I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own

In all of the pain after my ex husband left, there is one pain that stands out as more acute than the rest. After being arrested for bigamy and bailing out of jail, my ex decided to overdose on sleeping pills. It appeared to be a sincere suicide attempt, but he made sure to cover his bases in case he survived.

He composed and emailed a suicide letter to both his new wife and to my mom. I read that email while sitting outside the DA’s office waiting to meet the victim advocate. He was recovering in the ICU.

I felt reality slipping away as I processed the words that distorted the world I knew. In the letter, he speaks of me being “impossible to live with” and “negative.” He talks about my irresponsible spending habits and how I “just had to have my way” and he “couldn’t tell me no.”  Our last trip together – that he initiated, planned and executed – was recast as my demand for a vacation. He spoke of my insistence on building a deck when he counseled that we couldn’t afford it. He tells my mom that she “would love [the other wife]” and that he hopes they get to meet.

His words hit like a punch to an unguarded gut. I spent hours dissecting them, talking them over with each of my parents in turn. I knew they weren’t true but they still caused me to doubt. I feared that others (including my mom) might think his words were genuine. It felt like a vicious, spiteful attack on my character. And it wasn’t even factual.

He was rejecting reality and substituting his own.

He was gaslighting – using deception and manipulation to cast himself as the sane and balanced one and to make me look unstable and vile.

And it wasn’t his first time.

He was a master at creating and convincing others of his own reality. And, as trusting of him as I was, I was easy to convince. When you’re being gaslighted and you are unaware of the sleight of mind tricks being applied, you feel crazy as you begin to doubt your own perceptions and conclusions. It’s disorienting as the friction between what you see and you’re told you see don’t quite line up, almost like the view through 3D glasses when you turn away from the screen.

For months, I hated that letter. Every reading caused me to feel ill, like I’d swallowed something that needed to be purged. I shared it only with my parents and the close friend I lived with that year, finding comfort in their assurances that his words were mere deflection and trickery.

But still I wondered.

You see, he had trained me well. I still struggled not to believe his words over my own memories.

I struggled, that is, until I rejected his reality and found my own.

I picked apart each of his claims and refuted them one by one with physical evidence:

I spend too much? Then why do I read library books while he spent over a hundred dollars a month on Kindle downloads as evidenced by the checking account registry. And why do I drive the old, paid for car (that I still have!) while he insisted on buying a new one that came complete with a $500 monthly payment. I made a list of his possessions vs mine. It wasn’t even a contest.

I demanded the vacation? I unearthed an email sent to my work address where he proposed the cruise and described its details.

I insisted upon the deck? I found a trail of emails that covered everything from the summer school income I earned being used to pay for the costs to his enthusiastic sharing of his deck designs.

As for me being difficult and negative, that was harder to disprove. But the fact that I had many friends offer to take me in that year told a different story. I bolstered their offers with the hundreds of notes I had received from students over the years, praising my passion and positivity.

And as for my mom wanting to meet the other wife? Well, that was just plain funny.

Eventually, the letter lost its sting as I saw it for what it really was – an attempt to save his image by destroying mine. I wavered over whether to include the letter in the book. I was afraid I would be seen as the hateful woman he described. I decided to include it, even at the risk of his words being believed by people who did not know me. I knew that many of the readers would relate to being controlled by lies and I wanted to share a rare physical manifestation of gaslighting. Because the most painful part of gaslighting and what makes it so effective is that the evidence usually disappears like smoke in the wind, leaving you with only doubts and questions.

Gaslighting is a subtle yet relentless abuse. It’s one person using power and manipulation to control another. The damage is hidden and persistent, the worm of uncertainty taking up residence and calling everything into question. The effects linger as memories collide with new understanding, the deceptions fighting for dominance over the truth.

Gaslighting is often paired with physical abuse or addiction, the repainting of reality used to keep the partner calm and in place. It is a favored tool of narcissists and sociopaths. Those that are adept at its use tend to be charismatic and intelligent, lending a believability to their assertions. It is deliberate and cruel and can be immensely damaging.

Recovering from gaslighting takes time. Even recognizing that you were gaslighted takes time.

No one should have the power to create your reality other than you.

And your trust in another should never be greater than your trust in yourself.

Gaslighting thrives on doubt.

Starve it by believing in yourself.

