How to survive gaslighting
March 16, 2017 4:02 AM   Subscribe

"How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality" "Right now, many Americans listening to their president are experiencing what I experienced frequently a child. Nothing means anything, and reality is being canceled. There is confusion, there is chaos, everything is upside down and inside out. When facts and truth are being discredited, how is it possible to know what to believe, especially when it comes from someone we expect to embody both ethics and etiquette?"
posted by HuronBob (48 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
When the someone in question is Donald Trump, no sane person would expect him to embody ethics or etiquette. If the author actually meant the office of President, rather than its occupant, there are sane people who believe the office embodies those things. My view differs from theirs, but that's a whole other discussion.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:42 AM on March 16 [8 favorites]


45 is by far exceeding the usual expectations for political lying though. He's not just breaking campaign promises or denying wrongdoing or pretending more empathy than he intends to act upon; he's denying reality itself.
posted by Foosnark at 5:32 AM on March 16 [18 favorites]


Recognize there will never be accountability. ... they will never get it.
posted by oheso at 5:35 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


there are sane people who believe the office embodies those things

Well yeah, my whole life it's been, "you respect the office of the Presidency regardless of your feelings about its occupant." But come on. How do you ever again respect an office that can be held by Donald Trump?

I continue to believe that we have seen the last Presidential election that will ever matter. Ever.

Either there just won't be any more presidential elections, which is still far from off the table, or there will be. And if we get through four years with Donald Trump as President and the country is still here, then it obviously just does not matter who we elect. We should just do away with the Presidency altogether, or maybe make it a figurehead ceremonial position like Canada's Governor General, something we use to honor great artists or other admired public figures.
posted by Naberius at 5:37 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]


... something we use to honor great artists or other admired public figures.

Such as Trump?
posted by oheso at 5:39 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


"I became hyper-vigilant about clarity. There was no room for misunderstanding; no margin for error. I needed certainty in an uncertain world."

Woah. I have a person in my life who loves discovering the meaning of words and insists on the importance of using them "correctly." I am more in the "language evolves and is playful" camp. This person has difficult parents...The above hit me like a lightening bolt. I get it now. Thanks for posting.
posted by CMcG at 5:45 AM on March 16 [44 favorites]


I had never heard the word "gaslighting" until the Steely Dan comeback. Then it was all over Mefi, and now I see it everywhere. So thanks, Steely Dan - it is a very useful concept.
posted by thelonius at 5:56 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Needs a uspolitics tag.
posted by zabuni at 5:56 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


And if we get through four years with Donald Trump as President and the country is still here, then it obviously just does not matter who we elect.
This seems to be rather reducing what matters about a president to whether or not they destroy the country, and thereby abdicating responsibility for electing a decent president and/or keeping control of the one that's been elected. Of course it matters who is president - they can and do have a deep and lasting effect on the lives of hundreds of millions of people, for better or worse depending on your POV.
posted by merlynkline at 6:09 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]


I had never heard of the word "gaslighting" until the Steely Dan comeback.

Mad props. But you really should see the George Cukor movie.
posted by oheso at 6:28 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]


I think the entirety of the trump campaign and presidency is a long-game effort to delegitimize the entire federal government to the point that powerful Blue states start to fight or simply ignore federal laws, thus setting the precedent for neoConfederate states like Texas, Arkansas and Arizona to say "Look! Teh libz did it first!" and once and for all break the power of the federal government. It's the apotheosis of the KKK/Koch Brothers/Breitbart/InfoWars world view.
posted by JohnFromGR at 6:30 AM on March 16 [22 favorites]


"I became hyper-vigilant about clarity. There was no room for misunderstanding; no margin for error. I needed certainty in an uncertain world."

Woah. I have a person in my life who loves discovering the meaning of words and insists on the importance of using them "correctly." I am more in the "language evolves and is playful" camp. This person has difficult parents...The above hit me like a lightening bolt. I get it now. Thanks for posting.
posted by CMcG at 8:45 AM on March 16 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Hello, count me in. Had very gaslighting parents (who would frequently just lie) and I am a stickler for words. I'm glad you were able to find clarity regarding your friend's situation.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:49 AM on March 16 [16 favorites]


Normally, we get a President who doesn't keep campaign promises, but generally doesn't lie.

This time we got a President who is keeping his campaign promises, but otherwise lies.

