Gaslighting

by Elizabeth

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Gaslighting. The first time it happens to you, you may be unimaginably confused. You may not know what is going on for years — maybe even decades. But once you see gaslighting for the manipulative mess it really is, you won’t be so easily confused (or controlled) the next time.

I’m going to describe just one aspect of gaslighting, the aspect I’m most familiar with: false accusations. For years I was confused by false accusations. I knew I had not done the things I and my loved ones were accused of doing. I thought if I could just explain what really happened, that my accuser would finally understand and agree that I — and we — did not do those things.

I misunderstood. I thought truth was the goal. I was wrong. Truth was never the goal. Manipulation was the goal. Control was the goal. But truth was never the goal. Unfortunately, pain was the result.

Today we are in an era of Me Too, a long-overdue time when victims of abuse absolutely must be heard and cared for. I’ve been an advocate for victims in the past. So has my husband.

But I was double minded. On the one hand, I knew we needed to believe victims when they get brave enough to tell their (oftentimes horrific) stories. On the other hand, I was afraid that advocating for victim stories meant that all accusations should be believed, even and including the false accusations that I (and other loved ones) had been receiving for years.

I feared that advocating for Me Too would automatically mean that all accusations of abuse of any kind would be believed. I feared that in an atmosphere of victims speaking out, that someone might believe the kinds of accusations that had been leveled against us. Being in public ministry, this was a double fear. It was not just about the truth, it was not just about my good name. I was also afraid of false accusations wrecking our ministry. Destroying any positive influence we had. And even dissolving our salary.

This is a false fear. Just because we need to listen to the stories of abuse victims doesn’t mean that there aren’t also false accusations out there. We must take in the entire context of a story. And the entire context is that an abuser will abuse. They will hurt you on purpose, over and over and over again. And a gaslighter will gaslight. They will accuse you of doing and saying things you never, ever did. Things you would never, ever dream of doing or saying. That’s why it’s so confusing.

To top it all off, the things the gaslighter accuses you of are often the very sins they are themselves guilty of. But until you know your gaslighter much better, you won’t realize they are accusing you of their own sins, their own crimes. That’s part of why it can take so long to see it, the first time it happens to you. Gaslighters are masters at control and manipulation, so they will hide their sins from you. You won’t know they are projecting their sins onto you. You won’t know where the false allegations came from. You will think they are coming out of thin air. You will think you can clear up the “misunderstanding” with better communication. But you can’t clear it up, because those accusations didn’t come out of thin air: they came from inside the gaslighter.

But you don’t know any of this the first time it happens to you. The first time it happens, it feels like the ground is falling out from under you. You start to doubt your memory, even if you (like me) have always had an exceptional memory. You think to yourself that you never did that thing. You KNOW you never did that thing. But when someone else is so insistent that you did or said that thing, you start to wonder if maybe you did do that thing, and that you just don’t remember it. It’s absolutely crazymaking.

Eventually you might receive such outrageous accusations that you do in fact know you never did those things. That is about the time you start to see the gaslighting for what it is: behavior meant to entrap you.

But wait, there’s more to it than that. Sometimes a gaslighter will pop in with wonderful acts of kindness. They will spend money on you, give you a gift, spend a lovely afternoon with you. They will suddenly be super sweet and kind to you after months or years of nastiness. Don’t be fooled by this tactic, either. It’s also meant to confuse you. You will think, that person was so cruel to me, but now they are being so kind, maybe they really aren’t that bad. Maybe they are someone I really do want in my life.

Except they aren’t someone you want in your life. You will always be on edge around them, fearing the next false accusation while simultaneously hoping like a heroine addict for the next act of kindness. That heroine reference is no joke. Experiments have been done showing that rats get more addicted to drug dispensers that unpredictably dispense the drugs. More addicted to unpredictable dispenser than predictable dispensers. Being rewarded unevenly is more addictive that being rewarded evenly. That’s because you never know what you’re going to get, and you’re always hoping that this will be the time you will get the drug (or the kindness).