Why I Refuse to Call My Husband a Narcissist

Character Assassination

Covert Abuse

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60 thoughts on “I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own

  1. I can relate to this. Lots of letters and lots of emails and lots of verbal attacks on my character. All false. It stings. At first I felt I needed to defend each one but there was no point. The attacks just kept coming. It has taken much grit to overcome the falseness portrayed by simply living by my own truth and proving him wrong.

  2. Minus the suicide attempt this describes much of my relation ship with my ex. He still lives in his own reality and rejects the real reality. It does make you start to doubt yourself and question if maybe you really are the crazy one. Its such a devious form of abuse and I’m so glad you are shedding light in this darkness. Mine was also an alcoholic and I was farsighted for 4 years…and still going although not on a regular basis now that I’m stronger and we are separated. This was beautifully written although painful to read. I’m sorry this was yours, my, and many others reality and I pray we can starve it with belief in ourselves and a strong sense of self worth!

  3. Wow… and I thought MY ex was horrible?! This whole situation SCREAMS that he still has feelings for you. He is ending his life because of YOU. His new wife should be livid! Yea… I’m sure that marriage is going to work. Anyway… I know exactly what you’re talking about, as my ex did the same thing. He has portrayed me as this crazy lunatic who deserves to be locked away somewhere, and the only thing that hurts about it is that my sister and her family (husband and 2 kids) have befriended this man and disowned me and my son, believing him. I’ve learned to know I am a good person (as are you) and I no longer allow his words to even penetrate. The go in one ear and out the other. I divorced him for a reason/s. They still apply. He will never change. And I will never stop being the good person I know I am, despite his attempts to bring me down. Keep being you! You are a good person, with excellent advice and have touched at least one person (me) but I’m pretty sure there are so many more. That alone speaks volumes. You are not crazy. You didn’t resort to a feeble attempt of suicide and nasty hate filled emails. He needs help. You’re doing just fine!! Just keep on keeping on. ❤

    ~Kate

  4. Lisa, you know that I can relate with almost all of your story…but this post left me shaking. We finally had trial on Monday and he was still gaslighting me from the stand. He constantly tells me that I’ve surrounded myself with yes men who will let be believe I’m right. So, even after the mountain of evidence I always end up doubting and believing that I was a horrible person and he was right to leave me. Even when I know I’m being gaslighted I still get sucked in. Thank you for the reminder…it was powerful, and very needed.

  5. Beautifully written. I was also gaslighted and misrepresented behind my back, so I totally relate to the awful self-doubt. It’s madness! You start vigorously defending yourself–to yourself! And while you’re busy doing that, they abscond with the replacement spouse, because you’re “crazy.”

    Surely there’s some secret sociopath handbook floating around. The Sociopath Handbook. Right?

  6. I can relate so well! It is the final kick in the gut while the victim is laying there with their life shattered into a million pieces the abuser staggering to get back up the psychopath kicks their feet out from under them again and again.
    Adding insult to injury are the people who believe his lies, and it is amazing how many of the victim’s friends and family believe them! It is cruelty beyond belief and devastating.
    I found out in the end that it was actually a gift and the catalyst for huge personal growth for me. Because he slaughtered me through a campaign to discredit me and destroy my reputation I was forced to take an honest inventory of who I really am and it was through that self assessment that I came to realize what a good person I am. I literally felt like broken and in the process of putting all the pieces of me back together I analyzed each and every detail of me and the relationship and now have confidence and peace like I have never known in my life.
    Flippyzipflop, there is a tendency for the victim’s of psychopath’s and narcissists to assign emotions to the psychopath that they really aren’t feeling. it is a nature assumption to think the N must still have feelings for the victim when they go on a smear campaign but the truth of the matter is this is their true self. They don’t love, can’t love and once they have drained their victim of all resources they dispose of them in the most cruel way possible. Any love the victim thought they saw was all an act the psychopath used to hook them, once they are done with them the victim becomes garbage in the P’s eyes. It makes the psychopath feel powerful and one final act of control to show the victim how powerful he really is.
    They must win at all cost and they are never wrong or at fault and they almost always have the next victim lined up before they discard the previous one.
    They all follow the same format, as if they all got an instruction manual on how to be an a$$hxle.

