The Recordkeeper on Gaslighting Island

a lit gas lantern in New Orleans' French Quarter against a background of leaves
Image by David Ohmer / CC BY

I keep meticulous records. It’s something I normally do very quietly and subtly. Most people don’t notice. Really, only if you’re living with me and are paying attention is it evident.

I’m told it’s a bit unnerving, like a therapist who’s writing with a fury while you spill your deepest and darkest secrets in session. It takes a bit of getting used to.

I learned this habit growing up. My mother would routinely tell me that we never spoke about things when I knew we had. After one of her emotional meltdowns, her usual tactic for smoothing things over was to simply assert that it had never happened. That I was exaggerating. That she never said the things that I knew she had said or did the things that I knew she had done that had wounded me.

And sadly, I later got into relationships where partners (and occasionally friends or metamours) would do the same. Dismiss my concern with their blanket “nuh uh” or “you’re remembering that wrong, don’t be so dramatic, I didn’t say that.”

As I grew older and the world more technological, chat logs, emails, and IM histories became extremely helpful. And in cases where the conversations have been in person, I developed a habit to go and document important ones.

It wasn’t so that these records can be whipped out in a dramatic Perry Mason moment. “You say we never talked about that, but this chat log says differently. Gotcha!”

On the few occasions I tried this, it inspired outrage and further abuse from them. I learned quickly not to produce these as evidence but kept up my habit of writing things down.

At least I’d know that I remembered correctly. And knowing that I wasn’t crazy would provide solace, even if I could never convince them to join me and agree.

The Recordkeeper on Gaslighting Island

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person is led to question their perception of reality and past events. This can be accomplished elaborately by staging external events whose purpose is to confuse the victim, but most commonly gaslighting occurs in abusive relationships in a different way: The abuser simply denies that abusive incidents ever occurred.

It’s been ages since I’ve been gaslit. These days my relationships are largely healthy and supportive.

But I can’t seem to give up my habit of documenting everything.

I remain the recordkeeper on gaslighting island. And it’s profoundly changed my psyche. I’ve had to accept that I get my own takeaways, my own truths and that those aren’t necessarily going to square with other people’s.

Sometimes I worry it’ll come back to bite me eventually as someone who writes publicly so much. When I receive blistering comments, I don’t have the urge to refute them. This is because I am used to being in situations where I can’t convince people of basic facts. I learned to operate outside of that sphere.

I learned to be satisfied knowing that I knew the truth.

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Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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2 Comments

  1. This is kinda sad. That the habit has become so ingrained, that even in healthy relationships, you still write. I worry that my faulty memory would be perceived as gaslighting, or will be used against me to easily gaslight me. I get frustrated because a partner says clearly what I believe to be true, and when I point it out to another partner, I’m told the first was “just kidding.” The first was not. The second is blind to the emotions and behavior that hurt my feelings.

  2. Mm… I can see how it’s sad. On the upside, my weird habit has served me very well as a memoirist. So there’s that? Lemons into lemonade and all that.

    I can totally see how that would be frustrating and hurtful, what you describe. Have definitely run into that pattern before when talking things over with people (both in my own life and with other people’s experiences).

    Sorry you’re going through that.

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