Strange inversion.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:04 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


"The person who is gaslighting you will never be able to see your point of view or take responsibility for their actions. They will never get it. They will never say, 'Oh, you’re right – you have a point.'

"Acknowledgement is not on the cards. And asserting yourself is not just useless but harmful. Because the person gaslighting will never be able to respond to logic and reason – and so you have to be the one to recognize that logic and reason can’t be applied."


I would go even further: people who gaslight, know they're bullshitting. It's not that they aren't able to see other points of view, it's that they quite literally do not care.

It's a really difficult lesson to learn because it means accepting that you don't exist as an individual in the eyes of others (the people gaslighting). When you don't exist for your own parents... well. This is why suicide is so tempting. You would continue not to exist, but no longer feel the pain of it.

Once I'd understood that as a young child, I resisted my parents' gaslighting by presenting a false version of myself to them. I never told them who mattered to me; never told them what I really loved or why. That way they couldn't destroy it. Because another thing gaslighters will do, just to keep the upper hand – it's all about control – is take away whatever they've identified as mattering (matter = reality) to you. Applied to current society: healthcare. The environment. The things that keep us alive.

You can also keep your sanity by doing what you can, on your level, to protect those sorts of things. While trying to get people who've never listened, to listen, won't work, accepting that frees up time and energy to put towards things that can and do work. Self-care is non-negligeable and works as role modelling too, so keep that in mind.
posted by fraula at 7:33 AM on March 16 [65 favorites]


"Right now, many Americans listening to their president are experiencing what I experienced frequently a child. Nothing means anything, and reality is being canceled."

Dudes, took you long enough to catch on. I've been aware of that disconnect ever since, oh, about the end of the Carter administration. Not that it wasn't there before in some fashion, just when everything turned to plastic and it kicked me in the teeth hard enough so I HAD to notice.

Now, whatcha all gonna be DOING about it? Blogging extra hard doesn't seem to do much. If it did, you wouldn't be allowed to do it...
posted by bert2368 at 7:54 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


"I became hyper-vigilant about clarity. There was no room for misunderstanding; no margin for error. I needed certainty in an uncertain world."

Woah. I have a person in my life who loves discovering the meaning of words and insists on the importance of using them "correctly." I am more in the "language evolves and is playful" camp. This person has difficult parents...The above hit me like a lightening bolt. I get it now. Thanks for posting.


This was illuminating for me. It all makes so much sense now.

The other day, I answered a question my husband had posed to me. He said, "You're doing that thing where you aren't answering the question I asked." I suddenly realized that my entire childhood/adolescence was spent answering what I thought my father was actually asking. Because we never actually knew what he was asking, we had to guess, and if we got it wrong there was hell to pay. So all this time I've been trying to answer what I think my husband has been asking when in reality, it's not at all complicated.

I used to think I couldn't get sadder about my childhood but then things like that come up.
posted by cooker girl at 8:11 AM on March 16 [47 favorites]


> Normally, we get a President who doesn't keep campaign promises, but generally doesn't lie.

This time we got a President who is keeping his campaign promises, but otherwise lies.

Strange inversion.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:04 AM on March 16
[1 favorite +] [!]


I have to push back on this framing. He's kept the "campaign promises" that we knew he would keep — increased deportations, increased white-on-POC violence, the use of police, ICE, and CBP to reinforce the chaos and the white-on-poc violence) but not the campaign promises we knew were bullshit ("terrific health plan costs less more people covered jobs so many jobs so much winning you'll be sick of it also here's a unicorn I'm going to get you a unicorn also I have a secret plan to defeat ISIS also another unicorn so many unicorns.")

Just because we didn't fall for his Nigerian-prince level scam doesn't mean that the lies he told while pushing said scam to suckers aren't lies.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:12 AM on March 16 [15 favorites]


I would go even further: people who gaslight, know they're bullshitting. It's not that they aren't able to see other points of view, it's that they quite literally do not care.

We had different experiences. One of the scariest things to me was realizing, at a young age, that I could see my mother rewrite her memory as she talked. Literally nothing was real except how she felt at the time. Her abuse was sometimes more powerful because she really believed.

I've seen the same thing with 45. Every once in a while there will be a clip where he starts out not knowing something, and by the end of the word salad he's presenting himself as an expert who knows just what to do. He intuits his way there based on what feels right in his worldview, and so it's intoxicating to anyone who shares he worldview or proclivities, because it's intensely validating. It's also insane.

