Gaslighting and ADHD Disgrace & Self-Doubt: A Psychological Excellent Storm
I am prone to gaslighting. I experienced it and was accused of it. I also (probably) lost the love of my life because I had gas lighting 5 years before I even met her. And as with all things in life, ADHD complicates the picture.
How gaslighting poisons the ADHD brain
When something goes wrong, my brain jumps to my defense, analyzes the failure and tries to blame it. Most of the time I realize it’s my fault, panic, take responsibility and explain what happened – and often forget to apologize outwardly.
In an intense and confusing emotional situation, my brain adds in the missing pieces to make the full narrative sense while I look for more evidence. The “truth” is then argued and reinforced by brooding. Most of the time, the analysis becomes a story. This is the perfect storm for gaslighting.
Gaslighting is the act of manipulating someone by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events around them, which can push the victim to question their own sanity. These situations usually involve confusion, insecurity, and forced accountability.
In my experience, the real harm from gaslighting is long term. It’s deeply personal and driven by heightened shame that the victim usually tries to hide. It makes you question your core beliefs and cognitions, completely undermining your confidence, judgments, memories, and motives. This confusion means that asking for help from others can be misleading.
[Take This Self-Test: Emotional Hyperarousal in Adults]
How gaslighting escalates
An allegation of a questionable event becomes a fact through the constant, often dramatic, emotional pressure from the other person for you to harm them. Then they blow the event so far that the injury you allegedly caused becomes central and fundamental to the nature of your relationship.
This brings you back what gives the gaslighter constant leverage: it doesn’t matter what good you do and what bad you’ve done, you are not worthy of their love and kindness. Despite your heinous crime, they do their best to forgive you. They feel in debt so do whatever they want you to do to solve the problem, but it’s never enough.
You start to see yourself as a fundamentally demonic person and a failure, even though you’ve done everything you thought was right, which also leads you to question this. Instead of being rightly angry, you look at the gaslighter telling you the truth because you no longer trust yourself and you don’t understand why they are manipulating you. Then, when you realize you were right, you hate yourself for being manipulated and you feel humiliated and weak.
It’s a form of conditioning that keeps you nervous about every little mistake you make. It happens when you come up with a performance improvement plan even at work – constantly working harder to appease people who only keep you there while they find someone to replace you.
[Download: 9 Truths About ADHD and Intense Emotions]
My gaslighting story
When I was set on fire by a narcissistic ex at college, I wanted to be her hero. I respected her, but she didn’t respect me because I had no set boundaries. She cheated on me, but convinced me that she hadn’t and that I had actually cheated on her with women I talked to about her disturbing behavior (I didn’t; people tend to just hug you when you break down ). She used her insane narrative to obscure my judgment with systematic lies in order to avoid any impact on her actions, and instead had great power over me in the years that followed. She used feelings of guilt, along with sex, attachment, and love bombs when I wanted out, plus violence and threats every time she got jealous or felt unsafe, which was the whole time.
I was gradually conditioned by their disproportionate physical, emotional, and psychological reactions that I now know were abuse. Even so, I often react as if the world is going to end when there is a relatively small misunderstanding.
But in the absence of a clear, objective truth, one confusing mistake boils down to perspective, intention, and communication, where gaslighting can be unintentional.
A newer ex and I were both pretty confused when things went wrong. She lied about her past to impress me, and I blindly believed every word she said because she had no reason to lie or withhold information. She was my best friend and I loved her stories. She was also an extremely secretive person, but said I was special, that I understand her perfectly and exclusively. We were a great team too.
But one of her stories was about how she often went swimming on his boat with her ex. We’d swam in pools together in front of us, but the catch is she couldn’t actually swim. The ex and his boat were also fictional.
When I took her to a lake, she said that she would rather not go into the water even though she was wearing her swimsuit. I really wanted her to join me in the water, so I picked her up and jumped off the pier with her in my arms.
As a result of the panic I caused, she was diagnosed with PTSD 10 months later. It was obvious then that something had gone deeply wrong. After that, I spent every day fixing it, hating myself and wondering why I threw her in when she wouldn’t jump. Still, she kept quiet for another year that she had made up her ex and the sea voyages because she was afraid of losing me if she exposed her lies.
In the meantime, I denied the fact that she had given me a resounding, serious “no” to step in. I had never faced a situation like this before and I had been caring and observant and always put your safety first. My intentions had been good. Even so, she accused me of gas lighting, referring to messages where I said I heard her say she didn’t really want to jump the car off the pier before we got there, but I did anyway.
Neither this ex nor I were vicious. We loved each other very much and I still think she is one of the greatest people I have ever met. But she kept this lie about her background for so long, during the serious stress and pain of figuring it all out, so that I can never really know what was / is real with her.
My previous history of being a victim of gaslighting made it all the more difficult for me to understand and accept my impulsive mistake as an honest mistake. I felt overwhelming stress and self-loathing for triggering her PTSD, and I ended up feeling unworthy of her love and respect. I couldn’t understand real forgiveness and ultimately I couldn’t accept that we could move on as a couple. Due to the gaslighting in the past, I feared that another destructive relationship would be inevitable and that we would both lose our planned futures.
Gaslighting and ADHD: The Next Steps
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Updated June 28, 2021