gaslighting

Allyship does not mean seeing yourself as worthless

There are people who like to make others feel worthless. Some of them use the language of social justice to get away with it. 

Often, this comes in the form of proclaiming to hate allies and then demanding unbounded deference from allies. This is typically conflated with accountability, but it’s not the same thing at all. 

Hatred and accountability are different things. Accountability as an ally means, among other things:

  • Listening to the people you’re trying to support instead of talking over them.
  • Making good-faith efforts to understand the issues involved and to act on what you learn.
  • Understanding that you’re going to make big mistakes, and that sometimes people you’re trying to support will be justifiably angry with you.
  • Accepting that your privilege and power matter, not expecting others to overlook either, and taking responsibility for how you use both.
  • Facing things that are uncomfortable to think about, and handling your own feelings about them rather than dumping on marginalized people.
  • Being careful about exploitation and reciprocity, including paying people for their time when you’re asking them to do work for you.
  • Understanding that marginalized people have good reason to be cautious about trusting you, and refraining from demanding trust on the grounds that you see yourself as on their side.

When people use the language of social justice to make others feel worthless, it’s more like this:

  • Telling allies explicitly or implicitly, that they are worthless and harming others by existing.
  • Expecting allies to constantly prove that they’re not terrible people, even when they’ve been involved with the community for years and have a long track record of trustworthiness. 
  • Berating allies about how terrible allies are, in ways that have no connection to their actual actions or their actual attitudes.
  • Giving people instructions that are self-contradictory or impossible to act on, then berating them for not following them.
  • Eg: Saying “Go f**ing google it” about things that are not actually possible to google in a meaningful way
  • Eg: saying “ shut up and listen to marginalized people” about issues that significant organized groups of marginalized people disagree about. https://www.realsocialskills.org/blog/the-rules-about-responding-to-call-outs-arent
  • Eg: Simultaneously telling allies that they need to speak up about an issue and that they need to shut up about the same issue. Putting them in a position in which if they speak or write about something, they will be seen as taking up space that belongs to marginalized people, and if they don’t, they will be seen as making marginalized people do all the work.
  • Giving allies instructions, then berating them for following them:
  • Eg: Inviting allies to ask questions about good allyship, then telling them off for centering themselves whenever they actually ask relevant questions. 
  • Eg: Teaching a workshop on oppression or a related issue, and saying “it’s not my job to educate you” to invited workshop participants who ask questions that people uninformed about the issue typically can be expected to ask.
  • More generally speaking: setting things up so that no matter what an ally does, it will be seen as a morally corrupt act of oppression.

Holding allies accountable means insisting that they do the right thing. Ally hate undermines accountability by saying that it’s inherently impossible for allies to do anything right. If we want to hold people accountable in a meaningful, we have to believe that accountability is possible. 

Someone who believes that it’s impossible for allies to do anything right isn’t going to be able to hold you accountable. If someone has no allies who they respect, you’re probably not going to be their exception — they will almost certainly end up hating you too. If someone demands that you assume you’re worthless and prove your worth in an ongoing way, working with them is unlikely to end well.  

If you want to hold yourself accountable, you need to develop good judgement about who to listen to and who to collaborate with. Part of that is learning to be receptive to criticism from people who want you to do the right thing, even when the criticism is hard to hear. Another part is learning to be wary of people who see you as a revenge object and want you to hate yourself. You will encounter both attitudes frequently, and it’s important to learn to tell the difference. Self-hatred isn’t accountability.

Tl;dr If we want to hold allies accountable in a meaningful, we have to believe that accountability is possible. Hatred of allies makes this much harder.

Image description: A sign with text "allyship does not mean seeing yourself as worthless".

Open letter to sick kids and disabled kids.

Dear sick kids, dear disabled kids,

You may be facing a lot of adults who want to believe that your therapy is fun. You may feel differently. You may not be having fun. That’s ok. You’re not failing. You don’t owe it to anyone to enjoy the things that are happening to you.  

Even if you think the therapy is important, you might not think it’s fun. You don’t have to think that it’s fun. Your feelings are yours, and your feelings matter. No one has the right to tell you how to feel. No one has the right to insist that you think something is fun.

If you don’t think the therapy is a good idea, you have the right to have that opinion. Your parents or other adults may be able to decide what treatments you get. They don’t get to decide what you think, or how you feel. They can’t make things fun by loudly insisting that they are fun, or by making you smile.

It’s ok not to think that your breathing treatments are a fun game. Even if your mask is fish shaped. Even if you put frog stickers on it. Even if you had a lot of fun picking out the stickers. Even if you know that you need it in order to breathe properly. Push come to shove, it’s still a breathing treatment. You are under no obligation to enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, then it’s not fun. Even if people make you smile.

It’s ok if you don’t think a purple hospital gown means that the hospital is fun. Even if you love purple. Even if you put your favorite sparkly heart stickers on it.   Even if you want the operation or procedure you’re having, you don’t have to think that what you’re doing is fun. Even if the volunteers and play therapists are really nice. You’re still in the hospital, and it’s ok to feel however you feel about it.

It’s ok to dislike the tracing exercises your occupational therapist makes you do. Even if she says that they’re really fun and that she loved them when she was your age. It’s ok to think of it as work rather than fun. It’s also ok to think it’s a waste of your time. You are not her, and it’s not ok for her to tell you how to feel. She is not the boss of your feelings, or your likes and dislikes. You are under no obligation to have fun.

