Gaslighting is defined as “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.”
Here is the truth. The last time I spoke to my father was on his death bed over Skype. A significant portion of my family was present for the reunion. At some point he asked me why I had never told him about Isadora. Aside from my mom I had never told anyone in my family that my father molested me. How could I answer him without exposing the truth? I didn’t tell my father about my daughter because I feared that he would, given the chance, do the same thing to her as he had done to me. I knew that even if I never left them alone together he could still do a tremendous amount of psychological damage. My father was very clear and very persistent when it came to his views on women. He was, in fact, relentless in his sexism. He steered most, if not all, of our conversations towards sex and the inferiority of women. He was often drunk. Often belligerent. Completely paranoid. And most of all dangerous. So I decided that it was better for me and better for Isadora if I cut him out of my life altogether. This was one of the best decisions I ever made but how could I say that to a room full of our closest relatives? Did I really want to expose the truth of my father on his deathbed? I finally answered “because it wasn’t safe.”. I didn’t elaborate even though he pressed me. Eventually he said “it was all in your imagination.” Referring to the things I didn’t say about our relationship and in that moment everyone in the room understood more or less why I had disappeared for such a long time.
My relatives had questions. My mom answered them honestly on my behalf and they believed her. One of my aunts came forward to say that he had raped her as well. By far the most difficult conversation of my life was the conversation I had with my father on his deathbed. Although he never admitted to the truth, he did, in the end expose himself.
I kept that secret from my family for 30 some years. My childhood was one of secrecy. I was told how to feel. How to believe. I was given a version of reality that didn’t match my own. My beliefs, my boundaries, my emotions, my well-being none of it mattered. As an adult I still question everything I think and feel. I question my motives. I accept other people’s version of events over my own. I question my worth on an almost daily basis. If I feel sick I question whether or not my illness is just a way of avoiding my responsibilities. If I am sad I question whether or not my sorrow is just a way of evoking sympathy or manipulating the situation. If I am angry I question whether or not I am being selfish and unreasonable. I even question my existence at times.
I believe that to make other people happy I have to subdue myself as much as possible because no one would love the truth of me. So for all of my life I have chosen to live in a kind of bizarre compromise. I am half-way myself. The half-way bit goes off like a bomb in mid sentence. You just never know when I am going to surface but when I do I am full of a lifetime’s worth of subdued emotions and forgotten dreams. I have learned how to endure a lot of things. Abuse. Neglect. Cruelty. Failure. Disappointment. Sorrow. Indolence. I have not learned how to endure Happiness. Love. Success. Unity. Reciprocity. Praise. Productivity. I have a sense that emotions aren’t really an act of endurance, that life really isn’t a contest of how much you can take before you break.
If you asked me what I wanted in life more than anything. I don’t know would probably be the most honest thing I could say because I have spent my life on the fence. I can’t tell which feelings and thoughts are mine, much less which thoughts and feelings are coming from fear and a desperate desire to run away from myself and anyone/anything that could touch upon the truth of me and which thoughts and feelings are coming from love and a need for expansion. Right now I am faced with the choice to move forward even at the expense of making a mistake, or acting with bad intentions, or misguided emotions, or from a place of fear/avoidance, or risking my comfort because what else can I do? I have spent my whole life hoping that the truth would be louder and more insistent than my doubts but if doubt is what I am conditioned to perceive than truth, whatever it might be, probably wouldn’t even stand out very much to me in the beginning. So mine is a quest for truth and in the process I might lie quite lot because I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t or maybe I do know but I just never learned to believe in myself.