‘How I was fooled by a serial gaslighter’

WHEN Josie met Jamie, it was love at first sight. On their first date, Jamie said to her, "I know this is really early to say something like this, but I think we could be together for a long time."

Jamie showered Josie with gifts and trips, telling her, "I've never felt this way about anyone."

Jamie talked with Josie about marriage and kids within their first week of dating. Josie described feeling "high" from Jamie's attention.

She wound up spending all her time with him and eventually stopped seeing her other friends.

Jamie said they were "bad influences" on Josie and constantly reminded her that she was happier when she wasn't around them.

"I had never been treated with so much adoration - I was put up on a pedestal," Josie said.

At first, Jamie swept Josie off her feet, showering her with romantic gestures.
At first, Jamie swept Josie off her feet, showering her with romantic gestures.

After a few months of "bliss," Josie started experiencing Jamie's stonewalling. He would ignore her without Josie knowing what she had done to upset him.

She would rack her brain trying to figure it out. Jamie wouldn't return calls, "which made me worried and made me contact him more".

Josie's sister told her she needed to stop contacting Jamie and wait for him to contact her. "It was one of the hardest things for me to do because I still didn't know what I did wrong," Josei said.

She now spent her time waiting for Jamie to call and scouring the internet for articles on what to do when your partner ignores you.

Two weeks later, she got a text from Jamie. It said, "Your bike is here." Josie said her heart raced and she got butterflies in her stomach. She answered his text right away. "Are you OK? Where are you?" This was met with more silence. After some heavy crying, she texted, "I can't do this. I just don't understand anymore."

A few hours later, Josie got a knock on her door. It was Jamie, with her bike - and flowers. "He told me that we needed to go bike riding together, like, right now. I felt really uncomfortable about it, but I went anyway," she said.

During the bike ride, Jamie didn't mention anything about his disappearing or lack of communication - instead, he talked about moving in together. "It was like nothing had happened at all. I chalked it up to him just needing some space," Josie said.

About two months after they reconciled, Jamie started the silent treatment again - and it went off and on like this for two years.

Over a period of two years, Jamie’s stonewalling became unbearable.
Over a period of two years, Jamie’s stonewalling became unbearable.

The times in between the stonewalling became "worse and worse. We stopped having what I called 'honeymoon' periods," Josie said.

Jamie went from asking her to move in with him to saying he had changed his mind "because I was unstable. He kept me hanging in there with his promises that we would take things to the next level. Then it would fall apart again," Jose continued.

She said of Jamie: "Looking back, from the beginning, Jamie looked great on paper - smart, educated, funny … but now that I really look at it, there were some red flags from the beginning.

"He had cut off contact with his brother and sister several years prior, and he was always blaming people at work for why he never got a promotion.

"He also criticised me more and more over time, especially for things I couldn't change - like my family."

Jamie drove Josie to the brink of a breakdown.
Jamie drove Josie to the brink of a breakdown.

Gaslighters are amazingly good at keeping their pathology in check until they know you are hooked.

The first time your partner blatantly lies, you think you must have misheard him; after all, the person who had been showering you with love just wouldn't do that. But he will, and he will continue to blatantly lie.

Gaslighters erode your perception of reality until you feel you cannot function normally without them.

Love bombing is a way gaslighters get you hooked. In the case of Josie and Jamie, Jamie showered Josie with gifts and told her everything he knew she wanted to hear about the kind of future they'd have together.

Jamie also quickly zeroed in on getting a commitment from Josie. When a gaslighter love bombs you, it is hard to get away.

The attention you receive is intoxicating. It's like nothing you have experienced before. Finally, you think, someone is treating you the way you want to be treated.

That pedestal he puts you on feels damn good. But eventually you will always fall off it, and it is a long way down.

With gaslighting, we also use the term hoovering to describe the way gaslighters will suck you back in if they feel you are checking out. (Yes, it comes from the vacuum of the same name.)

When Jamie cut off contact with Josie, and when Josie stopped reaching out to him, he swooped in immediately - and started talking about moving in together.

Dr Stephanie Sarkis' new book about gaslighting.
Dr Stephanie Sarkis' new book about gaslighting.

If gaslighters get any inkling of perceived abandonment, they work at sucking you back in. They put on the full-court press to get you back in their clutches.

Nothing causes fear in gaslighters more than the feeling of abandonment.

This abandonment is what is known as a narcissistic injury. Gaslighters have an endless pit of need - a need for attention.

No matter what you do, you will never be humanly capable of fulfilling gaslighters' needs. They will always turn to something or someone else to fill that void.

When they find that something or someone else to transfer their attention to, they will drop you like the proverbial hot potato.

It is heartbreaking and confusing. When you first see a gaslighter's facade crack, it can be startling to see who is really underneath.

This is an extract from Gaslighting: How to recognise manipulative and emotionally abusive people - and break free by Dr Stephanie Sarkis. Published by Hachette Australia, RRP $32.99

Author and gaslighting expert Dr Stephanie Sarkis.
Author and gaslighting expert Dr Stephanie Sarkis.


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