Gaslighting and Distortion Campaigns

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I want to talk about a specific topic–gaslighting.  What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and/or psychological manipulation and intimidation wherein a person, the abuser, presents some kind of false information to the victim in an effort to manipulate perceptions and memory.  The end result of this manipulation is that the victim of the gaslighting feels crazy and doubts their own intuition and ability to remember information, observations, and events or even trust themselves.  The term ‘gaslighting’ was taken from the play and subsequent adapted 1944 film “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman.  The plot involved her cruel husband’s deliberate effort to drive her crazy by dimming the gaslights but claiming that it was only her imagination when she commented on the flickering of the lights.

Why discuss gaslighting? Well, it’s something I’ve not discussed yet, and it only just occurred to me that if you have a manipulative or abusive person in your life, or even someone with these tendencies–then you’ve probably been gaslighted.

My mother contacted me this week through my husband, and, as is her usual manner, she pretended to be loving, but she was entirely self-centered.  The tone of the email was demanding and controlling.  After I read it, I felt confused and crazy.  I felt like I was the one with the problem.  I didn’t understand what was being done to me; I’m usually so clear in my thinking.  I let it sit for a day as is my habit but then came up empty–“Why do I feel crazy?”  A few hours later, a very clear thought popped into my mind: “You are being gaslighted.”  It was a stunning moment of clarity.  I wanted to slap myself on the forehead like the actors do on the V-8 commercials.  I yelled out, “She’s been gaslighting me for years!” My husband yelled from the bedroom, “Who’s been gaslighting you for years?” Oh…right.  My inner monologue just went live.

Gaslighting was not something that my therapist and I ever covered in therapy.  While my therapist did teach me how to talk to my mother–perhaps while she was trying to gaslight me–he never used the term.  I now know how to deal with a person when they are “diverting”, but there are other gaslighting techniques that feel shocking in the moment.  My father’s first go-to manipulation technique was gaslighting.  I am seeing now that my mother uses gaslighting more often than I realized.  If I feel crazy, then someone’s probably gaslighting me.

So, what does gaslighting look like in action?

  •  Blocking and Diverting: gaslighting techniques whereby a person changes the conversation from the subject matter to questioning the victim’s thoughts and controlling the conversation.  This can also show up in the conversation as the logical fallacy known as the ad hominem attack.  (“You’re just bitter.”  “You’re throwing my past in my face.”  “I guess I’m just a bad mother then!”  “Well, I guess I’m just a failure!”)
  •  Trivializing: this technique involves making the victim believe his or her thoughts or needs aren’t important.  ( “How can we move on as a family if we aren’t talking to each other?”  “How could I ever deal with _______? Just get over it and be happy for God’s sake!”  “Oh, I have some problems controlling my anger, I guess, but you just need to get over everything and forgive.  Good people forgive.”  “So what that I’ve ignored you for five years? I’m talking to you now.  Let’s just let the past go…” )
  • Abusive “forgetting” and “denial” can also be forms of gaslighting:  This is an interesting gaslighting technique.  A person can deny or “not recall” any behavior they choose citing that they don’t remember.  ( “I never said that.” “I don’t remember doing that.”  “I don’t remember your wedding going like that.  I remember it going wonderfully! How could you possibly be angry with me for something I don’t even remember!”  It’s from this point that an abuser will often move directly into countering which calls into question the victim’s capacity to remember events and information correctly–“I wonder if perhaps you are even capable of remembering things properly.  I mean, I remember enjoying myself.  Maybe you’re just a bitter person.” This is an ad hominem attack.)
  •  Countering: this technique involves an abuser vehemently calling into question a victim’s memory in spite of the victim having remembered things correctly. ( “You have a child’s memory.  I’m an adult.  That’s not what happened.”  “You don’t remember it correctly.”  “You were mentally unstable due to __________.  I’m certain you don’t really remember how things really were.” )
  •  Withholding: a gaslighting technique where the abuser feigns a lack of understanding, refuses to listen, and declines sharing his emotions. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  That was never said to me.  I don’t have to sit here and listen to this!”  “You’re just trying to make me feel guilty!” “You’re always using my past against me!”)

What does gaslighting look like specifically? I’ll use the latest contact with my mother as an example or object lesson.

