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Gaslighting: 3 Coconuts and a Red Ball

Recently I had one of our Brave One partners ask a question about her husband’s porn use. More specifically and painfully the extent that he went to cover-up for his behavior. As I was responding to her question I thought it would make a good blog topic as so many of us have situations that are very similar.

 

Buckle up as this story made me feel dizzied just by hearing about it.

 

Original Blog comment:

“The issue with my husband is pornography. The problem is, he denies he looks at it, even when I show him the evidence. To this day he swears he was pulling up those websites to see if I was checking on him. How can I move forward and trust him when I feel in my gut he HAS to be lying? I have literally begged him, sobbing, to please tell me the truth and take this burden off me. It was at that point that he came up with the story of accessing the site on purpose to see if I would say anything. This whole experience is very new. I have only known about it for about a month. He gets angry when I mention it and he always tries to turn the argument around so that I’m the one who is doing something wrong. It’s infuriating, and I literally feel crushed and stupefied by it all. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if God wants me to stay here and forgive or if I’m justified and right about wanting to leave. I literally can’t think about anything else right now. I just ordered your new book and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Thank you for everything you are putting out there and for putting God in the middle of it.”

 

First off, I want to point you all to a chapter in my book “Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal” called “Gaslighting, Deception, and Blame…Oh My!”

It’s filled with really practical tools that help you to do 3 things:

  1. Empower you to hold onto yourself
  2. Encourage you to remember what you saw
  3. Embrace your truth and trust your gut.

Second, I want to tell you about something I keep in my office just for this very conversation:  3 Coconuts and a Red Ball

The red ball represents the evidence you saw. It’s known as discovery or what you found. The coconuts represent the sleight of hand; lies that are aimed at covering up what you found. These are the lies that seem to move around on the table, right in front of your eyes. The hope is to make you lose track of that red ball. When we lose track of that red ball the original event seems to vanish into thin air. What your husband is doing is not only lying, but it’s a form of lying called gaslighting.

So let’s go back to the original comment and think about 3 things he said.

  1. He’s pulling up porn in order to see if you are checking on him.
  2. He thinks that something is very wrong with the idea that you would be “checking on him” after you found evidence of him looking at porn.
  3. He tells you he’s decided to look at porn websites to make sure that you’re not checking on him.

This is CRAZY-making at its worst and best. “Gaslighting happens when someone strategically twists the truth to make us believe we’re crazy or something’s wrong with us to cover their own deceptive behavior.” (pg. 241 in Intimate Deception). Gaslighting eventually causes us to question ourselves. It can cause us to question our own intuition and gut. Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse.

Truth – you are not crazy. Crazy is happening around you. Deception looks that way. You didn’t do anything wrong. I want you to trust yourself and what you remember seeing right in front of you. You do this by keeping your eyes on that red ball. When someone is gaslighting you, we can’t build trust.

We can confront the lie and hold onto our truth by saying one of these 3 things:

  • “Interesting. That’s not how I remember it.”
  • “I don’t remember saying it that way.”
  • “We may have to agree to disagree on this one.”

Lying erodes trust. We can’t build trust on deception. See if your husband will listen to how his lies are hurting you. Some men wake up and change how they’re treating you when they become aware of what they’re doing.

If there is no effort or change. Why would you forgive someone who is currently lying to you to the point that it’s causing you grave harm? As I talk about in my book, when someone is gaslighting you to cover up their deceptive acts it’s not the time to forgive. It’s time to focus on getting safe.

Your gratitude for putting God in the middle of it is interesting. In fact, check out God’s point of view about lying as reflected in the Proverbs.

There are six things that God hates
No, seven things that God detests:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill the innocent.
a heart that plots evil,
feet that race to do wrong,
a false witness who pours out lies,
a person who sows discord in a family.

 

Looks to me like gaslighting made the list. It’s not okay, yesterday, today or tomorrow. Hang onto your truth because you are worth it!

Brave On!

Dr. Sheri

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Dr. Sheri and Brave Ones,
    Thank you for your heart and ministry to those of us who have suffered the ultimate betrayal(s). I attended Women in The Battle almost four years ago in August 2014, following my husband’s complete disclosure on July 13, 2014.

