I realized that the best piece I have read thus far on the subject of gaslighting is not one of the two I shared before. Given the importance of the topic, and how unfortunately few people are aware of it (and how many unfortunately learn about it through painful personal experience), it’s well worth sharing.
Endurance is a virtue.
While “patience,” rightly, gets this treatment fairly often, let’s admit patience is often not possible. Sometimes – usually, even – we feel impatient with whatever awful we are going through. Or feel worse feelings than impatience, right down to despair.
This is why I want to take a moment to advocate for endurance – because endurance does not come with the baggage of often-impossible “supposed to” feelings. It doesn’t say that while everything is hellish you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel like hell, or like you are in hell.
It says: okay, this is hell – hang the fuck on anyway.
Endurance is an underpraised quality, a partner to frequently-misunderstood courage. Courage is sometimes wrongly painted as a synonym for “fearlessness.” Fearlessness is not courage – it is either the absence of any cause for fear, or likely a serious glitch in the nervous system of a person in the presence of a threat.
Courage is often accurately summed up as “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” That is why courage is something laudable, something extraordinary. I have no fear of toast, or that the toaster is going to do me harm. There is nothing courageous about me making toast, because I fearlessly make toast.
If doing what I believe is right is likely going to result in some harm to me, or will require that I continue to experience something that is already harmful, painful, difficult, and those are things I fear, and I act according to my principles anyway, then I act courageously.
It is the presence of fear that makes an act courageous, that makes courage remarkable.
Endurance is living in the bad, the painful, the harmful, the frightening, the difficult – maybe sometimes feeling courageous, maybe not (though I would argue it is possible to be courageous without feeling or thinking of yourself as courageous – just as it is possible to be a person behaving decently, or behaving cruelly, or many other things, without necessarily being aware of the truth, or while denying the truth), and not giving up.
Endurance is pretty much always possible. Even when you cannot see an end to what is troubling you. Even when what you feel (putting aside, for the moment, whether or not your feelings are an accurate representation of the quality of your actions) is weak, or despairing, or defeated.
Endurance, while you are feeling whatever awful it is that you feel, is a show of strength. Strength is what is required to accomplish what is difficult – and when you have been hurt, when you are suffering, when you feel – or are – alone with your pain, when your energy has been sapped by huge, multiple, and/or prolonged challenges, doing anything at all can be enormously difficult. Doing anything at all, in such a state, is a show of strength.
Including simply carrying on.
Give yourself due credit for the strength required to endure your difficulties, even on the days where you just don’t have the energy to take any constructive action, or where you can’t see what constructive actions you might take, or when there are simply none you can take. (Those additional obstacles mean your endurance is a sign of greater strength being exercised than in their absence, not less.)
I am not advocating denying your own agency, your ability to act, but there is some shit you really can’t – in the proper meaning of “can’t,” as in, actually not possible, rather than difficult, or not desired – do anything about.
Like when you are rejected, or a feeling is not reciprocated, or you regret something you have done, or when you lose someone you care about, whether because they walked away, or you did because their behavior was harmful or dangerous, or because they died. You cannot make someone feel something they don’t, you cannot make someone else’s choices for them, you can’t change someone else’s behaviors, you can’t change the past, and you can’t resurrect the dead.
You also cannot wish away grief, or make it end by trying to suppress it.
In my experience, the only feelings we can fully shut off for any prolonged period of time are some of the positive ones, usually as a side-effect of trying to shut off the ones we wish to mute, the painful feelings, which can only be turned down slightly – and which also prolongs them indefinitely.
And what we bury inside of ourselves, we carry with us everywhere.
We can’t leave what is in our own minds behind us, much as we might wish we could. And our internal burial grounds are straight out of “Pet Sematary” – that shit does not stay dead and buried, and if we won’t dig it up and deal with it, what inevitably claws its way out tends to be a much uglier, more destructive form than what went in.