My mother emailed my husband on Wednesday.  She wanted to know how we were “supposed to move forward as a family” if there was no contact.  Please take note that we have two competing assumptions.  She assumes that I want what she wants.  I don’t want to “move forward” as a family.  I want to be respected as a separate person with a separate identity.  I also want to hold her accountable for her behavior.  She does not want this.  She wants to do what she wants at all times without consequence even if what she does meets the criteria for abuse.

In her email, she directly asked the question three times.  Intermingled throughout the email were declarations of “we miss you all so much” and “we’ll do whatever it takes to be in your lives again” punctuated with “I want to know how things are supposed to get better and how we are supposed to be a family if we’re not talking.”  It was not really a loving email.  It was a demanding email.  She was not able to see that her premise was one-sided.  She assumed that moving forward as a “family” was a mutual desire or possibility.  She wants to be a family with me.

Do I want the same thing? The nature of her illness will not allow her to entertain such thoughts.  If she wants it, then everyone wants it.  It is important to understand this when you deal with certain personality disorders.  This isn’t just a deficit in empathy.  This is a breakdown in both cognitive and emotional empathy (Social cognition in BPD).  She also addressed the issue of her friend who phoned me last fall.  As it turns out, my mother did indeed condone her friend’s communication with me in order to act as a mediator even though she knew I didn’t want that.  She attempted to say that she never told her friend that her therapist was trying to contact my therapist, but, according to her, these misunderstandings happen “when people aren’t talking”.

Where is the gaslighting?

  1.  Trivializing: My mother has now decided that she wants a relationship with me after five years of ignoring me.  It’s important to really understand that.  Is it a reasonable expectation to call a person after five years and pretend that everything in the relationship is just as it was five years ago? No, it’s not.  Five years ago, my mother was already unkind and abusive.  Her washing her hands of me allowed me to make enormous progress in my healing process.  Calling me up and saying, “Hi! I wanna come visit now.  I’ve decided that I don’t want to be alone anymore, and you should be there for me.  It doesn’t matter how I treated you in the past.  I’m your mother.  Sorry about that.  So, what’s a good time for a visit?” is wrong! It trivializes the magnitude of her transgressions.
  2. Withholding: She is also withholding any kind of understanding of her actions–“I don’t understand.  I was angry.  So, I didn’t talk to you for a few years.  We’re family.  I’m coming to visit.  I don’t want to be alone now.”  
  3. Blocking, diverting, and the ad hominem attack: If I try to hold her accountable for her actions, my mother’s favorite gaslighting technique is to block or divert.  Her first line of defense is to say something like, “Well, I’m so sorry that I’m such a failure!” or “You’re just trying to make me feel bad!” or “Well, I guess I knew that you couldn’t be counted on to be reasonable.  You claim to be a Christian, but really you’re just bitter, resentful, and unforgiving!”  She’ll aim for character assassination in a heartbeat.
  4. Withholding again: It’s important not to miss her reasoning behind the misunderstanding regarding her friend.  “If families don’t talk, then these kinds of things happen because we can’t clear things up right away.”  She is essentially blaming me for the misunderstanding because I am the one who has declared the moratorium on contact.  She is engaging in withholding here because she is refusing to understand the wrongdoing.  I asked for no contact, but she chose to send her friend to act as a mediator instead of respecting the boundary.  Whatever misunderstanding happens from there is fruit of the poisonous tree.  There should have been no contact.  That phone call should never have occurred and would never have occurred had she respected my boundaries in the first place.

What is the best strategy to handle blockingdiverting, and the ad hominem attack?

  • “If you want to talk about your feeling like a failure, then we can in a moment.  But, right now, we’re talking about this.”
  • “If you want to discuss your perception that I’m deliberately trying to make you feel bad, then we can after we finish discussing this poor choice you made.”
  • “If you want to discuss your perception that I’m a no good Christian with a bitter nature, then we can after we’ve discussed your inappropriate behavior.”

This is the best strategy for countering this gaslighting technique.  It keeps you in control of the conversation.  Mind you, if you’re talking to a person with an untreated personality disorder, then be prepared for a big emotional expression.  It’s very difficult to bring accountability to the table with an untreated personality disorder, but at least you won’t get steamrolled and feel crazy at the end of it.

