Was I crazy? Photo: iStock
Carly* was so convinced she was an unfit mother that she went to see a psychologist – and that’s when she discovered what was really going on.
She claims she has always been a very confident person, but after a couple of years with Jason, she was drowning in a sea of confusion and self-doubt.
"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," Carly said.
"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.’”
I was miserable. Photo: iStock
Carly once worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency. She believed she was a good writer and decided 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 was so nasty to me, always putting me down. I had to keep reassuring myself that I knew I was a good writer, otherwise, how would I have survived in a senior position at a top ad agency for so long?" Carly 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."
Carly felt her confidence was at an all-time low as she was always told she was hopeless at everything, from driving to motherhood - even cooking.
" It didn't matter what I cooked for him, he would criticize my meals and tell me they 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. It was a dreadful time of my life and, at the same time, I was so sleep-deprived, I just listened to him and didn't put up any argument in my own defense - that was my biggest mistake. I let him walk all over me."
"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. He said, “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.”
It got to a stage where Carly felt she was losing her mind. She questioned whether she was overreacting and that her husband was doing nothing wrong; it was all 'in her head.'
" 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 post-partum 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."
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," Carly said. Afterwards, I confided in my mother 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."