Photo: Salem, MA January, 2014
How many times can I be told I’m crazy and not start to believe it? I knew I wasn’t crazy, didn’t I?
It was such a confusing and dark place to be. The accusations, the blame … as resilient as felt I was, as much as I knew that someone constantly telling me I was crazy was wrong, I doubted myself and started to question if something was really wrong with me. Nothing made sense.
I did things during my marriage that allowed these questions to seep in. Things that made me question who I really was. I questioned my character. During an argument over thank you cards I stomped my feet, and screamed “Listen to me!” at the top of my lungs. Never had I done anything like this before. I felt out of control. He told me I was crazy, and I fell asleep that night wondering if I really was. There were so many times, so many incidents, so many questions. If someone you love constantly tells you that you’re crazy, could it be true? So many times …
One night while I was folding his laundry he started blaming me for not doing enough around the apartment and how he’d hoped for a better homemaker (this happened an hour after he told me I needed to make more money). I threw all of his laundry out of the basket and shouted at him to fold his own damn clothes. He looked at me like I was insane. “You’re crazy,” he said.
… Maybe I was.
As I was sorting out these ups and downs, my words to my therapist were: “Sometimes he does something kind for me, and the next minute I feel like I’m going crazy and I’m so angry and hurt at how he’d treat me, and then I lose it.”
“What do you mean you lose it?” my therapist asked.
I told him of those two experiences.
I wondered: How could I believe this marriage was worth ending, if I wasn’t perfect either? If I did these things? How could I blame him for yelling at me when there were times I screamed too? Am I crazy? Irrational? Everything he accuses me of being?
“Well, why did you scream back?” he asked.
“Because he won’t listen to me. He yells when I don’t agree. He points his finger at me and puts it in my face. Everything is my fault. Sometimes I feel bipolar. I feel so ashamed when I do lose it.”
“I can’t sort this all out for you,” he said, “but I can tell you as a psychologist you are not bipolar. That much I know. Sometimes our circumstances cause us to act in ways that are not typical for us. This is not about your personality. This is about the situation you are in.”
I felt relief hearing my therapist validate me. I was buried in so much shame and this moment meant so much. It was so hard to trust someone outside of my marriage to validate me. How could I if I couldn’t even trust myself? So much confusion. Looking back, I realize how much I questioned myself to remember so clearly the relief I felt when the psychologist confirmed I wasn’t bipolar.
“Go back,” he said. “Tell me about this argument over thank you cards. I want to understand this a little better.”
So I did.
With all of the moving (Massachusetts was the third move for me in less than a year) with all of the shame, and all of the confusion, we still had some thank you cards from the wedding that had not been sent out.
The majority of those left to write were to my husband’s friends. Almost all of my friends had been thanked. I wrote down what they had each generously given us, collected their addresses, and decided I would ask for help from my husband to finish up the process. I knew that my newly-wed brother and his wife had split up the job of writing their thank you cards. That seemed logical- a natural part of a new partnership. His friends- his cards. My friends- my cards. I needed some help. Unfortunately, nothing felt logical or reasonable in my marriage. It was confusing, and I just never knew what was going to rock the boat from day-to-day. But I thought I’d be brave and ask for help. I asked my husband if he could help with the thank you cards just as my brother had done, and many of my other friends in their marriages.
“Do you think if I gave you the list of what they each gave us, you could write these thank you cards for your friends?” I asked him.
“Lauren, why are the thank you cards not done yet? You should have had these done a long time ago. This does not look good.”
My therapist stopped me: “So, he didn’t respond to your question, instead he’s switched the topic and failed to address the issue you raised.”
“Exactly!” I said. I felt heard in this moment. My husband never listened to me, but finally someone was. “He switches topics all of the time. I try to validate him. I try to let him know I heard what he said, and that I understand so that we can solve the problems at hand, but he won’t respond to what I say. It makes me feel crazy.”
I continued to relate my story to the therapist: “I want to get the thank you cards done. It’s been really hard with all of the moves, and we’ve received a lot of gifts. I’ve written a lot! People were generous, and I’m behind, and I’m wondering if you could help?”
“Lauren, these should have already been done. Why aren’t they done? You’re so irresponsible. You’re embarrassing me.”
“I don’t understand, I just told you why they aren’t done. I just wanted your help. Aren’t these your friends?”
“They need to be done. This is so irresponsible.”
“I agree that they need to be done. We agree. I understand. That’s why I’m asking if you could help me. My brother helped his wife with thank you cards for his friends.”
“Lauren, there’s no love in your voice. Calm down. You’re getting too emotional. I really need you to get the thank you cards done. This is making me look bad.”
My therapist stopped me again: “He really isn’t addressing what you brought up. That would frustrate most people. He’s avoiding you, trying to get you to react. He wants to put you on edge so that he can disempower you and point the finger at you. This is a deliberate strategy to gain control over you.”