    1. Omg, this is all so my life of the past 25 years!! It’s so scary to read and know that you lived it,”but while you were living in it you didn’t realize it!! My soon to be ex started a relationship with his new victim before I realized it and kicked him out, but 5 months later he still is trying to control certain parts of and my childrens lives!! But I am slowly learning what has been my life all this years!! Just so crazy yo knows there is truly people like this in the world!

  7. I never heard that term, “gasslighting” before, but my ex was the expert. It’s all about telling skewed truths. Both my husband and I had to write statements for our divorced, and I was so shocked and hurt by what he wrote because I knew that their was a factual basis for his arguments, but they were manipulations of fact. I was afraid for anyone to read what he wrote because I thought they would recognize the truth part, and believe that I was the horrible person he made me out to be.
    I just wanted to say that your ex obviously couldn’t deal with his own reality (hence the suicide attempt), he would have died a complete coward, because even in death he couldn’t take responsibility for his reality, he tried to blame it on you. And what a jerk he is to expect his mother to side against her own daughter for a bigamist who left you so cruelly!!

  8. This piece is oh-so-so on target! This is where I am on my healing journey, and has been the focus of my blog in recent posts. The gas-lighting is utterly treacherous. In my case, with a vision impairment, in a foreign country, no support system, and nothing familiar around me, it was especially hard to hang onto “my reality,” which was in fact “the reality.” Things became so bizarre, I’d witness stuff with my own eyes and be given “her version” of reality, and not know what to believe.
    Only in painstakingly going back over the hard evidence I’ve managed to save, and writing about it in black-and-white, am I regaining a sense of balance, and it is a hard battle. It’s been stunning to go through old emails and Skype transcripts and saved credit card records, photographs, and everything else, and realize that there were many things I didn’t even catch when I was in the fog.
    Lies heaped on top of more lies until reality itself begins to look like a Mobius strip. This is truly one of the most damaging aspects of being involved with a psychopath.
    Thank you for being brave, and thank you for writing this piece.

  9. Reblogged this on Dog Dharma's Blog and commented:
    Lisa writes an excellent short piece on gas-lighting. Part of healing in the aftermath of a close encounter with a psychopath is overcoming the cognitive dissonance created by the gas-lighting of the psychopath. Her one line that stands out for me is:

    “I picked apart each of his claims and refuted them one by one with physical evidence”

    Physical evidence, tangible evidence, is something I have plenty of. I am putting back together the pieces of Truth, my truth, what happened to me. It is my healing journey, and I will soldier on.

    Lisa closes by writing:

    No one should have the power to create your reality other than you.

    And your trust in another should never be greater than your trust in yourself.

    Gaslighting thrives on doubt.

    Starve it by believing in yourself.

    Yes!!!

  10. Wow. I think we can all relate. When my marriage fell apart, my husband did the same thing with his family and our friends. I was so angry and confused. I felt like I had something to prove – that I was a good person, that I wasn’t the person he was portraying me as. This is so encouraging to know others have gone through this as well. Thank you for writing this.

  11. wow. this post was very insightful of you to write. It must have taken some courage to be able to share it with the blogosphere.

    I honestly had an epiphany while reading it… I can’t believe it. My ex used to gaslight me. I didn’t know what it was called, but I remember the feeling of questioning if the way he “perceived” reality was the true way and what I thought was real was not real.

    He made me feel like I was fat to disguise the fact that he was the one who had gained tons of weight. He called me fat and told me it was because I was in a relationship and I was happy. I didn’t even realize it until I saw a photo of him MONTHS down the road and I was completely flabbergasted.

    I still struggle with perception of my body. I was told by him countless things I was bad at, and I believed him. I told was told by him the fact that we had fallen apart and that he had cheated on me was because I had said something mean and he had decided the relationship was over then but waited months to tell me. But it was still my fault for pointing out that he was absent from the relationship. He could not take any of the blame, even though most of the flaws in our relationship were somehow caused by him, and so he made me feel like it was my fault.

    On the other end after realizing all his lies and gas lighting and how it has affected me and allowed him to live in his tiny little bubble where he controls everything, I feel a lot better. It’s nice to know that I know that he gaslighted me but that I am the one who was able to escape that wretched bubble and he will always be stuck there because he is incapable of being a decent human being.

  12. I must admit, that I had never heard of the term gaslighting until I read this blog post.

    Its really sad to say that I think my ex-wife and I did this to each other over the years. I’m not certain when I did this, but knowing myself and my own insecurities I can see myself doing something like this unintentionally.