The people I know who have survived prolonged (particularly childhood) gaslighting with some sense of self intact have mostly done it by creating an internal reality, one obsessed with getting the words right so that you have described things that happened precisely, so that you can remember it later, when everything around you is trying to convince you that you're crazy. And then they protect that little burning ball of truth fiercely.

I still have that trait, though it's mellowed. You can see it in my posting history. When people get the words wrong in a way that allows some untruth or some prejudicial thing to slide by in a way that's damaging, it's very difficult for me not to fight for clarity. And now, of course, I'm used to it, and not afraid of doing so, so in a lot of situations I'm one of the only people comfortable actually doing this. (IRL too.)

I mean, it's a good skill to have. Because gaslighting isn't just prevalent with this administration. It's the primary mechanism by which a lot of racism and sexism get perpetuated nowadays. It's a fight that never ends.

But it does require you to fight.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:13 AM on March 16 [60 favorites]


I have often been struck by how often since the election white men (sorry, but they're still the majority of well-known political commentators, even on the left) have really struggled to take on board the idea that you could be subject to the brutal whims of an arbitrary asshole with no respect for the truth, and what the consequences of that are. I remember some writer in a semi-respectable outlet (forget which one) going on about how it won't be so bad! You just have to soothe and flatter the man, so he won't do whatever terrible thing he has on his mind that day! And, really, how much will that cost you? As if people like Trump don't always reserve their right to change their minds the next day. And the next. Abusers don't believe in consistency; it would limit their power. These white male commentators really just cannot accept that this could be reality and they can't work out what it means. (Hence, the doofus Republicans, like Christie and Romney, who have betrayed their own principles to cozy up to Trump, even though he was quite predictably going to stab them in the back.)

Women, members of marginalized groups, survivors of abuse...I think this has been the reality for most of us at some point or another in our lives. We understand it much better.
posted by praemunire at 8:16 AM on March 16 [42 favorites]


Dudes, took you long enough to catch on. I've been aware of that disconnect ever since, oh, about the end of the Carter administration.

Yep. It goes beyond specific presidents, or even the presidency. This reminds me of the memoir A Language Older Than Words, in which abuse is used convincingly as an analogy to, well, industrial civilization.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:29 AM on March 16


Oh man, I'm going through this right now. I walked out on my parents on Christmas because of a very upsetting conversation in which they were telling me that I was overreacting to harassment at work. Then they acted like the conversation had never happened. I finally confronted them about it last week (well, in an email) and got the "well we had no idea you were upset" response. Come on. I LITERALLY WALKED OUT ON CHRISTMAS DINNER. This is par for the course for my mom. I couldn't do anything about it as a child, and her behavior set me up for an abusive marriage, but I'm an independent adult and I can just detach myself.
posted by AFABulous at 8:40 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]


I have been going through this for 8 years with an ex. Last week her and her husband smirked while they told me that they literally connived to set me up for a situation that they knew would have me very upset and feeling helpless and then 3 days later I get funny stories and smiley faces in emails. It is crazy making.
posted by ian1977 at 8:48 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Women, members of marginalized groups, survivors of abuse...I think this has been the reality for most of us at some point or another in our lives. We understand it much better.

In my more optimistic moments I think to myself, "well now maybe some of those white men will get it."

"Some" is doing a lot of work there, though.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:49 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I have been going through this for 8 years with an ex. Last week her and her husband smirked while they told me that they literally connived to set me up for a situation that they knew would have me very upset and feeling helpless and then 3 days later I get funny stories and smiley faces in emails. It is crazy making.
posted by ian1977 at 8:48 AM on March 16 [+] [!]


This might be a derail, but seriously, for your own mental health, cut off contact with this person. If you can't, minimize it, and make sure there are rules for how and when you can contact one another (like if it's shared custody, only about the kids, and only in an agreed upon medium / channel).

I'm not kidding. Having people like this in your life is insidiously damaging. You don't even realize the extent of the damage until they're gone.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:53 AM on March 16 [18 favorites]


This is one of the several threads over the past decade or so that has really opened my eyes as to why I am the way I am. I can echo so, so many of the things said above. But my fingers are cold, so I'll keep it brief and only add something new.

