Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Living With A Certain Amount of Uncertainty

So, I had such a great response to my gaslighting post, I considered doing another post on it and really get into some of the details - how to recognize it, ways to stop it, etc.  But then I realized that my passion and excitement over the intensive I'm currently working on about gaslighting was clouding my judgement, and that trying to cover those things in a blog post was too huge of an undertaking.

So, instead, I thought I'd share my musings on a VERY common PSA struggle - uncertainty.  I've gotten somewhat personal before, but I think I'm going to share even a bit more today than I sometimes do.  This topic requires it, I think.  Not gonna lie - being vulnerable in "cyber space" makes me a bit nervous - who knows where this will end up - but as goes with this post, I'm okay with the level of uncertainty associated with this choice.

I'm not sure about you, and how you lived life (Pre- PSA), but I came into the relationship with my SA with a number of trust issues.  So, naturally, I tested him.  I'm going to say that for at least the first year of our relationship, I tested him in numerous ways.  Between his addiction being pretty minimal at that point, his gaslighting, and his ability to hide the behaviors he did already engage in, he passed all my tests.  So, naturally, I relaxed.  I thought I was safe.  I remember hearing about other women's struggles in their relationships surrounding their partner's "problematic sexual issues", and thinking to myself, "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about that."  Ha.  Little did I know.

Fast forward to the day of my discovery.  Worn down; feeling pretty lonely in my relationship; not understanding why things were the way they were - yet still - I was utterly shocked at the discovery of my SA's addiction.  The trust and safety that I THOUGHT I had found was taken from me - violently.  The certainty I had in who my SA was, what our relationship was like, and where our life together was headed - was now anything but certain.  I wasn't even certain if I could believe the next words that were going to come out of his mouth, let alone if I could EVER trust him again!!!

One of the first things I did - FOR ME - to begin to heal from the trauma was join a support group through Marsha Mean's phone groups.  Somewhere along the way of processing through the workbook, I was confronted with the question of would I marry someone else if things didn't work out with my current relationship.  The thought, quite honestly, didn't appeal to me - AT ALL.  I remember thinking, "If this doesn't work out, I will never marry another person."  "If I could be 'fooled'; if I trusted THIS guy - what's to say the next one won't end up being another SA - or an alcoholic, or...???"  It was then that I began to realize - and wrestle with - the belief that I will never again be able to trust someone 100%. There was a follow up question in that workbook - would I be able to be in a relationship where I didn't have 100% trust  (complete certainty) in the other person.  Even if it was really, really close - like 95% trust - would that be enough?

Which brings me to my point today - It's what I call, "living with a certain amount of uncertainty".  The problem: We want to be able to trust the person we love (and are in relationship with) 100%, but our trust has been broken - severely - and that just likely isn't possible.  (I reserve the right to say that I have not definitively decided my thoughts about this - that is not the point of this post - uncertainty is). So, what do we do?

I propose that we use a tool that we use dozens of times EVERY DAY.  Risk assessment.  Allow me to show you just ONE example of a fairly serious risk assessment decision you make every day - subconsciously: driving in your car.  Let me lay it out for you: 1. You are aware of the fact that car accidents happen every day (ESPECIALLY if you live in the Austin area!!!).  2. You are also aware of the need you have to get to work, class, the kid's school, etc.  3.  You decide to load your things (and/or people) in the car in spite of the risk.  4.  Because you know there is a chance, however small, that you could get in an accident, you buckle your seat-belt, and head out to your destination.

I mean, that's why one of the things we look at when buying a vehicle is their safety rating - right?  How many air bags does it have?  How's the roll bar?  We don't really think we're going to get in an accident - but just in case, we want to be as safe as possible.  We've assessed the risk, and adjusted the way we drive to compensate for the risk.

I could name quite a few more of these "risk assessment" decisions we make - day in and day out.

My point is this: in every day life, numerous times throughout the day, we decide what risks/level of uncertainty we are okay with, and what risks/level of uncertainty we are NOT okay with.  Going back to the driving example: We ARE okay with the risk that there is potential for us getting in a car accident.  However, we ARE NOT okay with the level of risk of driving WITHOUT putting our seat belt on.  Let's even extend that scenario a bit - WHEN THERE IS AN ICE STORM in Austin - which happens in the winter - I AM NOT OKAY with the level of risk/uncertainty that I may end up in an accident - so on those days, I work from home; my kids stay home from school, and we hunker down for the day (not to mention, sleep in!!!!) - we don't drive.  The level of risk/uncertainty IS NOT WORTH IT!

Are you seeing how this can translate to the life of a PSA?

