On being gaslit & survival
Posted on January 22, 2017
This post came to me last night as I was not sleeping after the Women’s March and that whackadoodle press conference by Sean Spicer. It’s weird, because if there’s one thing I would change about my life if I could it’s my family of origin. There isn’t much good to say about them, which is why I don’t talk about my parents much at all. But for once I think my upbringing might actually give me an advantage, along with a lot of other survivors of toxic families. We’ve seen this before. We know what it’s like to live with people who have a distorted version of reality and who gaslight you if you disagree. Being gaslit will make you doubt your sanity and wonder if you’re overreacting. It will undermine your sense of self. That’s the point. At bottom, gaslighting others is about keeping control and command over a reality that the perpetrator doesn’t want to believe. It’s about controlling people and things until they conform.
The good thing is it can be overcome if you recognise what it is. I have, and so have lots of other people. Here’s what I’ve learned from other people who went before me. If anyone else wants to chip in with their experience with abusive relationships and gaslighting, and how to survive, and how we might use those tactics on the political level, jump in.
One tactic that was used on me was Christianity and, in particular, an evangelical version that encourages magical thinking. My parents believe they have a direct line to ‘god’ and in their minds there is this whole alternate reality going on where “satan” is actively at war against “god” and it plays out in normal life, as if these secret strings are being pulled and we’re all puppets. All events are seen as evidence of this ‘war’. THEY REALLY BELIEVE THIS. They believe people (generally female, I’ve noticed) can be possessed by demons. Strong women are perceived as ‘demonized’; men who listen to women, the same. They’re all about Jews for Jesus etc. I’m pretty familiar with how these people think and I see their ideas lurking behind Trump. So, how to deal with it?
I don’t mean don’t fight back, but I do mean don’t bother engaging with the crazy coming from Trump supporters and the administration. Yes, they are lying. Recognize this fact and move on to what to do about it. The reason it’s important to disengage is because it will take up a lot of your energy. You need to conserve your energy for the actions that you will need to take. You are not going to be able to change their minds. Repeat: you are NOT going to be able to change their minds.
- Force yourself to see things as they are
It’s tempting to believe it will all somehow work itself out and to tell yourself comforting lies (they do love me REALLY – they will become a typical administration REALLY, people need to give him a chance, it’s the media etc etc). Stop it. If you see things as they are, you can make good decisions about what to do next & be strategic. If you tell yourself comforting lies, you will keep being caught off-guard and be vulnerable.
- Resist their labels
It’s already started – anyone who doesn’t agree with them is called “elite” or “libtards” etc. These labels are designed to dehumanize you and make you feel defensive. Don’t fall for it. See “disengage”.
One of the hardest, but most important, things to do in a toxic family is to put down boundaries.
- Educate yourself
Read. Learn about gaslighting, toxic relationships, patriarchy, fundamentalist Christianity, propaganda, racism, history. The personal IS political. Read 1984. Talk to people who have experienced these things and how they survived. If you are having trouble believing people can be this devious, it will help you see how common it is. Look for alternate leaders who are truthful.
- Take action
What action you need to take will become clear after the other techniques are put into place. The most important thing is to see what’s going on as it really is, not as you want it to be. Everything else will follow from there.