...that gaslighting is a term that gets overused, but the truth is that people complain about everything. And maybe the reason we're hearing the term 'gaslighting' used so much is that people are really starting to understand how often – and how effectively! — it is used as an abuse tactic.
I'm thinking about gaslighting at way too early on a Wednesday morning when I really should be getting ready for work because of something I read recently about setting boundaries. More specifically, about what people get wrong about setting boundaries.
But first, I must tell you a bit about TheBadger. There was a time I loved them so much. And they needed love, so much. Even though I knew they weren't capable of loving me back. I knew it, the whole time. I knew it. And still I loved, and I gave. and I gave. And I gave. And I let myself believe they loved me back. Even though I knew they couldn't. I knew the only thing they ever cared about was TheHedgehog.
But still, they looked at me with those big eyes, and they said the right things to manipulate me, and they gave such good hugs. And I believed they loved me because... I guess... I wanted to believe it. And while things were good, I was able to keep making myself believe that.
Things started to go bad. And TheBadger started going after everything I believed was good about myself or was striving to be better at. I try to be an honest and straightforward person. No. I'm kind. No. I'm compassionate. No. I'm a good friend. Hell no.
And then came the absolute worst of the gaslighting.
I'm a pretty self-aware person. I know when my anxiety is changing the way I think. I can feel it. And maybe I can't make the anxiety stop giving me problems, but I can usually choose not to react to it. I can feel when my depression is changing the way I think, and I can usually choose not to react to it. And I'm always trying to understand more about the way my own brain works so that I can learn more things to... not react to.
However, I claimed a positive trait for myself. I'm self-aware. It had to be torn down and destroyed. I couldn't be allowed to believe something good about myself! The harder I clung to it, the more forcefully TheBadger attacked it. Until finally, TheBadger resorted to insisting I was “delusional.”
I need you to understand that this was a profoundly unethical thing for TheBadger to do. Speculating about my mental health was not an OK thing for them to be doing. Nonetheless, they did.
“Delusional” was great for them. It allowed them to counter any argument I made. I didn't know what I was saying. I'm delusional. Any time I tried to stand up for myself (which by that time, I rarely did, it wasn't really worth it), I was delusional to think that they would ever say or do something to harm me! They dismissed ... pretty much everything I said. It became their go to strategy for shutting me down. If I was mad or sad or hurt. Nothing I said mattered. Because I was 'delusional.'
After a nasty confrontation on Discord between TheBadger, TheHedgehog, and I, the two of them asked me to show the conversation to my therapist. They most likely believed she'd back them.
She did not.
She stated that I was well grounded in reality. And that they were not being kind. That they were backing me into a corner. That they were trying to force me to say what they wanted to hear. After that, I set what I thought was a boundary:
“Never again. You don't get to say that to me ever again.”
And TheBadger threw a tantrum, yelled, screamed, made dire predictions, but eventually complied. Except, of course, after that, instead of “delusional” TheBadger would use phrases like “self-lies.” But still, I was mostly willing to count it as complying with the boundary (I shouldn't have let it slide, but I did).
The violation of that “boundary” ended being the cause of the last words we said as technically-still-friends to each other.
In our last conversation — in our final sort-of attempt to save the friendship — TheBadger called me 'delusional,” and I said “Hey, TheBadger? You just violated my boundary. I'm going to give you a chance to fix it, and if you don't, I'm going to leave.”
TheBadger responded by doubling down on calling me delusional and berating, belitting, and mocking me for it. And so, I said goodbye, left the chat, and thus severed the last remnants of that friendship.
Which brings me back around to what I learned about boundaries. “You don't get to call me 'delusional' anymore,” is not a good boundary because it attempts to control someone else’s behavior. And I cannot control other people's behavior. I can only control my own. So, it turns out, the last thing I said to TheBadger while we could still technically call each other friends was also the first time I properly expressed a boundary with them.
“I will not tolerate you gaslighting me with words like 'delusional.' You are not the person I have trusted with my mental health care, and I no longer trust you to comment on my mental health because I no longer believe you are acting with my best interests in mind. If you persist in doing so, I will leave and if the behavior continues, you will lose access to me,” is what I should have said from the beginning.
People complain about a lot of things. And I have a lot of complaints about the way TheBadger treated me. In their own words, they were unnecessarily cruel to me.
But I've learned so much from that. Not the least of which is how to phrase an effective boundary.
.Worthy, Deserving, Enough
.Worth as much as a cat