You don’t have to see some deeper meaning in the moment in order to endure. You don’t have to know “the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” or have a reason to go on, in order to endure. You don’t even have to be able to pull yourself out of bed today to endure. You just have to keep drawing breath, keep doing the bare minimum to keep your body alive. And that, for some, on some days, in some circumstances, can be in itself something so difficult it requires enormous strength to accomplish.
Given enough time, bad feelings not buried, but felt and expressed, tend to abate. Given enough time, your odds are better that some unexpected, helpful person or idea or opportunity will show up. Given enough time, you are likely to do some healing, to gradually gain in energy to act, and maybe even feel hope.
It is okay if you can’t conjure a picture of what any of that might look like. It is okay if you can’t imagine a reason to hang on – because you don’t need any of that in order to hang on. You can hang on anyway. I know this from much and long and awful experience in my own life – you can endure through all kinds of hell, without any clue of how or when or if you will ever know anything else, without any conscious reason why you are hanging on in the midst of misery.
Unconsciously, at least, I think we all want to know, to live, to feel, something else, something better, something good, even if we do not allow ourselves to believe it might be possible for ourselves. And somewhere, however deeply buried it may be, I think all of us know we deserve things not merely to be better, but we deserve things that are good. (If we didn’t, I don’t imagine we would suffer in the absence of those things.) And the only way we might ever get there, to the possible-better, to the deserved-good, when our now sucks all kinds of ass, is to give ourselves more time, is to live to see the future, when none of us knows what might happen.
The future is always uncertain, is all possibilities, including some good ones.
Endurance is a virtue.
Please don’t give up.
Hang the fuck on.
At some point, when I am not fighting off a brain-fuzzing sinus issue, I will probably write about this topic at some length, but having come across a couple of relevant pieces, just want to share the links immediately, lest I forget later (as ever, sharing with the caveat that I am not a mental health professional, and whatever linked material I share is on the basis of personally, as a non-professional, having found it to be useful, and any other comments not referencing source material in some way are my own opinions and observations drawn from my personal experiences):
For now, I will settle for sharing the links, and the following caveats: neither piece is comprehensive, as, I would argue, none could possibly be, given how varied the specific behaviors and nuances of such abuse can be; and that I think one form of gaslighting I have never seen detailed, but I believe is one of the most common (and most harmful) occurs when a person does something damaging, while maintaining a pleasant/cheerful/friendly demeanor, a passive-agressive but unsubtle signal for the person who suffers the damaging consequences of the behavior to go along with the aren’t-we-all-just-happy-and-getting-along bullshit. Polite assholes, I used to call people who engage in such behaviors – psychological torturers is a far more accurate name, I now believe.
(And while I have addressed the subject elsewhere, I strongly suggest any person who is interested in the subject, or, though I hope you are not, suffering such abuse, look up “narcissistic abuse,” especially descriptions of individual experiences of survivors, as a lot of the abusive behaviors associated with narcissitic abuse have relevant overlap with – or are themselves examples of – gaslighting.)
Yesterday, a friend found out they had lost a friend of theirs to brutal violence.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about my own experiences with violence, and the experiences of people I have known, many of whom I have loved – all having suffered violence, some also inflicting violence on themselves and/or others.
Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
I am too tired to say very much that is coherent about those personal experiences, or the broader problems they are representative of.
At the moment, all I can really think of is how desperately I wish I could sleep, and about Fred Rogers, when he talked to Congress in defense of funding PBS, and quoting the lyrics of one of the songs, from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” about being mad, and how when you are thinking about doing something wrong, you can change your mind, and do something else instead. “What do you do with the mad that you feel?…It’s great to be able to stop, when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead… ‘I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop, anytime. And what a good feeling to feel like this.'” And how much I wish more people learned that lesson early on in life, so fewer people would externalize their pain by inflicting pain on other living beings.
And about how just because someone did not learn how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way in childhood does not mean they cannot learn, however much violence they may have suffered, or done, however old they may be.