So you stay. You wait. You hope for goodness, you hope for change. You hope for something better. And because you occasionally get treated better, you keep sticking around thinking it’s going to happen again. Even though most of the treatment is cruel and manipulative. Even though you don’t feel safe, ever — even when the kindness is pouring out, because you know deep down the kindness won’t last. But those confusing messages of cruelty and kindness will keep you there in the clutches of the gaslighter.

It’s very difficult to see, the first time it happens to you. It may take years of pain and even time in a counselor’s office, working through what you think are YOUR issues, to see that the issue was never yours to begin with. The simple truth is that you were dealing with a manipulator. A gaslighter. And it’s not your fault. But it is your responsibility. To run. To put up boundaries between yourself and your gaslighter. To do the hard work of releasing yourself from guilt over staying in an unhealthy relationship so long, because you didn’t know any better. And truly, you didn’t know. But when you do know, you can protect yourself. You can get out.

And you need to get out, even if getting out means that your gaslighter will tell lies about you to other people, lies that are believed because gaslighters are very good at manipulating emotions in other people (beginning with yours!). Getting out of a relationship with a gaslighter means you have to accept that other people might believe the gaslighter. That’s ok. What other people believe about you is not your responsibility, even if it’s unjust and unfair. (And believe me, I know how unjust and unfair it is!) Getting away from a toxic person is good and healthy for you, even if your reputation takes a hit. Being with a toxic person is a continuous hit on your heart and your soul. It’s better to get out, even if false accusations come later.

Here’s the thing about false accusations: they’re false. You know, and God knows, and the people who really know you, also know that they are false. Of course an accuser is going to accuse. Of course an abuser is going to abuse. That is what they do. That is what you can expect them to do. It shouldn’t surprise us when liars lie and stealers steal and abusers abuse and gaslighters gaslight. If we are still afraid of our gaslighter making public, false accusations, then we are living in fear. We are still under their control. We are still under their spell. We are always looking over our shoulders, desperately afraid the other shoe will drop, and they will “ruin” everything.

But I think we need to tell and live a different story. In situations like these I think the bravest, sanest thing we can do is refuse to be afraid of false accusations from a habitual false accuser. We can choose to live FREE.

Pilgrim Songs [a podcast]

This message was recorded at ICA-Cambodia, October 2018. Towards the end, the congregation sings a bit, and then the message continues: Songs of Ascent, part 1

This message looks at Psalms 120-124 and should be available as a podcast on iTunes by Friday.

May God bless the reading and preaching of His Word!

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

Jonathan Trotter

Why Cross-Cultural Workers Need Tent Pegs {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is at A Life Overseas today. . . . 

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Home is a complicated word. A complicated idea. What is it? Where is it? As global nomads, we’re not entirely sure how we feel about home. We’re not sure we have it, and we’re not sure how to get it. We know the correct spiritual answer – that Christ is our home. That He is busy preparing an eternal home for us. And that even now, He makes His home in our hearts, wherever we go. Still, we search for a more earthly home. A physical place to set up camp for a while.

As an adult Third Culture Kid, I’ve spent a lot of time seeking out roots. But lately I’ve been wondering if I should stop my search. I’m far too easily disappointed; permanence of people or place is not something we’re promised in this life. Even so, we need a support system for lives as portable as ours. This summer I started describing those supports as tent pegs.

A tent is a temporary shelter, and the tent pegs that fasten it to the ground also provide only temporary security. Tents and tent pegs are mobile, going with us wherever we go. They allow us to make a home right here, right now. And when the time comes, they allow us to make a home somewhere else too. Every time we pull our tent pegs up out of the ground, pack them in our bags, and move on, we can take the time to hold each tent peg in our hand and remember.

Finish reading here.