Along with my mother’s email came an epiphany that, to me, was even more sinister than gaslighting–the vilification or distortion campaign.  What is a distortion campaingn?

One of the classic behaviors of a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder is the vilification campaign. The target is the person against whom the perpetrator Borderline conducts the vilification.  The intent is to destroy the target’s reputation and thereby destroy the target’s relationships with family and friends, employers, co-workers, doctors, teachers, therapists, and others. The intent may even be to force the target to leave the community, put the target in prison, or even kill the target.  As with so many things involving Borderlines and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries, there really are no limits. They will use basically any means available to them to cause damage to their target, including denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others (including their children!) to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign. (online source)

As it turns out, my mother told her friend last fall that I was an emotionally unstable woman due to my experience with human trafficking–something that happened almost twenty years ago!  This was what my mother’s friend was referring to when she said, “Now, now, I know what happened to you in Florida…”  She was trying to reason with me thinking I had gone off the proverbial deep end.  My mother has also gone to other family members and claimed that I have cut her off for no good reason.  She has told others that I am keeping her from her grandchildren.  She has cried in front of them.  She has told friends and family how wounded and alone she is, and it’s ALL…MY…FAULT.  I have been completely vilified.  Why? So that she can garner sympathy.

What stunned me yesterday was learning that she used the most painful of my life experiences to gain the upper hand in crafting the appearance of her being the victimized one.  I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.  I thought that I knew the entirety of her capabilities.  I was wrong.

What is the antidote to this kind of suffering?

It is imperative that you know who you are.  Your identity has to be worked out, properly fenced in, and defined by something much more powerful than the one manipulating, disempowering, and vilifying you.  In my case, there are people in my life who know me well, and they stand by me.  They can vouch for my character.

A bigger more powerful truth always snuffs out a lie that feels true in the moment.  This is why gaslighting and distortion campaigns are so toxic and damaging.  They both take truth and manipulate it in order to victimize and oppress.  In order to avoid victimization, we have to know who we are and what our permissions are.  What do I mean about permissions?  We were made for freedom and empowerment.  We were made for clear thinking which is the definition of self-control.  We were made for an immensity of joy and peace.  And, we were made to experience these things within our relationships.  We were not made to be oppressed, victimized, abused, and hurt in the name of toxic love.  We were not made to take responsibility for other people’s “stuff”.  We were not made to overcompensate for other people’s willful passivity.  We were made to be the star of our own stories.  So, if you are starring in someone else’s story, then get out of their story and allow that person to expand.  If someone is pushing you out of the starring role of your own life story, then push them out of your story so that you can stand up straight and expand into your proper place.  This is God’s intention for all of us.

Once again, if you feel victimized and crazy, unable to trust yourself or your instincts, then you may be experiencing some form of manipulation.  For further education:

How do you know if you are being gaslighted? If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may be dancing the Gaslight Tango. Take care of yourself by taking another look at your relationship, talking to a trusted friend; and, begin to think about changing the dynamic of your relationship . Here are the signs: 
1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself
2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
4. You’re always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
5. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists. 
10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
13. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
14. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses. (Are You Being Gaslighted?)

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39 thoughts on “Gaslighting and Distortion Campaigns

  1. Wow, I had no idea that “it” had a name and that “it” was as complex as you described but every bit of your post resonated deeply with me. I was primed by my gas lighting mother only to run from her straight into the arms of an even better more craftier gas lighter. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, its extremely helpful to me to know it has a name and that I’m not crazy for feeling crazy.

    • Oh, it’s my pleasure and privilege. I’m so glad it was useful to you! Isn’t it the strangest feeling when you find out that your experience is part of a larger experience? It has a name and others experience it, too? I have found it to be so comforting.

      • it definitely is a strange feeling and yes the comfort is reassuring. There s oddly comfort as well in knowing other have experienced it as well. Although its unfortunate that someone else has had to experience these too.

        • Well, knowing that you’re not alone in your experience means that it’s common. This means that you are part of a group or a community of others potentially like you which can add meaning to your experience because it takes the power away from the crazymaking. That’s where a great deal of the power comes from in gaslighting. We are told that WE have the problem. Everyone else is “normal” and because there was never a problem until WE pointed it out we are thusly the problem. If we meet other people who have been treated the same way, then how could all of those people be problems, too? Isn’t it possible then that the ones doing the gaslighting have a problem? Shared experience is powerful. Oftentimes it’s the very thing needed to turn things around for victims of abuse.

