The task of raising strong, independent daughters while navigating a relationship with a narcissist makes me feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite most days. Other days I don’t see it. I feel like I’m failing as a wife and a mother because I’m being gaslighted, and I can’t reason whether or not it might be me that’s the problem.
It wasn’t always like this, of course; I’m sure that’s what we all say. Still, there must be some truth to it. I don’t think women fall in love, have children, and stay married for over 12 years to someone who has been a monster since the very beginning. Do they?
When was the last time things were really good, or even okay, for more than half a day at a time? It becomes harder and harder to see the good when you’re in a constant state of mental and emotional survival.
That’s what it comes down to — survival. Can I survive this for another day, another week, another 12 years until my daughters graduate? What lesson am I teaching them, if I do stay, and survive, despite being mentally worn down and emotionally berated, often right in front of them. Is it a lesson in resilience? Or is it a lesson in acceptance that will lead them down the same path?
I think we can all relate to this on some level. We all have a friend, acquaintance, sister, or co-worker in a relationship where they are subject to gaslighting behavior. From the outside, it seems obvious: GET OUT! He’s gaslighting you! You’re better off without him. He’s verbally and emotionally abusive. What are you teaching your kids?
But, when it happens to us, all of this becomes fuzzy. Surely, if he is treating me this way, I must deserve it. I’ve done something wrong. I can fix this. So, we try, over and over and over again, but it’s never enough. If your husband is like mine, they look like a superstar to the outside world. Hard worker, great dad, loving husband — but that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s supposed to look that way, to make us feel like we’re the ones failing.
At first, we confide in friends or maybe family members who may or may not have noticed the gaslighting behavior. The typical advice is: Have you tried talking to him? Maybe you should try counseling. This seems like a plausible solution. Only it isn’t, because according to them, everything is our fault.
Over time, the verbal and emotional abuse starts to stand out, and people start noticing. To save face, we make up excuses, cancel plans on bad days, and avoid situations where they may be easily frustrated or angry in front of others. We stop confiding in certain people, because a person can only hear “why haven’t you left yet” so many times from someone who has no idea how impossible that actually is. Many of us find our squad, the women who understand and don’t judge because they’re probably in the same position and they understand in a way no one else can.
It comes down to survival. Can I survive on my own? I think so. Am I ready to do whatever it takes, despite the ugly consequences that come along with it? No, I’m not. I’m not ready because I still have hope that it will get better. I hold onto the idea that one day he will realize how hard we fought for him to be with us, and this will be enough for him to change.
The biggest reason of all that I continue this fight, is for my kids. I’m not the only one being gas-lighted here — they are too, and I need to be there to protect them at all times. I wouldn’t get sole custody of my children because my husband exhibits manipulative behavior towards our daughters. So we stay together and stand as a team.
Don’t get me wrong, none of us live in the dark about this. I have very open and honest conversations with my girls about acceptable ways to treat others, and they are very perceptive to when this type of behavior is being used toward them and myself. They stand up for me and they stand up for themselves. They know how they “should” be treated and that I am being strong for all of us. It wasn’t a lesson I intended to teach them in this way, but they’re learning. They’re learning to know their worth, they’re learning to stand up for themselves, and most of all they’re learning to be strong.
One day I hope it will be better, for all of us. I hope I’ve done enough to show my daughters that being strong and resilient in the face of emotional and verbal abuse isn’t a badge of honor I ever want them to wear. I want them to see the signs early, to be strong enough to leave and look out for each other. I want them to know love.