In opening my mind to my husband, I opened myself up to horrific scarring. A gaslighting story by Urszula
This story was submitted by Urszurla in response to Katy’s comment on Kathy’s story about how pre-marital counselling kept her entrenched in an abusive marriage. It is such a powerful story of abuse that rather than publishing it on that thread, we are publishing it as a stand-alone post.
Just so you have the context, here is Katy’s comment again:
Any man who says that women are emotional and men are logical has never met any of the women I work with. This totally disregards all women who live in the realm of science and operate on a logical basis all day long – every day – it’s our personality. Not that we don’t have feelings – but everyone has feelings. Men who say stuff like that I would automatically assume are abusive or just stone cold ignorant.
My husband also decided that “our problem” was a lack of communication (on my part) and a lack of respect for him (on my part again). Interesting. This is the same man who snuck around behind my back, and took out an unsecured loan from the bank for $10k so that his sleazy coworker could put in a pool at his house. When I found out about it I was never allowed to bring it up again or I was threatened. I wasn’t allowed to ask if the dirtball was making the payments or if we were stuck with it. I never brought it up to taunt him – I was too scared for that.
And my dad told me not to ask him about it, because clearly my husband must be embarrassed by my questions and it was making him flip out – so the message to me was that I had to shut my mouth permanently.
I tell you what – I’ll never shut my mouth again. I’ll never be that kind of slave ever again – I’ll use my God-given brain and LOGIC which is as good as any man’s, and I won’t be told to shut up because I am a woman. EVER. again.
Now, over to Urszula: Trigger Warning: complex psychological abuse
Huzzah, Katy! You brought some invigorating spirit to my heart and made me want to get to my feet and cheer! Thank you for your courage and resilience! You are quite the inspiration – and I know I am not alone in feeling that.
I am so sorry that you have had to endure what you have – and I’m only more impressed and awed by your strength. I’m especially sorry to hear that you were told to keep silent by other men in your life, as well. I am so glad you are silent no longer.
It’s especially apt that Megan C just posted a new entry about gaslighting, because I was actually going to touch on that in response to your message. I, too, will never, ever be the servile, passive, mute shell of a creature my husband forced me – for a short while – to become. It makes me sick to think that I played that role for even a second. I did stand up for myself at times – but each time I did, I was only brought lower than before. Eventually, it expended too much mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energy to fight. And that’s how my silence began.
But the funny thing about silence, in my situation, was that – though it was the position of subordination I was coerced to assume – it, too, became a stance that was exploited as “justification” for abuse.
Early on, I allowed myself to be vulnerable with the Pokraka (monster). I would confess my dearest hopes, my greatest fears. I was honest about my pain. He was patient. He stored up the knowledge of all of these facets of my humanity, perverted them into arsenal to be launched against me. Pretty soon, the things that I would mention he would deem crazy – my belief in the importance of education and my philanthropic endeavors were re-labeled “selfish,” and any emotional reaction I had – no matter how great or small – deemed “irrational.” “Histrionic.” Even “stupid.” Before long, any time I would try to confront him on a deep wrong he had committed against me – oftentimes wrongs committed in public with other witnesses – he would discount my memory, tell me that what I remembered had never happened. He would look at me like I was crazy. I began to doubt the integrity of my memory, my mind, . . . my sanity.
Usually, such “delusional memories” of mine were of incredibly traumatic events that had left me utterly devastated and bruised. They were memories of being utterly abandoned by my husband as he transformed into a beast – perpetrating physical and verbal atrocities against me for hours at a time. I remember being huddled on the floor in a fetal ball. I remember how tight the corner was that I dragged myself into. I remember thinking I was going to pass out because my dry heaves were choking the air right out of my lungs.
