The problem with any theory is that, if you are not careful, you can end up wedging evidence in to fit like Cinderella’s ugly sisters did in the original version of the story. Hacking a metaphorical toe off here and there until that idea is a blood soaked mess.
I have been wondering how much of my experiences in the past few years could be regarded as gaslighting. A term taken from an old movie where someone is constantly made to believe that they are imagining things by the sheer force of someone else’s will and believe in an entirely different version of events than the actual ones.
I got into a situation where all my senses and everything that was happening painted a very solid picture of reality being a certain way and yet the person I was dealing with was utterly determined to paint it another way. I have had mental health problems in the past and much of my coping strategy hinges on being a good enough judge of character that I can stop a wrong un from a mile off before they get a chance to hurt my admittedly fragile sense of sanity and wellbeing.
If you imagine yourself as a castle, the cheesy Hollywood sort rather than the falling down lumps of masonry sort that most of us end up wandering around with disappointed children, I have done enough therapy to drop the portcullis and raise the drawbridge on every potential threat to my mental health. Well, every threat but one.
That’s all it takes really, one little Erol Flynn, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe to fly over the moat in a historically inaccurate catapult, dispatch a few guards in a way that denies that you have just killed another human being and possibly someone’s husband and or father and chop a few ropes, drop a few counterweights and in comes the whole chaotic mess. Before I knew it, I was falling out with people left, right, and centre, people I personally knew well to avoid. I was being deprived of sleep, dragged to things that caused me to have panic and anxiety attacks and generally forced to expose all my carefully hidden vulnerabilities to people I regarded as being toxic. I was smarter than this, well, smart enough to avoid idiots, bullies and disaster areas anyway. Not smart enough to avoid this particular trainwreck of a situation though.
When someone who is essentially very damaged gets into your world and brings all their baggage with them, one of two things can happen, they can either drop that baggage in the street and come into your world and make something new or they can unzip that suitcase and empty its contents all over you life. Unfortunately, human baggage is mostly people, not very nice ones at that, and they have a vested interest in clinging on to people tooth and nail and will do their damdest to maintain what suits their best advantage. Soon, when my shitbag, selfish, neighbours stunk my flat with smoke yet again and their constant partying thundered through my flat until the early hours of the morning, I was now being told that this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. When after twenty solid hours of drunken chaos, an incompetent attempt at an Iron Age mud hut was erected that looked like and diplodocus has squatted down and shat on the lawn, that was acceptable too. What wasn’t acceptable, though, was my upset to this toxic shambles of humanity. My inability to see thoughtlessness, selfishness, haphazard and dangerous behaviour as the standard functioning state of humanity became a personality flaw in me rather than them. Of course, it’s hard to condemn actions they would be complicit in themselves, not being a stranger to parties that ran into the early hours of the next morning, it would be hard to and, knowing that their own poor neighbours had been exposed to nuisance noise up until one of them had it inflicted on them on their death bed, made it even less so. Anyway, this is about my feelings and experience, not other people’s and I mustn’t digress. The upshot of this situation was that I was effectively being told that black is white on a constant basis. Destroying expensive things that you haven’t earned the money to pay for suddenly became a source of pride labled as not being materialistic rather than not having respect for other people’s property, our own and indeed ourselves. Reckless behaviour and putting yourself and others in harms way becomes ‘having fun’ and turning down the time wasting projects of arseholes seeking to feather their own nests and puff up their own egos in the process made me a ‘negative’ person.
Little by little I could feel my personality being eroded away as I went from being someone who regularly got asked advice from my friends and was respected for my point of view into someone constantly being battered down by the opinions and actions of the idiotic and the self absorded. I gradually ceased to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything as the reactions to the jealousy (that I was supposed to be imagining) and the ever increasing list of people I was falling out with made any form of socialising nigh on impossible. It wasn’t long before my life resembled that of the archetypal mistress, tucked away in private and only seen so while the other party carried on their life as normal. Granted, I am by no means a social butterfly by anybody’s description but I did feel myself narrowing as a person as a result of this situation, and that wasn’t good.
During one of the lowest ebbs I resorted to writing a list of some fifty questions, designed to expose the massive contradiction in treatment of certain people as opposed to others and the way that two people could do exactly the same thing and one would be acceptable and one wouldn’t. Blatantly appalling behaviour would be ignored in one person whilst the kindest and most selfless of others would be turned into the most disgusting of crimes. Suffice to say all the terrible people I knew whilst the blameless belonged to the other party’s associates. It should come as no surprise by now but this attempt at finally making some sense of things became “fifty reasons why I hate them” a bold swipe dismissing the lot all at once.
The final and possibly the most degrading of requests came when I was actually asked to issue an apology to someone who was trolling this blog from a masked IP address… What demented logic would lead someone to suggest that an action like that would be acceptable under any circumstances? At what point would my humiliation finally be complete? Suffice to say, I refused.
It has since been confirmed by their ex best friend that I was spot on about the jealousy, the only mistake being that I underestimated the extent of it, and the issues with all the other parties were also confirmed by others who had similar negative experiences. Whilst not actually solving anything, it is nice to finally know that I wasn’t going mad and that my hard fought for sense of judgement was bang on the money all the time.
This is all very well but was it gaslighting? It’s a tricky question… I certainly don’t think that there was ever a point that actual harm or malice was intended. It was more a question of someone having a vested interest in remaining stuck. Change is a scary thing and change that involves upheaval scarier still. I guess it comes down to numbers in the end, annoy a dozen people or utterly destroy one, the one in question being me. Of course, that doesn’t make me feel better about anything, or myself but it does file everything as firmly someone else’s problem for them to deal with (or not) and it takes away any doubts in my own sanity. In retrospect it would be better for someone that clearly disfunctional to stay well away from other people but that is their responsibility, not mine. That said, it was made my problem at the time, it isn’t now. Whether it’s now someone else’s problem now I don’t know but if it is, I pity them. All I know is that I did the right thing, tried my very best, and I can walk away with my head held high
I guess what we all truly want is for something to make sense and the most horrific of thoughts is that if it doesn’t and all that is left is some abitrary set of events, that there was no meaning to any of it and that it was a complete and utter waste of time. Any explanation, no matter how sad, no matter how stupid, no matter how cruel is better than the void. The void though is all we have.