    Regarding gas lighting, and lying/manipulation; my husband was a master at moving those coconuts around! I was anxious, dazed, broken, angry and depressed for 20 years before I heard you mention this at the WITB weekend.

    I hung on to that. I had stopped trusting my gut sometime back in our relationship; very foolish. ALWAYS trust your gut; God gives women a heart and an intuition for perceiving our environment to help us seek safety and truth. The only things I have regretted are when I did not trust my gut, and allowed my husband’s lies, or a situation, to over-take me. I was “quick to forgive”, over and over again.

    Additionally, I believe that the more controlling the addiction, the more skilled in deception we become. When we are wounded, we can’t properly care for ourselves. What hurts the most, is the one person who is to love, cherish and protect us, can’t be trusted. He is so deeply rooted in the lies of the enemy and addiction, that he can not see what he is doing…extracting life and love, moment by moment.

    I hope and pray that husbands and boyfriends out there will seek the help of Every Man’s Battle, Christian counselors and mentors that will help them become truthful and real, working on that journey to sexual integrity and trust.

    I pray healing over every woman who has been injured by betrayal—
    seek safety, Christian counseling, and stay informed with Dr. Sheri, her teachings and restorative works for your broken heart.

    From, one who knows betrayal too well; but on a journey to complete healing!
    Love and hugs,
    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for encouraging us with your words of wisdom and hope. And you’re right the more embedded someone is in their sexual acting out, the greater chance of us being harmed. I’d like to give a shout out to the Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT at IITAP.org) and Certified Clinical Partner Specialists (APSATS.org) who are very familiar with gaslighting and how to treat someone with a sex addiction. Getting into the right hands is a critical piece to getting to the other side of this.

      I’m for you all and desire you get what each one of you needs. We need each other in our journey and I love seeing you encourage each other through these comments. Support is so important. My heart swells with love for each one of you!

      Brave On!

      Dr. Sheri

  2. Dear Sheri,
    Today is my first visit to your website I have heard you on New life live and Leslie Vernicks website. I found out about your book Intimate Deception and immediately got it and I have started reading it. I’m writing today because I’m so overwhelmed that I can only read a few pages at a time and put it down. I have been married for 34 years. 9 years ago I found hundreds of p*** sites on my husband’s computer. I wrote down every single link because I knew if I didn’t have proof he would just deny it. FIrst he was sorry but I look back now and see I forgave him too easily and quickly and all his promises to never do it again have been broken more than once. There is a lot more to the story which I will not go into here . Reading your book is like reading my own story in terms of my reactions, and how I feel and how it has affected me. I look back and see there were red flags from our first date and I didn’t listen to my gut. I was so needy and just enjoyed his attention and charm I was only 19 and very trusting and innocent and he was from a good Christian family. I told myself what I was feeling was my imagination. He spent our entire first date gaslighting me although I didn’t know then what it was . I look back now and see that was his test of me and I now feel like I was just his toy to play with and it makes me feel very angry . For the past 5 years I have been reading, listening to, and learning all kinds of things online to try and figure all of this out and how healing and what to do goes along with my faith and what I’ve been taught about marriage forgiveness, submission, Etc. I’ve learned a lot listening to New Life and being part of Leslie’s website which I just found recently as well. I’m at the point where God feels so far away and I doubt everything I’ve ever believed and been taught, although I know the Bible is true and I believe God is with me. I know I am his child. When I read your book I say I don’t think I can do this, and then I say but I have to do this there is no other choice. Thank you for writing your book and being so open and vulnerable in it, thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine the numbers of women you are helping and are going to help through this.

    Jenny

    1. Hi Jenny,

      Thank you for reaching out and for being so honest about your pain and how things have been over this past 9 years after discovery. My heart grieves over all the sites you found. I completely understand why you have to read a few pages at a time. It can be overwhelming in a challenging way to hear someone’s story….and it can be overwhelming to relate to my story in a good way. It’s how we know we’re not alone. I actually can’t wait for you to read my chapter on “Where is God?” and parts of the book, including Chapter 20 where you will see God’s heart for us. I talk about “The Dirty Dozen” which are the layers of trauma we experience from all this….one of them can be a spiritual or faith trauma. I know, I’ve been there too.