Here's where I'm going to get on my "co-dependency" soap box.  Some would say that wanting/needing assurances of our SA's recovery is "co-dependent".  We need to stay on "our side" of the road.  Well, I'm sorry (sorry, NOT sorry), but if I'm going to have ANY ability to assess what level of risk is involved with the BIGGEST decision of my life, I'm going to make damn sure I have all the information I can get.  Now, of course, there are healthy ways to get this information - ways that are within the context of healthy boundaries, and ways that are unhealthy and outside the context of healthy boundaries - but that's a different topic.

Let's go back to the driving analogy:  If my partner is the one who normally drives, and he's gotten in accidents in the past due to driving while slightly intoxicated, would I be okay with him driving me?  Yes, I would.  As long as I knew he was sober HOWEVER - It would be irresponsible and dangerous for me to just assume that while he was out with his friends that he didn't have a drink.  I would be risking my life - literally.  Depending on where he was at in his recovery, and where we were at in rebuilding trust - me "assessing" to see if it's safe for me to get in the car could be as simple as me just paying attention to how he's behaving - behavior that is in line with a sober person or an intoxicated person.  Another, slightly more overt way to assess might be simply asking - "Are we good to go?".  Or, if I'm not feeling safe, I may need a little more than just his word.  I may need to say, "I'm not feeling very safe.  Would it be okay with you if we sit here for a few minutes while I listen to how you're talking with me and engaging me?"  And then I would listen for slurred speech and incoherent communication.

Now, would I rather be in a relationship where I didn't even have to think or worry about my safety - ever?  Absolutely!  But I don't think I can ever go back to that.  We want assurances (certainty) that recovery will "stick".  We want a guarantee that if our SA is in recovery, he will never go back to his addiction.  Dear ones, we don't get to have this.  As much as our SA may intend, WITH EVERY OUNCE OF THEIR BEING, to stay in recovery and NEVER go back to their addiction - I don't believe they can 100% guarantee this to us.  Maybe they can get pretty darn close - like 95%, 98%...

Is your level of risk "ice storm" or...
clear, "normal" day?
So, where does that leave us? Assessing the risk:  What does it mean to stay in relationship with your/an SA?  What level of trust AM I okay with?  What are the risks of staying?  What are you doing to "assess" the risk/uncertainty?  Is your relationship with your SA on par with the level of risk/uncertainty of an ice storm - where the danger isn't worth the risk?  Or, is your relationship with your SA on par with a "regular" driving day, and you're okay with the level of risk/uncertainty?  If you find yourself in the second scenario - what are your "seat-belts"?  Because there are risks - the question is, how are you preparing for them.

My goal and my hope is that I have a relationship where there is trust - with what I have defined as an acceptable amount of uncertainty - namely, that I am aware of the fact that there is a chance - no matter how small - that my SA may relapse.  At the same time, I'm assessing the circumstances, and it looks like a clear day with light traffic - so I buckle up for the ride.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What IS "Gaslighting"?

Hello my readers!  I can't even believe how long it's been since I put up a new post!!! It feels so good to be back at my computer writing!  Today I'd like to broach the subject of gaslighting.  

I'm going to give a disclaimer/warning - IF you've not previously been informed on what gaslighting is, I SINCERELY ADVISE that you don't just casually read this post - it could be very triggering.  I suggest that you set up a time to read this when you know you'll have  your support group/therapist/life coach readily (soon) available - or, at the VERY least, a friend or family member that can be a support/comfort/help you process.

If you've been around the SA world long enough, you've probably stumbled across the word  "gaslighting".  Or maybe you've heard someone mention it - "My husband was gaslighting me!"

But what, exactly, IS gaslighting???

Let me be clear: whole books, workshops, intensives, and multitudes of articles can be found on this topic.  I am, in no way, attempting to offer a comprehensive blog post on the topic.  My goal, in my post today, is to introduce you to the topic; or, if you've already been introduced, to refresh your memory or place some tools in your hand to help you recognize, reduce, and remove gaslighting from your relationships.  

Gaslight (1944) Poster
First, a bit of background information:  The term "gaslighting" is derived from the story of Paula - a woman who is pursued and married by a man that is truly only after a treasure in the house she inherited.  He begins to drive her crazy through manipulating her surroundings and her emotions.  One specific example is how the husband would leave the house under the pretense of going to work and  then would sneak into the attic through an adjoining house. The (gas powered) lights would go down when he snuck into the attic and lit a light in there, causing the lights in the rest of the house to go down.  Paula was the only one who notices, and when she brings it up to Gregory (the husband), he tells her she is just seeing/imagining things.  This was first a play, and then adapted into two films, the most famous being the one released in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman.

