Watching “Gaslight”

I visited my neighbor today and as I was looking through her movie collection, I saw that she owns Gaslight.  I immediately asked her if I could borrow it as I’ve been wanting to watch it for a long time now.  I’ve wanted to see the movie that coined the term.

It was extremely hard to watch.  So much of it reminded me of Bubba.  The most striking difference, though, was that Bubba was never that overt in his crazy-making.  I think the movie makers made Gregory act so overtly because it was a movie and they had to show the sinister nature of psychological abuse in such a short time frame.  I don’t know how it happens in every abusive relationship but I know that with Bubba, it was never that bold.  He was too good to make it so blatant.

Bubba had many more years to inflict his psychological torture on me.  He also wasn’t motivated by a goal that he wanted to accomplish quickly like Gregory was.

Gregory wanted to find Paula’s aunt’s  jewels and he didn’t want to take years to find them.  He was motivated to ramp up the crazy-making in order to get Paula out of his way faster.  Bubba had no end game in mind.  He simply wanted the control, the power.  Whereas Gregory was deliberately trying to convince Paula she was insane to get her out of his way, I believe Bubba’s goal in trying to convince me I was nuts was to avoid any type of accountability, consequence, or responsibility.

When Bubba forgot that he’d promised to take the kids and I to the movies that weekend, oh, no, he hadn’t promised that, he’d simply said we’d discuss it that weekend.  When Bubba changed his mind and didn’t want to go to the park with the kids and I, “Hope, we didn’t make plans to go to the park.  I said that I just wanted to have a nice, relaxing weekend at home.”

Or the worst of all, he would change what he’d said right in the middle of a conversation.  I’d say, “Bubba you just said, not five minutes ago, x, y, z and now you’re saying something totally different.”  He’d look me straight in the eye and DENY that he’d ever said it.  I would think to myself, “How can he forget something he JUST said?”  I would question him again and he would become even more insistent that he’d never said it.  Then I would start doubting myself.  Had he *really* said it?  Had I misunderstood or even heard something he hadn’t said?  Which one of us was really the crazy one?  He was so sure of himself that it must be me.  But I’d heard him, hadn’t I?  Hadn’t I?

Very often, I found myself sitting on my bed after a conversation with Bubba, replaying the entire conversation in my head.  I would close my eyes and play the entire conversation in my head like a movie.  I would start at the beginning and walk myself through the entire conversation.  I would follow the ebb and flow of it, the topic changes, the nuances of what and how Bubba had said things.  I would clearly remember where he was standing or sitting and even what hand gestures he used when I got to the questionable part of the conversation.

I would’ve left the conversation having conceded to Bubba that, of course, he was right and I was wrong.  But then I would sit in my room and know – absolutely know for a fact – that I wasn’t crazy.  I never let myself question it beyond that.  I never wondered if he was losing his mind or if he was deliberately acting this way.  I guess my mind never let me go there because neither explanation was acceptable to me.  Secretly, though, I would know that I wasn’t nuts.  I wouldn’t defend myself to Bubba because it was always a losing proposition but in my heart of hearts, I knew I was right.

One thing that did ensure that I stayed sane was the fact that as the years wore on and Bubba employed more and more gaslighting, Serenity was growing up and able to back up my version of reality.  There were many times that I would sit on my bed, replaying those conversations that I’d break down and quietly ask Serenity to come into my room with me.  I would ask her if she’d heard her father and I talking.  I’d ask her if she heard him deny saying whatever it was he said.  When she said she’d heard him deny it, I’d ask her if she heard him say it in the first place.  Not once did she tell me my reality was the false reality.  Not once.  She never confirmed her father’s version of reality.  It scares me to think what would’ve happened to my sanity had I not had Serenity to affirm my reality.  I fear I would’ve been as bad off as Paula was.  She had no one to affirm her reality so she believed the lies about her sanity.  I thank God every day for Serenity.  She kept me sane.

Whereas Gregory was very overt in his psychological abuse, his physical violence was more muted than Bubba’s.  Gregory seemed to hold his physically violent tendencies in check rather well.  Bubba never could.  Oh, he could hold it together for months at a time but something always triggered a violent outburst.  I now understand that the trigger was the mere fact that he gave himself permission to become violent but then I thought that if I behaved a certain way or the children behaved a certain way, we could stop Bubba from exploding and raging at us.

When Gregory *ripped a letter out of Paula’s hands, I flinched.  I was waiting for him to do something more, something more sinister.  Had that been Bubba and me, he would’ve ripped it out of my hand, then towered over me while his eyes flamed and his voice rose toward hysteria.  Bubba never hit me but I lived in fear of, “Will this be the time he hits me?”  Since he’d never hit me, I can’t say why I was convinced that it was coming.  I only knew that it was a very real fear.  I was simply waiting for the day for it to happen.  Thankfully, I got out before it did.  The Incident was as close as I wanted to come to him escalating to hitting me.

Even though it was very difficult to watch, I’m very glad I finally saw Gaslight.  In one way it makes me very sad though.  Gaslight was made in 1944 – 68 years ago – yet we have no more understanding of psychological abuse now than we did back then.  Other movies have been made about domestic violence (Sleeping with the Enemy, Enough, and The Burning Bed to name a few) yet society in general does NOT understand abuse.

Society still blames the victim, society still makes excuses for abusers.  Individuals are hurt daily because as a society we do not educate our children about abuse.  We don’t teach our daughters how to spot the red flags that abusive men wave.  We don’t teach our children how to recognize abuse and how to help.  Mostly, society has no accountability for an abuser.

My abuser walks free today with no consequences for the years of hell he put me and our children through.  I’ve had to accept that there will be no justice for me and my children on this side of Heaven.

Until then, I will do what I can to educate my children about abuse and to help other victims get safe, get healthy, and become survivors.

 

*In this trailer for Gaslight, you can see the letter being ripped from Paula’s hands at 40 seconds into the trailer. The clip of the scene begins at 31 seconds in.

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2 Comments

  1. I do think we need to change things and knowledge helps. When women like you share your stories so other women learn and when we teach our daughters, then maybe things will change. I’m trying to teach my daughter and hope I can, despite our having lived in an environment where I allowed more than I should have. I just believed in husband as head of house and obeying so much. It took a long time to see.

    • I often wonder if I’m sharing too much. So much of what I’m sharing is so very personal but maybe had I known any of this wasn’t normal, I would’ve gotten out faster.

      The thing about obedience is that it has to be freely given, not demanded. That is where so many “Christians” get messed up. Husbands demand obedience from their wives and parents demand it from their children. It isn’t anyone’s to demand. Obedience is freely given. If it is coerced, it isn’t obedience, it’s domination. That is never ok.

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