Once, for the longest time I used to wonder if I was a trouble-maker, if I were an unnecessarily difficult woman. You see, whenever I knew I had been short-changed, taken advantage of, treated unfairly or disrespected by someone, I would speak up. Not necessarily through direct communication to the offender or a formal process, but it would be made known via some forms of vocalisation of my unhappiness to anyone I thought would care to listen.
One of the very few outlets for my vocalisation of grievances was at a weekly after-dinner tea-drinking session at my parents’ place. When I am not living abroad, weekly dinners at my parents’ were a given; not just because I was expected to visit them as frequently as I could but also because I did enjoy spending those precious hours with my elderly parents. Since making mindless small talks is not my favourite blend of tea, it was only natural that I would share and discuss significant events that happened or caught my attention; for examples, challenges I faced at work, stupid fucked-up human behaviours I encountered, and most popularly, what our dumb politicians had done to our country.
Most of the time, it was my Mother who would partake in these discussions more readily while my Father prepared and served the tea in silence. He might impart his opinion once in a while but when he did, it would always be the same one.
For my Father, there was only one root cause for all bad human behaviour – bad mood. If someone is lazy and unable to hold a job, “his mood is bad.” If someone gambles, “his mood is bad.” If someone makes a stupid decision like getting married when he is unable to financially support himself, “I'm telling you, his mood is bad.” It was as simple and basic as that, until one day when he said to me, “I have been observing something about you" breaking his silence after I had gone on a rant about something. Was he going to tell me I had the foulest mood?
“You are a very difficult person. I've come to notice that you don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, not even one tiny bit,” he finished. Just like that, no follow-up explanation or clarification on the point he was tying to make.
I have forgotten what I shared that day to elicit such a reaction from him, but given what I know of my Father today, it must had been some feminist view he didn’t approve of.
I didn’t respond to what he said that day because I had no words. I was too stunned. For once, he ventured to offer a different opinion, and it silenced the hell out of me at our weekly after-dinner tea-drinking session, a space where I thought was safe and a lovely family tradition that was becoming sacred to me.
What he said that day stuck with me until today. For years, I would recall that statement over and over in my mind, wondering if he had been right, questioning myself whether my so-called intolerance towards bad behaviour was as undesirable and insufferable as he had implied.
There were times when I would even agree with him because I found myself clamping down the angry voices in my head when I had been wronged, wondering if I was a troublemaker. Wondering if I was being unnecessarily difficult? Maybe I should just shut the fuck up and not get upset about my sexist boss.
Well, not anymore. Not since I understand what gaslighting means and how it isn’t just something your boyfriend or husband does to you. It’s what a man (any man), can do to a woman (any woman), including your own god damn Father.
I may not have this awakening if I had not known about what my Father had done to my Mother throughout their fifty odd years of marriage recently. My Mother had shielded me (and the whole world) from the abuses suffered under my controlling and misogynistic Father, as most mothers would have done. These brutal and frankly shocking truths about my Father would have been buried with my Mother if she had not reached her breaking point early this year. Much like the water that could not help but bubble and spit out of a burning pot when it reaches boiling point, Mom finally broke the secrets she had kept to herself for more than half a century. It's a wonder how she manages to stay sane today.
I wish I could turn back to the moment when my Father said those things to me because I would have wanted to say this to him, “What kind of a Father would tell their daughters that being bullied, being taken advantage of, is perfectly fine and they should not make a big deal out of it?”
The kind that makes you a fucking pig, Dad.
And p/s, it's really not because you have a lousy mood.
I stumbled across this article recently by Awareness Act and was shocked and sad to learn that this issue is quite common and widespread. I also felt validated that I was not wrong to understand that gaslighting can be perpetrated by a family member, not just an intimate partner. However, I want to acknowledge that I was wrong in my initial assumption that it is mostly used by men against women/girl. This article has educated me that it is a dangerous weapon used by both or either parents (Mom and/or Dad) and directed against a young child, regardless of gender. Some of the examples given in the article is illuminating and I urge you to take the time to read it.
Michelle Elman speaks about this in the video below.