Many of us remain in difficult relationships because of the fantasies we have about our gaslighters and about ourselves. . . And when it comes to families, our fantasies are especially powerful.
Many of us have intense feelings about the parents or siblings who have known us from early days, seeing them as people we owe everything to, should be able to depend on, or can be especially close to.
Even after we grow up and move out, we may feel lost because we've left them but not the fantasy. . .
The roots of this effort reach back to childhood. Parents who are disappointing and unreliable put their children in an emotional corner. To face the truth about them -- that they sometimes behaved like self-absorbed children -- would be overwhelming.
What two-year old, four-year old, or even twelve year old can bear to realize that her mommy can't protect her, that her daddy might not come through? How terrifying to be a child with unreliable, unloving parents. We know we're not old enough or strong enough to take care of ourselves, so if they won't do it who will? And if even Mommy or Daddy won't love us, we must be so unworthy and unlovable that no one else will.
So instead of seeing things with such terrible clarity -- instead of realizing that our parents can't take care of us or love us the way we'd like because of their own limits -- we begin to blame ourselves. ("It must be my fault"), just as we'll later do with our gaslighter.
But we don't stop there. We make up fantasies to compensate for the reality of neglect and disappointment, fantasies that seem to give us more control. If we are strong enough and powerful enough, maybe it won't matter that our parents can't come through for us -- we can take care of them instead. . .
We try to see ourselves as strong, tolerant, understanding, forgiving -- anything to make our parents' failings irrelevant.
Excerpts from the Kindle Edition of
The Gaslight Effect:
Crown Archetype, 2007