Those are good rules, and ones that as I read them felt very familiar. One of the things that I've noticed in my own experiences is how easily I can be pushed into being that hateful and shitty person when I forget that "there will never be accountability" and lose my "detachment" from the situation.

I mean, I own that I'm being legitimately shitty and horrible in that moment out of anger and frustration and I don't want that to be the relationship. And, yet, there we go forgetting to "let go of the wish for things to be different."

Well, actually I guess I've just been exceptional at "remaining defiant" and fair to poor at everything else.
posted by absalom at 9:01 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]


My peer managers at work (at a very stable company) were shocked by a sudden rumor amongst the staff that we were all about to be laid off. We were trying to figure out where this really very far-fetched idea came from, and one of the Gen-Yers said, "Well you hadn't said that we weren't. And the President is lying about everything. We're just expecting the worst everywhere. Even from you guys."
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:06 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


The last 6 months have produced in me a never-before extant mental/emotional state in which I trust no one, resist sharing anything personal, and have withdrawn from a significant number of people I used to be quite close to. I can't believe it's a coincidence. There seems to be no safe place, no real truth to hold on to. It's depressing as hell and I just sit with my dog and read and pray for deliverance...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:16 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


As I wrote in my memoir, An Abbreviated Life, it wasn’t the loudest and scariest explosions that caused the most damage. It wasn’t the physical violence or the verbal abuse or the lack of boundaries and inappropriate behavior. What did the real damage was the denial that these incidents ever occurred.

The erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse.


This. Once some years ago, my sister asked how I couldn't remember that time when our mother chased me around with a hairbrush, intending to beat me. Nope, and it's not because I've been manipulated to forget it, it's that running around the house with a hysterical woman on your heels is nothing compared to when your mother claims you have never visited her at the hospital for several months. Or that that vicious thing she gave you for lunch/Christmas/your room/whatever is something you asked for and then forgot about. Or that you never bring your little sister home from school (after forgetting it once out of several years).

Unfortunately, in spite of having internalized all of the advice in the article when I was a teen, I still fall for manipulators. I've been in an abusive marriage, and I've recently been gaslighted by colleagues at work, scheming successfully to get me out of their way. I wish I could say I can recognize it when I see it, but I can't always. There is some fundamental part of me that is broken. Maybe the desire to find acknowledgement is so strong, it can't be suppressed even if one really tries intellectually to do so. Also, while the narcissism of these people is the same, there can be many forms of vanity, and I have not been good at recognizing the narcissism because I have misread the vanity when it wasn't identical to my mother's. It's very banal: I don't recognize narcissism or vanity in a woman who is my age and who doesn't wear makeup or fancy clothes, because I don't get that her vanity has another form than my mother's who was obsessed with social class and its markers.

I do recognize Trump, because he is so obvious it's ridiculous. And while I don't want to excuse the children, I can see how they are under his spell, like one of my siblings is to some extent still under our mother's spell.
posted by mumimor at 9:17 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


"Well you hadn't said that we weren't.

For my part, if management denied there would be layoffs, I'd start polishing my resume. It's like Nixon's "I am not a crook." The Vietnam War destroyed any idea I might have had that the government, up to and including whoever happened to be President, had any respect for the truth. Later, the managements of the several companies I worked for revealed that they didn't have any either.

Know your friends and loved ones, and give them whatever trust they deserve. Everyone else is happy to lie to you, if it serves their agenda.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:09 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]


" “Are you so-and-so’s daughter?” he asked. I nodded. He had been a guest at one of my mother’s parties. After I left, he said: “I had always wondered how that little girl would survive. I had thought her only choices were suicide or murder.” "

One of the things that affected me was that no one seemed to think there was anything wrong with the way I was being treated. I think I still don't trust adults.

On the one hand, late acknowledgement is better than no acknowledgment. On another hand, I've been somewhat on the other side of the problem-- seeing a daughter being emotionally abused, and pushing back a little with the mother (no effect that I could see), but not having the nerve to take it up with the daughter.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:07 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


One of the things that affected me was that no one seemed to think there was anything wrong with the way I was being treated. I think I still don't trust adults.