Despair is where hope lives (Psalm 130)

Listen to this message on hope here, or via the trotters41 podcast. (21 minutes)

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Some excerpts and quotes:

“The prophetic poet asserts hope precisely in exile.” — Walter Brueggemann

If you’re not really feeling it. If you’re not feeling happy-clappy-Jesus-is-alive-and-all-my-problems-are-fixed, then take heart, because that’s precisely where hope lives.

“Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus…it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously.” — Brueggemann

We need this reminder.

We need to remember that true hope is not just optimism. True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin.

And it keeps on seeing… all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.

“Speech about hope cannot be explanatory and scientifically argumentative; rather, it must be lyrical in the sense that it touches the hopeless person at many different points. More than that, however, speech about hope must be primarily theological.” — Brueggemann

“Hoping is not dreaming.” “[Hope is] a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith.” – Eugene Peterson

“Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair.” –Thornton Wilder

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Psalm 130 A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1From the depths of despair, O LORD,

I call for your help.

2Hear my cry, O Lord.

Pay attention to my prayer.

3LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,

who, O Lord, could ever survive?

4But you offer forgiveness,

that we might learn to fear you.

5I am counting on the LORD;

yes, I am counting on him.

I have put my hope in his word.

6I long for the Lord

more than sentries long for the dawn,

yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD;

for with the LORD there is unfailing love.

His redemption overflows.

8He himself will redeem Israel

from every kind of sin.

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To the Returning Missionary {A Life Overseas}

by Elizabeth 

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You have walked with God in this place a long time, and He has walked with you. He has been beside you and inside you this whole time. The same Spirit remains in you and with you in your new place.

This place has changed you, and you have changed this place. Do not be distressed if you don’t understand everything that has happened and that is happening. Remember that the stories God writes are always long. They unfold over generations, not days or weeks or even months.

You have been here long enough to understand some of what God is writing, for both yourself and the people you’ve served, but some things may not make sense yet. Do not fret, and do not fear. The Father will show it all to you One Day. Until That Day, remember that you leave with our love, even as you live within God’s love.

Many years ago you came to this place as a foreigner, and the place you’re going now may also seem foreign to you. Everyone and everything has changed, including you.

So in the days and months and years to come, when you feel misunderstood, remember that no one understands your foreignness like Jesus, the One who came to the most foreign land to show his beloved creatures Truth and Light. He will understand your sorrows like no other.

You have seen so much change in your years here. Change in the people around you, change in yourself, change in the people you’re returning to. And you are tired. So tired. No one can work and live as long as you have and not be tired. Remember that Christ is your rest. (And on your journey, also remember to sleep.)

Circumstances change, and communities change, and in the end, He is all we have to hold onto. So don’t lose hope: He IS our hope. Hold onto Him, and remember that His love never fails. It will never fail you.

Though organizations may fail you, though supporters may fail you, though cultural acquisition may fail you, though years of experience may fail you, though people you love and invested in may fail you, though you may even feel you’ve failed yourself, still one thing will not fail you: the love of the Great Three in One will never fail.

And One Day, this squeezing in your heart and this aching in your bones from all these years and all these travels and all the years and travels to come, it will all be undone. Everything will be made new. Remember this.

Originally appeared at A Life Overseas.

On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic {A Life Overseas}

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by Jonathan

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

Children’s caskets are the worst

by Jonathan

A tiny casket.

White lace.

Autumn sun.

Tearful community.

Perhaps more than any of my other siblings, Laura Beth’s short life and early death changed mine.

The death of a little one changes things. It always changes things.

It’s a giant slap in the face, wakening those near that things are not as they should be.

 

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When I slow down long enough, I begin to feel the undercurrent of real sadness. It’s there. It’s always there.

Sweet Laura Beth. I love you.

I miss you.

Yes, there is joy, there is laughter, and there is hope. There is also a deep — almost foundational — sadness.

Unanswered questions. Gaps. Unfulfilled longings. Dissipated relationships.

And sometimes the Psalm just ends.

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