Dear Rhonda & Dr. Cheri: Gaslighting - an insidious form of bullying
note: Letters to Rhonda and Dr. Cheri come from around the U.S. via our website and are not necessarily from Prescott.
Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
My older sister told me I’m too sensitive, too naïve, and a people-pleaser. She said my boyfriend is cheating on me.
My sister is friends with my boyfriend’s sister. My sister said she found lipstick and underwear in my boyfriend’s car that aren’t mine. She points out a girl she says is sleeping with my boyfriend.
I asked my boyfriend, who broke up with me because he said I don’t trust him. I don’t trust him, but I wanted to know that he loves me and wanted to work things out. He said I was crazy and making stuff up. I told him I had proof and told him what my sister found in his car.
Guess what my sister did? She denied everything I said in front of her friend (my boyfriend’s sister), my boyfriend, and me! She called me a liar and worse. She said I was out to hurt her and make her look bad.
I felt crazy. I couldn’t believe she denied what she told me was the truth!
We got into a big fight later. She said she had to lie in front of them and it was for my own good. She said I was too sensitive for the truth and I can count on her for the truth. She said I was too good for my boyfriend and he’s the liar. She told me not to be dumb.
I heard her on the phone talking and saying that she felt sorry for me because I was emotionally disturbed.
When I told her I heard that, she said, “No, you didn’t.”
I went wild and said I’m not crazy and asked why she was doing this. She ignored me and said she would be there for me when I calmed down.
Is she bullying me?
Am I going crazy or am I a bad person?
Crazy or Bad
Dear Not crazy,
Your sister is manipulating you and yes, it is bullying and abusive. It’s called gaslighting. It comes from the title of an old film and it’s prevalent in our culture. It’s subtle and despicable, it’s contrived and calculated.
You need to distance yourself from your sister so you may heal, and become “un-stuck,” start making your own choices, and start defining yourself. We believe your sister manipulated you to make you dependent upon her.
First, you are on the right path of truth by recognizing that gaslighting is actually happening to you.
Second, trust yourself. When your sister lied and you knew it was a lie, believe yourself first. Realize that someone who is gaslighting will consistently deny the truth. She has been very clever at twisting your reality.
Third, things that don’t make sense to you are just that – nonsensical.
Fourth, asking why your sister does what she does isn’t important. Write down all the names and judgments she has labeled you with and replace them with your true virtues.
It’s easy to become a victim because gaslighting is a gradual process. It’s hard even for skilled professionals to recognize because it’s not straightforward like physical abuse. Don’t shame yourself.
Signed, Rhonda and Dr. Cheri
Rhonda Orr is the president and founder of the Prescott-based Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation. Dr. Cheri L. McDonald, PhD, LMFT, is a crime-victim specialist. Send your anonymous questions to Rhonda@rhondastopbullying.org. Find out more about Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation at www. rhondastopbullying.org.