          • Yes, you hit the nail on the head! I have been struggling with finding a way to try to relate events to my new therapist. My main issue with sharing events that had happened to me while in the depths of my past abuse was that nobody would believe me because I had trouble believing myself most of the time due to what I now recognize as gas lighting. This one concept has given me a strength back that I didn’t even realize I had given up to him a long time ago. Again thank you for sharing your journey.

          • I am so glad to hear this! Gaslighting is something that is so insidious and leads to such self-doubt and a corrosion of believing your instincts. You begin to even doubt that you saw a “red flag”. It is…evil. It takes away your sense of self and identity when it’s longterm. What I have begun to do is take a part past events that really stand out to me–the ones that feel the worst–and find the gaslighting. A bit like I did on that post. A “Where’s The Gaslighting?” exercise. When you begin to learn to find it, you begin to learn how it works, and, in the process of doing these exercises helps you reclaim the pieces of yourself that have been tamped down and silenced. This also helps with self-loathing.

          • Its funny because I have been contemplating that maybe I have BPD but I’m wondering if lately my symptoms are more from the complex ptsd and possibly learned behavior from growing up with a mother who has BPD. There are some similarities but the biggest ones are that I have always sought out treatment and continue to try sort out my inconsistencies as compared to my mom and a few others I know who absolutely refuse to peek under that mask that is themselves to find some kind of resolution. Have you ever seen the movie The Labyrinth? This is the perfect representation I can find that really nails that crazy making feelings and confusion and at the end the girl solves the puzzle and she conquers the evil by seeing that if she doesn’t allow it, it has no power over her. That’s her line “you have no power over me” and the illusion shatters and her reality is restored. Now rethinking it , it is an awesome representation of gas lighting;-)

          • C+PTSD is often attachment based which would probably make sense in terms of your relating to at BPD DX. I’ve often postulated that for those of us who grow up with a BPD parent, we either end up codependent or repeating the cycle with a personality disorder simply because we aren’t able to individuate and learn how to avoid the longing to merge with that great fear of abandonment. The fact that you seek out treatment is so telling. Plus, new studies are showing that even BPD and other Axis II DXes are treatable. I think the biggest issue I have had to overcome–the one I learned–is splitting. Once I became aware of it, I was able to do something about it. It’s not an issue for me now. So, I think self-awareness is key and a desire to always progress and learn. And yes, I DO know Labyrinth. It’s my daughter’s favorite movie, and I’ve often remembered the ending quote: “You have no power of me.” I think it’s a powerful film for so many reasons not the least of which is Bowie’s pants!! Those pants…..OMG!

          • Oh my gosh that’s funny his pants yes, what were they thinking?! Again hitting the nail on the head, My new therapist is treating me with an attachment based approach which is really neat and new to me. I’m not entirely sure of what the term splitting means?? I have been working on co-dependent issues for a very long time. I can remember being probably around 9 or 10 years old and trying on the different masks my mother would put on. We moved every six months if not more and each place we moved to it would mean possibilities of a new identity. I remember thinking how exhausting it was to keep up the facade even for short periods of time. I remember telling a story to a friend entirely made up and her believing me and then saying to her “well that’s not true but wouldn’t it be cool”. and that was that. I definitely can mold myself in such a quiet manner so to speak to just be agreeable to the point of letting people think I agreed with what they believed even when I didn’t have a real opinion on the matter but to be like and excepted it was defiantly easier than the blatant facade my mom did. That was definitely my defense mechanism that I’m still working to improve upon . I’m sure there are more things but it’s a one day at a time kinda thing. This is the first site I have ever found so much information relating to my situation all in the same place. Thanks for the stimulating conversation and awesomely done posts.

