Parental Gaslighting and Maintaining Boundaries

March 2, 2011

It has been difficult finding my voice, but it was behind the couch the whole time. (c’mon…laugh…it was cute…)

Hubby and I made a decision last year about how to end contact with my parents. We chose to do it step-by-step and thus far it is working. We also knew that my parents would work very hard to regain some control over me and that it would be difficult to ride through in the short term. I told him that they would, at least through their words, play a pseudo-legal game as a threat, even if they just hint at it. And so they have already. It’s just their game, and it is only words from desperate people, and we’re handling it okay. They like to threaten (even if it’s a subtle threat) and manipulate. They’re special that way.

A few therapy sessions ago my therapist said that we could consider legal avenues if we feel it necessary and I would have her support.

So anyway…I know many people don’t agree with the way we are handling this, but we feel it is the best way at this time. We know how my parents think and so far have been ahead of their games, remained safe and in control, and have support. Those issues alone are so very important. Had we suddenly ended contact it would have created far more complicated problems. Situations are different and this is working best for our situation.

This is the email we received last weekend:

> To: “Lisa”
> Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2011 1:17:32 PM
> As grandparents, we hereby insist that you pick a day, Saturday or Sunday, between now and March 31st, to allow us to visit with your family.Β  If you’re lucky, we may bring a ‘token’ for you, as a recognition of your birth.
> Please consider, and reply at your earliest.
> Dad

My response:

> April 3rd or April 10th is best for us. No need to bring a ‘token’ for anything, we’re fine.

And then:

>Hi honey,

>We will see you on April 3rd, what time is good for you? We will not bring any ‘token’, we are just bringing the birthday presents we got you, so if you do not get a card on your birthday, please do not think we forgot. We would not forget your birthday Let us know a good time.>Love you, Mom

I don’t acknowledge my parent’s birthdays and my mom recently had one. That’s what her condescending little jab is about. The subject “VISITATION RIGHTS” is a pseudo-legal threat from them. Writing the words out is supposed to slip into my subconscious and bend me to their will. I’m serious. That’s how they think. As if they’re spies or something.

My therapist agrees with our approach and the way I am keeping boundaries and control.

An important realization over the past week is the fact that my parents gaslighted me. By constantly telling me, as well as family and friends, I am a liar and a faker and threatening me besides made it impossible to accept the belief in my own existence. If what I went through happened, and yet I’m being barraged with “You’re always making things up.”, “You never tell the truth.”, “No one can ever trust what you say.”, “Stop faking it. You’re not really hurt.”, it’s no surprise I can’t tell what is real. One incident in particular stands out. My parents took the day off work to meet with my 2nd grade teacher and tell her how I constantly lie, so anything I may have told her is unbelieveable. I don’t remember what I told my teacher, just the meeting. Accepting this truth also brought with it sensations of being choked and dry heaves. No anxiety though, and only a single thought of self-harming.

No one else in my life has not believed me or told me to shut up and stop lying. No one else has questioned what I believed happened in any circumstance. My parents constantly played these head games to the point where I question my own exsitence.

It is such a relief to understand this. I feel like “Yay! I’m not totally nuts, just broken!”. Broken I think I can work with. Being insane means “Why bother?” to me.

For the most part, life sucks, but it’s workable. I’m not in my happy space yet and these understandings and other crap are extremely tiring. I don’t know if this is a good post, but I am curious if anyone else went through something similar with their parents. I am also very nervous about what the next phase of healing will be like. Today I feel like I took a big step forward and banished some of my negative ways of thinking. Ways of thinking that were not even mine to begin with.



19 Responses to “Parental Gaslighting and Maintaining Boundaries”

  1. tai0316 Says:

    Oh man Lisa, it’s scary when I see such similarities in situations and even timing. First, i wanted to say that I don’t know who’s telling you that you’re not handling this right but, you know your parents, you and your husband have planned this out and you’ve discussed it with your therapist. That sounds responsible and logical. Good for you! Second, the letters from your parents gave me chills. I cut off contact with my mother last year through an email after discussing it with my husband and my therapist and my mom responded with insane anger and threats. It’s so incredibly obvious how they’re trying to manipulate you! My mom did exactly the ame thing with our wedding anniversay, exactly the same thing. Creepy. These people are sick!

    Strange enough timing-wise, I told my mother last year that we would not speak for six months and then I would re-visit the situation. Because I told her that she could not talk to me after that, she started messing with my husband sending her threats etc. in emails to him. He would tell me what she was doing behind my back so I would know that she was breaking the rules(she wasn’t supposed to speak to my husband either). He cut her off with a very firm email, but, she doesn’t know that I know what she did, the threats etc. Because of what she did, I decided that I would cut her off permanently. since we are not speaking she does not know that I have made this decision. My husband thinks it’s the perfect solution and so does my therapist. But, technically the six month mark is up next month. I have no idea what will happen. I don’t know if she will call me or what but we’ll have to deal with it. Sorry to go on for so long, my purpose was to let you know that you are not alone in this and in having to tske these steps to protect yourself, your family and your mental health.

    • roseroars Says:

      Thanks. It really means a lot when you share something similar.

