When I was a child, I had no tools or language to understand the abuse that was happening to me. What I did know was that I was constantly misunderstood. My parents often accused me of doing things I never did and punished me for not doing things that were not mine to be done. I didn’t know what projection was, but I was constantly accused of having malicious intent when there was none. In order to survive, I stuffed my anger and made sure to never even think a cross thought about my abusers. I attempted to be perfect, which is, of course, impossible. I became hypervigilent in anticipating the needs of others. I became the cheerful servant, like Cinderella, daydreaming about a kinder and gentler world. Also like Cinderella, I didn’t understand why, in spite of all my best efforts, my family hated me so much. I thought it was some flaw of mine that I was so misunderstood.
When I grew older, I tried in vain to communicate with my abusers. I honed all the skills to write and speak with clarity and compassion. I made sure to never make assumptions or accusations about their intent (like they did with me) but rather to focus on communicating how their actions made me feel. It didn’t work. Whenever I tried to make my parents understand the effect their actions had on me, they would find some way to turn it around and make it my fault. I was open to trying anything to get through to them. I solicited help from mediators and counselors. All this did was make them double down on their projections. The more I tried to reason with them with grace and compassion, the more they accused me of being spiteful and crazy.
For a while, their projection worked, because I did feel crazy. I was caught in a loop where I would make a statement about their behavior, and they would accuse me of the same behavior. I would then self-reflect and try to figure out why they would say that about me. I was constantly examining my own motives, which was a constant distraction from the issue at hand. I didn’t yet know what gaslighting or projection was, I just knew I was in a insane, futile loop. I developed panic attacks and migraines. It got to a point where whenever I was around my parents, my body would just shut down. When I left, I did not leave because they were abusing me. I left because I knew I could no longer hold on to my own sanity if I didn’t. See how I turned it back onto me? For a long time, I saw myself as “defective” because I couldn’t handle my own parents.
Because of all of the life-long programming of my abusers, it took me a long time to accept that there is nothing that I can say or do to make them understand or acknowledge my point of view. They are literally incapable of empathy and understanding. They can not and will not ever see me as a person. They can not and will not ever acknowledge that I have feelings and opinions. They can not and will not ever respect any of my boundaries. In their eyes, I do not exist. To them, I am not a person. I am a funhouse mirror, which fails to reflect their image the way they want to be seen.
Having such early fundamental needs unfulfilled leaves me with a deep longing to be understood. For a long time, I continued to search for any possible way that I could be understood by my parents. There is none. I have since learned to direct my need to be understood toward people who are capable of empathy and understanding. I have since found many people who “get it.” I now know that my communication skills are not flawed, and that I am actually pretty easy to understand. Even so, I don’t think the desire to be understood by those who have hurt me will ever go away completely. I often struggle to share my thoughts on abuse publicly because I am especially sensitive to people who reinforce the same accusations and dismissive attitudes of my abusers. Because of the physiological damage caused by psychological abuse, just one “suck it up” comment from a stranger literally feels like a punch in the gut to me. This serves as a reminder that I am not immune to toxic behavior and I must limit my exposure.
There will always be some people who choose not to understand, but there are many others who do. Most of all, I understand myself. I hope by the end of my life I can say that the roar of encouragement of those who understand have drowned out the negative messages of those who choose not to.
3 thoughts on “Gaslighting Creates A Longing To Be Understood”
This is exactly my story. You are such a gift to me. Reading this article is priceless. Exactly my story. ( Both parents NPD) I’ve never read anything like this before. It feels like that quote, “We are all walking each other home.” For me, you are a hand reaching out and walking me home. Pls tell your inner child that you could not possibly have better communication skills…Crystal clear! Thank you.
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Thank you so much for sharing. Your comments resonate deeply. My father is narcissistic. My sister is on anti-depressants and my brother is also a narcissist. I have CPTSD.
Once, on the advice of his therapist, my brother confronted my father about his complete failure as a parent. My father became enraged and acknowledged nothing.
At the age of 66 I am finally coming to terms with what happened to me. Knowing it’s not my fault has been an epiphany. This has been a long, troubling road, and it’s not over yet. It feels like the devil has finally been let out of the basement. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. My heart goes out to you.
Thank you so much for this blog. After a second abusive marriage, this one ending in homelessness and my family and only friend siding with him (a malignant narcissist), I joined a domestic violence support group and began learning about the connection to child abuse and narcissistic parents. I have cut my family off. I am slowly coming out of the fog of lies and beginning to discover my “self” while grieving the senseless pain of 50+ years. Your articles help me see myself more clearly on this journey of discovery. Thank you for telling your story.
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