          • Splitting is essentially the belief that a person is all good or all bad. It’s a criteria of BPD. For example, when I was a child and even into adulthood my mother would treat me relatively okay, but if I would forget to empty the trash or leave crumbs on the counter, she would launch into invective and destroy me in a rage–“What kind of thoughtless person would leave crumbs on the counter?! Come over here and look at this! Do you see this mess? Do you see? I clean up! I go to ALL this trouble to clean up and keep a clean up, and YOU come in here and leave a mess like this for me? You stupid, thoughtless brat! You are worthless! Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re somehow better than me? Do you?! Answer ME!!!! You think you’re so superior than everyone else, but you’re nothing! NOTHING!” So, that’s splitting. Then, after her rage subsides she seeks merging and it’s all “I love you, I love you, I love you. You’re my daughter, and I can’t live without you. Never leave me.” There is no in-between. NO grey. It’s all black and white. You’ll see this with boyfriends and even platonic relationships. There is a sort of “falling in love” with new people–“Oh, that Susan is such a talented woman!” Everything the new person does is 100% wonderful, and BPDs tend to absorb the personality of others and mimic. But, if Susan were to do something perceived to be a criticism, then watch out! Susan is then Target #1. She is now the embodiment of all that is evil and wrong in the world. A distortion campaign may even be in the works. Make sense?

            Well, what you describe about being the “chameleon” rings true to me. IF you read about separation, individuation, and differentiation–necessary stages of development for children and adolescents–you’ll find that children of BPDs are NOT allowed to do any of them because the act of even separation represents abandonment. So, we learn early on to just be what makes the BPD happy. We don’t develop a true personality of our own until we get away, or we do it covertly. The price is simply too high. My mother had homicidal tendencies so I would take a huge risk if I tried to even disagree with her. It simply wasn’t worth it. I just focused on getting out. But, it’s possible–more than–to do this work as an adult and be very successful. You can do it!!!!!

  2. Bravo! It took me a good, long while to figure out how be the one who looked after my mother when nobody else would communicate with her. I know how hard it is to divert these cycles, but it gets much easier with time.

  3. MJ, I was heartened to read this. I’ve just started reading “Understanding the Borderline Mother,” which is helping me unpack these dynamics. I actually feel like I’m far, far gone in terms of being able to stand on my own identity and perspective within my experiences. After succumbing to violent push and pull of a borderline for so many years and then being asked, even as a small child, to internalize it and feel like its your fault, I’ve grown hopelessly doubtful about my memories.

    In that book I was reading how repeated trauma can damage the memory-making part of the brain, which explains why some borderlines truly don’t remember. But whether there’s an explanation or not, that damage gets done to the kid. As a result I can’t remember much from my childhood and what I do remember I feel nebulous about. So, it really does make it harder to say “this happened, this is how I felt, this is why I acted/reacted as I did.” So when my mom retorts with the “I never said that, I would never do that, you’re remembering wrong” I do feel much more inclined to believe. Her than myself.

    Again, it’s encouraging to see someone else standing up to this. Even if I remember some things wrong I should at least be given the same benefit of the doubt that I extend to others.

    • It pains me to read this, but please know that you are not alone in your efforts. I have been told numerous times that I couldn’t possibly be remembering things properly, I have the memory of a child, etc. It IS possible to heal and grow new neural connections after having been raised by a BPD parent. The brain is always producing new neurons. So, if this is true, then it’s possible to repair damaged tissue by creating new neural pathways. Keep going. A good life is possible for you.

  4. myplace2spu- I totally understand what you are saying! Your experience of feeling like no one would believe you is SO common. It was in sharing an incident with my mother in law that I began to realize how deeply I was affected by my mother’s behavior, and began to understand that I was not crazy. It will take time, but as you go along, you will start to notice memories making more sense, and you’ll be able to put the pieces back together.

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  8. Damn. My mother is both a BPD & a NPD. She used to scream at me “who do you think you are” when she would rage at me for such tiny transgressions. One time I threw a dirty rag in the sink here she was thawing some meat–still in the package, but holy Christ. You would have thought I just went out and slaughtered a village. One time she cracked me across the face when I was 17 and told me I was never too old to hit.

    When I was out house hunting she told me to find a house that was only 20 minutes away. I didn’t. I was the bad child because of this. When I bought a new home in a new city, she bought her my sister a house just down the street.

    Her huge idea was to create a town, where my sister and I would be her next door neighbours, my sister on one side, I lon the other side. It all went to hell, of course. My sister never moved i to that house my mother bought for her. I sold mine and moved to another country.

