Trigger Warning: Verbal Abuse, Gaslighting
He called me a slut.
I remember it so clearly because it was so shocking. I was sixteen, and almost pathetically naive about sex, yet he called me a slut.
My own father.
I held onto that word, let it shape what I thought of myself. Let it fertilize my anger and bitterness toward my dad. I never talked to him about it, because he never admitted to doing anything wrong. He’d tell me I was crazy. But one day it just came out, years later, when Rush Limbaugh used the same word to describe Sandra Fluke, and my dad laughed and laughed.
“What if he’d said that about me?” was what I’d wanted to say.
“YOU said that to me!” was what came out. “You called me a slut, and you asked how many boys in the youth group I was having sex with. You thought the acne on my neck was a hickey and you called me a slut.”
I was right about how I thought he’d react. It started with “You’re crazy,” and I wanted to take those words back because I already felt like he was right.
“You’re crazy, and you’re exaggerating. You’re ungrateful and you hate your parents so you’re lying about me. You’re misunderstanding what I said. I was probably joking, but you can’t take a joke.”
I didn’t even know which accusation to take to heart. I began to believe all of these things about myself. That I was too crazy to know reality from fiction. That I was an ungrateful liar who hated my parents. That I was too stupid to understand the nuances behind my father’s use of the word “slut.” That I wasn’t even smart enough to take a joke.At the end of this conversation it was me who felt like I’d done something wrong. It was me feeling guilty.
It shouldn’t have been me.
I know that now. It shouldn’t have been me.
A few months ago, I criticized a popular Christian leader on the internet. They said something that hurt me, and after a few months of working up courage, I responded.
He accused me of twisting his words, of not understanding the nuances of the conversation. He made me feel like I must be crazy for even thinking he’d say such a thing. Others accused me of not being able to take a joke.
At first I felt the same way I had after the conversation with my father. But I’ve been learning since that day that manipulative people want you to feel guilt for daring to speak your mind. They want to control your reactions to what they say, at least outwardly. They are good at forcing you into corners where you must fight to defend yourself. They deny and deny, and when they cannot deny any longer, they tell you that you just didn’t “get it.”
They are good at stepping on your feet and then making you apologize for asking them to move.
I’m learning to trust myself, though. I’m learning.