• Hannah Thomas

What Next? Life After Feeling You Could Never Be Good Enough

Hannah Thomas discusses the life that exists after gaslighting

Image: Amy Cole

Relationships are tough. It’s no secret that they take mutual effort. But, sometimes, the desperate want to make a relationship work through all the tough times causes more problems than it’s worth. Especially when you’re convinced all the ‘problems’ are caused by you, all the arguments are yours to solve, and all the anger and resentment makes you a burden unless you ‘fix’ it. These are just some of the emotions that gaslighting makes you go through.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, through manipulation, and often occurs in abusive relationships. Despite it being easy to look in from the outside and say: ‘I’d never be caught in an abusive relationship’ or ‘I’d leave if my partner ever did that’. It’s not always that easy.

For me, it was a slow burner. There’s a well-known analogy of throwing a frog into a boiling saucepan – it hops right out. But if you throw the frog into the pan and slowly turn up the heat… it’s too late to jump out by the time it realises it’s boiling. In fact, some of the earlier signs in my own relationship I didn’t even realise were abuse until years afterwards.

My experience with emotional abuse happened over 18 months. The last straw was an argument. I had become so accustomed to arguments over the time we were together, but this time I spoke to someone about it. It was around April 2020 and, due to lockdown, I texted: “Hey, we haven’t spoken in a while… care to facetime?”. Cue the abuse: “you’re so selfish”, “you only ever think about yourself”, “maybe I don’t want to facetime”, “maybe I don’t want to talk to you”, “we’re in a pandemic, it’s not all about you”. I don’t know if it was the distance, but despite hearing these words from her countless times before, I’d decided this time that enough was enough.

I started talking. To my parents, my boss, my friends, letting go of everything. The countless arguments, the panic attacks, the feelings of doubt, my struggle that nothing I did was ever enough. I remember my mum very clearly saying ‘you should have come to me sooner’ and me realising I’d been feeling like such a burden, I just didn’t want to burden anyone else by speaking out.

Well, I could talk even more extensively about what happened during, but what isn’t spoken about nearly enough is what happens after. After the painful breakup and the realisation that you’d been seeing your ex-partner through rose-tinted glasses for far too long. After the therapy. After learning to trust again – including yourself. After your first panic-attack free month.

There are so many scenarios that come ‘after’. Some come straight away; like the realisation that not everything becomes an argument when you’re speaking to the right person. Some come years down the line. For me, it took years to realise that the friends I’d lost during that relationship weren’t my fault. I’ve had to rekindle those lost connections and explain that I’m sorry I believed the lies that were being spun to me. It’s a tricky one to explain: “it’s not you, but also not technically me but my manipulative ex just didn’t like you, and apparently didn’t want us to be friends”. Sadly, not every friendship I’d lost during that time I’ll ever get back.

For me, the weirdest ‘what now’ moment was during my next (and current) relationship. I remember the first time I said I was going out for the weekend to see some long-distance friends. I was worried when I explained I wouldn’t be able to text him as much and expected a barrage of “Why would you just ignore me?”, “You’re so selfish”, “why would you go away for the weekend without me?”. I was met with none of that. I realised all along that this is the bare minimum and fighting for your emotional needs to be met… isn’t normal. Who knew! I spent the whole weekend having fun. I used to have a panic attack every time I went on a night out. I didn’t realise until a year after the breakup (thanks, Covid), that these night-out attacks were a thing of the past. Maybe I wasn’t the problem all along?

Despite it being over 2 years since I left my ex, it still affects me. I had extensive therapy (can I invoice my ex for that?), and despite now living with my partner, it feels weird that I haven’t had a panic attack this week, this month, or even this year. It became such a ‘norm’ for me. I was branded as this emotional mess so much so that it feels I need to rekindle my relationship with myself. Who am I if I’m not crying over everything? That’s how everyone else knew me and saw me and it’s how I saw myself for a long time.

This article is mostly to say you’re not alone in your struggles. Whether it’s happening now, happened a year ago, or even a decade ago, these feelings resurface at the weirdest times and you’ll find you’re reminding yourself that these things weren’t normal. Were never normal. Don’t be afraid to reach out and speak up. Sometimes, it takes someone else to hear these stories for you to know you aren’t the crazy one.


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