Donald Trump is gaslighting America—but I’ve never felt more sane.
by May Wilkerson
I first learned about gaslighting in a college film class. We watched clips from Rosemary’s Baby and discussed how the protagonist, played by a harried Mia Farrow, is led to believe she is crazy. SPOILER ALERT: It turns out she’s not crazy, she’s actually pregnant with Satan’s baby — a pretty legitimate reason to lose your shit.
I remember relating to the character’s struggle on a much smaller but significant level. I’ve never personally given birth to a satanic baby, but I do know a thing or two about people telling me I’m crazy — or making me believe I am.
Shortly after college, I told a guy I was dating I didn’t want him to drive me home because he’d been drinking.
He said, “Are you insane? I’ve had three beers.”
Not only did I let him drive me home, I apologized for questioning his sobriety. He made fun of me for days.
“I’ve had a beer, can you walk me to the bathroom?” he’d say.
It was a hilarious bit and it worked. I didn’t question him again.
When he picked me up for a date in his truck a few weeks later, he was drunk and driving erratically. I tried to get out of the car but he laughed at me.
So I waited until we were at a stoplight, jumped out, and walked home. He drove slowly beside me as I was walking. “May, you’re being crazy,” he said, calmly, through the car window, his voice slightly muffled by booze. “Seriously, you’re being insane right now.”
I never heard from him again; it took me months before I could convince myself I did the right thing.
Then there’s the time I told an ex-boyfriend I didn’t want to have kids. He chuckled condescendingly and said, “That’s what you think. Wait until you turn 30.”
It became a joke, the kind that is only funny to one person. He would say, “You’re going to be a great mom.” I broke up with him, turned 30 and still didn’t want to have kids — but his voice stuck with me: “Wait until you turn 30.”
Even now, when I tell people I don’t want kids, there’s a flicker of doubt in my voice, like I’m not sure if I really believe myself.
I know you’re thinking “Who are these gems you keep dating?” But these guys were decent, kind individuals. OK, not the first one, he was garbage. But their intentions were not explicitly hostile. That’s why gaslighting works. It often comes from the ones you love.
There are, of course, so many more examples.
Men lashing out when I turned them down for a date or for sex.
Guys telling me “I love you” out of the blue and then becoming cold and aloof, repelled by my attachment.
People on the internet in 2017 calling me a “crybaby” and a “sore loser” when I tweet anything critical of the President.
People telling me to “relax” and “calm down” when I express any emotion that isn’t joy.
Writer Lauren Duca brought gaslighting into the mainstream consciousness with an essay in Teen Vogue that went viral. It explains how the current president is using the tactic against the majority of the country. Reading it, I experienced the same wave of relief I remember feeling in that film class: I am not insane. It’s OK to feel angry and scared. It’s not only OK — it’s healthy. These feelings and thoughts are sane.