The first time I told someone I missed someone who had gaslighted me (gas lighting: a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual), the sentiment was pulled me into a dark hole of guilt and shame. I told them:
I don’t understand this feeling, how can I miss someone who had discarded me, someone who weaponised silence against me?
Missing them brought so many questions and self-accusations. Had I lied to myself about their abuse? Had I exaggerated their emotional manipulation? Perhaps my depression and anxiety had made me over feel? Surely a person insisting they were abused – in any form – shouldn’t be missing their abuser? My friend remarked, “maybe this is the alchemy of forgiveness?” Maybe she was right and forgiveness comes when anger is replaced by complexity. Maybe it comes when one accepts the complexity of the situation that brought the betrayal?
Forgiveness and peace come when we accept that the abuser – not you – broke your trust, that you were justified in trusting them. Abusers violate a trust and trust is their currency. It is important to note that, up until the abuse, (repeated or once off) you did nothing to warrant that abuse nor could you have seen that breach of trust.
When a trust is violated, learning to trust does not rest in the other person. Learning to trust rests in your ability to understand that humans will always do things to violate your trust – trust by its nature is unearned, it is suspicion and distrust that are earned. And everything prior to the violation is justified. Perhaps this was the alchemy of trust; learning that where trust is violated, you can learn to trust beyond the moment of violation.
“I will always love you
How I do
Let go of a prayer for you
Just a sweet word
The table is prepared for you”
I had a dream about you the other night. You came up to me like nothing had ever happened. Like you hadn’t made me question my character and whether I was worthy of being loved, was loving or am loveable.
You offered me food you had prepared, smiling. Smiling, like your silence had not made me question my own sanity or my recollection of our friendship. Like your silence had not made me question if I had imagined our friendship and what it meant? Had I imagined that time you took me to your fave beach spot and we just sat and experienced quietness?
I woke up holding myself, slowly rocking myself, wondering if I had just had a nightmare even though it didn’t feel like one. As the week has passed, I have found myself remembering and reminiscing about a number of people who abused me. I realised that recovering from abuse is a complicated process because humans are complicated and emotions, over time can betray logic.
The abuser is multifaceted
Abusers are not one-dimensional people. They are hurt, are vulnerable and are almost always dealing with their own shortcomings. Abusers can be great partners and friends – sometimes.
I remember that one time you bought me an egg-whisk because we had watched this really corny Bollywood movie and I had balled my eyes out. Or that time you wrote me a letter telling me how much of a lifesaver our friendship had been for you. Or that other time you showed me what you did on quiet, sunny Sundays. Or that other time we cried in solidarity in a cab.
I remember that other time I watched you conceptualise a protest campaign and create posters and I sat there in wonder because you are that brilliant. Do you remember that other time you invited me to your work place and were so excited to show me all the cocktails you could make but I ended up drinking a beer instead? Or that time you graduated and your mom was so proud of you?
Remembering all that now I wonder if there was a time in between those moments where I could’ve said “you’re brilliant, you’re amazing, you’ll do great things” and it would’ve changed the fact that I now see you as dangerous?
Remembering is also dangerous because it inevitably leads to thinking of “what ifs” and “maybe if”. The point is a toxic relationship will forever be toxic and no level of forgiveness will bring equilibrium in that relationship.
“Wishing you Godspeed, glory
There will be mountains you won’t move
still I will always be there for you, how I do.
I’ll let go of my claim on you, it’s a free world
You’ll look down on where you came from, sometimes
You’ll have this place to call home, always”
So you miss your abuser, what happens next?
What happens when you miss your abuser?
Firstly, you feel betrayed, by your body and your mind. You feel unable to control the narrative of your history. You feel vulnerable and frustrated. You feel deceived and you question whether you “imagined” that abuse. After all if you were REALLY abused, would you miss your abuser?
The second part is messy. Messy because it is a struggle, a struggle to pull yourself out of a dark space. There are tears, there is self-loathing and there is doubt.
But if you are patient, and kind to yourself there is a third thing that happens; Resolution. Between the moments of self-loathing and tears you realise how inevitably human you are. And if you extend this realisation towards your abuser, you realise how pathetically human they are. It doesn’t mean you forgive them – if you don’t want, it doesn’t mean you imagined your abuse, it doesn’t mean they were not at fault nor does it mean the memories are untrue – perhaps tainted but true. It merely means that there is complexity. And it is within that space of complexity you find time to forgive yourself.
Being forgiving doesn’t mean that you excuse their actions, rather, forgiving allows you the space to mourn the relationship you lost and the person you lost. I have often judged myself harshly believing that I should’ve known better, I should’ve taken action sooner. In those times and in that space, I have to be kind to myself and understand that the person I was friends with was real and that I lost them. The person who gaslighted me is also true – this is the alchemy of forgiveness.
Visit the incredible MaThoko site for so many more awesome articles.
This piece forms part of the #QueeringTheCloak series which is part of a larger project exploring sexual, emotional and physical violence in queer women spaces on the continent. The project seeks to essentially ‘pull back the cloak’ on shame and silence around this violence.
Here is an article 11 Signs You Are being Gaslight in a relationship and another 10 things the author learned from someone using gaslighting as an abuse tactic. For more on supporting people here is a piece on supporting someone in abusive relationship and also a piece where the woman says At least she didn’t hit me”. There is also a piece by a woman who writes a letter to her ex abuser’s new girlfriend. There is also this piece that gives some advice 6 ways to support a survivor of woman on woman sexual violence.
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