gaslight: a family system cohered through denial #recovery #aa #na #alanon
July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
I have been hearing the term, “gaslight” and wondering what it meant. I found a great post listing examples of the mind state and behaviour: 15 Signs You Are Being Gaslighted which helped me start to understand the concept.
Last night Husband and I watched the original 1940 version of the movie Gaslight. If you ever want to understand the baffling condition of living with narcissism, this movie is a good introduction to the behaviour. The film is exceptional, and the depiction of crazy making behaviour is both painful and liberating.
I have been writing about our human drive for connectivity as our most fundamental social drive for survival. I can now see that drive for connectivity can also be understood as a drive for validation. In our human psychology, the absence of validation during childhood development contributes to a lifelong struggle to achieve a sense of healthy individual identity capable of bonding with other human beings. I conceive our drive for connectivity as essential for sustaining mental and emotional health. I can see our drive for validation is way to understand connectivity in psychological terms.
My family history has been baffling and perplexing to me for decades. I have struggled with attempting to connect with my family system, and at the same time, I have needed to withdraw from connecting to the family system to preserve my own psychological well-being. Paradoxically, even as I withdraw from the family system to preserve my mental and emotional health, I suffer the real pain of separation and disconnection of not belonging to my family system. At the same time, when I attempt to connect with my family system, to grow closer to family members, I suffer the real pain of systemic neglect, abuse, and betrayal. I have never been able to articulate the exact condition that my family suffers, other than identifying the influence of alcoholism, mental illness, and addiction exhibited by all my family members (including me).
After watching Gaslight I was able to identify how my family is a narcissistic system conducive to narcissistic psychologies. My problem, apparently, is that I am not enough of a narcissist to belong. I keep fighting for authentic emotional connections and honest conversations about the health of family members, family relations, and the family system as a whole. I came to the diagnosis of narcissism based on the condition that has been revealed to me recently by Brother1 and Brother4.
In their ways, with some prodding on my part, I was able to get these two brothers to admit they had feelings toward me. Brother1 has been angry at me, and Brother4 as been fearful of me. Brother1 is angry at me for ‘shutting him out’ and Brother4 is fearful that I am going to ‘freeze him out’. Both of these brothers are describing their reactions to my behaviour, which started in 1972 or 73, when I first ran away from home. What I ran away from was a mentally ill mother who was physically, mentally and emotionally abusing me, and a narcissistic father who had abandoned and betrayed me. I was so devastated by both of my parents’ states of mind and behaviour that I saw no options for myself but to quit high school and run away to live on a farm. During all these intervening years, I have never had one of my siblings or my parents ask me, “Where did you go? Why did you go?”
I realize now that at least these two brothers interpreted my behaviour in true narcissistic manner – they were only able to process my leave-taking in terms of their own feelings and thoughts. They were wholly incapable of considering what might have driven me to the extremes of distance that I sought.
And that is gas lighting. Over decades they have maintained relationships with their siblings and with their parents as if nothing ever happened to our family. They go sailing, skiing, play music, and travel together. They put up a very compelling facade of family unity and family exceptionalism. What bothers them the most about my absence from the family photo is the questions from others, “Where is Irrational Persistance?” And that forces them to have to rationalize my absence, when they have never, ever asked me why I am not there.
So they get angry at me and that anger leaks out in small and large ways. Never directly questioning me about my choices, but treating me with disrespect, ignoring me, or leaving me out. And then they accuse me of shutting them out, of freezing them out. The very thing they are accusing me of, is the thing that they have been doing to me for decades. They never talk about their own fragile mental and emotional state. They accuse me of being in a fragile mental and emotional state and exhort me to “get over it”. But they have never dealt with their own alcoholism, addiction, mental illness etc.
In fact, I may be the toughest of the bunch, unwilling to play along to pass this sick family system on to the next generation if it is within my power. It has been very difficult to identify the relationship between our natural drive for connection and how that is realized through validation. It has been even more difficult to identify the hypocrisy that is the tenacious glue that has cohered the family in a system of distress and ill health. I think I have identified the core condition of my family system: narcissism.