I think the flipside of that is that people who have experienced this type of abuse are uncomfortably aware that speaking out about it or noticing it in public can often make abuse worse-- the abuser never has a moment of realization that "people are noticing, so I should change", but they very often decide "people are noticing, so I need to make things worse for my child". Even the fact of someone noticing the parent's cruelty will inevitably be reframed as the child's betrayal/ingratitude.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:12 AM on March 16 [14 favorites]


This is sparking all sorts of connections in my brain that explain something about me that I've always struggled with. I am a stickler for words. I get hyper focused on what someone is saying and then when they change their minds or say something counter to what they said before (comes up in therapy a lot) I get irrationally upset. Like internally that person is now declared "Unsafe" . I never really realized until reading this that that isn't an innate trait just cause I've been reading since I was three. But a product of gaslighting as a child is a big revalation to me.

I've been finding myself cutting people off and backing away more from social situations since the election. Find myself dropping back into depression since all of it is so much like my childhood. I mean Trump would be a cliche'd abuser in a bad comic book it is so obvious. On one hand I'm happy survivors are seeing the resistance and the more articles like this (even if most people are like *duh*) give us affirmation that yup what we went through was abuse. OTOH it is a slap in the face to have basically your abusers get promoted and launded and a further reminder that people don't see you as human.

I survived a childhood by reading. Creating internal systems where I play with Batman or be a detective. Which I just realize writing that is probably a result of being abused and want to be a person who finds the truth. It wasn't until last week when my therapist told me that I found out that most people don't see words in colours or that they have feelings. I suspect I relied so much on my internal system to survive being convinced that I should not be alive and me simply breathing was too loud that my brain has developed warning signs related to abuse so that when someone says a word my parent did it gets tagged by a colour and a feeling. It is bizarre.

And yeah, the denying of gaslighting is really really the worst part of abuse. The physical stuff, the sexual stuff, the child porn stuff, etc etc none of that compares to someone hurting you and then denying they did and everyone else telling you that you are lying. I really don't trust people. Especially other adults. And I even struggle with friends. My mother was over yesterday to pick up some mail I accidentally got sent for her and stayed to help me repot a plant. Cause of my extreme chronic pain right now my house was a mess. So my mom started cleaning. I tried to be all adult and be "if this is what she wants to do that's ok and I'm safe here and it is a kind act and I do need to accept help" and it just left me on edge the entire time. The last time she was over we somehow ended up talking about what happened during the day my father died. My mother started getting angry when I said I stayed home alone at 12 when everyone else went to the hospital. She swears she would not leave her child alone like that and sent my aunt. I know this didn't happen. I'm pretty sure I remember the day my father died pretty clearly. Yet still that doubt. Because to believe my own truth is to call her a bad mother in her mind and that can't be. I'm 42. I've been fighting to find my truth since I was little. I still don't 100% believe I was abused despite hospitalizations, PTSD, DID, multiple suicide attempts, like text book TRAUMA VICTIM is painted all over me. Because I know one fact is true, if I brought it up to my family it would be denied.

Sorry for the length. Very great thread and really helped open some of my eyes that explain me! Thank you so much for posting it.
posted by kanata at 12:15 PM on March 16 [19 favorites]


And if we get through four years with Donald Trump as President and the country is still here, then it obviously just does not matter who we elect.

If we live through a car ride with a drunk and unlicensed novice driver at the wheel, then it obviously just does not matter who drives cars.

See the problem with this argument? I'd also like to point out that not everyone will survive the next four years. People have already died in that disastrous Yemen raid that Obama refused to sign off on and Trump okayed. More people will die because they'll lose their healthcare or their housing or their social assistance benefits. Others will die because of deregulation of safety and environmental protections, because they lost their jobs and their savings, because they were deported, because of unchecked police brutality, because of escalating international tensions and botched military operations and lack of counteractive measures against and preparation for climate change.

Good government fucking matters and I don't understand why so many people don't get that.
posted by orange swan at 5:31 PM on March 16 [25 favorites]


When people get the words wrong in a way that allows some untruth or some prejudicial thing to slide by in a way that's damaging, it's very difficult for me not to fight for clarity.

Schadenfrau, the fact that you can and do point out these types of unclear, untruthful, prejudicial, just plain wrong or damaging things in MetaFilter threads is astounding to me. Orange Swan does the same, as well as some other MeFites around this joint.

The ability to cut through the bullshit to the heart of the matter is one that I find I often lack. And yes, I blame 18 years of gaslighting and abuse while growing up, and years of living with a gaslighter that was even taught to gaslight himself. Thank all of you who can point things out with logic, clarity, and kindness.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:06 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]


Women, members of marginalized groups, survivors of abuse...I think this has been the reality for most of us at some point or another in our lives. We understand it much better.

