I think just about everyone experiences gaslighting at some point in their lives. Heck, we’ve all been the victim of it from the man in the white house for the past several years, but at least most of us know that is what is happening. When it is happening in a personal relationship – be that a romance, a friendship, a parent, or at work – over a long period of time it can leave you questioning your own reality long after the gaslighting person is out of your life. If you have also had the experience of someone knowing this was an issue for you and they then take advantage of that fact, it is even more crazy making – because here is a person you trusted with a very real trauma and their response was to use it to manipulate you, it can be crazy making (and I’m using that work very intentionally, because it will make you feel utterly crazy). A few months ago, I ended a long-time friendship for just this reason.
As I mentioned, the effects can linger long after the person is out of your life and it can manifest in some really strange ways…
This morning I took a shower. I only shower about twice a week. If you want to know why, it is because water conservation is important to me as is trying to protect my skins microbiome. I only wash my hair about once a week. So, my use of shampoo is minimal. The last shower I took was on Monday morning.
This morning I got into the shower and reached for my shampoo. When I picked it up it wasn’t in the position it usually is, which is not a big deal as I live with two other people, stuff gets moved around. But it also felt lighter than it should, so I looked at it and it looked like it had less in it than it did on Monday. I thought this was weird but decided to pass it off to having a crazy week of health issues and that I must not really have been paying attention.
But then the crazy kicked in and I found myself having the following conversation with myself in my head.
Joie brain voice 1: “Why does it seem like there is less in there is less shampoo in the bottle?”
Joie brain voice 2: “Hey, it’s been a tough week, I probably didn’t notice it when I used it last.”
JBV1: “No, really…why is there less shampoo, maybe someone was using it.”
JBV2: “Will you stop? I don’t know if anyone used it, and this line of thinking is just going to make me feel crazy…please stop.”
JBV1: “You know what you ought to do? Start drawing lines on the bottle each time you use it, so you’ll know if anyone is using it.”
JBV2: “Please stop. Even if someone did use it, I have said that it is okay ask long as my housemates don’t use the last of it and they let me know. I trust that they will do that.”
JBV1: “Yeah. But what if they didn’t. You know what you should do? You should call a house meeting and demand to know.”
JBV2: “Please stop. It’s just shampoo. And if they forgot it sucks but it probably wasn’t intentional.”
JBV1: “Rage walk into the living room and start screaming…”
JBV2: “Okay. THAT is the prednisone talking. I’m already emotionally on edge because of the pandemic and watching the country fall to pieces and the prednisone just makes my emotional filter less stable. Shut up.”
JBV1: “Yeah but…”
JBV2: “Stop…please. Or we are going to have a prednisone induced frustration cry here in the shower and its going to just make the asthma problem it’s meant to fix worse. Just be quiet.”
JBV1: “Okay…fine…but how about just not keeping your shampoo in the shower anymore? Just take it back and forth to your room, like if you were in a dorm. Then you won’t question if you are crazy or not…”
JBV2: “Fine. If it will get you shut up…”
JBV1: “Oh goodie! Can we get one of those cute little shower caddies to transport everything back and forth? Oooooh…and maybe shower shoes? I always wanted a pair of shower shoes.”
JBV2: “Please stop being weird. I’m washing my hair now…I can’t hear you over the bubbles.”
JBV1: “…fine…but you are no fun at all.”
I honestly have no idea how much shampoo was in the bottle on Monday and as long as it is there when I need it, I don’t care. But experiencing long-term gaslighting can make you question reality any time your perception doesn’t seem to match what is in front of you – even with something as simple as a shampoo bottle. It puts you in the place of not knowing what is real and what isn’t. You start to look for ways to make sure your perception matches what it actually happening. You want to do things like put lines on the shampoo bottle not because you think your housemates might be inconsiderate, but because you want to affirm that what you remember matches what you see.
As noted I share these things in the hopes it gives a small window into how trauma can impact people, and to help those who might sadly relate due to their own experience feel a little less alone. Peace.
And for anyone who wonders – I really do talk to myself like
this. Mostly in my head, but if I can’t get my brain to shut up, I’ll do it out
loud or I’ll write it out. Working through things verbally step by step is a
tool that works for me. And yes...that voice really wanted to go shopping for shower caddies.