I’d been reading a lot about gaslighting lately: what it is, the example, how to deal with it, etc. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can let anyone gaslight me. I feel like I have control of myself so there’s no way I let someone take such control over me. But, well, one can only try to sound arrogant. In reality, maybe it’s not the case. But seriously, if anything, I’m actually worried if I have ever gaslighted anyone. I hope I never did, but who knows? I mean, I know myself best, of what I’m capable of doing, how manipulative I can be, etc. It might be my imagination only, of how or who I wish to be to protect myself, but I think it’s kinda important to recognize the negative traits within ourselves so we can be more aware of it and not hurt others unintentionally quite often.
Well, ok, what is gaslighting? From my understanding, it’s a form of psychological manipulation that makes one question their feelings and actions, when they actually have done nothing wrong. An example would be, you feel hurt by someone’s joke, but when you try to point that out, instead of apologizing to you, they’d say you’re just being sensitive or that you’re just exaggerating stuff, or that they’re just joking, so you start questioning or suppressing the painful feeling, thinking they might be true. So, in other words, I think it’s kinda a form of invalidating one’s feelings. (I don’t study psychology, though, so I might be wrong). But, well, maybe that’s why I decided to post this, because I need to know if it’s really gaslighting or if this is something else. Let’s just take it as a “fiction”.
Zahra was washing her dishes that evening. One of her “friends”, Karen, said she’d stop by and who knows she could help her with her work. They both have been struggling with their work.
Actually Zahra loved her time alone, but she didn’t feel okay to keep rejecting Karen or forbid her from coming to her place. She didn’t hate Karen; she cared for her. Karen had been coming to her place sharing her problems, telling her about the problem with different people. She didn’t really like talking about people, but she didn’t actually mind listening about them either. Hence, Zahra tried her best to be a good friend and listen, and comment necessarily once in a while. That’s the least she could do.
The thing was, Zahra didn’t want to judge or hate someone just because her friend said they had a problem with them. She didn’t want to side based on only one-sided story; most of the times, she wanted to know both sides of the story to be fair. And she made it clear to Karen about that, and Karen said she understood. But then, Zahra didn’t know all of these people Karen had been telling her about, so she thought that she didn’t want to interfere. It wasn’t her business, and she just wanted to mind her own business. But again, Zahra didn’t like to feel rejected and ignored so she didn’t want to make Karen feel that way either. So when that day Karen said maybe they could talk about her work to help her, she said okay. Zahra thought that maybe it would make Karen feel better. Zahra thought that if Karen thought she was being useful, then maybe she wouldn’t feel so bad for always coming to her place and making her listen to her problems. So Zahra was waiting for her to come. She intentionally asked Karen to come while she was washing her dishes so she could kill two birds with one stone; i.e. getting her dishes washed while listening to Karen talk so she didn’t need to spend more time listening to her after she’s done with her dishes. That way no time would be wasted and she could have her peaceful me-time again.
There was a knock on the door. Zahra washed her hand to open the door and let Karen in and went back to washing her dishes. Karen stepped on the non-carpeted kitchen without sandals and Zahra gasped.
“Oh my God, Karen! I hate your fucking feet.” Zahra said, to which Karen laughed and stepped away.
The thing was, Zahra was so particular about the cleanliness of her place. She didn’t really like cleaning, so she made sure to keep the place clean by not allowing shoes on the carpeted area and by providing sandals in the non-carpeted area, that way the carpeted area would be clean. And it’s important to her because she used some part of the area to pray. And it’s not that Karen didn’t know about it because she told her about that before. Not only once but more. Karen even witnessed her praying sometimes when she came during praying time and Zahra had to pray and Karen had to wait for her until she’s done praying.
So again, Zahra was flabbergasted when she saw Karen actually walked around the praying area to turn on the fan, right after stepping on the kitchen area without sandals. Still washing her dishes, Zahra screamed her disappointment because she thought Karen should’ve known to not step on that area, especially with her praying rug still on the floor.
“Karen! You know I use that area to pray, right?”
“But I didn’t step on your praying rug.” Karen said.
