Have you ever been in a situation where a huge conflict occurs, something really bad happens or someone really hurts you and the next minute (maybe the next time you see them) they are pretending like nothing ever happened? They’re acting like everything is normal and acting as if nothing is wrong. Maybe the person who is acting this way, is you. This pattern is one of the most gaslighting experiences in the world. It can make you feel like you are losing your mind. And today I’m going to explain why this pattern occurs.
There are actually several reasons why a person (maybe it’s you) might play this game of pretend or act like nothing happened. It might be for one of these reasons or for several of them at the same time. So, let’s look at the many reasons that a person might do this.
- A person might not know how to act. This is especially true in situations where the bad thing that happened was a conflict and the person doesn’t understand how to resolve and repair conflict. If a person doesn’t know how to act or how to repair conflict, they might just try to default back to what is familiar. And this will be their usual way of interacting with you before the incident occurred. When a person does this, it is usually a reaction against things changing. They want things to go back into the comfort zone, which is the way things were before the incident occurred.
- A person might perceive themselves to be unable to face and accept the reality of the situation. And so, they might slip into the coping mechanism of denial. When a person feels they can’t deal with, change or eliminate something painful, in order to avoid despair, they might simply deny whatever is painful. Keep in mind that denial is not just about denying that there is a problem. Some people see there is a problem but their denial comes in the form of minimizing the impact it has on their life or your life, excusing it, forgetting it or rationalizing it. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: How To Call Bullshit On Denial.
- It is often a strategy for avoiding the emotional/mental pain of shame. People love to soothe their own conscience this way. If something that happens causes a person to feel like they are bad or wrong, they may simply do whatever it takes to get out of that shame; no matter the cost to anyone else. They can buck responsibility and accountability by doing this too. For example, instead of owning fault or mistakes, they may intentionally forget it happened. Or re-write or re-frame the story in their head, so they can see themselves as the good guy instead of the bad guy in the narrative. Also, if they can pretend that nothing is happening and like you are the one who full of negative emotions and who is acting like there is a problem, they can turn you into ‘the problem’. Turning you into the one that has the problem (into the scapegoat), enables them to see themselves as the one ‘in the right’ and as superior to you; and thus, feel good about themselves and look good to others. The opposite of shame.
- The other person may be in a totally different reality about what happened from you. I call this a parallel perceptual reality. When this is the case, it can be very hard to resolve things because you and the other person can’t actually agree upon the reality of what happened. Or maybe you can, but the different realities are about things like what it means or whether it is a serious matter or not. Maybe they have never been on your side of the situation and thus have never been hurt in that way, so they can’t relate and aren’t in a space of empathy or compassion because of that. Keep in mind that when people are trying to cope with denial or avoid shame, they may create entire perceptual realities that enable them to feel good instead of bad, especially about themselves. This is often the case with revisionist history. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: The Most Dangerous Parallel Reality.
- It can be a conscious or subconscious (deliberate or instinctive) attempt to gaslight you. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and control over group perception and group narrative; including your perception and narrative. Gaslighting warps your sense of reality. It confuses. And the idea is that if you doubt the reality that you perceive and yourself along with it, you might just surrender your perspective and narrative and adopt theirs, which will be a narrative that makes them feel good about themselves instead of bad. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: Gaslighting (What is Gaslighting and How to Heal From It).
- The person has some motive to avoid the elephant in the room. They find the discomfort of there being an elephant in the room and ignoring it more comfortable than the feeling of everyone’s attention going directly to it. You will see this often at family gatherings. There is an obvious issue, but everyone is ignoring it and acting like it doesn’t exist. There are all kinds of motives for avoiding addressing the elephant in the room. Such as someone being terrified of conflict. Someone being desperate to pretend everything is ok to maintain an overlay. Someone being so concerned about not making other people feel bad that they don’t bring the issue up. Not wanting to being the one to ruin the moment for everyone. Not wanting to become the problem or scapegoat by being the one to bring it up etc.
