer, but that our daughter would suffer.

He told me so many times I ended up believing him

He sapped my confidence and made me feel that I was hopeless at everything, from driving to motherhood and even cooking.

Anything I cooked for him, he would tell me tasted awful. It always tasted good to me and I took great pride in my cooking but I started to think I was a useless cook among everything else I was doing wrong.

When I eventually had the guts to tell him I was upset about his reaction to my idea about writing a book he would suddenly twist things.

“I’ve done nothing but encourage you. You’re being really paranoid. I was only saying that you need to make sure that your writing doesn’t take you away from the baby too much.”

'Losing my mind'

It sounds strange but he was always so convincing that I started to doubt myself. Maybe he was right – I was being over-sensitive and overreacting. Actually, any time he caught me crying, even if I was crying over a sad movie or just being generally emotional, he’d sit me down and tell me he was concerned that I was “losing my mind” and had postpartum depression.

I knew I wasn’t depressed but his constant talk about how worried he was about my mental health, made me really worried and I ended up seeing a psychologist who, thankfully, concluded that I’m just an overtired mother.

Gaslighting strikes again

The psychologist also had another conclusion – I was a textbook victim of gaslighting, a manipulation technique named after the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband convinces his wife that she is crazy by progressively dimming the gaslight in their apartment while steadfastly denying the diminishing brightness.

I had never heard of gaslighting before the psychologist mentioned it, but it instantly rang true.

Afterwards, I confided in my friends, telling them how much Jason criticized me for being forgetful and crying a lot and how I felt like a bad mother.

They were shocked, with one saying: “Out of all of us, you are the one with your act together, you make us all look hopeless.”

It was amazing what a difference it made to talk about this.

I’m no longer with Jason and my life is quite different now. I have a new partner and if he ever tries to tell me I am not a good writer or a good mother, or that I am losing my mind, I will walk once again.

Being gaslighted was a dreadful experience and I hope my story will help other women who might be in a similar situation.

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.


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