I knew 16 days ago we began National Domestic Violence Awareness month. I have experienced physical and emotional abuse in my past. I read some things today that compelled me to speak out on the topic. There were some folks using the term gaslighting incorrectly and others were throwing shadow on claims of gaslighting as possibly being a matter of, “…I got confused, and emotional, and now I feel bad.”
I came across this journal entry in FetLife about 1 ½ years ago. I had never heard of the term “gaslighting” before I read that journal entry. The term is best known from a 1944 classic movie starring Ingrid Bergman, titled Gaslight. This past September it was being shown at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Cinema and I went to go see it.
What is gaslighting? A psychological definition of gaslighting is “an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim – having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.”
So yes, we are dealing with perceptions.
I was in a very destructive relationship in my past were I was physically and emotionally abused. The physical was easy for me to forgive, the emotional has been far from easy. Fairly early on, after I left my abuser, I realized I could not get past this problem. I had to work through it and that I needed professional help to do that. Some of the emotional abuse definitely fell under the term gaslighting. It can still be traumatic for me to relive those experiences. I was subjected to behavior that resulted in psychological trauma, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s an invisible scar I wear.
I want people to pause before they speak and automatically disregard someone, who speaks up about emotional abuse, because that is what gaslighting is, emotional abuse. I want to ask you to pause and listen to people who have the courage to ask for help. Please don’t turn your back and write them off as people who want to avoid being responsible for their own actions. Please I beg you to resist the urge to tell yourself, it’s discontent/sour grapes, because their relationship ended. I implore you to consider that it might have taken that person the last bit of strength they had to hold that hand out and ask for help. I beg you to realize that if you don’t error on the side of caution when that person reaches their hand out and grab that hand, you may lose that person forever. Emotional abuse can be that destructive. Grab that hand, pull them up, keep them safe, and find them help. Question later.
It took me a long time to find the courage to speak to one person I thought I could trust to talk to. Even then I made her swear to not say anything to anyone and amazingly she didn’t; she held all my dark secrets. She is a much better friend that I am. Even after I talked to that one person it took me another 6 months before I finally left. I’m a rare statistic, once I left I never went back to my abuser. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind to try to ask to come back. It did. I want to say I was lucky, but it’s not that at all. It’s that I did the work and continue to do the work to heal with a professional(s).
Do some people misuse this term? Yes. Do you really want to take the risk of turning your back on the many that don’t? No one deserves to be abused. I didn’t deserve what happened to me and I did not want it. Do I have accountability? Yes. I stayed. No one forced me to stay. I have to live with that. The abuse I suffered nearly killed me. I don’t say that lightly. There is a lot of shame in admitting that out loud, but choose to let go of pride and instead say my truth out loud, because… If you are suffering abuse I want you to know I have known the shame & fear you live under. There are women and men all over who understand the shoes you walk in.
And look at me today…
I am not broken.
I am not a victim.
I am not a survivor.
I am a beautiful strong leather woman.
I am here in the today, the now, and embracing life.