If it feels wrong... it is.

I’m bossy. It’s not my fault - I was born that way. No really - I was, and I can prove it because no matter how many times I got spanked for being bossy, usually after parent-teacher conferences, it always came back.

When I think back to third grade - the height of my bossy period - I remember being aware that other students should have the chance to answer the teacher’s question, or try the math problem on their own, or offer up their idea for how the tree fort should be built.

But I am smart, and opinionated, and fearless - and I was back then, too. So when nobody raised their hand, I did. And when my desk-mate couldn’t figure out the math problem, I helped. And when the tree fort ideas were flawed, I suggested a better one.

As an adult, I’m now of the opinion that bossiness in a child is just undirected leadership, the clumsy wielding of influence, the unsophisticated expression of one’s thoughts. I was only nine, after all. My parents had (regular) opportunities to recognize these qualities in me and refine, redirect and nurture them.

Instead they (repeatedly) tried to be beat what they saw as a burgeoning dictator right out of me. They didn’t, thankfully. But they did do something else: they made me doubt myself. By punishing me for, well, just being me, they taught me that who I am is not okay. That I shouldn’t trust my instinct to take charge, speak up, or influence a decision.

Now, I notice that I do still have instincts - it's just that I don't know if I should act on them. If I don’t, I feel inauthentic. But if I do, I’m immediately anxious that I shouldn’t have. It’s like a constant struggle between my gut and my (confused) brain.

This came up all the time with my ex-husband. When he mistreated me, my instincts would practically scream at me - “This feels wrong!” If I said something about it to my ex-husband, he would respond in a way that played right into this insecurity.

“That didn’t happen,” he’d say. Oh, I’d think, maybe I just imagined that.

“That was just a joke,” he’d say. “Why do you always assume the worst about me?” Oh, I think, I guess I misinterpreted your tone of voice. I’d usually apologize for not giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“You’re making too big a deal out of it,” he’d say. Am I? I’d wonder. Maybe it’s normal for men to tell their wives they’re “old news” after just six months of dating, and openly begin to watch porn instead of having sex.

Once I was “out”, I realized that my gut was always right about him. Every time I had that gut reaction, “This feels wrong!” It’s because it was wrong. The hang-up was in my head. My childhood planted the seeds of self-doubt and then my ex-husband used all the tricks in the emotional abuse playbook to grow them.

When you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, every interaction with your spouse feels confusing… and that’s the point. Emotional abuse by design intended to whittle away at your self-confidence, at your boundaries, and at your ability to tell what’s real from what he says is real. This is called Gaslighting and it’s a real thing - look it up. It was my experience that this only improved once I left his house and had enough space on my own to begin to trust myself again.

But for you, still living in this situation - is there anything you can do? I think there are two things. The first is to trust the feeling in your gut. If it feels wrong - it’s wrong. The second is to steel yourself against the tactics he’ll use to try to make you doubt yourself. Know that there are a set number of tactics - I named some of them above - and that he’ll use one or more of them each time. When he pulls an “I didn’t do that,” on you, rather than questioning whether or not you did it, focus on the fact that you’ve heard that before and you’ll hear it again. He’s just a broken record.

By the way, the term Gaslighting is based on the 1944 movie Gaslight. See it.