10 Things I wish I’d known About Gaslighting
Shea Emma Fett

I keep reading this article over and over and over. I only just heard the term Gaslighting for the first time through a Facebook post of a fellow poet. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so eventually I asked her (only after she posted several things about gaslighting), she explained to me what it is, but I didn’t fully understand what she meant, I suppose, not until I read this.

I have been married for 8 years, together for 17, and for the majority of my relationship I have been in therapy from intense inpatient to weekly talk therapy, and not once had anyone ever mentioned this form of abuse to me. I kept thinking, how am I always in the wrong? I am the one who is going through therapy and is willing to get help to change the things that need changed about me, but all of the problems in my marriage are always my fault. Everything is always my fault. Even if he can’t sleep well, it’s my fault because I move too much in my sleep, or I did something terrible in my sleep that he has to tell me about, in front of my children or anyone else who is around…he make belittling “jokes” about me, in front of me, to the neighbors. The conversations with my husband always go in circles and never come to any resolution other than me being wrong, mentally ill, or abusive (ironically, it’s only me who ends up shaking in fetal position on the floor in a corner of a locked room after the conversation).

I have always known there is something very wrong with my marriage, but it was always me at the center of wrong. I had problems with tumors and cysts in my uterus, that’s why he wouldn’t touch me for years. I couldn’t read his mind that he wanted intimate contact, so it was my fault he never tried. When I was raped by a contract employer who owed me several hundred dollars for writing his website…so I pretended it didn’t happen and went to work the following Monday, so I wouldn’t lose the money owed me…it was my word against his, and he was a wealthy business man, and I’m just a underemployed poet. It took me almost a year to get the nerve to tell my husband— his response was that I asked for it and I must have wanted it because I went back to work…never comforted me, just blamed me for being abused. When I had to have a hysterectomy because the tumors and cysts showed cancer cells, I was left alone at the hospital to grieve the loss of my sacred womb, because he was too busy doing other things.

Three years ago I went to a writer’s conference, something that I should have looked forward to, but actually dreaded. I had become almost completely agoraphobic and riddled with panic. I never drink, but I did the second night of the conference and I blacked out. I was told by several others (including my roommate) that someone I believed to be a close friend took advantage of me sexually while I was clearly incapacitated …I wouldn’t believe it, but later that day, I tried to hang myself off of the balcony of my hotel room…my roommate came in just as I was tying my scarves together to make a noose, while crying hysterically. A friend drove me home that night and I admitted myself into a crisis residential unit for a week…my husband came to visit me once for 15 minutes, and never showed on the day that we were supposed work together on my treatment goals. When he didn’t show, the staff encouraged me to call, and he was angry and defensive telling me that my therapists and I were trying to ambush him. He still doesn’t know what landed me in crisis, and I will never tell him. I am now prone to chronic panic attacks.

I know my triggers, and I have explained to him what they are, and what I need from him so panic isn’t triggered, while we try to communicate. I say “try” because I am not allowed to respond to the things he says, because he get angry with me if I actually try to engage the discourse…It seems like to him, a productive conversation is one where I just sit and listen without any response. If I participate in the conversation, look out! I don’t know if he intentionally does exactly the things that trigger my panic attacks or not, but anytime I respond to something he says in disagreement with him, or even if he is pissed off about something that has nothing to do with me and I say something when he doesn’t want me to speak, he goes to screaming at me and lunging in my direction which immediately triggers me and I end up on my hands and knees hyperventilating. It has become a common occurrence and it’s not uncommon for him scream at me in front of my children and then leave, so I am left to try and explain what a panic attack is to my 7 year-old while trying to self-soothe to stop my body from shaking uncontrollably, stop my heart from pounding so hard that my chest feels like it will explode, and talk to my son through my terribly labored breathing.

In the 17 years we have been together, he has never apologized to me for anything. He does not say the words. If he knows he is totally wrong, he will pick up a candy bar from the gas station and leave it on my desk. That is the only way he apologizes for anything.