“What do you do when he tells you there is no love in your voice and to calm down?” my therapist asked me.
“He does that all of the time!” I said. It’s always me. If I tell him to stop blaming me, then he just tells me I’m crazy or to calm down. If I ask what he means by there being no love in my voice, he just tells me to calm down again, and then asks me why the thank you cards aren’t done. He never responds to my questions. I feel like the conversation never progresses. I often feel so confused and angry.”
I try to reason with him. I plead with him. I even beg him at times. Please, please, please, I’m trying so hard here to help, to make this right. I’m asking you with all the love I can muster. Please, please, please try to understand me…
Understanding never comes. There is never any real attempt to understand me.
“You are so dramatic,” he says. “You’re being a drama queen. Just stop it Lauren. These should have been done yesterday- just get them done.”
I’m starting to lose it inside, I need to breathe deeply, I need to stay calm. I want to reason with this man whom I am calling my husband, I want to make this work…
“I will do them,” I say. “I see you want me to. Then please just trust me that I will get them done, but it might take a few weeks. I am busy and can only do so much alone.”
That was the last straw. He waves his finger in my face, angry. I know what’s coming next.
“You are WRONG,” he says. “There’s no waiting. Get them done. I’m tired of being embarrassed by you all the time.”
I push back: “I’m telling you I will get them done! But if you’re not going to help, I need you to please respect me and trust me to get them done. Not today, but soon enough!”
“No, you listen to me now- you NEED TO CALM DOWN! You’ve got to get these done NOW. This is your responsibility!”
I’m stewing inside, a storm is rising up. I can’t keep calm anymore. This isn’t fair, it’s not right.
I scream at him and say: “Listen to me, just LISTEN TO ME!” This scream comes with a stomp of my feet, and my head tilted back, my fists tight in absolute exasperation. “Listen to me!!!”
My therapist pauses for a moment and says: “He portrays you as irrational, but he is the irrational one. You know you’re dealing with a personality disorder when there is no reasoning with the unreasonable, when no problems ever get solved, when there is never any compromising.”
“Narcissists will provoke your anger and then calmly use it to prove their point.”- Jackson Mackenzie
After my screaming, my husband has all the ammunition he needs: “You are crazy! You are totally CRAZY!”
My therapist helped. He helped me to understand that maybe I really was in a losing battle. Maybe it really wasn’t me. I had no voice in any conversation and there was never any reasoning. Yes, I lost it. Yes, I felt crazy in that moment, but yes—I realized—this doesn’t define who I am. I am not crazy, just in a crazy marriage where compromise feels impossible.
I fell asleep that night after the fight really wondering if I was crazy. I shocked myself by how I lost it at the end of the conversation. These were the moments in my relationship that made me question myself, and who I was. but I know now: “Narcissists will provoke your anger and then calmly use it to prove their point.” They create drama through manipulation in order to pin “craziness” on you. Don’t believe it. Not for one second. Don’t ever question who you are or give in to someone else’s perceptions of you.
Before I left my therapist’s office that day he asked me if I knew what “gas lighting” was. I told him that I did. I told him that I knew it was manipulation.
He went further. “Gas lighting is manipulative. It’s a tactic that abusers can use to undermine a victims perception of reality so they can be in control … or another way to look at it: It’s slowly chipping away at someone’s sanity by constantly providing them with mixed messages.”
When someone responds with an accusation after you bring up a valid concern, it’s a form of gas lighting.
“You’re upset at me.”
“You’re acting crazy”
“There’s no love in your voice.”
“You started this conversation wrong.”
“You’re not thinking of my feelings”
“What about me?”
“that’s not what I said. That’s what you choose to hear.”
My therapist ended this session with a thought: Why not trust yourself? Take back the power you have to trust yourself and your reactions. Use your reactions as a way to gage whether something is not right in your relationship, rather than using it as a way to judge yourself.
Do you trust yourself? Can you take back your power and trust that you know your emotions, and who you are?
I wish so much that I had been gentler with myself and had seen these moments for what they were: a gift that allowed me to simply realize this was was not a healthy situation. I shamed myself rather than trusted what my abnormal reactions were telling me—something was amiss. I left the therapists feeling validated. I felt heard. I could clearly see the gas lighting. But confusion still seeped in, blurring the clarity… the ups and downs … I was still sorting it out.
Copyright © 2016 Lauren Matthias / LaurenMatthias.com copyright 2016. all rights reserved. You may not take content from this site without written permission.
If you’re experiencing the pain and devastation (whether now or in the past) of being in an abusive relationship with a narcissist and you’re ready to get your life back – Click “contact” at the bottom of this page for a 45 minute “Love Life Recovery” Makeover Session. We’ll set up a plan so you can look forward to having the life and love you deserve.