Yes, and I think that's also why millions of us immediately saw exactly what 45 was and are exhausted having to explain this to everyone who voted for him or said to give him a chance.

We already know how this is going to play out, please don't make us explain it again and again. When dealing with a gaslighter, there's never hope they'll change.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:19 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


"I became hyper-vigilant about clarity. There was no room for misunderstanding; no margin for error. I needed certainty in an uncertain world."

Woah. I have a person in my life who loves discovering the meaning of words and insists on the importance of using them "correctly." I am more in the "language evolves and is playful" camp. This person has difficult parents...The above hit me like a lightening bolt. I get it now. Thanks for posting.


you may have noticed that I habitually pepper everything I say with "honestly" or "frankly" or "to be honest", right? Ha. This shit manifests in a whole number of ways, but an anxiety about honesty and truthfulness and clear communication is... a very familiar thing, let's say.
posted by sciatrix at 8:26 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


The people I know who have survived prolonged (particularly childhood) gaslighting with some sense of self intact have mostly done it by creating an internal reality, one obsessed with getting the words right so that you have described things that happened precisely, so that you can remember it later, when everything around you is trying to convince you that you're crazy. And then they protect that little burning ball of truth fiercely.

And, ha. I keep fucking transcripts, either of historical conversations or freshly remembered versions of spoken conversations, before traitorous memory can erode them. Sometimes, for people I love, I go back and read them over and just bask in the reflected warmth and affection I feel for remembering those people; more often, I keep them just to have them. I love IMs and written chat and email for this reason, because I can point to them and say "No, this is what I said, this happened, and fuck you" when someone tries to overwrite my reality.

I'd advise anyone who deals with politicians to do the same. Christ knows I will; it's already served me well before, to be careful about what you say when you don't have it in writing, and to be okay with defending yourself or apologizing if someone abusive tries to take you to task for it.

On another hand, I've been somewhat on the other side of the problem-- seeing a daughter being emotionally abused, and pushing back a little with the mother (no effect that I could see), but not having the nerve to take it up with the daughter.

Oh, hell, this is me. I--my baby sister responded when I reached out to her recently, and I know she gets targeted the same way I did, and it's all verbal shit and nothing I could--nothing that's easy to call abuse, just the endless goddamn lying. And I am so pants-shittingly terrified to respond, and she's even being fairly respectful about it. But it's still so much scarier to reach out to a fellow victim for me, because--I don't even know. It feels so much more vulnerable, like I'm taking the position of another weakened and small person rather than that of a powerful and in-control adult. It's harder. It's scary. I wish I could articulate more clearly why.
posted by sciatrix at 9:03 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


you may have noticed that I habitually pepper everything I say with "honestly" or "frankly" or "to be honest", right? Ha. This shit manifests in a whole number of ways, but an anxiety about honesty and truthfulness and clear communication is... a very familiar thing, let's say.

Ha -- I have been called out for overusing "actually."
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:32 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Because another thing gaslighters will do, just to keep the upper hand – it's all about control – is take away whatever they've identified as mattering (matter = reality) to you. Applied to current society: healthcare. The environment. The things that keep us alive.

This is what I learned from my mother, to never ever admit I care about anything. Because if she knew what I cared about, she'd delight in having a new weapon. So I knew as a very young child to hide not only what hurt me, but what I enjoyed. I learned to bury even minor preferences.

So yeah, the current political situation is unpleasantly familiar to me. it's one I thought I'd left behind forever.
posted by winna at 10:16 AM on March 17 [13 favorites]


That politics is crossing over so vehemently into the realm of psychology is only making my outlook bleaker. As more responses come in I'm overwhelmed with how many people share my reactions, and say the same things and express the same feelings I am going through. I'm not sure if this is a good thing... a sense of solidarity in the face of an identified threat is usually positive. But in this case, if you feel my pain, it means you are enduring the same awful experiences I am. And I would not wish that on anyone. :-/
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:58 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Woah. I have a person in my life who loves discovering the meaning of words and insists on the importance of using them "correctly." I am more in the "language evolves and is playful" camp. This person has difficult parents...The above hit me like a lightening bolt. I get it now. Thanks for posting.


