Did You Just Gaslight Me?

      Many people associate the fall with pumpkins, lattes, and comfy sweaters but the month of October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Typically this month is when I see numerous Breast Cancer “Pink Ribbon” Campaigns. We see pink ribbon memorabilia, donation pink commercials on TV, and walking for awareness. I think very rarely if ever have I seen awareness events or commercials touching on this issue. It appears that society is finally okay with the concept of discussing breasts and the need for screenings but still remains quiet on issue of abuse, rape, and domestic violence. This issue has remained a taboo subject that is known about but seems to be as illusive as unicorns as far as public interest is concerned.

       I think the general consensus in our society is that the definition of  “domestic violence” or “abuse” is mainly physical, this is simply not true.  Abuse can be any number of things to include the controlling of finances, manipulation, and verbal abuse. A form of abuse that I just learned about while watching the movie Gaslight is the phenomenon of  “Gaslighting.” Gaslighted or Gaslighting is the process of causing “ a person to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation”   Gaslighting is more than just moving picture frames and dimming lights as you watch Ingrid Bergman in the film desperately try and remember where she put the broach. Gaslighting is a slow psychological break, which leaves the victim feeling as though they are unable to function normally without others help. The victim often finds themselves lacking the confidence to make simple decisions, the ability to think for themselves, and as you watch in the film the victim often secludes themselves for fear of making mistakes.

gaslightmovieI know most people will exclaim “oh that will never happen to me!” But, gaslighting can happen between more than just a significant other and yourself. It can happen between parent to child, boss to employee, and friend to friend. Can you honestly say that you have never met a toxic person? A person that somehow managed to make you doubt every choice you ever made? This person is someone who can get into your psyche because they know you and your weaknesses and make you feel like you are a constant screw up. Perhaps it never reaches the extreme of becoming completely helpless as Bergman does in the film, but if you have answered yes to any of scenarios above then you can acknowledge that it is indeed possible. It can happen to anyone. Abuse is not gender, race, age, or sexual orientation specific.

  As I look back on some of my early dating experiences I can say I made some bad choices. One in particular stands out from all the rest. He was smart, talented, witty and we seemed to be a good match. But, as most people know abuse doesn’t start out as abuse. The person is usually a narcissist and in this case that definition fits the bill. He made me feel like a piece of garbage. There wasn’t a thing I could do right. Things that I felt so confident with like cooking, writing, and being a people person I started to question. He would often remark “ you know, for a smart girl you can be really stupid sometimes.” Then we ended up moving into an apartment that was farther away from my family. I would get in trouble for calling my mom, or for wanting to go visit. Thats when I knew something was truly wrong. The reality was I was young, and he was my first real boyfriend. I cared for him, and I wanted him to be happy. If only I had washed that pan correctly. If only I could iron a shirt like he showed me.

It took a break down over french toast at a breakfast joint with my mom one morning to make my decision. I had to get out of where I was, and I had to leave now. I think within two days time after a major argument I had gathered all my belongings in trash bags and a UHAUL was called.  Sadly, for some people this process is not so easy. The guilt of leaving coupled with the failure you feel for not realizing sooner I can honestly say is crippling. But you learn a lot about yourself in the next couple of months. You start to discover who you are again, and although the situation is terrible you gain a strength that is unmatched.

octoberawarenessThere is no question that awareness has helped educate people about Breast Cancer. The same can be said for Skin Cancer when every summer we see articles and commercials on moles, sunblock, and wearing protective clothing. Why would awareness not be just as effective with this issue? I believe that society has come a long way but we are not where we should be on this issue. It shouldn’t take a celebrity to remind us that it happens and that its real.  Lucky for Bergman she gained the help of a Scotland Yard detective and was able to free herself of her prison. But, for those of us who don’t have a detective watching our backs knowledge is power. My hope is that society will come to accept this is a real and current issue and treat it with just as much gusto as we do with all our other causes. Perhaps most of all, I wish for the stigma of yesterday to be forgotten.

Notes from the Writer:  If anyone is interested in watching the movie Gaslight, which I highly recommend the link below gives the synopsis. If anyone would like to learn more about gaslighting check out the links posted.  

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036855/

http://narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

http://counsellingresource.com/features/2011/11/08/gaslighting/

 

 

photo credit: oneredsf1 Charles Boyer & Ingrid Bergman (1) via photopin (license)

Purple Ribbon

Amongst the colorful leaves and the upcoming enthusiasm for fall, a dark shade of purple emerges. This color purple is the spreading bruises on the skin and hearts of the victims of domestic violence. October isn’t just Breast Cancer month it is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. Domestic violence like Breast cancer affects everyone, all races and genders, but unlike the pink ribbon memorabilia and Avon Walks it is rarely talked about. The definition of domestic violence is defined as “… violence and emotional abuse are behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other. Partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay, or lesbian; living together, separated or dating.” Domestic violence and abuse doesn’t always start out the same way for everyone. Sometimes it starts out with just over protectiveness or jealousy and other times it starts out with verbal abuse. The key is to learn the warning signs not only for yourself but for your friends and family. imageThe Hotline website breaks down each method used to gain power and control.  The domestic violence and control wheel covers eight major areas: using emotional abuse, using isolation, minimizing denying or blaming, using children, using male privilege, using economic abuse, using coercion and threats, and using intimidation.

