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Walking on Eggshells
© 2018 – Cindie Chavez
I still remember standing there that day in the library. Quite often I would visit the library looking for books in a particular section, say the 700s – the Dewey decimal designation for arts and recreation – perhaps looking at books on painting or knitting and suddenly I’d notice a miss-shelved book that should have been in the 100s – religion and philosophy, another area of interest for me. Finding these “misplaced” books that just happened to be on a topic I was interested in occurred so often that I started referring to these instances as brought about by the “library angels”. I’ve lost count of the number of impactful books that came into my frame of reference in this magical way.
But on this particular day, as I gazed at the stacks of art books, the library angels had a sad recommendation for me. There, right in front of my face, squeezed between groups of books about the art nouveau period was a book that mentioned “walking on eggshells” on its cover. It instantly shook me with an epiphany like swat. “Walking on eggshells.” I’m not sure if I’d ever heard that term before, but I knew for sure that it described how I’d been feeling for the past couple of years. I felt like I’d been hit with a brick.
I took the book off the shelf and opened it to a random page and began to read. Within a few minutes I had tears in my eyes. The book was written for partners and family members of people suffering from borderline personality disorder. I didn’t know, and I still don’t, if my ex suffered from such a disorder, but I do know that I was experiencing this “walking on eggshells feeling” constantly and the random page I was reading sounded like my daily life. I’m not sure if my tears were because the whole idea scared the hell out of me or because I suddenly felt relief that I wasn’t alone in my experience. I put the book back on the shelf. I didn’t check it out because I was afraid of bringing it home. That day I began to search in earnest to find out what was going on in my relationship, and why I was so unhappy. My research turned up many familiar and uncomfortable forms of emotional abuse, including something called gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a term that originates from the 1938 stage play Gas Light, (known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944). In the story, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the attic while searching for hidden treasure. The wife accurately notices the dimming lights and discusses the phenomenon, but the husband insists she just imagined a change in the level of illumination.
Gaslighting is a serious form of emotional abuse and just one of many shades of crazy-making that can occur in an abusive relationship.
When a person is emotionally abused they begin to proceed through life in a way that is incredibly stress producing. They lose their grounding. They never really know what’s coming next, hence the term “walking on eggshells”. Anyone who has ever lived through an emotionally abusive relationship understands how accurate that term is. Since you never know how your partner (friend/parent/boss – whoever is the emotionally abusive party) will act/react to any given stimulus (including no stimulus at all!), the carefulness with which you begin to weigh every single word or action becomes extreme. You adopt a constant state of “high alert”, never letting your guard down – which has incredibly detrimental effects on your emotional and physical well-being. And even though the walking on eggshells is in service to protect you and avoid conflict and abusive behavior, it never really achieves that end. It only causes intense and constant stress, inner conflict, and the deterioration of self-esteem, self-trust, and self-empowerment for the victim.
Besides gaslighting, emotional abuse victims deal with other forms of crazy-making, like dismissive body language, the “silent treatment”, and verbal discounting (nothing you say is right regardless of what you’re saying).
Crazy-making is designed to do just that – make you crazy – it totally makes sense (in some weird twisted way) that the crazy-maker will do exactly what you don’t expect at any given turn, just to keep you off balance. In fact, this often becomes literal as well as figurative, with emotional abuse victims getting clumsier as the relationship goes on, to the point of tripping constantly or running into furniture.
As a relationship coach and expert in emotional abuse I have once or twice asked a client if she finds herself increasingly banging her knee on the coffee table or tripping over the edge of a rug. The response was shock that I would know such a thing. But I had asked the question after hearing a description of a relationship that seemed obviously emotionally abusive.
I learned about the term gaslighting in 2005, when my research on emotionally abusive relationships commenced. I’ve rarely if ever seen the term in mainstream media, let alone in many of the relationship books and courses I’ve consumed, until a year or so ago, when I read an article entitled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.” I had made this connection myself during the 2016 presidential debates as Donald Trump see-sawed and crawfished over pretty much anything Hillary Clinton said, saying she was “Wrong!”, when she clearly wasn’t.
My thoughts (and unfortunately my memories) on this topic have now expanded from couples and partners and one-on-one relationships to the relationship that our entire country is entangled in with our current President and his administration.
In my worldview everything is always about relationship…not just our relationships with other people, but our relationship to money, to community, to ourselves, our jobs, to the natural world, and yes – even to governments and politics. Everything is a relationship.
So, in this strange new relationship between our country and our current President – are we walking on eggshells? And how does that translate to everyday life? When we’re never quite sure what the headlines will be on waking up every morning? When racial and other discriminatory prejudices are magnified by a newfound sense of permission granted? When a whole slew of billionaires that are most likely completely out of touch with 99% of the nation are writing the laws and running the show?
Typically an abused partner has increased stress that produces increased health issues and often results in a complete breakdown of self-esteem over time. It’s frightening to imagine what an entire nation that is subjected to this level of crazy-making will endure.
Reading the evening news on March 31, 2018 and seeing that the President had declared April 2018 National Sexual Assault Awareness Month felt like the kind of weird, dreamlike, gaslighting experience that so many abuse victims live with. One minute he is openly abusing you and the next minute he is publicly declaring as despicable some behavior exactly like his own.
The remedy for the emotionally abused individual is often to get out of the relationship – which is often very difficult, so the first order of action is to stand firm in the knowledge that you are not insane. As much as a crazy-maker does everything in his power to make his victims believe they’ve lost their sanity, the victim must do everything she can to remind herself that she is sane, she is not crazy. The goal is not only to remain sane, but to get free from the abuser. But until the day of liberation is accomplished it is important for the individual to stand their ground, to know the facts, to speak up, to take every measure they can to stay empowered (or become empowered) and to be absolute in what they know to be factually true – They. Are. NOT. Crazy.
Emotionally abused individuals will often withdraw from their social circles, friends, and families, often with the help and complete support of their abuser. Sometimes abusers will even prevent their victims from having strong bonds with others since isolation and the feeling of being alone disempowers the victim that much more.
An emotionally abused individual will often begin to defer to her abuser in everything, accepting blindly whatever he chooses because it feels like the easiest choice to avoid conflict.
As a nation, we cannot afford to adopt a deferential position. We must speak up, we must know the facts, we must stand up for what we know is good, and right, and true.
As for this declaration that April is “National Sexual Assault Awareness Month” – there is probably no one in the world who has made us more aware of sexual assault than our current president who openly bragged about it and somehow still got elected. And just like the individual victim of gaslighting who becomes aware, now we need to follow up our awareness with the action that will get us free. Stand up, speak out, and vote.
Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONLIGHT™ – A Course in Manifesting Love and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com
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