Many of us, especially women, have probably seen at least one Lifetime movie and they’re almost all centered around a single female who’s usually suffered prior emotional abuse in a previous relationship, who meets “Prince Charming” and he turns out to be even worse than the husband she’s recovering from. The stories are often a bit contrived and always predictable, but there is some value in them. There’s truth in the manipulation that occurs in movies of this genre.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve indulged in a Lifetime movie. They’re hard to watch now. I see myself in them in the corners of the details of these women’s lives. This particular movie “Intimate Stranger”, was about a divorced, single mother who has a very jealous ex-husband. After years of devoting herself to work and her son, she meets a kind, handsome, dashing man who sweeps her off her feet.
He seems to say and do all the right things to charm her and her son. When no one shows up for her son’s birthday party, the new boyfriend saves the day by presenting the boy with a beautiful new bike. He appears to be the hero. What we know that they don’t, is he deliberately failed to mail the party invitations mom entrusted him to, setting himself up for hero status.
It takes a creepier turn when the “hero” stashes himself in his girlfriend’s attic making prank phone calls to her and watching and listening to her every move and word. He seems almost psychic because he always knows what they need (because he’s eavesdropping) and can manipulate every situation to insinuate himself into their lives. Her motherly instinct kicks in and she breaks up with him and it’s after this rejection that he kicks his game plan way up, messing with every detail of her life including family and work. He creeps down out of the attic at night to watch her, drug her, and swipe important things from her home, trying to make her think she’s losing her mind.
Have you ever heard the term “gas lighting”? I hadn’t until the past year or so. But I’d been a victim of it for years. Gas lighting is another form of mental abuse and it’s brutally effective. The person gas lighting tells half truths, leaves out important details, and spins stories to all put him or her in a favorable light. This often causes the victim of the gas lighting to question reality, to question their own sanity.
For years I struggled with being the victim of such awful, confusing, and painful behavior. My first husband would do exactly as I described. He’d say one thing and moments later when I questioned him about it, he’d deny ever saying it. I would confront him with a bill, ATM receipt, email that incriminated him for something, and he’d lie to my very face without hesitation. The evidence would be undeniable with dates and times when only he would be able to take money from the ATM or an email sent directly from his personal email (to another woman) and he would claim conspiracy, he’d been framed, or the most frustrating: I was simply making it up. Even though there was concrete proof I could hold in my hands, he was very comfortable denying it. The most extreme and certainly the most ridiculous example of this is when I caught him in a compromising position with a coworker and was mere feet from them and could see with perfect clarity what was happening, he told me later that it never happened; I didn’t see what I thought I saw.
Don’t be a victim of this mind bend. It’s mental torture nearly. It exhausts you, confuses, you, breaks your heart. And that’s the goal. Although it was frustrating and exhausting for me, I didn’t buy into it after awhile. I caught on and I told him on regular occasions that I was going to record our conversations because he’d change versions of his story so often or deny saying things he’s just said.
My ministry is to encourage you if you’re in this situation; to enlighten and warn you if you’re seeing red flags early on in a relationship where you can easily break it off; to be aware that this ugliness is a painful reality for so many people; and to give you hope.
Meet Melanie P:
Melanie Pickett is a writer and blogger and is currently completing her first nonfiction book. She has battled Crohn’s disease and complications, has a now-healthy son who was born prematurely under challenging circumstances, and survived a 15-year abusive marriage and her first husband’s mental illness and eventual suicide. A wife and mother of two, she loves Red Wings hockey, reading, playing piano, and traveling adventures.