Providing Transitional Housing and Support for Women & Children Who Have Survived Domestic Violence
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"Gaslighting"

Walking into the living room, you encounter your husband (or wife) angrily stating that he cannot believe you left the kitchen cabinets open again. “Are you incompetent or just stupid?” You freeze. Wait a second, you think. I literally just walked in the door from a 10 hour day at work, greeted the kiddos, went directly upstairs and changed out of my work clothes. I walked down to the living room to find the situation at hand. I haven’t even been in the kitchen. So then you state the facts and defend yourself. “Are you now calling me a liar?” pronounced in a very loud, angry yell. “I can’t believe you do something you know I hate” (leaving the cabinets open) “and then call me a liar! This is ridiculous. I don’t know how you can be this stupid. You can’t do anything right. I don’t know why I keep you around!” all said in a belittling but loud, firm tone. You are confused. You know you have yet to enter the kitchen, but you are not sure what is going on. Two days later, you come home from a beautiful day at the zoo with the kids to be immediately confronted at the door with “I cannot believe you left all the kitchen cabinets open AGAIN! How can you function acting like this?!” Your fun-filled day promptly turned to fearful. You know for a fact you are not guilty of the accusation yet somehow you are confused about it. This occurs many more times. Then comes a new twist. You are now accused of losing software. You did not even touch the software disc. It’s of no use to you so why in the world would you. I mean, you have a super busy life already with a growing career and sweet kids to serve; the disc is of no importance to you. Then comes “you are doing things you don’t remember. Why are you doing these things to me? Are you just jealous? Are you just mean? You are the worst wife ever!” You begin apologizing yet maintaining your innocence. That is not enough. Silent treatment again. Usually lasts a few days to weeks. When trying to talk to about the situation, you are reminded how ridiculously sensitive you are and how you can’t do anything right. Your emotions are getting the better of you apparently (or so you are told over and over again). You are so confused about these events (or lack of events) but what is happening? Months go by. Years go by. Same condemnation, same convictions, same accusations, yet more hatred, more yelling, more belittling. You feel so overwhelmed, even more confused. There is no joy anymore. The hope for a great life left a long time ago. You are now more somber. Only when the kids are around and NO one else, do you feel safe and yourself. You become hyper aware and lose confidence. You don’t feel like you can make a decision anymore. You worry that it’s the wrong decision every time. You begin to write out what you do immediately after an action because you don’t want to forget what you have done. You put your head down and don’t want to make eye contact with anyone anymore. Partly because you don’t know if you can trust them and partly because you fear you will do something wrong. This is what I experienced daily for many, many years. This is called Gaslighting. “this term comes from the movie Gaslighting, in which a husband uses a variety of insidious techniques to make his wife doubt her perceptions, her memory, and her very sanity…. A Partner who does this may continually deny that certain events occurred…or insinuate that you are exaggerating or lying. In this way, the person may be trying to gain control over you or avoid taking responsibility for his own actions. This is the one for of emotional abuse that is done very consciously and deliberately. It is sometimes used to discredit their partner to gain access to their money or turn others against them or a way to justify their own inappropriate, cruel or abusive behavior.” Bevery Engle stated in “The emotionally abusive relationship” Robin Stern, Ph.D. has a wonderful article online at Psychology Today about Gaslighting. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/power-in-relationships/200905/are-you-being-gaslighted Ms. Stern states that the victim has stages before recognizing the gaslighting behaviors. First is disbelief that it is happening to you, second you are defensive. Next you become depressive because you are realizing that you no longer act like yourself. She also gives 15 warning signs to look for. The good news in all of this is you can recognize the symptoms and behaviors and with great counseling or help, overcome the trauma you have experienced. “Because you have begun to doubt your sanity, intellect, or perceptions, it is essential that you focus on knowing yourself and trusting yourself…While you may sometimes become confused with your feelings, you are the only one who lives in your skin and you are the only one who can figure yourself out.” Beverly Engle states in her book “The Emotionally Abusive Relationship.” This is exactly how I felt for many years, even after I left the abuser. I felt as if I could not trust even my own thoughts or decisions. To further complicate the matter, I had previously kept all feelings and emotions inside as to not “get in trouble.” This meant I had to really work on specifically clarifying each feeling and emotion with my therapist. I had to begin again by trying new things to see who I was, what I liked, and what I disliked. I could not even begin to form future goals and wants before I found out who I was again. It was hard work, and still is. But the healing, freedom, and peace I now have is worth the effort.

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God’s healing hands

One very early morning before anyone was up, I heard a noise and arose to check things out. No one was stirring and nothing out of place so I went back to bed. As I started climbing in bed, my husband—without opening his eyes to confirm it was me—opened his arms as to welcome me back. When I cuddled up to him, feeling safe and loved, it struck me--this is just like God. See, me being a light sleeper, I hear every noise or settling of the floor. I could never, just never, open my arms and wrap my arms around someone I had not yet seen. I would just have to be sure who it was coming towards me. God shows the same attributes as my husband did that morning. He knows who is coming J And, He welcomes them with loving, open arms! He is always there when we need to cuddle up, feel loved and when we need to feel safe in our Father’s arms.

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Missing the card

One day, I was looking for a sympathy card that I knew I had. I thought I knew exactly where it was but as I looked I could not find it. I went searching each corner of the house. I found other cards but not this particular one. I went back to the same spot I thought I had left it over and over, never finding it. I just stopped to breathe. Getting frustrated with myself was not going to help the situation. So I just stopped. A few moments later, I went back to that spot I had been at several times. There was the card. Just lying there. I had overlooked that card many times as it had waited patiently for me to “see” it. Sometimes I feel like God has a plan for me, and I can overlook that plan many times until one day I can see it. Missing that card would have meant missing an opportunity to share my heart with someone. Missing the card that God has planned for us would mean the same thing. We miss an opportunity to share, to love, to care, to create, to volunteer, or to just be there for someone else in their time of need.

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Perception

When I was a single mother, I worked two jobs (one full-time and one part-time) along with taking college courses part time. I had four kiddos to take care of, which was a full time job in and of itself. Because of the long hours and numerous chores around the house, I was left to hire someone to do the yardwork. I paid a lawn care service to mow the grass and gardener to take care of the flowers & bushes. Today, as a happily remarried woman (to the man of my dreams), I volunteered to do the yard work since my generous husband gave me a gift of being a stay at home mother for the first time in my life! I thought “how hard can it be to ride a mower around!” For the most part, it’s easy-- well, except for the sneezing, stuffy nose, and watery eyes. There is this one steep, sideways, downwards hill and I dread it. It feels as if the mower is tipping sideways and is going to fall over. It has a dip just before I enter into the steep hill area, so it makes it feel that much worse. One day a little voice (from above) told me to take a different route and take on the sideways steep hill from the other direction. I am a routine person. I plan things- everything, including the route I take on a mower. So I contemplated how this would work. I analyzed what direction would be best. I decided to try it, but worrying that I was making a mistake. I recalculated and went for it. To my astonishment, the steep sideways hill wasn’t as steep. It was actually much better to mow that way. I was attacking the hill from an upwards battle and for some reason, it didn’t feel like it was going to tip over. Wow! As I kept mowing, it hit me. This is a lot like our perception of a decision or event in our lives. Sometimes, we do the same routine, dreading a portion of it. Or just dreading a decision that we have contemplated over and over in our heads, fearful to change direction. Sometimes, our perception isn’t as spot on as we would like. We spend lots of time, worry, heartache and anxiety if we decide to go in a different direction only to find that it was a good decision all along. It was just our perception of the hill ahead that needed changing.

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