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.

In a world gone mad, sympathy is not enough. Here’s something that is. {from A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Cross-cultural workers often have tons of sympathy. We see the needs (physical, spiritual, etc.), we answer the call, and we GO. And that’s just great.

Sometimes we stir up sympathy for the poor and the marginalized; we fund raise with pictures aimed to generate pity and money. And that’s not so great. But it is relatively easy.

Sympathy is a powerful start, but it is not the finish. So I don’t want to talk about sympathy. I don’t want to talk about the pros and cons of feeling (or generating) sympathy. I want to talk about something much more potent.

I want to talk about empathy. I want to talk about the power of empathy in a world gone mad.

“Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re really paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” ~ Brené Brown

 

Continue reading over at A Life Overseas

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10 Life Lessons That Leading Worship 600 Times Taught Me

It just sort of happened.

As a teenager growing up in an a cappella church with an a cappella youth group, I sang a lot. In a non-instrumental church, any guy who can loosely carry a tune will be asked to carry that tune. A lot. And so I was. Over and over. And over. No guitar skills necessary.

In college, our inter-denominational student ministry needed a band leader. I still lacked all guitar skills, but no matter, they tagged me and I became the de facto leader for our Thursday night gatherings.

And then I actually started working for a church, leading the youth and worship ministries. I led worship nearly every Sunday for about six years. And that’s how we get to 600 plus.

I recently sat down to ponder what life lessons those experiences taught me.

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1. It’s not about me.
Whether I’m standing before a group of 15 or 500, it’s not about me. It’s about the struggling mom of littles, the financially-strapped couple wondering how to make ends meet. It’s about the widower who feels his loneliness deep in his bones. It’s about the teen who’s trying to figure out who she is — and who God is.

Of course, it’s not about me.

And of course, it’s not primarily about them either. It’s about the Father who is longing to connect with his beloved people through moments of communion and community. It’s about the presence of the only One who is worthy; it’s about what the Spirit is saying to his Church.

 

2. Sometimes, you just have to show up, even when you don’t feel like it.
When you do anything over and over and over again, even if it’s a good thing, there will come a time when you don’t feel like doing it. Well, what’s a worship leader (or human) supposed to do? Is it inauthentic to stand before people when you’ve had a crappy night’s sleep, or when you’re in the middle of a big fight with your wife, and pretend that things are OK?

I really had to wrestle with this. Every Sunday is not a glorious day, and there were many Sundays the last thing I wanted to do was go to church, much less lead people in worship.

Showing up and doing your job, even when you don’t feel like it, isn’t inauthenticity. It’s actually maturity.

One question that continues to help me with this is, “Who is benefiting from my NOT revealing everything?” Am I hiding my true self from people in order to protect myself? In order to avoid intimacy? Or am I not revealing EVERY THING IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT to get myself out of the way and help people meet with God? Is it for me or for them? If it’s for them, then it’s probably OK. (Of course, this assumes that at some point, and with some people, the leader will be authentic and vulnerable.)

God is worthy of worship whether I feel like it or not, and sometimes I need to stand before him and worship not because of my feelings, but in spite of my feelings. This is true about leading worship, and it’s true about leading life.

 

3. Smiling matters. A lot.
Effie Harnden was a kind old lady who became The Great Encourager of my 16-year-old self. When I was just starting out, someone told me, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.” I looked at Effie a lot.

It’s pretty good life advice too, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.”

 

4. Eye contact matters.
I’ve seen worship leaders who never look at a single person in the audience. That M.O. can look super-spiritual, and maybe it is. Maybe they’re lost in total adoration, caught up in the moment. Or maybe they’re just super disconnected from the people their leading.

In life too, I’ve seen people who never notice the people in front of them. So look at people, look at their eyes, wonder about their stories, ask about their stories. If you do, you will impact people very deeply; for when it comes down to it, we are all longing to be seen, even if we’re desperately afraid of it.

 

5. Church people are the worst.
Some people at some churches hated me. They disliked my style, my music, and maybe even my face. It’s just the way it is. Some people will not like you no matter what you do. That does not necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong or bad, but it does mean that you (and they) are humans.

 

6. Church people are the best.
It was church guys who painted our house when my mom was sick with terminal cancer.

It was the “casserole ladies” who fed us.

It was inter-generational trips and Bible studies that showed me how to be a Christian adult, not just a Christian teen.

It was a man, a leader in the church, who came to my side when I couldn’t finish leading God Moves In a Mysterious Way. The cancer-induced tears were drowning me. He stood with me, shoulder to shoulder. We were two men at the front of a church, one young and crying, unable to voice anything. The other, older, an elder, choking tears and singing through empathy.

I will never forget that moment, because in that moment, standing vulnerable before God and his people, I was not alone. I was joined by a man thirty years my senior, and I was saved.