      They are sick, but I feel beyond their reach now (and for the last 9 months or so), and what support I have is awesome support, even if it’s just a few persons.

      Do you think your mom is keeping track?

  2. tai0316 Says:

    Wow, i did not mean to say “strangle in the second paragraph! I meant “strange”. So sorry!

  3. tai0316 Says:

    If it made you giggle then it was SO worth it! πŸ™‚ I’m always happy to provide laughter for my friends.

    As for your question of do I think my mom is keeping track, do you mean is she keeping track of the time, of how many months have gone by? If that’s it, then yes I think so. There was a time in the past when I tried to get away from her, don’t forget she followed me to where I live and bought a house. Anyway, I stopped calling her and I wouldn’t return her calls. It went on for a while and then for some reason I needed to ask her something, so I had to call. She was very smug when she answered the phone and I had a flash of insight. I asked her if she had been purposely not calling to see if I would call her first, to see how long I could go without talking to her and she won, I asked her if she had playing a game with me. It was the first time I had ever called her out like that. Her answer? Smug as could be, she said that yes, she had been playing with me. That was a “wow” moment for me. I knew she was psycho, but to have her admit to something so childish was creepy.

    I will support you in whatever way you need. I have the utmost faith in you and I know you can do this, heck you’re already doing this.

    • meredith Says:

      Hey, tai…

      Just another bird on the wire picking up on what’s going on. Yes, your mother is tracking you. Yes, she will, at the six-month mark expect or invite contact. Here’s the deal, though: you’re thirty, not three. She has no right to access your life any more than some stranger on the street. She has no power. NONE.

      Whatever you decide to do, remember that. It’s both mentally tricky and physically draining to cut parents out of your life, so be patient with whatever process you use to cut ties with your mom. It may take a few tries and more than one six-month warning because you don’t know what she’ll do, quite, and you may not be in a place physically or mentally to do it exactly the way you plan… so just know that it’s no skin off anyone’s nose how you go about finishing things with your mom. It’s hard to cut off Drama Queens, baby. bleah.


      P.S. Sorry to butt in, but we all must have basically the same biographies in personalized editions. I swear, I swear, I swear… welcome home, sisters. It’s nice to know we’re all working together.

      • tai0316 Says:

        meredith: ditto, ditto and ditto. In other words I’m sure you’re right about all of it. Why can’t this world be like Star Wars where I could put a death mark on someone so a bounty hunter could go get them for me? *sigh* No fair…:(

      • meredith Says:

        Because then you would become fair game, too, tai. Showdowns at high noon are not useful in situations like this.

  4. meredith Says:

    wow…. wow, wow, wow. I had no idea how powerful you are, little cockroach! Obviously, all leaks must be sealed… πŸ˜›

    • roseroars Says:

      Cockroach, eh? Strong, will survive major disaster, able to live off anything, intelligent, fluent in several languages, able to make a pun in seconds flat….okay. I accept your label. Besides, I like earthy colors, too.

  5. meredith Says:

    The mightiest are often the tiniest, and are most always resented for their resilience.


  6. Nansie Says:

    Lisa your not alone in this! My mother always told ppl in and out of the family that I was a hypochondriac and didn’t see things as they were in life. And she’d always say it with this concerned tone in her voice to sound like a mother who was worried but accepted the fact that I did things this way. It’s another way to victimize us but mostly it’s to protect themselves. Let’s face it…even back in those days if the real story ever got out we would have been removed from that house for sure…and imagine the scandal they’d felt? So yea…I also know other ppl who were abused and their parents did it this way too. The really hard part for us is that it began at such a young age we began questioning our own memory and then carried that cycle with us into adulthood. Recognizing this was done to us is peeling back one more layer of this and lifting a little more of the burden and oppression. I know for me with each layer that gets peeled back I get angry to the point where I feel like no healing is taking place…I hate feeling that much rage as I do at times. But yea the rage is part of the healing process too. Your making big progress lately…it’s just not the fun part of progress. Hang in there cuz I have so much in common with you.
    As for your parents…lets just face the fact that they are fucked and total fucktards in life. No way around this one. You are recovering and will continue and I think whatever pace you need to go at to remove them from you life is fine…the point being that your getting them out which is where they belong! HUGS to you!!!

  7. kate1975 Says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Yes I went through similar stuff from my mother. The crazy stuff, the insane stuff. I will write some on my blog about it, because it is a long subject. I will post it tomorrow.

    Just so you know grandparents have no legal visitation rights, they do not exist, they are totally lying.

    I understand you are making the choices you believe are right. I always regretted seeing my mother, she was very emotionally abusive any time I associated with her. Good and healing thoughts to you.


    • roseroars Says:

      Thanks for the info. My therapist is looking into that, too.

      I also appreciate the posts you’ve written lately. Thanks for those, too.

  8. (((((Lisa))))) Good for you!!!! And wow, I had no idea there is actually a word for some of the crap my father did–gaslighting. I had to look it up right away and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

    You’re doing so great at keeping your boundaries. I know how hard it can be, and how distressing and disruptive. Thanks for taking care of yourself and the inspiration it gives me and others.


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