- They want to avoid the consequences. Instead, they can push them into the future. It’s a form of procrastination. For example, a person might cheat on their partner. Then act as if nothing is wrong. Doing this enables them to put off taking responsibility for it and put off or delay consequences like a complete self-esteem collapse, a break up, loss of connection, having to find a new place to live etc. But this puts the other person in the position to be in the consequences upfront and alone. Using our example, consequences like broken trust, having to make painful executive decisions and self-esteem collapse etc.
- They may be using this as a tactic to try to buy time to wait for you to do something where they can make you the bad guy and make you hold the blame and point to your actions as the cause instead. When people pretend that nothing happened, but there is a huge un-dealt with problem happening, you will only be able to hold that for so long without making decisions and taking actions of your own. And then, they can blame you and make you the bad guy for those decisions and actions. For example, a person may cause a huge rupture by saying that their heart isn’t in their job and that they don’t like anything they are doing. But they don’t do anything about it. Then the next day, they may show up at work like nothing happened. There is now a big rupture with their boss. The boss will only be able to hold this for so long before firing this employee. But that’s what this employee wants. This way, he can play the victim to the boss and the boss gets to carry the blame for the failed work relationship. And has to carry the responsibility for making decisions.
- This can be a symptom of a person switching personalities. Consciousness fragments. In some people, this fragmentation gives rise to severe splits within their psyche. If you want to understand this concept in depth, I encourage you to watch my video titled: Fragmentation, The Worldwide Disease. The part of a person that was previously “up” when the conflict or situation occurred, may not be the one that is “up” now. Different parts of self-relate to the world and to others differently. To give you an example, with classic splitting, a person is fragmented in a way where when they have negative feelings towards someone, in that moment they have no access to positive feelings towards them or memories of them. And when they are having positive feelings towards them, in that moment they have no access to negative feelings towards them or negative memories of them. It is rare, but fragmentation can even be so severe, that a person literally has no access to the memory of something bad that happened. Needless to say, this can cause someone to behave like dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or at the very least, to behave explosively and irrationally one minute and to act fine and rational the next.
- They can be acting this way because they are actually up on a high horse. In-between the conflict or negative event and now, the person may be making themselves feel good by reframing the situation in a way that causes them to feel good and right. And if this situation involves a crisis, the person is most likely making themselves feel good by convincing themselves that you will eventually come to your senses and see that they are right. So, they are actually up on their high horse, giving you the space to come to your senses. For example, a woman might have a huge blow-up fight with her boyfriend over his job. She wants him to quit. He really doesn’t want to quit. At some point, she may go to wash the dishes. As she washes the dishes, she is soothing herself by convincing herself that she is right because he obviously doesn’t realize how bad the job is for him and for their relationship. And she is good because she knows what is best for him and is doing her best to fight for his actual needs, even when he doesn’t know them. She may then walk back in the room with him and act normal and like everything is ok. But this is because she feels right and good and calm because she feels she knows the truth, and feels that inevitably he will come around and come to his senses and align with her point of view. So, for now, they can drop it and discuss what TV show to watch.
If you should find yourself in this situation, know that the confusion and anxiety and fury it creates is perfectly natural and to be expected. You are going to have to find out whether you are dealing with a person who is currently capable of having an actual mutual relationship with you or not.
And here are some things you can do:
- Seek the assistance of someone who can help you maintain your grip on the reality of the situation and go over the events to sort out what is true from false. Ideally, this should be someone that is hard or impossible for you, yourself to manipulate. Ideally, a professional. When you go to get this assistance, you need to care more about getting help to see the actual reality, no matter how much it hurts and no matter how much shame it might cause you to feel. Whether this experience ends up being validating or not, you need to make sure that you are not going to someone outside the situation because you need them to validate you or to make you feel good about yourself or to see yourself as right in the situation. Because if this is your intention, you may simply be using the other person as an accessory to your dysfunctional behavior and slipping into a narcissistic bubble that just so happens to be outside of reality.