 

7. Complainers complain.
It’s what they do. But it is possible, sometimes, to maintain a positive relationship with complainers. And when it’s possible, it’s also extremely valuable.

But sometimes complainers are just toxic and keeping relationship with them is inadvisable. One key difference? If the complainers really want what’s best for you and for the church, they just really disagree with you, it’s probably best to try to maintain a friendship. If they’re out to control and dominate, manipulating through pressure and threats, to meet their own twisted needs, yeah, run away.

 

8. Every minute leading people requires two minutes NOT leading people.
At least.

The times that you’re NOT leading are more important than the times when you are leading. It may not look related, but sabbath has a direct impact on Sunday.

 

9. Displaying authentic emotions, even tears, in front of people, may be the most “leaderish” thing you ever do.
We live in hard times, and my current job as a pastoral counselor has convinced me (again) that most people do not feel free to really feel their feelings. They feel societal, religious, familial pressure to “keep it all together,” whatever that means. By showing emotions, leaders can help change this. We must change this.

 

10. If at the end of the day, people only remember your skills (or skinny jeans), you’ve failed.
When it really matters, people won’t care about your vocal ability. People won’t care about your flashy .pptx or Prezi or Keynote. People won’t care about your hair style or flannel shirt. At the end of the day, people will ask, “Did he care about us? Did he care about the Church?”

Basically, what matters when the sun sets are these three things:

  • Was I a person of faith, even in my doubts?
  • Did I demonstrate hope, even through my despair?
  • And in a world gone mad, did I love like Christ?

May God help us all to live towards that.

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As I drafted this article, I wept.

I remembered my church, the Red Bridge church of Christ, and my breath caught.

You see, as I pondered, I realized something: I needed them way more than they needed me. That’s just the truth. I was in front of them, but they were leading me. I taught them new songs, but they taught me what Jesus looked like with skin on. I cried in front of them, and they joined their hearts with mine and embodied those beautiful people who mourn with. I got frustrated with them and I’m sure they got frustrated with me, and yet, we stayed friends. I’m so very glad we did, for those dear saints showed me what a “long obedience” could look like.

I’ll forever be grateful for the group of God’s people who invited a scrawny teenager with a pitch pipe to stand, to cry, to lead. They taught me so much, and I will never forget them.

 

*Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

 

10 Life Lessons that leading worship 600 times taught me

Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers” {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is at A Life Overseas today . . . 

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It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life!Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

Finish reading here.

Khmer resources

Here are some emotional words/vocab lists that I’ve picked up from a couple of friends. Many thanks to Mary and Wendy!

Emotions and Feelings in Khmer and English

Emotions according to intensity

More Emotion Words in Khmer

Here’s an additional resource in Khmer: What is a Woman Worth?

And here’s a master list (with video) about Church Planting Movements and Inner Healing.

Night shot Phnom Penh

photo credit: Nick Radcliffe

Announcing Elizabeth’s new book!

Jonathan has been working hard behind the scenes to compile and edit my new book, Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More. What can I say? He’s my biggest fan. (This whole project was his idea, in fact.)

The book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats, and I’ll share the cover and the foreword below. I also want to say thank you so much for reading us both over the past 6 years!

With love, Elizabeth

P.S. If you read the book and like it, I would absolutely love it if you left an Amazon review. It helps other people find the book. Thank you so much!!

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No matter your background or experiences, being a woman is hard. That’s partly because being a human is hard. It’s also due to the many roles we women tend to carry in life. Daughter, sister, friend. Professional, mother, wife. Marriage and motherhood are indeed holy vocations, and they require much of a woman. Whether we work outside the home or from within it, our vocations sometimes stretch us so much that we fear we will break.

The truth is, there’s not a lot of preparation for marriage or motherhood. Certainly, we can read books. We can read books on how to have a great sex life or how to build a godly marriage or how to live out biblical submission, but when it really comes down to it, we marry a human person, not a book, and our husbands also marry a human person – us. A lot of marriage is simply trying new ways of doings things and seeing if they work (including, at times, seeking professional or pastoral help).

It’s the same with motherhood. We can read books on natural childbirth, healthy homemade baby food, and the most godly parenting – or the most logical. But nothing can really prepare us for meeting our child, some mysterious arrangement of our own DNA, or someone else’s. No one can prepare us for their likes or their dislikes, their strengths or their weaknesses. We have to discover these things for ourselves, over time.

What follows in this book is precisely that: the things I’ve discovered over time. There are articles and essays on marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, and the Christian life. In case you don’t know me, here’s a bit of background: As of this writing I’ve been married for nearly 18 years, having gotten married at the age of 18. I’ve been a ministry wife almost that entire time and have been living overseas as a missionary wife for the past 6 years. I’ve been a mom for 14 years and have been homeschooling for 9.

This book is my lived experience wearing all those hats.

You can purchase the book here!