‘You’re too sensitive.’ ‘That didn’t happen.’
‘You’re acting strange, I think there is something wrong with you.’ ‘That didn’t hurt.’
Gaslighting is a kind of emotional abuse that is very common when there’s family harm. It means the person hurting someone keeps saying things to deny harm happened or was really worth getting upset about. For example, someone tries to talk to their partner about how their behaviour is hurting them and the partner flips the conversation back on them, like: ‘it is all your fault you’re upset,’ totally refusing to take any responsibility for the harm they are doing. This undermines the person being hurt and can lead them to feel like they are losing their grip on reality. Over time, this causes a lot of self-doubt in other areas of life, like work, parenting, friendships, health and financial decisions.
So when someone tells us they are being hurt, they often have to push through deep layers of self-doubt to even say it.
Sadly, it is really easy for those of us around any person being hurt to add to that gaslighting, without even meaning to. If someone in your circles tells you they are being hurt by a family member, it might be tempting to dismiss what they say because you don’t want to think badly of the uncle who is always so warm at Christmas, or of that mate who is always so generous when you go out together, or that woman at work who is so funny and good at her job. That’s when you might find yourself saying things like: ‘He’s such a good provider’, ‘Other people have it worse’ or ‘If you try harder to be good, you would get on better with your parents.’
The opposite of gaslighting is validation and it sounds more like this:
‘I believe you.’ ‘This was not your fault.’ ‘It’s okay to feel this way.’ ‘Are you safe now?’
No doubt, it is confusing when a person we care about is being hurt. Especially when we care about the person doing the harm as well. A great place to start is just listening to the person being hurt and helping them to find support. Motueka has a network of specialist services here to support people experiencing family harm: Safe Families Motueka. Contact Safe Families Motueka: email@example.com or drop in to see us here at Women’s Support Motueka.
Rachael Fabish, former Community Engagement Coordinator
Women’s Support Motueka
First published at The Guardian Motueka – November 2021.