She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you have “a very vivid imagination” (this is a phrase commonly used by abusers of all sorts to invalidate your experience of their abuse) that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She will claim not to remember even very memorable events, flatly denying they ever happened, nor will she ever acknowledge any possibility that she might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and exceptionally infuriating tactic called “gaslighting,” common to abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your intuition, your memory or your powers of reasoning. This makes you a much better victim for the abuser.
To give some comic relief to the heavy stuff in these posts, I want to share a funny story. My mother gave me a beautiful and expensive China set as a wedding gift. The set is very expensive, so she couldn’t get it in its entirety. This is obviously perfectly fine with me. I’m sure you know that I’m not the kind of person to criticize gift-givers for not giving me even more expensive gifts.
Since then, my mother and my aunt have been giving me the missing pieces as gifts for other occasions (a sugar basin, a creamer, etc.) A couple of months ago, my mother asked me over the phone if there was anything else the set was missing that she could get me.
“It would be great to have some soup bowls,” I said. “We eat soup all the time, and bowls would come in handy.”
“What do you mean?” my mother exclaimed. “Of course the set has soup bowls.”
“No,” I explained. “No soup bowls. There are saucers but they are really tiny.”
“I’m telling you, there are soup bowls in that set,” she kept insisting.
“Mom,” I said, “I use this China set all the time. I promise you, there are no soup bowls. Please don’t think I’m being critical of the set. I love the set. I only mentioned that there were no bowls because you asked. But I can go on living very happily without the bowls. Let’s just forget about them.”
“There are soup bowls in that set!” my mother yelled. “Go look at it right now and you will see the soup bowls!”
I went to look at the set, and, of course, there were no soup bowls.
“Mom, I’m very sorry,” I said. “There are no soup bowls here.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” she wailed. “I’m telling you there are soup bowls there. They are right in front of you. Look closer! LOOK! Can’t you see them?”
At this point I started to feel like I was losing touch with reality.
“OK,” I said, “let me turn on Skype and I will show you the set. You will see there are no soup bowls.”
“No!” she exclaimed. “I don’t need Skype! I know that there are soup bowls there and you are just doing this to annoy me. Why do you always have to undermine everything I say?”
This does sound like a funny little misunderstanding, and that’s exactly what it would be if this kind of situation didn’t happen all the time. Since that conversation, I examined the China set dozens of times, trying to find the soup bowls that I know perfectly well are not there. And it shames me to say that I have also asked several people to look at the set and tell me if there were soup bowls in it. Mostly, people look scared and uncomfortable, and I don’t judge them. It is a great personal victory for me that I managed to resist the overpowering need to accompany this post with a photo of the China set in question.