When someone you love deeply treats you as if you were nothing, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you are truly nothing.
The term Gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which a ‘loving husband’ tries to convince his wife, and others, that she is going mad. Of course she’s not – he’s manipulating her through lies and deceit to get something he wants.
Sadly – very sadly – it’s a technique many men use when ending (or sometimes within) a relationship.
Truth and lies become fluid. If you are the victim of this behaviour, you will probably find yourself questioning your own sanity. And even when your husband is caught out in a lie, he may continue to argue it’s not something he would ever say or do. And because you love him you’ll want to believe him.
So how can you protect yourself against being gaslit?
Firstly, listen to your gut. If you sense there’s a disconnect between what you’re being told and what you feel, there probably is.
Take some time to think back on your relationship. Are you aware this has ever happened before? If he’s ever done it once before – even on something minor – he has the capacity to do it again.
Try and protect yourself from being taken in again either before, during or after the divorce. This might involve writing down things he says or does that don’t sound correct to you – and perhaps even e-mailing them to a friend. If/when he denies he ever said or did them, you have the proof that you are not mad.
And if he does still try, or manage, to gaslight you… do NOT be hard on yourself. You are NOT gullible. You are a good, trusting and trustworthy person – qualities you do not want to lose.
… maybe you need to change the record!
During that first year on my own, I just had to hear a piece of music from 1977 onwards, and it could bring me to floods of tears as I associated it with some part of our marriage. (Think Bridget Jones in her flat singing along to All By Myself.)
So I decided – in the short term – not to listen to music on the radio because I never knew what they might play and didn’t want to be caught unawares. Instead, I listened only to music from before I met my ex-husband, and indulged myself in all the kinds of music I’d enjoyed when I was young; Broadway Musicals, The Beatles, Early Stones, Early Bowie, Early Elton John, The Monkees (I blush), and classical favourites amongst others. After attending a folk festival in Scotland, I also started listening to artists I’d heard performing there – Dougie Maclean, Duncan Chisholm, Ross Ainslie, Dallahan – brand new music that had no associations with my married life.
And you know what? It helped – a lot – allowing me to remember who I was before I became a wife and mother, and who I was now becoming.
I also created myself a playlist of empowering, inspiring songs. Here are just a few that helped me.
That cliché about time being a great healer is a cliché because it’s true. Now and then I’ll hear something on the radio and I might feel a pang, but time, and taking that deliberate enforced break, gave me distance… and strength.
If you have any particular songs you feel have helped you through your healing process, we would love to hear what they are.
I’ve always loved the weekend. The anticipation of that last period on a Friday afternoon in high school, when our French teacher let us read old copies of Paris Match, instead of having to endure learning verbs or vocabulary or translating French to English or vice versa.
And then that drag on the stomach on a Sunday evening, listening to ‘Sing Something Simple’ on the radio, driving back from a day out on the coast, knowing school beckoned the next morning.
Or when the kids were young, and Friday afternoon meant the freedom of the weekend, just hanging out and enjoying being with them, before the Sunday evening routine of making sure homework was done, bags packed and clothes laid out for school next morning.
When it was just my husband and I, Friday evening meant going out for dinner with the weekend ahead to just hang out, sitting out on the deck with a glass of wine, shooting the breeze, going to a movie, visiting the kids, having our granddaughter for a sleepover, having the family round for Sunday brunch or a barbecue. Weekends were… perfect.
And then my world dissolved and everything went topsy-turvy. Now I dreaded Friday afternoon when everyone went home to relax. Friends who’d been available for coffee during the week were now tied up with their own husbands and families.
The weekend now emphasized just how alone I was. If I’d had a job, things might have been easier, but very often at this age we are retired, or have not worked in years. Now I couldn’t wait for Sunday evening when the world went back to ‘normal’ and I could, once again, look forward to meeting with my friends.
Two years in, I don’t dread the weekend any more. I’ve established new routines, but those early months were hard. Very hard. But you’ll get through them. I’m not pretending it will be easy, but you will.
Here are some ideas to help you.
Make Saturday and Sunday your days to do your grocery shopping and clean the house.