      Take care of yourself while you read. And think about not doing this alone. There are betrayal trauma support groups through APSATS.org for women like us. Again, it’s nice to know you’re not alone and women are amazing at sharing resources. I love that you are “a learner” AND I am loving that you are connected to Leslie as well. We are doing her Conquer conference together in October 12-13. I will be speaking there.

      Please feel free to follow me on FB or Instagram as I think about and pray for you as you are walking this out. I never imagined that the most painful season of my life could be used to bring direction, hope and support to you and others Jenny. I am for you!

      Warmly,
      Dr. Sheri

  3. Heard your podcast interview on BTR. I’ve been devouring books on betrayal trauma for a year now. I’m so thankful for all the information that has helped me understand the abuse I’ve been in for 37 years. I’m learning to love myself again and set boundaries and find stay in my power. My husband doesn’t get it yet. He is the cheap sorrys type. Minimizes his addiction and maximizes my response as crazy. I’m beginning to see a change in his thinking but it’s hard to trust. We are separated and I just started to allow communication through email. If he is serious about the recovery work how long does it take for them to start understanding how they have devestated their family?

    1. Hi Janette,

      First off, I am deeply sorry about the pain that both you and your family have experienced. When I googled the word devastated it describes what’s happened to you: it means to “destroy or ruin (something) or to cause (someone) severe and overwhelming shock or grief.” It sounds like you have established some boundaries with your separation in hopes of waking him up to the seriousness of how his sexual deception is harming you. To see a change in “his thinking” is a good sign. It’s a beginning. It’s what happens when he begins to come out of denial. Then comes steps like ownership, accountability, sobriety, entering into a truth telling process – therapeutic full disclosure (check out chapter 17 “To Tell the Truth” in my book “Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal”), and consistency in his 12-step SA recovery and therapy over time.

      But what you are asking about is a heart issue. You are asking how long it will take for him to “get it.” You are asking how long it will take to move how he’s devastated you from his head to his heart. I wish that it happened quickly but it doesn’t. You see, he not only has to come out of denial and do his recovery work, he needs to be open to “feeling” the pain of what he has done and how it’s hurt you. In essence, that’s empathy. Denial keeps him out of that. Denial defends him from feeling.

      Truth-telling gets him into honesty. Truth-telling helps to open his eyes to the devastation he has caused. Truth-telling helps him to see how much he’s done to hurt you. Someone can’t really begin to “feel the full weight” of what they’ve done until they “see what they’ve done” first. After I walk couples through a therapeutic full disclosure, the wife works on an impact letter. It’s a letter she writes to talk about how she’s been impacted by his betrayals.

      When do I see men’s heartfelt empathy toward their wives over what they’ve done….it’s usually somewhere deep into the couple’s recovery process. It’s very different than a “cheap sorry” and we know it when they “get it and feel it.” We know it because we can feel it too.

      Warmly,
      Dr. Sheri

  4. I am recovering from the trauma of betrayal. I have seen changes in my husband’s behavior – steps in the right direction. However, I don’t think my husband will ever be able to journey through the pain he caused. I honestly think he has a wounded soul and could not bear the pain, so he will not even step into that arena. He has no ability to feel empathy for anything. I think emotions cause him too much pain. I’m trying to stay for my son, but wondering if it’s worth it.

    1. Thanks for reaching out to talk about PAIN. Yes, you’re right there is pain. Pain on our side and pain on their side. You both sound wounded. Each one of us has to get on our own gurney and embark on a healing path. Every person that I’ve worked with who has sexually acted out has stories of pain and hurt underneath. They avoid feelings and they don’t want to look inside. They’re afraid to feel. And yet when they begin to work with someone who is trained in sexual compulsivity issues and trauma they begin to process the very feelings, shame and triggers that move them into the cycle of sexually acting out. In my book, “Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal” I wrote a chapter called Dangerous Liaisons: Understanding Betrayal and Sex Addiction. I have had husbands like yours, read the chapter and it’s given them hope to step into the arena and the recovery process. A lack of empathy often comes from growing up without comfort. How can we comfort others when we never got comfort ourselves. How can we have empathy when we have deeply hurt others around us? How can our husbands feel empathy when our pain brings them shame? Not our problem. It’s their work to do. Encourage him to read the chapter and to look for a good CSAT therapist in area. He won’t be able to heal without the work. Your son is counting on it.

      Warmly,
      Dr. Sheri

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