And about how we all experience difficulties, and how exponentially more difficult they become to handle as they pile on. How unfortunately easily the human mind can be, and often is, overwhelmed – and how deeply the human spirit can be wounded, and how difficult it is for the social animals we are to heal without the support of other people.
If Mr. Rogers’ words don’t speak to you, for whatever reason, or if they do and you are so inclined to listen to someone else speak (with the warning that this speaker is explicit about his own experiences of being abused as a child as well as having engaged in violence toward others as he grew older), maybe Sammy Rangel’s words will resonate with you. He is a man who lived both sides of violence, suffering it being inflicted on him, and causing others to suffer by inflicting it on them. He has changed. He is no longer a person who engages in violence. He has started an organization called the Forgiveness Project.
Not unlike Christopher Piccolini, who used to be a part of a violent hate group, and who now helps other people leave such organizations. I have watched several of his talks, and he does discuss violence in some detail, at times more explicitly than others, and at the moment I do not have the wherewithal to watch again, but in any case, again, please only watch if you feel able to hear violence discussed in some degree of detail.
Eve Ensler also suffered a great deal of violence in her home as a child, and while her experience was not one in which she also engaged in violence, that I am aware of, she, too, grew up to work to help other people who suffer from violence. As with the above talks, there is explicit reference to violence, including sexual violence, so again, please, if that is something you feel unable to engage with in the moment, don’t watch.
To my knowledge, Scilla Elworthy did not suffer violence in her childhood, but she did grow up to be a person who has spent her life working for peace. Her talk (aside from its praise of Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was known primarily as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has since become the head of a government whose army is engaging in a genocide, a saddening, unfortunate change in perspective on who that particular person is) is wonderful in that she addresses a question of, as she phrases it, how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug. As with all of the non-Mr.-Rogers talks, there is some discussion of violence, and no reason anyone who does not feel able to handle the material at this time to engage with it if that is the choice you wish to make. (Also, on the TED site, the talks they have posted typically have transcripts available, if perhaps you find it easier to read such material than to listen to it discussed.)
I wish everyone the strength and support to handle difficulties, however great or small, and the sense of self-worth to ask for help from those who are able/qualified to do so; whether you need help because of being hurt, so that you can be helped to find a way to safety; or you need help because you are thinking about hurting someone (whether yourself or someone else), so you can find your way to decide not to do it, and do something else instead.
I am not a person qualified to provide that kind of help by a long mile, but there are resources available which are operated by people who are. An internet search can help you to find a helpline, warmline, hotline, support group, mental health care provider, or whatever other form of help might be appropriate to whatever your particular circumstances are.
The only other thing I can really say is please remember how precious life is – not just your own, but everyone’s.
Life is precious, and fragile, and uncertain.
Please treat it like it is.
WordPress tells you, if you look, that they use analytics that you can opt out of, and vaguely mention the opt-out can be found in your settings. That is the extent of the how-to.
Well, you won’t find the opt-out just by clicking on “settings.”
After you sign in to WordPress, click on “My Site,” then scroll down and click on “WP Admin.”
On the left of that page, click on the little human-from-the-shoulders-up icon, which is where you find the submenu for “users.”
Click on the icon, then, in the list that shows, click on “personal settings.”
On the left of the page that brings you to, click on “privacy.”
On the page that opens, drag the slider next to “Share information with our analytics tool about your use of services while logged in to your WordPress.com account” to the left to turn it off.
It is so easy, no wonder they very vaguely sort of almost but not really tell you where to find it.
Today has been pretty good.
Maybe not by anyone else’s standards; maybe not even by my own, in somewhat less bullshit times.
But pretty good.
Every day, every fucking day, do at least a little of what you love, if you can.
And I mean can.
Not if you feel like it.
Not if it is easy.
If you are able.
If you have three seconds and the minimal physical capacity necessary do whatever it is.
Fucking do it.
Life is a journey; death is a destination.