    My mom liked to enlist my dad to tell me I wasn’t talking to her enough. She would have him swipe my pill bottles so she could spy on what I was taking. She enlisted my sister to help pick on me.

    She’s pretty fracking evil. I live very far away from her, so does my sister and my kids can’t stand her either. Of course I am the bad guy for leaving and she has successfully made my sister hate me. But it’s no great loss, since my sister is a mini-Hitler herself.

    • You have a long and winding journey with your mother and family. You have been through a lot. I am always amazed at how similar the stories are. Your story is yours, and it’s unique to you; and it’s painful. At the same time, their behavior is so similar to other people’s with their tendencies. It’s shocking. I would like to say that you are strong for having made your own way, but, as with all of us who left and made a path of our own, we lost a lot. I hope that you are happy today even though you endured what you did. It’s a lot to overcome, but I hope that you have found a new happiness that belongs entirely to you–not them.

      Thanks for stopping by…Shalom, MJ

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  10. Thank you again for your wise words. I hope you are still writing about this. Writing about it is the one thing that brings any sense of understanding and peace. God bless.

  11. Pingback: Gaslighting and Distortion Campaigns | Out of the Mire – Psychology Blog

  12. God bless you for writing this. I believe that I am being gaslighted by a man at church. I treated his family with kindness; they are poor. However, he grew possessive of me (would throw a hissy fit if he wasn’t the center of my attention) although we were only acquaintances at best. He grabbed my knee inappropriately. I started to put him off and flat out told him his behavior was wrong. I told him I was not interested in him. He then left me three voice mails justifying his behavior. In response to the hissy fits; he claimed not to remember ever being upset. (Of course not.) He has given people the impression that we are the best of friends, when nothing could be further from the truth. He has also struck up a friendship with one of the ladies in choir. I suspect, but cannot prove, that he is trying to destroy my reputation — some things have happened, choir related, that seem off. I was considering going to my pastor. The only thing that I know for certain: I cannot feed his excessive need for attention and that I will not be guilted, manipulated, nor forced to do so.

    • Three voicemails? I am sorry that you are experiencing any kind of harassment. If you really feel that you are experiencing any kind of social harassment from this man, then may I suggest that you document everything particularly if you need to bring in an outside person like a pastor.

      Save the voicemails if you can. Document dates, places, and interactions. Document what he said and did. Distortion campaigns are very hard to prove by nature because they deal in perception. And, the culture of a church is the perfect place to do something like that because there is a history within church culture of blaming and stigmatizing victims: “Now, now, are you believing the best of this person? What would Jesus do? He needs to be loved through whatever he’s going through. You need to forgive him,” etc, etc. Church leadership, in general, is seldom prepared for dealing with personality disorders or people with manipulative tendencies. They simply have not had the training. Your intuition may be right on, but you need documentation.

      Plus, speaking from personal experience, when you begin documenting dangerous and/or manipulative behavior, you start to feel empowered again. You can’t really document a feeling or even a moment when someone looks at you funny. Churches and church choirs are hotbeds for gossip unfortunately. But you can be a paragon of good character and give people nothing to talk about in all that you do and say. You can be the plumbline for what it means to be a good person. Sometimes that’s enough to shut down distortion campaigns.

      Also, if he is deceptive, the good people around will be able to sniff that out. Playing the victim and starting trouble to meet his needs are maladaptive coping strategies that he uses because he’s had to; if he’s come from an impoverished background, then he probably has a harrowing story. He is doing what he knows to get his needs met. He is most likely doing what has been modeled for him and what has always worked.

      You are not, however, responsible for him as he is an adult. So, document what happened between you two. The inappropriate touching, the voicemails, and elaborate and describe what a “hissy fit” is. Did he yell? Did he invade your personal space? Did he insult you? Did he refuse to own his behavior? What does that mean? Write all that down in very clear language.

      And then document what “things have happened” in choir that lead you to believe he may be engaging in a distortion campaign in choir.

      Also, be sure to describe what his possessive behavior looked like after you helped him. He is a part of a helping community. This is the part of what you describe that feels most alarming. If he did it to you, then he may do it again. And, this is probably the biggest reason to report him. Is he aligning himself with women? Are you single? Does he seem to ask for help from single women? When he is rebuffed, is this when the harassment begins? That alone is worth reporting. So, pay attention to whom he is getting close to in choir now.