- Give the other person a chance to understand your feelings and perception of the situation. If you never bring up the rupture that you feel exists (no matter whether they are acting like it does or not), then you are choosing to continue on living in two separate realities. And thus, you are choosing separation, not alignment and not a relationship. Remember this: If someone says that they are hurt or that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that they aren’t hurt or that you didn’t hurt them. If you say that you are hurt or that someone hurt you, they don’t get to decide that you aren’t hurt or that they didn’t hurt you.Being the one to initiate resolve or to initiate getting into the same reality sucks. Especially when in your mind, it should be the other person doing so. But if you care about having a relationship with the other person, you’re going to have to try. You’re going to have to force the issue. And there are ways you can do this that will increase the odds of this going successfully, such as sticking to expressing your feelings. When you do this, you want to focus on letting them know how their actions had an impact on how you feel. By doing this, you are making statements about the emotional reaction that you had and how those actions had a negative effect on your relationship. Keep in mind that people who pretend nothing is wrong are usually severely shame averse and so, communicating in a way to decrease their shame while helping them to see your reality is important. For this reason, you may benefit by watching my video titled: How to Resolve Conflict.
The way the person responds to you sharing how you feel, tells you a lot about what type of relationship you can have with them, if any. And this is down to what is true for you personally. As you know, unfortunately it takes two to make a relationship work. If they refuse to understand your feelings and perception in the situation and don’t act committed to proactively trying to reach some kind of alignment and resolve with you, they aren’t interested in a relationship. They are interested in supply. What I mean by supply is, they are only interested in other people meeting their needs. Needs like attention, adoration, control, praise, importance and power. Anyone who doesn’t do that, they can get rid of with no concern about the impact that has on the other person.If a person wants a relationship, they will not want ‘bad blood’ to exist between you. They will want to feel good again and they will want you to feel good again and they will want to occupy the same reality as you. And both their words and actions (not just words) will demonstrate that. For more information about this, I want you to watch two of my videos. The first is: How To Create a Safe Relationship. And the Second Is: Why Some People Don’t Want to Solve Conflict in a Relationship.
When someone demonstrates that all they want is supply, not a relationship, it is down to you to decide how and if you want/need to continue a relationship with them; knowing that you are dealing with a person who has been traumatized enough that they do not currently know how to have a relationship and may not even want a relationship as opposed to supply. This is a rehabilitation case. And relational rehabilitation must take place within the context of relationship. The question is… are you actually the right person to be a part of that process of rehabilitation; knowing that it may take years or may never work; and that you will certainly get hurt along the way? Or if you are truthful, is doing so incompatible to you?
- Consider bringing in a genuinely neutral third party to help put the issue on the table and help with conflict resolve. This person can act as a bridge and a bringer of all parties into the same reality. Again, the best-case scenario is if this is a professional. Someone whose life is not personally affected by the situation. Someone who has no ‘skin in the game’ and can therefore remain objective.
It can be really shocking when someone pretends that nothing happened. In fact, it can feel downright cruel. The thing is, most people don’t know that they are being cruel. If they did, they couldn’t keep doing it. Most people aren’t doing things deliberately to hurt you. Instead, they’ve got one thing on their mind: Themselves and their needs and their pain. Everything they are doing; they are doing to try to avoid pain or get out of pain they are in. They are not thinking about you and what’s best for you and how you feel. And the reality is, you may not be thinking about them and what’s best for them and how they feel either. Pain often triggers people to slip into a narcissistic bubble of only self-concern. People actively have to choose out of that bubble in order to have a good relationship. And so…
Everything is not ok unless a genuine meeting of minds takes place. That meeting of minds entails accepting that something DID happen and something IS wrong. Thus, some form of facing and unpacking the issue so as to find resolve must actually take place. By not accepting the reality of something unpleasant, a person can’t do anything about it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Eventually, the situation that exists will take its own course, with or without your consent.
By acting like nothing happened, or going along with someone who is acting like nothing happened, you are acting out a lie. And a genuine relationship must be based off of what is real.