So I tried not to mention these things ever again. If I mentioned them, I was “stupid,” “too emotional,” and “childish.” But then . . . if life remained too calm for a while, if I maintained a position of “unflappable, steady wife,” my husband would find a way to make things explode. He liked to see me dance as he shot bullets at my feet. And so, if I kept silent for too long, he would broach the subject. He would tell me that I was creating problems in our marriage by not communicating with him. And he would push and push until all of our past issues were again brought to the surface. He would rage and throw things. Push me. At which point, while I stood there crying and shaking and pleading with him to stop, he would suddenly pause . . . smirk . . . and say, “See? I helped you get that out, didn’t I. Don’t you feel better now that you’re communicating with me? I feel so much closer to you.”
If I shared my feelings, I was “too sensitive” or my reactions were demeaned as “stupid,” “selfish,” and “immature.” If, however, I tried to sidestep the minefield – keep my composure, my silence, and the peace – I was accused of ruining our relationship by failing to communicate. And then I would be provoked and demeaned until I was brought so low that I had no choice but to defend myself. Whereupon that smirk would begin to play across his lips. He knew he had me–one way or another. . . .
If, during these “conversations,” I would ever indicate that I remembered a particularly traumatic incident that HE alluded to (with the sole purpose of hurting me, of course), he would suddenly pretend that I had been the one to broach that topic, that he had no recollection of this abusive event ever occurring. I would be flabbergasted. Speechless. Quaking with fear and confusion and a paralyzing sense of futility.
Afterwards, he would proceed to tell me the “real story,” what I had in fact purportedly said and done – things, of course, that were utter fabrications on his part. But I was surrounded by too impenetrable a fog of abuse and manipulation to always recognize that. I just saw myself through his eyes, as the stranger he portrayed me as – a vastly unsettling, schismatic experience that made me ask God if I’d ever truly known who I was.
One time, the Pokraka attempted to gaslight me in this way in front of his own family. We were all sitting peaceably in the living room. I was shocked. The leer playing across his lips was sheer evil. I finally said, in front of everyone, and in as steady a voice as I could muster, “You’re lying.”
His response? A deeper smirk and the words, “I know.”
My own family caught the Pokraka in a few of these machinations of his. They didn’t say anything at the time, though, because they didn’t realize the significance of his lies. They didn’t realize how intricately were these seemingly innocent slips complicit in his manipulation of my very world. My family will tell me today that, while he fabricated lie after lie about our lives, or about me, it was like he was talking about a completely different person. Like he didn’t know who I truly was. Everything he said about me was so antithetical to the person I have always been committed to being. . . Even now, I often wonder if such delusions were purposefully perpetrated to disorient me and control me, or else whether they were manifestations of another brand of psychosis. Was he so insane he could never really see beyond the fantasy he himself had created in my stead? Maybe it’s a little of both.
The upshot of this lifestyle is that my memory feels deeply compromised. To this day (and this is partly due to the PTSD from which I suffer), I can’t remember much of my marriage. Either situations were too emotionally difficult to process (and the memory loss represents therefore an instinctive suppression, a mechanism of survival), or else too mentally risky to acknowledge. I was always afraid: if my capacities were indeed so faulty, perhaps it would be better not to remember things than to later be pilloried for misremembering them. For the first time in my life, I was made to feel dumb and untrustworthy. It’s a scary thing to be made to feel so alone–and then to wonder, in your isolation, whether you can even have faith in yourself.
It’s all incredibly ironic because, for years, I’ve worked for a non-profit organization that seeks to cultivate empathy in children and young people. We encourage youth to open their minds to other opinions and viewpoints. But it was in so laying vulnerable my own mind to the perspective of my husband that I opened myself up to horrific scarring. I never should have given his views of me the credence I initially lent them. I should have seen that while he was raging at me for “controlling” him and “trapping” him with my emotions, I was the one being controlled and trapped. I have learned a very valuable lesson, and I am a better mentor to these young people because of it.
I applaud and embrace you, Katy. Keep talking. Keep making noise. As Megan C. so beautifully referenced: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7