Misdirection is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Magicians use it to aid in their illusions and the results can be spectacular! Misdirection can also be used by abusive people who want or need to distract others from what they’re up to.
If you haven’t yet, please check out my previous post about my experiences last year with a gaslighting manipulator (referred to as “TP”). This post should be fine to read as a stand-alone too, but there’s more context in that linked post in case you need any clarifications about the situation or people.
TP used misdirection constantly. It was part of their story: they were escaping from an abusive marriage (and maybe that part was true, I don’t know enough at this point to say either way and I honestly don’t give a shit), which okay. I’ve supported people escaping abusive marriages before and sometimes stuff gets weird with that, for sure.
BUT, every time things would start to calm down and be peaceful again even just a little bit, TP would come forth with some new dramatic awful thing that they’d remembered or that their ex was currently doing. Such drama and memories coming back can be normal when someone is getting out of an abusive situation which is partly why I never questioned them.
However, TP would need tons of support or help with time and energy-intensive tasks as a result of that drama and those resurfaced memories.
I never had a chance to scrutinize TP’s words or actions because I was so busy helping to scrutinize their ex’s actions. We were never able to talk about the here and now because the drama and crises were constantly ramping up. I’d be asked to help and I was more than happy to help in any way possible!.
That’s what friends do, right?
It was like living in a whirlwind of drama and, even if the drama was genuine, this constant drama whirlwind had an additional effect:
I was always focused on someone or something else, other than the person lying to me, so I never noticed the lies that were being told to my face. Even as I endlessly helped analyze the drama going on in TP’s life and supported them through it.
Even when my former friend (FF) sat next to me and told me that TP had been lying to me all year, I didn’t believe it.
Instead of being angry at TP for lying to me (which would’ve been a typical reaction for me), I was angry at FF for…. I don’t even know. I did appreciate that they’d expended so much energy to at least let me know what was going on so it wasn’t that. But I was angry and that anger was not directed towards TP even a little bit. It took months for me to finally be upset about TP and TP’s actions without somehow blaming FF for the clear breakdown in TP’s and my relationship, which had seemed to be going oh so well before FF got involved.
For three months after meeting with FF, my attention was still consumed by TP’s misdirecting lies.
I isolated myself as I tried desperately to make any sort of sense out of what FF had told me. The entire conversation had been beyond confusing, in part because my attention hadn’t just been focused on TP’s ex and all the drama around that situation, but my attention had also been focused on FF.
By the time I met with FF and was told of TP’s lies, I was terrified of FF.
I feared that I could never be perfect enough to be FF’s friend and that FF would be angry with me (although I could never quite put into words what I feared they’d be angry with me about). There had somehow arisen a nebulous feeling of terror surrounding my relationship with FF. Even now I can’t pinpoint when it started because it was so gradual and subtle that I didn’t realize I was feeling it until…
I started having nightmares about FF, which of course I told TP about.
TP would periodically stoke my terror by mentioning that TP was worried how FF would react to something or other that TP had done. These were always things that it would’ve been over-the-top for FF to be upset about.
I would always assure TP that I’d never tell FF about what TP had done and the subtle message of, “FF can’t be trusted and is a scary person if you mess up on little things in life” wormed its way more deeply into my brain.
Looking back, I know that I defended FF at first, “Oh, FF would understand why you did that!” but eventually I just gave the reassurance that I wouldn’t say a word. Because, after all, FF was a scary scary person and I empathized very much with TP’s worries about telling FF about anything that was less than perfect.
All of that worked magnificently to keep my attention off TP. I was convinced that my off-balance feelings were mostly caused by TP’s ex’s drama. Then, once that drama calmed down a bit, I was convinced that my feelings were due to the fact that FF was clearly too exacting and terrifying for me to deal with directly because, after all, TP worried about FF’s wrath too!
TP was very vocally in favor of being honest in relationships, so I reasoned at the time that TP must have very good reasons for not wanting me to tell FF about any of the things I was instructed to keep secret.
These ideas about FF didn’t just keep my attention off TP, but also isolated me from the only other friend I remembered I had at the time (FF). I had been expending so much energy trying to help and support TP in whatever ways they claimed they needed me to while also taking care of my own house and family, that I couldn’t manage to remember that I had any other people in my life who cared about me.
My world seemed to primarily revolve around helping TP while being lied to, with a heaping side of fear directed at FF.
Under the circumstances it’s quite understandable why I began to melt down every single week, with increasing severity. Then it became multiple times a week of gut-wrenching meltdowns until finally I fled FF’s house in terror one evening, which is what led to my meeting with FF, three months ago.
It’s only been in the last week or so that my attention actually became focused on TP’s actions and how they didn’t match with TPs words. It took months to see through their masterful illusion (intentional or not) and to stop looking at the people TP had repeatedly directed my attention towards.
Adding to the misdirection was a hefty dose of, “Look at how everyone else in the world has and continues to hurt me. You’re the only one I can trust to help me!”
The above was a cunning lie. Not only did it boost my ego, but it added to the misdirection. As I was being praised (so triggering a lovely bit of dopamine in my brain), my attention was also effectively being drawn to everyone else in the equation other than TP.
The message I received was that all other people in TP’s life were bad for hurting or scaring TP, and then I’d be explicitly told with clear words that *I* was helpful and good and welcome to come over ANY time.
It’s no wonder that I ended up so muddled so quickly. It’s hard to see these things when you’re in the middle of it.
Nobody should be expected to be everything to one person. And if someone is trashing others they know by telling you that you’re the only decent person they’ve had in their life compared to everyone else then the odds are good that they’re going to trash you like that to others in the future or maybe they already have.