He would accuse me of inconsistency when I backtracked.
I would try to explain that I was adjusting to try to communicate best with him, because clearly I was failing.
He would tell me that my inconsistency implied that I was lying.
I would say, “No, no, I know I’m not lying. Maybe I just can’t remember it right.”
“It seems I can’t trust your memory,” he would say.
We would never return to the original issue. I usually ended up crying hysterically.
4. It’s Normal Not to Be Able to Remember What Happened
This, more than anything, is something I wish I had known.
It was a secret I kept, that fed my self doubt and guilt for years after I left. I used to black out. I remember conversations where I would start standing in the kitchen and end up in a ball on the floor.
Just days after it happened, I wouldn’t be able to remember what happened in the time in between. I wouldn’t even be able to remember what the conversation was about. My abuser accused me of abuse while I was with him – and then publicly for years after.
It’s one of the reasons I left – because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing or how to fix it, and I couldn’t bear the thought that I might be abusive to someone. I’ve ripped my memories apart, trying to figure what it was that he experienced. What it was that I did.
And I have found some things in me that needed to change, as all people who look deeply at their abusive tendencies will find. But I couldn’t, in my own memory, find what it was that he saw in me.
I could not find the narcissist. I could not find the vicious manipulator. I could not find the home wrecker. But I had black spots in my memory. Completely black. And I wondered , Is that when it happened? Is that when I abused him?
Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive.
But it’s normal to lose your memory when you’re being gaslighted. In fact, it is one of the signs that you should look for. It’s a good sign that it might be time to leave.
5. There Are Distinct Stages (And These Stages Can Progress After the Relationship Is Over)
A gaslighter doesn’t simply need to be right. They also need for you to believe that they are right.
In stage one, you know that they’re being ridiculous, but you argue anyways.
You argue for hours, without resolution. You argue over things that shouldn’t be up for debate – your feelings, your opinions, your experience of the world.
You argue because you need to be right, you need to be understood, or you need to get their approval.
In stage one, you still believe yourself, but you also unwittingly put that belief up for debate.
In stage two, you consider your gaslighter’s point of view first and try desperately to get them to see your point of view as well.
You continue to engage because you’re afraid of what their perspective of you says about you.
Winning the argument now has one objective : proving that you’re still good, kind, and worthwhile.
In stage three, when you’re hurt, you first ask, “What’s wrong with me?”
You consider their point of view as normal. You start to lose your ability to make your own judgements. You become consumed with understanding them and seeing their perspective. You live with and obsess over every criticism, trying to solve it.
Looking back, I see that I was deep in stage two when I left the relationship. However, I continued to try to have a friendship with him for months after. I longed for resolution, understanding, and forgiveness.
And when I finally went no contact, instead of healing, I actually moved into stage three. I didn’t understand, nor did I know how to solve, the gaslighting that I continued to do to myself after the relationship was over.