There are two types of people we will meet in the world. There are the folks who don’t get us, or we them, and it’s not a big deal. Just move along. Then there are the ones who do get us. Which sounds perfect. Generally, these are folks we can talk and joke with, be honest and ourselves around. We can disagree, but generally without intending harm, and difference is welcome.
Unfortunately, not everyone who “gets us” is in it for friendship or love. Sometimes the people who understand us best are the ones who use that knowledge against us.
Those who treat us as less than, undeserving, and make us feel small usually know us very well. Just like a conman can choose their “mark” from a crowd, or a poker player can read another player’s “tell,” these types, sometimes called “dark empaths,” have us pegged and they’ll use that understanding against us.
Don’t feel bad if you find yourself in this situation. Usually, it’s a backhanded recognition of our strengths. Strengths they may not have, and envy. But we still need to equip ourselves to handle this insidious form of psychological manipulation.
The most vulnerable to attack in this way are “people pleasers.” We want to do good, keep the peace, and make others happy. We were probably brought up that way. Very young children usually believe that bad things are their fault. This causes overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, shame, self-loathing, and can follow us to an early grave (those of us with Trauma, Depression, Anxiety have worse health outcomes than the general population).
That pain can lead us to think that we are, at our core, somehow essentially wrong. That we’re guilty of all sorts of horrors, and it’s only a matter of time until others notice and we receive our just punishment. People who want to control us, put us down, and keep us there know this intuitively. It’s as though they know exactly where we hurt and insist on poking that spot.
Many of us become angry, reclusive, depressed, hyper vigilant, rigid, and constantly on edge looking for the next threat. On some level we may understand that the problem is not with us, but we may not know how to successfully turn this understanding into healing and separation from our tormentors within and without.
Once we realize that the person we trusted, loved, and probably stood up for despite our own welfare is undermining and Gaslighting us, we tend to go on the defense. We want to prove that we are good, deserving, and loveable just as we are. Of course, one of the main elements of Gaslighting is to deny our version of events, question our memories, our intelligence, and our sanity.
We may write down what others say to us that hurts so that we can prove to ourselves and the world that we are not crazy, or bad, evil, or selfish.
We could document conversations, remember specific phrases, or instances so we can say: “Look. I’ve written it all down. I took screenshots. I have it on video.”
But ultimately, all that self explaining will not be effective on a person out to use and/or Gaslight us into submission and agreement. The reason this does not work is not that the other person lacks understanding, it’s because they understand precisely what they are doing. In fact, they may outright deny or claim not to remember what we are talking about. They will only become more adamant in their judgement against us the more evidence and defence we provide. And they will most likely twist that information to their advantage.
So how do we escape that trap? First, we need to understand that, despite the protests of the other, that they are the problem. Their hurts, insecurities, fears are being reflected onto us to lift their own poor self confidence or self concept. Since they actually do get us in a profound way, we could earn the Nobel Peace Prize, yet these folks would find a way to discredit the prize, the achievement, and use it against us.
Secondly, we may attempt to “unmask” these people publicly. To gain enough of the world’s sympathy for our cause that we can bring our tormentors to account. This is not wrong in itself. The #MeToo movement, and the revelations of the extent of child abuse by the Catholic Church and other clergy are positive examples of how, with a lot of inner strength, effort, and the right allies, the powerful (even if they are only powerful in our minds) can be brought to account.
What we need to accept, above all else, is that we are, in fact, OK. That all people make bad decisions, act foolishly, accidentally burp at the dinner table or fart in church. But these people don’t seem to suffer for their humanity like we do. They embrace their silly, weird, awkward, and sometimes painful, unflattering, or boring parts of themselves. Because all people are burping, farting weirdos who do embarrassing dances or sing bad karaoke at a party.
Once we begin to see how much more like other people we are, it becomes easier to forgive and, most importantly, love ourselves. The spell of the Gaslighter may never fully be undone, but we can minimize their power. And, just as we would go to the doctor for antibiotics, there are people who specialize in helping broken people heal. And what needs healing is usually the heart. And it’s helpful to have a professional to guide us.
That is why therapists demonstrate unconditional positive regard for their clients. They are not there to lecture you. They’re there to help you to come to understand yourself and love yourself. With the guidance of a good therapist we can learn to embrace ourselves, farts and burps and embarrassing singing included.
As we learn to love and celebrate ourselves, we will learn self-confidence, and the freedom to simply exist as we are without excuses. We may take up an instrument and play it badly, but enjoy playing anyway. Our yearly karaoke serenade at a Christmas party could become a high point of good natured fun and pride in our shared foibles. And what could be more vulnerable yet human than dancing? But mainly, we will learn that what we’ve been told by others who enjoy our confusion and pain are lies.
So, let’s stop explaining ourselves. Don’t feed the predators any more information or attention. Starve them until they either seek help for their own damaged selves, or turn on someone else. Don’t cast your pearls before swine. Save them for the folks who love us: bad singing, stamp collecting, Klingon Cosplaying, wool dying, wilderness forager, Magic card enthusiast, whatever it is that makes us the unique and improbable people we are.
And remember. So far as we know, we are the only species in the vast Universe that can reflect on ourselves, our world, and Universe. We live on a magnificent oasis in the desert of space and time. Our lives, however long or short, matter because space is big, time is long, but we get the privilege of just being here now. Spend your time with people who get you and love you as you are. And once you learn to love yourself, spread it around.
Namaste, you legends!
– JL ✌🏼💙💛🖖🏼🎸💐🌞🌌
If you’re considering suicide, self harm, or have a mental health crisis: call or text 988 any time to talk or text with someone from the National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline. Help is always available in English or Spanish.
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