      Is he charming? Is he charismatic? Is he highly believable? Were you taken in by his story? All things worth noting.

      Were you manipulated into helping him the first time but just didn’t know it? That’s always the hardest question to answer. Were you duped? But, that’s important to think on because then you know whether to look for a pattern of behavior in him socially now.

      Distortion campaigns and gaslighting rarely happen in the context of healthy people. It’s always complicated and painful. I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. Shalom to you…

  13. MJ,
    Thanks so much for your advice and support. Fortunately, I journal. Unfortunately, I only have approximate dates. I will start drafting a timeline, including descriptions of his behavior, in case I have to go to the Pastor about it.

    I have seen this illness before — though, at the time I didn’t realize what it was.

    There are two women who can help me. They observed some of the behavior. I will try to get in touch with them as well.

    One time, when I was lector, I sat two pews back from them. (He and his mother always sit in the front row). During the Our Father, he reached back, waving his hand, looking at me, expecting me to take his hand. Instead, I took the hand of the woman next to me, in my pew. He turned back to his mother, was shaking his head angrily, (I don’t know what was said); he shook her hand off angrily too. The best way to describe it is a temper tantrum.

    Other incidents like this have happened. Sometimes, it’s just crossing his arms and sighing loudly when I’m talking to someone else and he’s nearby. He has tried to sit close to me, invading my space; I would move. There were times when I shook his hand and he would pull me into a hug, like a demand. When preparing for a mass, I saw him glaring at me, as he was talking to a friend of mine. It looked like she was trying to calm him down as she looked at me too. Also, after mass, in front of the entire choir, he asked how I was doing, since he “hadn’t heard from me in a couple days,” trying to make it appear that we talk all the time. In truth, this followed me telling him that I no longer wanted to talk to him at all.

    When I called him out on it, he wouldn’t “remember,” or would deny, or justify his behavior.

    Currently, he spends a lot of time talking to one of the ladies that I sit next to in choir. He also seems to align himself with older women.

    I am single. However, the way that I came into contact with him is by his mother. I met her (and him) at a reconciliation service. I actually talked to her mostly. (She was going through a hard time).

    As far as being charismatic, I don’t see that in him. I don’t want to underestimate him though.

    As far as the choir goes, I may/may not be overreacting. I feel like I am being cut out of certain activities that I would normally participate in…I’m not certain. Perhaps, I am being paranoid.

    God bless

    PS: Is there anyway that I can change the name portion on my last post to just my initials?

    • I changed your name on your other comment at your request No problem! It sounds like you have everything covered and have the necessary resources and savvy. That’s really good. I wish you all the best in this situation. Shalom…MJ

      • MJ,
        Thanks so much for your support and understanding. I have seen the Pastor twice now. The first time, he offered to talk to him. The individual then backed off for awhile.
        Then, the weekend before last, he came up to me while I was talking to a friend. I pretended not to notice him; another person engaged him in conversation and I made my exit.
        This past weekend, I had to host sign-up tables. At one of the masses, I was by myself. H

          • MJ,
            Everything is going much, much better.
            He doesn’t contact me outside of church and he has stopped going to the same masses that I do. He did go to one of our parish missions (I was slated to read) and left immediately after my reading. I believe our Pastor had another talk with him.
            I saw him one other time (D– at a directory photo session – held in the church “social hall.” I was helping with hosting. I did my job (check-in) but did not let him steer the conversation to personal matters. I took control and stayed on target.
            In some ways, I feel sorry for him — I do believe him to be a victim of abuse.

      • Thanks so much for your understanding and support. I have since gone to the pastor. He has talked to this individual. He backed off for a little while. Let’s call this problematic individual M.

        Then, two weekends ago, M. tried to come up to talk to me; I was talking to a friend and just ignored him. Someone else engaged him in conversation and I was able to make my exit.

