If you've ever seen the French movie Amelie, you may be familiar with the concept of gaslighting. They humorously portray it during a scene where she breaks into a shopkeeper's house and alters little things, like the doorknob and telephone, in order to drive him crazy. It was funny to witness on the big screen, but speaking from experience, this form of emotional abuse can lead to a complete mental breakdown because it makes you feel like your mind is falling apart at the seams. And that's eventually happened to one of my friends.
The center of the conflict was a husband and wife; their dysfunctional relationship caused a ripple over effect that spilled over into our group of friends. Even though his wife was his intended victim, he also made the rest of us turn on each other.
I started to realize what had been happening when I returned home from work one day to hear that the wife had a meltdown. Prior to my getting home, the husband had been sitting in my living room, hanging out with my boyfriend, when he received a phone call from her. After arguing for some time, she asked to speak with me, which caused him to hesitate and dodge her questions. He eventually revealed that I was at work, but rather than believing him, she jumped to the conclusion that I was hiding from her in my apartment in order to avoid her. My boyfriend got on the phone and tried to reason with her, but it was too late because she was so far gone that she began speaking jibberish.
As my boyfriend recalled the details, he had a dreadful look on his face like he had just seen a ghost.
I was confused as to why they didn't call me at work, because I could have easily diffused the situation. After I heard what had happened, I reached for my cell phone, but they stopped me in fear of riling her up all over again, especially since they had just talked her off the ledge.
That night, I felt unsettled because so many things didn't make sense. I always had a strange feeling about this group of friends, but I usually just brushed it off. In the past, the wife seemed a bit disorganized, like arriving at the movie theater at the wrong time, or completely mixing up details about things. Once she tried to organize a girl's night out, but nobody showed up because we didn't know about it, which caused her to burst out crying because she thought that we were purposefully avoiding her. Little things like that caused people to make fun of her for being a drama queen.
The following week, I met with the wife and offered my support after the breakdown. As she explained her side, a few things surfaced that made it appear as though her husband was egging her on. A big warning sign was that many details didn't add up on his end.
Later that night, I relayed all of these thoughts to my boyfriend, but he wasn't buying any of it because he was still invested in the idea that she was distraught with the situation.
Things eventually seemed to be getting better, but one day, the wife pulled me aside to reveal that some people in the group had been talking about me behind my back. This wasn't breaking news — I never really clicked with them. But it was much worse than I thought: I learned that people viewed me as being purposefully distant, and the running theory was that I was insecure about the friendship between my boyfriend and one of our female friends (an old love interest of his), and everyone felt like I was pulling away as a result.
This news hit me like a baseball bat to the stomach. I always thought that I was trying my best to be friends with everyone. I also didn't think that I gave off jealous vibes, since my boyfriend's history with this woman was something that everyone talked about openly, so where did this idea even come from?
To make things worse, my boyfriend agreed with everyone's assessment, and he somehow came to the conclusion that I had borderline personality disorder. Hearing this made me feel like I was going nuts. I tried to reason with him by listing specific examples of how much I attempted to connect with everyone over the years, like whenever I reached out to make plans, only to have my messages ignored, but how whenever we did get together, there was always a strange feeling of tension among the group of friends that I couldn't shake.
I had even brushed things under the rug for the sake of maintaining peace, like earlier that year when two of the women in the group went on a drunken tirade against me outside of a club — including the girl that I was supposedly jealous of — which all began because everyone was incredibly drunk except for me. I let it go, because I figured that it was just a silly drunken rant against a sober person, but if I really wanted to, I could have made a big deal about it and forced them to apologize to me, while embarrassing them for their childish behavior. That's just one example; there were many other weird things that occurred over the years, and in the end, I always had to take the high road in order to be maintain these friendships.
I got the feeling that everyone was on one side while I was on another, so I started considering the possibility that I really did have borderline personality disorder. After overthinking it for a few days, I offered everyone an apology, one by one, which was initially met with some resistance, but after a few weeks the dust seemed to settle. I also reduced my work load and began pulling away from my other friends in order to shift my time and energy toward this group. However, I still felt like an outsider, and at times I was purposefully excluded from parties because people felt that my presence would make everyone else uncomfortable.
Things grew more complicated because I was on speed dial whenever they wanted to vent about their problems with each other, and I only put up with it because I was still walking on eggshells with everyone. More details began to arise, the worst being that some people within the group had slept with each other despite being in long-term relationships with others in the circle. Everything just went haywire from there. My phone and email started blowing up left and right, and I began dreading any interaction with them because I felt like I was a pawn in some weird game that they had been playing with each other, and there was no end in sight.
At that point, my boyfriend wanted us to stop speaking with everyone in the group because he couldn't deal with any more drama; however, I didn't think that was fair because we both had worked so hard to build these relationships, and I wanted to at least try a little harder.
Slowly, the group dissipated, and the final straw for me was when the husband in the center of all of this revealed some disturbing secrets from his past, like how he was prone to fits of violence toward people and animals, and yet he didn't feel any remorse about it. That was the point when I had to cut ties with him and eventually with everyone else.
This revelation made me look back at everything with a keener eye. I finally connected the dots to see that he manipulated his wife all of these years, thus painting a picture of her as being ditzy, disorganized, and paranoid in order to control her life, as well as the relationships she was forming with everyone around her. The day of her breakdown, for example, he didn't make it explicitly clear that I was at work, which led her to infer that I was avoiding her.
As for myself, it took me a very long time to piece it all together, but I was gaslighted as well. Sometimes I was given the wrong information about gatherings, which caused me to habitually show up late or miss them altogether, but whenever I did show up, I was greeted with hostility. This created a snowball effect, because as the hostility grew, the more I was misinformed, and the more I missed gatherings, hence making it seem like I was avoiding everyone. If I ever purposely needed to miss an event, whether for work or personal reasons, or if I wanted to take a night off to relax, it was misinterpreted as avoidance.
Gaslighting is incredibly difficult to see; you would need to have a bird's eye view of the situation to truly gather what is going on. Gaslighters are extremely deceitful, but like all lairs, they will eventually slip up. The easiest trick, I've found, is to ask them questions out of sequence, and if they are telling the truth, they would be able to easily answer rather than fishing for the details. That's how I figured out that the husband was messing with our heads — because his stories always went in several different directions, to the point where he sometimes lost track of the things that he said.
To this day, I am still confused as to why I was targeted, but my closest guess was that he didn't want his wife to have any healthy friendships. Or maybe there was no real reason, and he just felt like manipulating everyone for fun.