Have you ever walked away from a conversation wondering “What the heck just happened?” Have you ever worked with someone who seemed to be able to explain away their behavior and flip everything around to make it your fault? Have you ever loved someone who changed the facts around so drastically that you felt like you were living in a maze rather than a marriage?

Then you probably resonate with the Dixie Chicks latest song “Gaslighter.” The song reminds us that there are really people out there willing to “lie lie lie lie lie” to get their ass farther as the ladies so eloquently sing. These people make promises they don’t keep. They pretend they are “big timers” to cover over bad childhoods and bad choices in adulthood. Their deceit is perfect because they have convinced themselves they are being honest. No matter how much you give them they still want more. And, worst of all…they are smooth enough to make you feel like you are the problem.

We have all heard the phrase that there are two sides to every story. In dealing with most of the population this is good advice. If you are dealing with a master manipulator this advice will leave you feeling like you are trying to put together a puzzle with hundreds of missing pieces. Gaslighters know that they can force you to believe their side of the story and leave you questioning what you saw, remember and experienced. In short…they make you feel like you are losing your mind. They flip the conversation around with phrases like these:

“What? I wasn’t talking to that girl! You are so jealous. Why don’t you work on your trust issues rather than worrying about me?”

“I didn’t take that money! You took that money and now you’re just trying to blame me for your irresponsibility. I am so sick of always having to clean up your messes. You wouldn’t make it without me!”

“I’m not angry. You are the one who is angry. Now you’re just projecting it on me to make me feel bad!”

Sound familiar? If so…I’m sorry. Doing life with someone like this is a sure fire way to make you doubt yourself, doubt reality and feel as if you are constantly walking in a field of landmines.  You never know where to step because it’s always blowing up in your face. The Dixie Chicks are obviously familiar with toxic relationships. Their 1999 song “Let Him Fly” has the following lyrics:

Ain’t no talkin’ to this man

Ain’t no pretty other side

Ain’t no way to understand stupid words of pride

It would take an acrobat and I already tried all that

I’m gonna let him fly

People who have experienced toxic relationships know exactly what it feels like to bend and change a thousand different ways like an acrobat and still be told they’ve fallen short. Unfortunately, letting him fly is more difficult than it looks from the outside. If someone is gaslighting you and making you question your reality then you start to lose sight of who you are.  Their voice takes up more room in your head than your voice. 

The first section of the “Gaslighter” video shows us exactly why it’s so easy to get into toxic relationships and exactly why it’s so difficult to get out of them. The video starts out with children playing with a Mr. Potato head. The entire point of a Mr. Potato head is if we do the work of selecting different eyes and smiles then we can change Mr. Potato Head into what we want him to be. Does he look sad? No problem! Let me find the smile? Does he look angry? No worries! I can soften his eyes if I figure out what piece to change. 

This is fun for kids and terrible for adult relationships. Far too many of us have the savior syndrome. We think with our attention and love we can wipe away bad behavior, childhood trauma, anger and addiction issues and turn that frown upside down. But…just as the “Gaslighter” video shows us, Mr. Potato Head is not helpful. He sits around while the children do all the work! This type of relationship is a fun game as a child and a hellish game as an adult.  

We want to be helpful. We want to be responsible. We want to be needed. And, we never realize we are doing the work while the toxic people just sits there. You know…like a potato. We suggest therapy. We give them 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 1,298th chances.We find them jobs and clean up their messes and make sure there is nothing around to tick them off. We tiptoe around the real problems and try to rearrange life so they never have to inconvenienced. We never stop to realize that if we are doing the work of the relationship then the relationship isn’t working. We just keep searching for the one missing piece that will make it all better.

The intro of the “Gaslighter” video also includes an army of women saying, “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” We humans typically see from our own perspective and if you’re an honest person you typically expect others to be honest. Malcom Gladwell says most of us “default to truth” in his recent book “Talking to Strangers.” While this normally serves us well, it is completely devastating if someone is trying to gaslight us. The reason we feel like we are going crazy is because we assume they are telling the truth. We assume we would tell the truth so why wouldn’t they? 

The gaslighter has lied to himself or herself which makes them even more convincing. In fact, they usually look like they are being honest. They are masters in believing their own lies because they have talked themselves into thinking they are telling you the truth. When in fact they are telling you their version of the truth. This version allows them to change the narrative to avoid responsibility. That’s why there’s “still no apology.”

This makes our brains feel like we are on a carousel with the horses falling off. “Why would he say that? Does she really think that’s how it happened? Was he even in the same room as me? Why would she think that? Am I going crazy?”

No…you are being gaslighted. And, if you are a generally good person who keeps your promises and tries to take the higher road to be a better human it will leave you feeling broken.

Sending love to the Dixie Chicks as they shed light on a horribly confusing topic. However, I also want to send the Dixie Chicks a piece of advice. Don’t waste your time trying to be their mirror. Say “Goodbye Earl” or goodbye Evelyn or goodbye Ethan. Gaslighters aren’t going to change just because you show them their mistakes. Some people don’t have ears to hear. So it’s time to get “Ready to Run” and better to let them fly.

“With ‘Talking to Strangers,’ Malcolm Gladwell Goes Dark – The ….” 30 Aug. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/business/malcolm-gladwell-talking-to-strangers.html. Accessed 8 Mar. 2020.

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