Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

About gaslighting

A mere 24 hours ago, my Twitter friend Natalie (if you stop by this article, thank you so much for your words!) shared an image about gaslighting, and what it looks like. Unfortunately, it only brought back to me some bad memories that, for years, I tried to repress. But as it’s been now 10 years that I left his sorry ass, I guess now it’s the time to open up a bit.

Gaslighting, what on earth is that? I guess some people call that ‘narcissistic perv’ or something like that. It’s a form of abuse and manipulation, where the victim doubt their reality. That what happened to me, and to numerous people, who probably, like me, still feel a bit guilty about it.

My mom loved my first serious boyfriend. He was everything she could dream of, and back in the day, we had troubles communicating. She loved him so much that everything he said was just golden. I guess that’s why I couldn’t escape my very own nightmare that easily. It’s been ten years, and she still blames herself over it daily.

It started slowly after all, so I was not sure that he was really trying to cut me off my friends. At first, he encouraged me, made me feel seen for the first time, loved. I was happy for a while, that’s true. And then, I realized there was a huge gap between what he was saying, and what he was doing. He started to tell me that I couldn’t hang out with my friends without him. He didn’t want me to have male friends. He called my damn mother the day I told him to fuck off, and went for a beer with a male friend. When I told that story to one of his friends, he shrugged and said that my boyfriend was just jealous. “Just Jealous?” I couldn’t have my own friends, those who tried to resist where automatically cut off. ‘They don’t treat you right,’ he was telling me, ‘they don’t accept me as your boyfriend, so they don’t accept you.’ Slowly, I didn’t have anybody else but him.

We moved to another city, and I started a prestigious internship in the fashion industry. It was, back in the day, my dream (I was 22!) and I was immensely proud of getting this internship. When I got the phone call, he couldn’t be happy for me, because he didn’t have a job. Nobody was calling him back. So I didn’t celebrate getting my internship. Anyway, we moved, he still didn’t have a job (he was playing video games all day long), and my internship was very, very, very intense. It was not what I had imagined, I had to work long hours, and every time I was coming home, here he was, berating me. In addition, my coworker started to harass me, morally, and I felt like sh*t at home and at work. When I was telling my bf about him, he responded that ‘at least, I had a job.’ I left my internship right before Christmas. We spent Christmas at his family: his mother greeted us with a charming ‘here comes our unemployed couple!’ I never wanted to choke anybody before her, but I surely did that day. I’ll never forget it.

It took me almost three years to realize what he was doing. I couldn’t be sad, because he was sadder. I was crazy. Nobody could love me as much as he loved me, because I was crazy. He didn’t pay the rent for two months because he wanted to alienate my parents, and make me choose between my parents and him. I was shutting down. Every time I was saying something, it was wrong. I took a night job at a burger joint to financially support us, because he was still not working, and he blamed me for working late. I felt inadequate, vulnerable, weak. I hated myself, and my inability to defend myself.

He did not cut me off from my dad, even though he truly tried. He knew my dad was my main support system, so he actively tried to cut him off, and almost succeeded, to be honest. Ultimately, his mom wanted us to move with her and I refused. We were arguing about this, when I told him I was going to my best friend’s, as I was tired of arguing and he raised his hand to hit me. He raised his hand and I knew exactly what would happen. He would apologize, send me flowers, give me gifts and hit me again. My whole life flashed in front of me, and I saw exactly what could happen if I let him.

I hit him first. I took my purse and ran.

He knew what he had done: when I came back to grab my stuff, so I could sleep at my best friend’s, he said nothing. I got my own place, my parents and my best friend helped me move out and as he was looking at us with a depressed look on his face, my best friend told him to go to hell. My dad was so happy she did that he brought her flowers the second we left the apartment.

It was hard for me to get out of this. He was such a huge part of my life, I had lost so many friends because of him, I felt so alone sometimes. I must admit that following our split, I partied a lot, to forget what had happened. He tried to come back, came a few times to my place to make me forgive and forget. I was finally able to cut ties, despite being traumatized by the whole experience.

The first time I talked about my experience to someone, this someone told me that hitting him before he had hit me was a mistake. It was not: I saved my own life that evening. Abuse is extremely serious, and it’s because victims are not believe that the amount of deceased is rising.

It took the guy I dated a year after my ex YEARS to make me feel okay, comfortable, beautiful, interesting. This guy became my husband, and he could tell you that what I suffered from was close to PTSD. It’s been ten years, and only now I realize how lucky I was to escape. I made it out, I made a decent life for myself, and most of all, I’m happy with who I am.

1 Comment

  1. Natalie Grace

    2022-01-09 at 8:52 PM

    This is such a vivid account Helene – thank you for sharing. It was very courageous to share the narrative of your encounter . I think the more we go on, the more we find that others have similar stories to share. It is sad that they don’t do so as every story helps to build up a wider picture of coercive control and how serious iit can be. . Of course, that does not lessen the impact that each individual feels when experiencing gaslighting. It can certainly lead to PTSD and worse and everyone’s story is unique,

    I very much hope others will read your story which many will be able to identify with.

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