        This past weekend though, M came up to me while I was alone, working sign-up tables for photography (church directory). The mass was just beginning (fortunately, the pastor saw this before he headed into the church for the mass). M started to ask me about the photo sessions upcoming; I tried to shut him down and told him that his mother had all of that information. Then, M told me that he tried to let me know last weekend that his mother was in a nursing home. Having talked to his mother in setting up their appointment session, I knew that he was exaggerating the details of her medical situation. (M said “she was foaming at the mouth,” couldn’t remember her name or the date, etc. whilst she had given me a very different account). He came up to the table later, this time to invite me to his mother’s birthday party. He stressed that it would be a public event and that he was inviting me since I was a friend of his mother. Then, he told me that he was “seeing someone else” and that I “didn’t have to worry.”

        I could not believe the words coming out of his mouth. As indicated in my previous posts, there is no way on God’s green earth that I would even consider “seeing him.” I was a bit shocked that he would even suggest this.

        Then, he said, “I’m going to stop chasing you, as you asked.”

        I actually told him “don’t chase me” a year and a half ago. Gee, thanks.

        At the time, I was too surprised to say anything. Though I am sure that the disgust showed on my face, I didn’t explode. I just tried to go back to what I was doing. I believe any strong reaction on my part would encourage more of the same behavior. Confronting him with the truth only seems to lead to him being defensive and lying some more. He will never accept any truth other than the “truth” that he has concocted in his head.

        At this point, I do not think that I can even associate with his mother in limited terms. I believe he is using her to try to draw me back into an association with him. This is not without cause.

        He has used his brother in this manner. His brother was ill recently; his mother came up to me in church (with M in tow) and asked me to pray for her other son. I ignored M and told his mother I would. Briefly following this, he came up to the choir area (before a mass) and asked people to pray for his brother, saying “I expect you to pray for him too, J”.

        Also, I just don’t believe him when he says “I’m going to stop chasing you.”

        I have already talked to the pastor (who is going to talk to him again). I will talk to the director of music this week.

        God bless

          • I don’t feel very safe. M. smirked when he said that he was “going to stop chasing me.” To me, it seemed as though he was enjoying causing me discomfort. I believe he may be NPD and possibly bipolar.

            I do feel better after talking to the director of music (he recommended that I talk to both priests and deacons). I talked to the other priest assigned to our parish as well as a deacon. They will intervene should this individual try to approach me again. Our pastor is also going to talk to him again.

            I should mention that I completed CBT a couple years ago for other traumatic experiences (rape/molestation etc.) I see in M. the same sickness that I saw in the person that molested me. However, in the person who molested me, I saw remorse as well. I don’t see this in M.

            On the upside: M. doesn’t call/text anymore. He does not have my email address; nor does he have my current physical address (unless he was able to find it on the internet). He does have my phone number, but I have caller ID and can block his calls. He just approaches me in person at church. (In the past, I have seen him at a grocery store that I go to, but this hasn’t happened for awhile).

            I think that I have done everything that I can do at this point. My biggest fear is that he will try something and that I will freeze (I froze before). Though, to be honest, in those traumatic incidents, I was not on my guard. This situation is a bit different. I also have some training in self defense.

            Sometimes it is a struggle to get motivated and focus on daily activities. As I write this, I feel sick to my stomach. I don’t know if the fear is exaggerated at this point (based more in my past experiences). I don’t know if he is just trying to intimidate as he’s being forced to “back off.” The only thing I know is that I cannot trust/associate with this person.

          • If you have enough documentation and he begins calling and emailing you, you could file for a TOR. So, keep that in mind. You’ve been through trauma so you are probably more attuned to anything predatory in other people. So, go with your gut. If he is not calling or emailing you and he is not contacting you in any way outside of your common social setting, then he’s either 1) very socially ignorant after having been spoken to or 2) enjoying jerking you around.

            At that point, give him nothing then. When he approaches, give him no response. Smile, nod, and walk away. He only does what he does because he gets something out of it. Remove that element, and he stops (yes, yes, someone could argue that he might escalate because he really likes what he’s getting). Well, then you’ll have more behavior to document which will get you that much closer to the police for an order of protection and charges being filed on him. So, either way, you get to be the empowered one. Either way, he loses via the short game or the long one.

            It’s an uncomfortable situation. I’m sorry that you’re experiencing that.

          • Thanks again. I am hoping that the second conversation with the Pastor will be enough for him to back off permanently. I will do my best not to give him a response.

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