So, that's the history of the term, but what IS it?
There are variations of definitions.  I read a number of them.  My favorite actually came from  Let's read what they say gaslighting is:

"A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse, where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memoryperception and quite often, their sanity. The classic example ofgaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they're sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they "must be imagining things" when they challenge these changes.

A more psychological definition of gaslighting is an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim - having the gradual effect of making them anxiousconfused, and less able to trust theirown memory and perception." -

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, all too many of us are intimately acquainted with this experience - we just didn't know what it was.  In fact, many of us really did think we were going crazy - because, after all, how could this person we love and trust be leading us astray?  It surely must be us.  How many times did I think to myself, "I wish I had a tape recorder so I could record this conversation", because I knew when the time came, I wouldn't be able to remember or would be challenged in such a way that I wouldn't trust my recollection of a "discussion".   

Here are a few SA specific examples of gaslighing: "You're just insecure.  I would never....."  "You must be thinking about having an affair yourself!"  "I wasn't looking at that woman - you're imagining things."

Why would someone do this?  According to Dr. Robin Stern, when a gaslighter is confronted with an issue that threatens his agenda, they will react by trying to control the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the Gaslightee.

Here's where I need to make a VERY important clarification - some gaslighters manipulate knowingly, intentionally; I would venture that more gaslighters are so caught up in their addiction and lifestyle of lying that they are not explicitly attempting to abuse or be coercive - they aren't even consciously aware that they are doing it.  This DOES NOT, however, make it okay.  It still is what it is - abuse.

So, what can you do about it?

1. Educate yourself. (Education is power!)
2. Recognize when it's happening.
3. Recognize how you've been a part of "the dance"
4. Opt out of "the dance"

To get you started:
1. Educate yourself - 

  • There's a FABULOUS book out there - an easy read, full of LOTS of practical, helpful tools that you can begin using IMMEDIATELY.  It's called "the gaslight effect", by Dr. Robin Stern.
  • Here's an exerpt from one of Dr. Stern's articles on gaslighting. (If you'd like, you can Read the full article here. ) It's basically a sefl-evaluation tool...."How do you know if you are being gaslighted? If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may be dancing the Gaslight Tango. Take care of yourself by taking another look at your relationship, talking to a trusted friend; and, begin to think about changing the dynamic of your relationship . Here are the signs: 
    • 1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself
    • 2. You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" a dozen times a day.
    • 3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
    • 4. You're always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
    • 5. You can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren't happier.
    • 6. You frequently make excuses for your partner's behavior to friends and family.
    • 7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
    • 8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
    • 9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists. 
    • 10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
    • 11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
    • 12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
    • 13. You feel as though you can't do anything right.
    • 14. You wonder if you are a "good enough" girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
    • 15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses."
It's my strong conviction that numbers 2 - 4 should only be attempted with the education well started.  Whether that be by reading the book, going through it in a group, or with a therapist/life coach.  This is tricky business - understanding, recognizing, and dealing with gaslighting.  The BEST bit of advise I can give you - without the education - is this: PAY RIGOROUS ATTENTION TO YOUR FEELINGS.  When we've been traumatized through gaslighting, we loose the empowerment of knowing our feelings are enough. We have to explain, justify, rationalize, or prove that what we like/don't like, want/don't want, etc is acceptable.  Your feelings are enough.  Let me say that again: YOUR FEELINGS ARE ENOUGH!!!!  Ask yourself: "Is this what I want?"  "Do I like being treated this way?"  "Is my gut telling me something's not right here?"

Finding freedom from gaslighting is possible - both for the gaslighter and the gaslightee. Step one is seeing that it's a part of your life and wanting to be free.

Oh, my dear sisters, I am concerned about you - are you seeing gaslighting in your relationship(s)? How is this making you feel?  Do you have someone you can talk to about it?  My sincere hope is that this post on gaslighting, though difficult to read, will lead you to a place of wanting to fight - to be free of any gaslighting there may be in your relationship(s).

For my local readers - writing this post has made me want to do a gaslighting intensive again - the last one I did was over a year ago.  It's a LONG, emotional day, but there is SO MUCH good information and tools in it.  Anyone interested?

For my non-local readers - if this has struck a chord with you - get the book.  Find a local therapist that knows what gaslighting  is and will help you find freedom.  If you can't find someone local, contact me - we can do phone sessions and work this stuff through!

And finally - feedback.  Those of you who have been on this path of dealing with gaslighting - what words would you share?  Examples from your own life?  Words of encouragement?  Tools that helped you?  Questions you still have?

After a "difficult" read like this - make sure you take some time for some self-care.  Take some deep, cleansing breaths; meditate; pray; listen to some music; call a trusted friend.  

Until next time, 
Take care, my sisters.