“Still, you just stepped on the kitchen area without sandals. It’s dirty and then you came there?” Zahra was exasperated. How was she supposed to make Karen understand that she needed the area to be clean, not only just the floor on which she put the praying rug but also the area around that? It didn’t matter if Karen didn’t step on the rug, she probably still made the area dirty. It’s not as if she could pray in a clean floor/rug surrounded with shit, right? But maybe that’s too extreme so she didn’t say that.
“Oh my God, you made me feel uncomfortable. I think I’m gonna leave.”
“What?” Zahra didn’t expect such a reaction from Karen. If anything, she hoped Karen would apologize and promise to not do it again. She understood that Karen might have different rules on her own place, but it’s not the first time she came to Zahra’s place, and pretty much she should’ve known what’s important to her. It’s not that hard to remember and be respectful. She stepped on the kitchen area bare-footed before. Once. Twice. Zahra got enough. That’s why that evening when Karen did it again, she told her straight that she didn’t like it, that she’d told her before and why. But guess how she reacted?
“What do you mean?” Zahra asked, finishing up rinsing the last dish she was washing.
“You make me uncomfortable. You’re saying like you don’t want me to come back here.” Karen said.
Unbelievable! ZAHRA SWORE TO GOD THAT’S NOT WHAT SHE SAID.
“What do you mean? I didn’t say such things! If there were some cameras recording it, you’d know I didn’t say such words. Or perhaps because I was washing my dishes so the running water from the tap made you mishear the words?” Zahra was infuriated but she tried her best to stay calm and composed. She tried to re-explain, ’cause she didn’t want Karen to misunderstand. Karen often told her about her anxiety and depression, so even though Zahra was actually mad herself, she tried to not make Karen feel worse. But to be honest, she was really sad; it’s as if her efforts to understand how Karen felt weren’t returned, i.e. she felt that Karen didn’t even try to understand her at all.
However, Karen said, “The words didn’t matter. It’s how you made me feel. You’re sending me hate and negative energy.”
Zahra was baffled. But okay, Karen’s feelings were valid. Even though she didn’t mean to make her feel that way, it didn’t change the fact that she made her feel uncomfortable, so she apologized.
“Ok, I apologized. It’s not an if-apology. Your feelings were valid. I’m sorry for that. Please know that I don’t hate you. I’ve never meant to make you feel that way. I was just being honest. That’s why I told you that I was disappointed because it wasn’t your first time doing that, i.e. stepping on the kitchen floor without sandals, and I have told you about that, and about how important it is to me to have my carpeted area clean because I use it to pray too.”
“Yeah, but I don’t live here, so I don’t know.”
“But you come here often. And again, it’s not the first time. You should’ve remembered. You’re my guest. Is it that hard to respect my rules as the host?”
“I don’t come here regularly! You’re so rude.”
Zahra felt like laughing in exasperation. Karen did come to her place often, each time showering her with her problems with a different person, her anxiety, her depression, etc. There was even a period of time Karen came to her place almost every day that sometimes she had to ask her to leave because she wanted to sleep or do something else. And she was the one being rude?
“Karen, I try to respect you as my guest! But do you respect me as your host? If you respect what’s important to me, you’ll remember my rules. That’s what I always do when I come to someone’s place. And even when I’m not sure, I’d ask.” Zahra said. And she also remembered what Karen didn’t like in her place, that she didn’t want her to use metal spatula to not damage her pan. At that time Zahra came to her place to cook some noodle for her because she was worried about her not eating well. She didn’t come to Karen’s place that often, she didn’t come to anyone’s place so often. Still, she made a mental note to remember because she respected her.
Zahra really tried her best to respect Karen and made her place comfortable for her. She even let Karen turn on the fan when she came and sometimes she even turned on the AC for her because she knew Karen couldn’t stand the heat, EVEN WHEN ZAHRA HERSELF RARELY USED THE AC OR THE FAN BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO SAVE HER MONEY SHE DIDN’T WANT TO GET HER ELECTRICITY BILL TO GET TOO HIGH. SHE WAS WILLING TO ENDURE THE HEAT WHEN SHE WAS ALONE BUT GOT OUT OF HER WAY TO MAKE HER GUEST FEEL COMFORTABLE BY TURNING ON THE FAN/AC FOR HER, NO MATTER HOW HIGH THAT MIGHT MAKE HER ELECTRICITY BILL TO BE. But now she’s being disrespectful to her guest? Unbelievable.