I am a stickler for clarifying what people mean when they use certain words, because we tend to assume that words mean the same thing to others as they do to us. When someone uses a word that has a very specific meaning in a way that makes it evident that the word means something completely different to them than to me, I do tend to challenge them. I often get a very huffy "you know what I mean!" No, I don't know what they mean. I know what the word means to me and I know that people sometimes throw words that have specific and sometimes nuanced meanings into their speech because either the word is commonly misused and people are oblivious to that misuse, or because the person wants to appear to have more expertise than they actually do. (Don't mention "decimated!")

For me this is because I am very literal. I don't lose my temper and shout out something I don't mean. I never have. My brain always filters my mouth. Because I am so literal, generalities and "words that don't mean that, but everybody uses them to mean that" drive me nuts. I don't want to hurt people, but if the conversation is an important one, I will ask for clarification.

My parents never gaslighted me. My second ex-husband did some. When I realized this, I never let him do it again.
posted by Altomentis at 8:00 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Man. This thread.

I never put it together why I can't have a single interaction with anybody without wondering if I've said something that upset them. I grew up walking on eggshells, with goalposts constantly shifting so that I was always the one who had to apologize, so I was the one who was wrong all along. You never learn a sense of self growing up like that, to say nothing of self-confidence.

No wonder I can't stand talking about politics with people anymore -- it's just too much of the same stuff I've always lived with. But there's really no escape anymore, except to disengage altogether. And then what happens?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:57 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


No wonder I can't stand talking about politics with people anymore -- it's just too much of the same stuff I've always lived with. But there's really no escape anymore, except to disengage altogether. And then what happens?

I think stepping away from the weekly/daily/hourly shenanigans is the best thing to do for everyone, but especially those of us who run so much of the universe through our gaslighting-survivor filter.

We know our gut reactions are, "OMFG Why doesn't anyone see that all he does is lie and lie and lie and lie??!" and it IS exhausting because of course it connects to our feelings of how shitty gaslighting feels.

I give anyone who wants it permission to step away from the news cycle. There will be something tomorrow and the next day.

Instead, maybe try to focus on doing one good thing that doesn't even have to be related to any of this. Volunteer at a library or something, anything to let you feel good about doing a positive thing for the universe. Or don't; I'm not the boss of you. Watch "The Wire" or eat some cake. You do you in any way that makes you happy. It's okay to step off this carousel.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:07 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Now, whatcha all gonna be DOING about it? Blogging extra hard doesn't seem to do much. If it did, you wouldn't be allowed to do it...

Hunkering quietly down and doing what needs to be done. I don't do protests and I don't bother with slacktivism. Neither of those is going to have much effect. This administration actually appears to thrive on the outrage of its enemies. What it fears most is being ignored and treated as if it doesn't matter. So what I think we need to do right now is stop collectively wringing our hands and expending all our energy on outrage and demanding that others do so too and behaving as if the protest and resistance paradigms of previous generations will have any effect (they won't) and instead make our existing social, moral, and cultural infrastructure impervious to neofascism.

You're probably aware of the effort to save climate data. That's a good example. Becoming a sanctuary city--and bracing for the consequences of having federal funding pulled--is another. We need more of this kind of action...and less outrage. We also need to figure out how to lay the groundwork for appropriately isolating and penalizing the gaslighters and their toadies in the future so that they can no longer do harm. (Most children do this by growing up and seeing their tormentors shrink in size and insignificance. Maybe, politically speaking, the Taiwan DPP will have some lessons for us there. Probably more humane than the deserved bullet in the head.

One thing that gaslighted children often take far too long to learn...multiple decades...is that gaslighters rewrite their own memories. And most children, unlike the article's writer, can't rely on ever encountering an external witness who is unwilling to rationalize away what she saw. Or they have family members and family friends who encourage them to "forgive and forget" because "life is too short." Life is too short NOT to remember.
posted by tully_monster at 7:29 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I give anyone who wants it permission to step away from the news cycle. There will be something tomorrow and the next day.


I highly recommend this if you're reaching the point of terrified paralysis. I was having daily panic attacks replete with trembling and vomiting. A lot of this was because as a gay and trans person, some of the current nonsense will directly affect me and my friends (but of course I also care about other affected groups).

