In the past, I’ve questioned my own sanity. And had others question it as well. Not my best memories. The depth of this line of inquiry usually relates to our self-confidence, self-esteem, and the amount of influence those who believe that our mental hygiene could use a bath exert on us. This is not to say that authentic mental illness doesn’t exist, or that anything bad happened to me as a result of being forced into therapy. I’m a big fan of therapy. However, benefitting from therapy and having people think you are a wing nut are two entirely different things. One is okay and one is definitely not okay. Poor Aiofe spends two years learning how to convince others that she isn’t crazy and can be trusted on the outside. Being told you are crazy when you’re not can actually make you crazy.
Above and beyond the pleasure I felt in besting my nemesis—I mean my mother—there was also the deep relief of being 100% positive that I hadn’t lost my mind. This is always good to have confirmed. But this vindication led me to wonder why there are those who are bound and determined to convince others that they’re nuts.
Because, like Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic Gaslight, and also in Katie MacAlister’s Dragon Fall, when one person is trying to convince another that he or she is crazy, there’s usually a reason. For Claude and Ingrid, it had to do with hidden treasure. With Aoife and her family, the reason was more benign, but the outcome was still devastating. For Mommie Dearest and me, it was all about power and control.
All of us like to be right. When we are right, we feel we’re in control. And while control is a specious concept, humans continue to seek it like missiles seek the heat of engines. For some of us less secure folks, being right is often a zero sum game, so that our being right automatically makes someone else wrong. At which point the whole exercise degenerates into a power struggle, like when a parent catches a child (or even another adult) in an obvious lie and confronts the liar with impregnable logic at which point the liar starts hurling stories like spaghetti against a wall, hoping something will stick. It rarely does. But no matter how ridiculous and convoluted the liar’s blather is, no matter how red-handed they are caught, they give no quarter and will admit to no wrongdoing. It’s something to behold. Frustrating as hell, in fact because we both know the truth, but only one will acknowledge it.
Some, like my mother, take this phenomenon to the extreme and actually begin to believe their own bullshit. This level of denial is just not pretty. But there are those ugly souls who prefer to offer up our sanity on the altar of their inability to admit they are wrong or apologize. Or even just acknowledge a mistake, forget the mea culpa. It’s very difficult to deal with these people.
And then there are those who will apologize, but not without doing an excellent imitation of having teeth pulled. Why? What does it cost us to say—out loud—that we are wrong? Or we didn’t know? Or we need freaking directions? What is up with men and directions anyway? But I digress (I’m getting better about that—have you noticed?). Again, it all goes back to power and control and, honestly, how sad is that?
Personally, I pride myself on my willingness to admit to ‘asshatery’ (it really should be a word) early and often. On the other hand, I’ve been known to be as guilty of digging in my heels as the next guy (and I do mean guy) when I feel threatened or insecure. In those situations I will go to great lengths to be right, channeling my inner Spock to defend my positions. Given my messed up upbringing, I expend far too much energy bolstering my arguments, dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s. Just so I can claim the high ground of the righteous. But I can, and do, admit when I’m wrong. Most of the time.
So there you have it. When we have been the object of a Gaslight campaign, we are willing to pay a lot, figuratively, to ensure our ability to be unassailably correct. Because once our sanity has been questioned, we want to make sure it never happens again (either that or we’re male and cannot tolerate being wrong). Any way you slice it, though, you can’t fix crazy, so it’s definitely something I don’t want to be. And I guess I should thank Heaven for small favors that I was never committed to an institution to safeguard someone else’s ideas of how things should be. It can always be worse, as Katie MacAlister’s Dragon Fall attests, in the best way possible.