“But I don’t live here. It’s different in my place too. Even if I try to remember, sometimes it slips my mind. Maybe you could try to put a sign there so I can see and read.” Karen said. “But you’re so rude even when I was actually coming here trying to help.”
What a joke! Zahra screamed in her head. She was really laughing in despair in her head. She had never asked for her help. She only allowed her to come using that excuse so Karen wouldn’t feel so bad. The truth was, Zahra didn’t want to talk about her work because it drove her crazy. Also, she never asked for her company! Zahra was a homebody. She could hole up in her apartment alone for a month without even stepping out a bit as long as she got food and internet. She could fangirl, read manga, watch movies/anime/drama, listen to and sing her favorite songs, etc. She was really good at distracting herself and spending/wasting her time without meeting anyone in person, and she would be fine. She had allowed Karen to come and was willing to spend her precious time only to listen to her problems because, again, she cared for her. She didn’t want her to feel alone, lonely, ignored, and rejected, especially after Karen told her about her problems with those many people, about her anxiety. She was trying to be understanding! But if she told Karen all of these, maybe Karen would be sad? And that’s not what she wanted. Or would it be considered gaslighting? But what about her own feelings? Her own mental health? Did Karen care at all?
And Zahra was still trying to not lose it. She was really tired of it. She really felt upset and sad because Karen seemed to think that she did nothing wrong and, in fact, believed that Zahra was the one who’s in the wrong for making her uncomfortable, being rude, disrespectful, etc. She wanted to tell Karen how sad she was, how bad Karen has made her feel, but if she was angry now, she’s afraid she’d regret it later, so she chose to just swallow it and let her go. She made it clear to Karen that she didn’t hate her, and maybe it’s best to just forget it since they’ve tried to clear the misunderstanding. Zahra was still sad, but again, Karen has been talking bout depression, anxiety, and stuff, and Zahra simply didn’t want to make it worse.
Karen said okay and proceeded to talk a bit about their work before, again, telling her another problem she had with another person. And then she left.
Zahra was so upset that night. She felt like telling the whole world about what had happened. But if she did that, would that be fair considering that it would be a one-sided story, a story only from her side? So she was wondering how Karen would share her side of the story. Like, how come she misinterpreted things and got mad about them when Zahra should be the one getting mad? Now she coudn’t help wondering about all the problems Karen told her about various people. She started believing that perhaps she’s got some issues. It made her wonder that the problems Karen had with the people she’s been telling her were actually caused by Karen herself. But then if Zahra said it like that, would that be considered gaslighting?
She still didn’t hate Karen. She truly cared for her and hoped the best for her. But she couldn’t deny that she was disappointed. She remembered this quote she read some time ago, “Stay away from people who can’t take responsibility for their actions and who make you feel bad for being angry at them when they do you wrong.” That explained perfectly what happened that night, what Karen did, and how she had made her feel. She was sad. And she was wondering if, in the process of suppressing her fury and her efforts to care for Karen’s feelings and well-being, she was actually invalidating her own feelings. She was sad. She recalled that Karen didn’t even apologize. Instead of apologizing, Karen did make excuses. She couldn’t help wondering if she’d been too nice to Karen that when she expressed her causal disappointment Karen thought she was just being rude. Zahra was disappointed. But she didn’t expect too much from her anyway so she hoped she could just sleep it away…
And days passed, Karen stopped coming to Zahra’s place. Zahra didn’t care anymore. She knew she wasn’t in the wrong. But then a few weeks later, Karen knocked on her door. She was wondering if she could borrow Zahra’s bike. Well, Zahra has moved on. She didn’t really use the bike anyway, so she let Karen borrow it. Still, she didn’t feel the same as before.