I take it on a day-by-day basis. Last weekend I was able to go to an ACLU workshop and a (Democratic) senator's town hall. Being around friendlies is reassuring. I don't ever get into conversations with conservatives because it's a form of literal self-harm (blood pressure). (Plus I get called homo, mentally ill, sick, perverted, etc. Only so much of that you can absorb.)

I was hoping I'd be able to do more by now but it is what it is. I recently had surgery, lost my job and my relationship with my family. I'm depending on other people who have a greater capacity to absorb the bullshit.
posted by AFABulous at 7:43 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I can't emphasise enough how stepping away from following the news hour by hour has definitely saved me. Whether it was the darkness of winter, combining with personal problems with men friends, and being obsessed on the reasons for people's behaviour but daily exposure to the news was having me in a severe panic every day. Just even seeing someone else's little twitter telling him what he is doing is lying was triggering something.

Like I was joking two weeks ago that I've been radicalised by the internet and an election not even in my own country into seriously wanting to wish all white people would be extinct and starting a radical queer terrorist movement. When people would point out that I was also including myself in the list I would just respond that I've been suicidal since I was 5 so if I had a chance to eradicate us from earth I didn't have a problem being first in line. And that wasn't so much of a joke as just feeling like why to be in this world when queer and trans and female-identified people are being told every day that a large number of people would be happy if we were just slaves.
And my absolute idea of never being friends with men again unless it is purely transactional and fantasies about just killing them all and putting a few in camps for the straight women (gay men exempt in the first go around) was honestly something that I found really appealing.

After taking a social media break because feel lame I have no attention span to read a book anymore without losing myself for hours on my phone I am much more happy and just clearer. No longer seeing everything through this lens of every single person being an abuser or an enabler of an abuser. No longer going off on long rants to myself or friends about why would a rape victim come forward since this gaslighting asshole just got elected. No longer replaying conversations with my parent where they declared I'm just lying. And being able to actually enact the self-care suggestions I go in my AskMe.

My therapist says it is absolutely understandable that anyone who's experienced abuse or gaslighting is triggered to hell and depressed by this election all over the world. We are so attuned to words we see this happening and the fact that people are shocked by this (white men) makes us sick and want to scream and warn everyone who starts to doubt ourselves. Because America is so powerful in media everywhere it literally feels like my reality changed back to the past and that an entire nation is gaslighting me. It rings so so much to what happened that my homework in therapy is to remind myself that I have been abused. It happened. It happened to the extent I recall. That all my flashbacks etc is not just me having delusions.

That's the most frustrating thing about being raised by gaslighters. You can never quite trust yourself. When therapists tell me I own my own story and the details don't matter it is what I believe that counts my first thought is how do you trust your own story when you are not a reliable narrator? When people say practice self-care and do something you like and makes you feel good - how do you do that when you've had to hide that from abuse and devoted your life to surviving someone else's lies by only liking what they like? How do you do that when you internally believe you must be in trouble for saying you like a specific type of music or coffee over tea? That's the worst part of gaslighting. You doubt every single thing about yourself and get paralysed over every decision you have to make since you've been fooled into thinking you are the one who is the liar.
posted by kanata at 2:58 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Thank you for posting this, and thank you all for this discussion. I printed it out so I could read it slowly and without distraction. The parallels between my mom and DJT became really clear the weekend before the election, when she stayed at my house for a family gathering. In this particular instance, I do think she suffers from a bit of dementia onset, but I remember trying to explain to my fiance why I was crying so hard and eventually I landed on "she's doing the Donald Trump thing" as a way to summarize. And he understood. The word salad that's mad at you. The chiding that you should "lighten up" and "take a joke" when the joke is a serious betrayal of trust.

I hate to sound dramatic (or do I? I'm honestly not sure) but when I replay my memories of November 8th & 9th, it feels the same way as when I replay my near-fatal car crash and other traumas. It's like my mom and her abusive ex-boyfriend (who was similar and also different! And a religious fundamentalist! a fun melange of shit behavior in front of kids!) became worse and gained immense power. It still feels like looking at the sun, realizing the magnitude of the thing.
posted by witchen at 7:06 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


I hate to sound dramatic (or do I? I'm honestly not sure) but when I replay my memories of November 8th & 9th, it feels the same way as when I replay my near-fatal car crash and other traumas.

Dude, you're 100% describing Gaslighting Survivor Mode. You feel your feelings.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:34 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


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