Liars are Illusions or How Gaslighting Leads to Meltdowns

All week I’ve been mulling over how lying (either to or about me) is one of the fastest ways for someone else to bring me to a state of meltdown. I considered why that might be the case and then came across a perceptive tweet regarding another liar, the father in the #PuppetGate play, which I quote-tweeted below:

Note: this is the only time I’m referencing that play in this post until the very end, and there will be a line of *** before that section for those who want to avoid more about the puppet controversy.

My reaction to people who have lied to or about me (multiple big things and over a period of time, not occasional little “white” lies to protect privacy or such) has always been visceral and usually involves cutting all contact immediately upon realizing the extent of someone’s deceptions.

Cutting liars out of my life is not a reaction that I ever really examined intellectually until this week. It’s just what I’ve always felt necessary to do when faced with someone whose lies and duplicitousness have thoroughly twisted my reality into something unrecognizable and unpredictable.

The type of lying I’m talking about here is also known as gaslighting.

Then a few nights ago I had a realization: Liars are illusions.

Nobody really knows who they are or what the truth is or isn’t. When someone is invested in lying and twisting reality, they become very good at doing just that and it becomes largely pointless and potentially damaging (in that it’s exhausting and twists my mind into pretzels) to try and parse out which things they’ve said or presented are lies vs truth.

My ex-boyfriend (XB) in high school was skilled at lying and manipulation, but he was also very upfront about his dislike of people talking to anyone else about anything that he’d said to them. He referred to the then-recently-out movie Meet the Parents by talking about his “circle of trust.”

TP, the person who abused me last year, was also very skilled at lying and manipulating. TP was much more subtle about keeping people from talking to each other about our experiences with TP than XB was. TP effectively did this by utilizing misdirection and actively sowing distrust between members of friend groups, thus causing us to be less likely to talk to each other about the things TP was saying and doing.

This prevented my friends and I from discovering that we were being told completely different things and even being presented with a completely different person.

Despite their differing approaches, in both cases TP and XB were not the people they claimed to be. They both gave different stories to each person they knew. Told different things to different people. Learned about the people they interacted with and mimicked their interests and values, which were often even the opposite of the interests and values they mimicked while with other people.

It’s really kind of a brilliant maneuver to watch in retrospect, but the actual experience, both times, was a nightmare to live through.

Note: In none of this am I suggesting what their intentions were. I don’t know that they were malicious assholes, despite their words and actions causing great harm to me personally as well as to others.
Maybe they were actively trying to manipulate others for nefarious purposes, but it’s also possible that they didn’t realize how damaging that behavior can be to others. It’s possible that they truly believe this is the best or only way to relate to people.
Each had at least one abusive parent and gaslighting could’ve been a coping mechanism they learned as children in order to protect themselves from their own abusers, thus becoming abusers themselves without intending to do so.
There’s really no way to know.

Given the above I’m not inclined to seek to place blame or speculate about what their intentions might have been. There are so many different potential explanations and when someone is so skilled at hiding who they are, it’s pretty pointless to speculate about which explanation might be the closest to correct.

And it doesn’t really matter.

Because, for me, people like that aren’t safe people to be around or to be in contact with. It isn’t even safe for me to be around or in contact with people who uncritically believe people who tell those sorts of reality-twisting lies.

And it doesn’t matter the reasons why. It doesn’t matter the motivation. It matters that they have presented themselves as illusions and I can’t deal with the unmoored feeling that gives me. When everything is wobbly and unstable and ever-changing… I can’t deal with that.

Generally-honest people are still often unpredictable, but at least they tend to stay more solid and reliable and don’t cause my life to be uncertain in highly manipulative and illusory ways by creating multiple illusions through lying and gaslighting.

It is a horrible thing to be lied to and/or about. It messes with reality and it can ruin people’s lives.

No wonder it’s one of the most effective ways to send me into a meltdown and/or a severe mental health crisis.

Liars are illusions of their own making.


[Back to the PuppetGate play for the ending]

So then I go back to the father lying about the son shitting on the mother’s pillow. The father who was shitting on the pillow himself.

How would I have reacted if I was a minor in a situation where one of the people who was entrusted with my care was lying to and about me on a regular basis?

When I’m verbal, correcting people’s misperceptions about me is pretty much a compulsion for me. I literally cannot stop myself from going on with verbal diarrhea to try and explain what actually happened and why the other person was misunderstanding. When dealing with someone who believes a skilled liar, it becomes even more difficult because the liar twists the truth and there is no easy way of explaining away a skillful lie.

When I’m not verbal and am confronted with misperceptions fueled by lies, I run away in utter terror — something that happened to me last year as well.

A nonverbal child cannot correct misperceptions and a child who is watched constantly by a carer cannot run away.

How could such a situation fail to create a violent melting down child? As an adult I would have been a violently melting-down mess in that situation.

Unable to correct, unable to get away. It’s a nightmare to even consider.

It’s possible that melting down violently was the only way Laurence could express that he needed to get out of that toxic situation. Maybe it was the one way his intuition knew that he could be removed from the horror he was living with every single day.

It is a horrible thing to be lied to and/or about. It messes with reality and it can ruin people’s lives.

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