    I’ve spent the last few weeks going through bins of stuff from my last move. I posted on my blog about it a few weeks ago, but I’ve found traces of lies going back for years and years. I wanted so desperately for our marriage to work I lost track of myself in the process and I’m certain she knew that and took advantage of it as well.

    I know I can see it in her now, and I know I saw it in her the day I served her with divorce papers. I have hundreds of pages of text messages from when she kidnapped the children and ran off with another man. I have emails after the fact trying to put her hooks back into me.

    Now that I can name it, it is that much easier to tell.

  13. I was gaslighted by 3 different men before I started to realize I was attracted to gaslighters. Doing some serious soul searching to protect myself from this ever happening again!

  14. I just need to say thank you for putting a name to my reality. It’s been four years since my husband of 24 years decided to blow up our family, and he perfected the art of gaslighting. I’m still trying to recover both financially and emotionally. Your blog helps me in numerous ways every day. So, thank you, for your inspiration and help.

  15. I accused a woman of gaslighting me in this letter. But I wonder where the line is drawn between regular solipism/jedi mind trick and bonafide gaslighting? Accusations of gaslighting should not be made lightly. I wonder if I jumped the gun….

    1. I’m not sure there is a hard line. Gaslighting is pervasive – not just one lie, but an entire world built from deception. Gaslighting also uses misdirection that is aimed at making the victim feel like he/she is going crazy; it turns everything around.

  16. Oh, so well explained!
    I spent so many years in the murky forest of my husband’s creation that I will need years to clear the twisted lies that try to snatch away my belief in myself. I even still have to catch my breath in fear that I made a horrible mistake destroying my family to escape him.
    Thank you for so coherently tackling the difficult explanation of gas lighting.

  17. Reblogged this on pursuingthelostboysblog and commented:
    This is an amazing piece on gas lighting and being controlled by another and having your reality recreated by a narcissist or sociopath. This is often what the alienator does so the alienated parent. The alienator tells the kids that the alienated parent doesn’t care, that their efforts are too little too late or that they are crazy!

  18. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this blog and telling your story. I have a horrible divorce story too and was gaslighted pretty bad. It turned my entire world upside down. I’m still trying to makes sense of things and not second guess myself and reading your blog has probably done more to expedite the healing process than really anything else I’ve tried. I just felt like my divorce my story, the gaslighting was so unrelatable, it isolated me for so long. I felt an enormous weight just knowing someone else experienced it too, understands the complicated feelings and trauma and is safely on the other side. You give me hope. Thank you so so much!

  19. Found your blog after you followed mine (thank you!) – and my God, does this post resonate. I am 4+ years out from an emotionally abusive marriage, and the gaslighting that happened almost daily is something I am still working to repair myself from. I have twisted myself around, so desperate to find the “truth” that I’ve neglected to frame things in terms of my reality vs. his reality. Somewhere in there, the “truth” of the nature of the relationship exists, but does it really matter? I don’t have to live with his reality anymore – I only have to live with mine, and that’s what I have to come to terms with. Thank you for sharing your story, and cheers to you for coming out the other side.

  20. The first time I realized that I’d been gaslighted for years was when I found and read my husband’s diary. In it, he described in depth his affair with a married coworker. When I confronted him about it, he started explaining that I misunderstood what I’d read. It was so strange to watch sincere and reassuring words come out of his mouth while comprehending what I’d just read in black and white. That’s when it really dawned on me what a good liar he was, and how many times he’d reassured me there was nothing to worry about when that clearly was not the case.

    1. Wow, I’d never heard of this term but totally realize that my soon to be ex has been gas lighting me!! How interesting! Thanks for opening my eyes to this!

  21. I thought I was going crazy. My wife said I was going through a mid-life crisis and I needed to see a therapist. I had lost 25lbs, was sleeping 3 hrs. a night… I though I was losing my mind.

    I finally did see a therapist and soon discovered I wasn’t crazy! OMG, WTF….The lies, upon lies an misdirection and much of it I believed and thought was the truth… I trusted her implicitly!

    Today I discovered that her affair had been going on for years… close to half of our marriage…..I was living an altered realty then and still she continues to manipulate it to her benefit. She even told my kids I was going crazy! They figured out quickly while I had them on vacation that I wasn’t.

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