Crazymaking, Gaslighting and General Assholery

Today I read this article, which led to this article, which led to this. The CC article said it so well I really don’t have much to add other than anecdotal ranting, so that’s what’s going to happen now. You’re welcome to depart at this point. No one will blame you.

After I split with my fiancé for the final time, I spent weeks of therapy learning that I wasn’t (am not) crazy. The real eye-opener was this book. It read like a narration of the entire demented year and a half. It was then that I recognized the gaslighting that was going on inside of my relationship. Evans named it crazy-making, but the concept is exactly the same. He (or she) dismisses what you’re feeling or thinking as a dysfunction of your personality or entire gender in order to control the situation and, ultimately, you.

It’s really a genius tactic to employ if you are a diabolical jerk, because as women we are told for most of our lives that we are delicate, overly sensitive creatures. It’s the punch line of half of all sexist jokes (the other half being “IN THE KITCHEN”). And so we come to accept it as the way things are. Resigning ourselves to the fact that what we feel about things is often out of line, and all we can do is try to overcome our insane emotions with the help of a man who can show us what an acceptable reaction to life looks like.

I’ve been told I need to “just learn to let things go” when I’ve expressed disapproval of a behavior. It could be as simple as “I’m not happy with the way you handle that situation” and in his eyes it was an all-out attack at an extremely inappropriate time. Things like “you always overreact to everything” and “you’re just trying to start another fight” were thrown around at the slightest indication of a disagreement. It was perfect. He could never be wrong if I was deranged. 

A friend of mine is going through a version of this right now. The guy doesn’t necessarily come right out and suggest she check into an institution. He simply denounces how she feels on the basis of “this is who I am, don’t try to change me.” This is just another twist on gaslighting. It implies that there is something wrong with her judgment. Because we’re constantly reminded that we should never try to change someone. (And we should never change for anyone.)

But the thing is, changing someone and asking for disrespectful behavior to stop are two very different things. Behavior and identity, though intertwined, are not

completely inseparable. So basically what this guy is saying is “I act like a jerk so that is who I am. I am a jerk. And I don’t want to improve my behavior in any way regardless of how it hurts the people in my life.” Good luck with that, buddy, I’m sure it will serve you well in all of your future endeavors.

The thing we have to understand is, what we’re feeling is valid. Regardless of what it is. His (I’m using “his” to represent all men you—or I—are or will ever be in a relationship with) reaction to “I was hurt by this thing you did” should never be “You’re nuts to feel that way.” Your feelings don’t make you nuts. If you chased after him with bowie knife because of how you felt, that would make you nuts. But that’s a reaction to a feeling, not the feeling itself.

His response to “I’m hurt” should be “I’m sorry you’re hurt by what I did. Let’s talk about what we can do so you don’t have to feel like that again.” Even if he had done nothing wrong (psh yeah right), he has no right to invalidate what you’re feeling or who you are. His only right is to explain his point of view so you can come to an understanding together. Someone who cares about you should always be open to discussing how you’re affected by his behavior so long as you present these concerns respectfully (without the bowie knife).