Pay your bills.
Catch up on e-mails.
Go to church.
If you live in a city, buy a book on local urban walks and go exploring.
If you have a bike, pump up the tyres and see where your wheels take you.
Go window-shopping downtown.
Visit a museum.
Wash your car.
Read a book. (Caution, I know of many women – including myself – who were unable to sustain the focus to read a book for more than a year after being abandoned. If reading used to be a passion, it might take a while for your concentration to come back.)
Veg out on the sofa and watch all the shows you’ve recorded from the TV that week.
Work in your garden (if you have one).
Have a sleepover with your grandkids.
Go to a movie with a friend. (Don’t go alone – unless you go midweek – until you feel comfortable doing so.)
Cook (or bake) lots of food and split it up into portions which you can freeze for the upcoming week.
Go for a drive in the country.
Visit a historical site.
Volunteer with your local pet society and walk a dog.
Have a movie night – at home – with another single friend, either at your house or theirs.
Go shopping at thrift stores.
Sewing and craft projects.
Join a fitness centre and take a class.
Now that the “battle” is over (I have been officially divorced ten months), I have my future in my own hands: I have a life to live, a future to embrace. Right? Well, maybe not exactly quite there yet.
I had thought I was coming to grips with the rejection and grief that official court-signed document had delivered when I first read the words: Certificate of Divorce. Yet more and more I realize I have been withdrawing into myself. Was I depressed? Yes. Was I anxious about this wide-open future? Absolutely terrified, to be honest and still am. I’ve been taking a mild anti-depressant for over a year now and that helped me to stop bursting into tears at little or even no provocation, but the grief over the death of my marriage, the fact that money is a constant worry. No little pill can make any of that go away.
I was drifting further and further into the hinterland of aloneness, staying home, not answering letters, turning down coffee meets with friends, even family. I’d say I was busy, but the truth was I just couldn’t get out of my misery and into the world. I didn’t want to hear one more person tell me that I’m better off without him. I know that but why can’t I get over the stupid, senseless grief?
About one month ago, I caught a shining sliver of light at the end of the dark tunnel.
I sit on the Board of a local writing group and one morning I found myself obligated to attend a Saturday meeting. I guilt-talked myself into going to do my duty as Secretary but in reward, I would leave right afterwards before the monthly workshop began. And worst of all, it was to be some sort of “touchy feely” workshop in which we were all going to–God forbid–discuss and record our writing goals and dreams. Write them down and put them in a homemade “Dream Box.”
I had once wanted to be a writer, but all I’d written for the past four years were lists, emails to lawyers and endless, fruitless job applications. My writing goals and dreams? Vanished into the mist of the past, just like my marriage.
Oh, I was really on a sorry-for-myself roll. I dragged myself around the house to shower, got dressed, drove to the meeting and sat down.
But…just before the meeting began, one of my writing friends commented that I looked tired. “Yes,” I answered, “I am tired today.” (Setting up my exit for after the meeting, you see.) And oh sure, there came the ever-present tears. I WAS so very very tired–all the time tired. This gentle person standing in front of me said something, I’m not really sure exactly what: a simple comment (not pity) about depression, about how the miracle was that one day, unexpected, the heavy cloud will be gone. She understood, didn’t try to “jolly” me out of it, but in a few words let me know that I was not alone, that we are all together in this soup of life.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so lonely. Some of the weight in my heart did miraculously lift.
I stayed after the meeting and I made the flipping dream box complete with someday writing goals that I dredged out of myself. I talked for a long time with a writing friend I have known for more than 20 years. Divorce, loneliness, none of these topics were mentioned directly, but my friends were there, offering their presence to me like a warm soft blanket. Not a cure, but such a comfort to be around people who care…about me, of all people! I think I needed to know that I wasn’t completely rejected, not hopeless, not unloved.
That day my friends picked me up, dusted me off and sent me back out into my new world without seeming to do anything. I want to remember this: how simple words can mean so much, how it isn’t a weakness to reach out but rather just part of being human. And maybe most important of all, not to be afraid to accept love.