anger · family · integrity · letting go · self-care

Gaslight

*spoiler alert*
Gaslight is an old black and white suspense movie in which a
wife is tricked into thinking she is mad. Things disappear from her dressing
table. The lamp lights in her room dim and brighten without her touching them.
And her husband tells her she’s crazy, and says here’s your purse, you left it
x, even though she could have sworn she left it y. She is basically told that
the things she thinks are happening, which we as the viewer see happening, are not, in fact, happening. This, one can
imagine, produced fear, worry, self-doubt, and eventually a crack-up. This is gaslighting.
It’s funny that I’d been telling someone else about that
term yesterday morning, which made itself into regular parlance (like
“catch-22” from the book title) or at least made itself into my mom’s parlance
from whom I learned it, because later that day, I was gaslit.
On the phone with my dad, who’s wanting to coordinate about
my graduation, etc., as you may recall, I’d been anxious about him and my mom
being at the same place at the same time. So, I let him know this. I told him
that I know that he and my mom don’t have the most communicative relationship,
but that I hope we can all show up with a spirit of celebration. I told him
that I was anxious about them being here together, and that I hope they can get
along in a civil way.
He said, I have no idea what you’re talking about.
He said their relationship is fine; there’s no hard
feelings; that I must have gotten the wrong idea, and that, in essence, I was
wrong and there’s nothing wrong.
I reminded him of asking me to tell my mom about his
mother’s passing because they “aren’t talking,” and he had no recollection of
saying this. I said that he asked me to tell her, but I said I didn’t feel
comfortable doing so, and he said okay, Ben can tell her.
He has no recollection of this.
So, I got defensive, feeling like I was being told that what
really happened hadn’t happened. And he got defensive feeling, I imagine, that
I was attacking him for behavior that he doesn’t recall. I got a little
offensive in my “lightly insistent” reminder of his recent behavior, and he got a little offensive
accusing me of making things up.
And, so we got off the phone after reverting to the
“everything’s fine here” light, fake, cover-it-up tone.
I’ve never been divorced. And it became, now, less about my
parents’ interaction than about my interaction with my dad. This is usually how
it goes – it’s either, Everything’s fine, or it’s antagonistic. It’s either,
Gee my life’s swell, or it’s Oh wait, I’m not in control, I better use my vast
resources of rage and anger to intimidate it back into order.
This is the way it’s always been. To varying degrees of
each. He can barely ask a waiter for more water without it sounding like a
threat.
But, I’m also hyper-attuned to it, as his daughter.
So, moral? I told him what I hoped could happen at
graduation, he said things will be fine. So, needs voiced, needs heard. 
I know what my experience has been,
and I know the truth of things as I see them. And I have to have enough value
in my own experience that it doesn’t matter whether it’s verified by him, or
anyone else. It is not my job to break through someone else’s denial; to
instill in them proper manners of communication that do not swing from hot to
cold; it is not my job to change my dad. It’s just my job to not be gaslit by
him; to allow the conversation to hold contradiction, not have to “be right,”
and to let it go.
Not sure I have all of the “moral” here yet today, but I’m
pretty sure this is a lifetime process.
Next, it’ll be time to tell the same thing to my mom. … I
may need to do some work before I take that phone call on! … Or maybe I don’t need to call her on this at all. ?
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