This topic hits home for me in a major way. I watched my mother become a victim of verbal and physical abuse by my father as a child. He managed to take everything she had prided herself in and destroy it slowly like acid. I watched him name call,  control her contact with family, threaten her, and threaten me. She felt ashamed of her situation and felt as if it was her fault. She was afraid to reach out to friends and family for fear their judgement would be worse than staying in her marriage. She finally did ask for help but it was a very difficult thing for her to do. Victims of this type of trauma feel as if they deserve it and that feeling comes from the mind control and manipulation of the other person. The abuser gets into the victims head and makes a very sound logical person feel like they can’t make any choices or decisions without them. That is all part of the issue with domestic violence.

The stigma about it and the shame that is associated makes it difficult for people like my mother to leave these situations. Nothing makes me angrier than when I hear someone make comments like “well she should have left sooner” or “she stayed so she gets what she gets.” The psychological damage involved in many of these situations is almost worse than the actual physical abuse. The body and the skin heal eventually but the emotional and mental scars sometimes don’t. There was a point where my father would threaten to take me and kidnap me from my mother if she ever left. My father didn’t like to make idle threats. As a reinforcement of his threat, he showed up at my school and made it very uncomfortable for the teacher and my grandparents who always picked me up. I don’t think I need to tell you how alarmed and frighted this must have made my mother. This is just one example of manipulation and abuse that my mother experienced. There were endless fights that involved flying objects at our heads, fists being thrown through walls, through glass and at us. We lived in a war zone. My mother, myself and others are just a growing statistic that seems to be falling by the wayside. Why is this still a taboo topic? We can watch commercials about endless herbal sexual stimulants but we can’t discuss abuse? Where is the public outcry?

imageThis type of abuse and violence has been going on for centuries and the fact that it is still an issue today is nauseating. The statistics about domestic violence and abuse are staggering. According to a 2010 CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, “More than 1 in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and or stalking in their lifetime.” The CDC estimates that around ” 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by a partner ( examples include hit with a fist, beat with something, slammed into something or beaten).” How can we call ourselves a civilized society when we have numbers like this? There needs to be as much enthusiasm for this cause as every other. Only recently on TV during football games have I seen commercials for NO MORE which is a slogan from the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I have no doubt this was sparked by the scandals of domestic violence committed by professional athletes. Why does it take a celebrity to take a topic like this and make it real to people? The victims of domestic violence and abuse often feel as if they have no way out, they are alone, or trapped in their environment. One of the biggest things that helped my mother survive was having a network to reach out to. I can say as her daughter I am so proud of my mother for her bravery and strength. Unfortunately, some people are not as fortunate as us. We as a society need to be the network for these victims. If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence please know that you are not alone. If you feel comfortable enough talking with a friend or family member do so. If you prefer talking to someone who is unknown to you they have great confidential hotlines that are available 24 hours a day. You are not to blame for what is happening. You ARE stronger than you think and you DO deserve happiness and to feel safe.

Be well and be safe!♥

Here are some great sources of information: http://www.thehotline.org, http://www.nnedv.org, http://www.nomore.org

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224

Family Ties

 image   Next Monday is my fathers birthday. Normally this information evokes a positive verbal or emotional response for me however, it brings about a barrage of confusing and conflicted emotions. In addition to my already stated condition the knowledge of my father’s birthday was only recently learned by me. But, before I go further into my revelation let me start where all things do, at the beginning. I am the only child of a school teacher and a laborer. My parents relationship was never perfect, but it had for the most part been civil. When my parents marriage began to sour, everything started to spoil. The fights between them were on going and endless and I felt trapped in between with no one to talk to. By the time I was in first grade I knew my parents marriage was over. The divorce that soon followed granted my mother full custody and my father was allowed visitation. Throughout my life I have learned many things about people. Some of the things that unite us are the very same that can divide us. The human condition is one example. It consists of many facets, one in particular is everyone has internal angels and demons. For my mother and I it would be my fathers demons that came to haunt us.

             The endless debts he had racked up from charging his hidden addictions caused us to collect cans on the side of the road to buy groceries. My father refused to attend his court dates and remained unemployed, the lack of additional income meant sacrifices had to be made. The majority of my childhood I lived without cable because my mother could not afford it. Cable she said ” was a luxury item not a necessity,” and at the time I remember hating her for it. Christmas and birthdays were some of the worst times for my mother. When the endless bills arrived in the mail she would sit at the kitchen table and cry. The constant angry phone calls and the violative messages he left on the voicemail were the subject of my nightmares. The final straw consisted of him showing up at my mother’s school and threatening to hurt her and kidnap me in front of co-workers. These incidents brought his visitation and communication to an abrupt end. The resolution was a restraining order and although my mother had promised this would keep us safe I still lived in fear. I had grown to fear and hate my father with enough ferocity that at times it swallowed me whole. I was angry for not only what he had put me through but watching my mother suffer put a pit in my stomach that tightened with time.

Continue reading