It’s ok to dislike singing silly songs with your speech therapist. Even if he tells you in an excited voice all about the great new conversation starter iPad app, it’s ok not to think it’s fun. Even if other kids seem to like it. Even if there are fun prizes for cooperating and smiling. Even if people frown when you don’t seem happy enough. You don’t have to think anything is fun. Your feelings are yours. You don’t owe it to him to like the activities you do, even if he expects it from you.

It’s ok to dislike the sensory diet an occupational therapist puts you on. You don’t have to like being brushed.You don’t have to like weights or weighted blankets.You don’t have to believe that squeezing a fidget toy is better than rocking, and you don’t have to think that chewing a tube makes the lighting and noise any less painful. Your feelings are real. If you like something, that matters, whether or not anyone else thinks it’s important. If something hurts, your pain is real whether or not anyone acknowledges it.

And so on. If you’re sick, or you’re disabled, or you’re both, there are probably a lot of things happening to you that aren’t happening to other kids. It’s ok to have whatever feelings you have about that, even if others desperately want to believe that you think all of it is really fun. It’s ok for you to think that something isn’t fun, even when adults speak in enthusiastic voices, put stickers on things, use fun toys, or whatever else.

It’s ok to think something is fun, and it’s ok to think it’s really not fun. It’s also ok to find something helpful without finding it fun. You have the right to like what you like, and dislike waht you dislike. Your feelings are your own, even if you have to smile to get people to leave you alone. 

It’s ok to like things, and it’s ok to dislike things. You are a real person, your feelings are yours, and your feelings matter. Illness, disability, and youth don’t make you any less real.

Happiness is not consent to injustice

Sometimes manipulative people will use someone’s happiness to justify mistreating them. It works something like this:

  • Sometimes people force or pressure someone into a bad situation.
  • Then they tell them that it’s really a good situation.
  • And that they’ll like it if they give it a chance.
  • They’’re treated badly, in ways that no one should have to put up with.
  • Then they, through effort and creativity, manage to enjoy some things even though the situation is bad and they’re being mistreated.
  • Maybe they even find a way to be reasonably happy a lot of the time.
  • Then the manipulative person says: See? You gave it a chance, and now you’re happy!

If someone with power over you plays this kind of mind game, it can be very disorienting. They may be able to simultaneously make you feel ashamed of objecting to their injustice, and also ashamed of any happiness you might find. But actually, it’s ok to enjoy things, it’s ok to object to mistreatment, and it’s ok to do both of those things at the same time. 

It can help to keep in mind that the world doesn’t actually revolve around the people who have unjust power over you. You do not belong to them. Your ability to enjoy things isn’t a gift they’re giving you; it’s something you’re creating even though they’re putting you into a very bad situation. Your life is yours, and so are the things you have found ways to care about. 

If people treat you unjustly, dehumanize you, or otherwise mistreat you, that is wrong even if you manage to build some good things into your life. They’re in the wrong even if you are ok, and even if you are happy. If you make the best of a bad situation, that is an accomplishment that belongs to you. It doesn’t make the situation ok, and it doesn’t give others the right to treat you badly. You don’t have to earn the right to object to mistreatment by being constantly miserable. You have every right to object to injustice and wrongs being done to you even if you are happy.

Finding things you can value and enjoy is not consent; it’s resistance. That’s why manipulative people try to co-opt it.

Tl;dr Sometimes people forced into bad situations find things to enjoy, and maybe even find ways to be happy. That doesn’t make the situations good. Some people may try to convince you that injustices done to you aren’t really unjust if you are happy. Those people are wrong. It’s ok to enjoy things, it’s ok to object to injustice, and it’s ok to do both at the same time.

How disabled kids learn to be suspicious of optimistic teachers

This happens a lot in school:

  • A disabled kid goes to school.
  • A teacher is initially friendly and optimistic.
  • The teacher expects that their teaching will make the kid’s disability irrelevant.
  • Eventually it becomes clear that the kid’s disability is going to stay important.
  • Then the teacher gets frustrated, gives up, or stops being nice.
  • Sometimes this is overt and sometimes it’s subtle; it’s always hurtful.

A lot of kids go through this over and over during childhood. And, it often persists into adulthood and becomes a lifelong thing. It hurts. It does damage. And it means that people with disabilities are often suspicious of immediate kindly optimistic affect, and may take a long time to trust that you won’t reject them for being disabled.

If you’re teaching, be careful not to come in with the expectation that your teaching will erase disability or render it irrelevant. It won’t. Instead, start with the expectation that disability will matter and that you will be teaching students with disabilities. Disability acceptance is a key emotional skill for effective teaching. If you think around disability, it’s nearly impossible to apply any creativity to accommodating it. If you’re willing to face disability head on, it’s often possible to find good ways to adapt teaching so that a student can learn.

Ableist hostility disguised as friendliness

Some people relate to people with disabilities in a dangerous and confusing way. They see themselves as helpers, and at first they seem to really like the person. Then the helper suddenly become aggressively hostile, and angry about the disabled person’s limitations or personality (even though they have not changed in any significant way since they started spending time together). Often, this is because the helper expected their wonderful attention to erase all of the person’s limitations, and they get angry when it doesn’t.

The logic works something like this:

  • The helper thinks that they’re looking past the disability and seeing the “real person” underneath.
  • They expect that their kindness  will allow the “real person” to emerge from the shell of disability.
  • They really like “real person” they think they are seeing, and they’re excited about their future plans for when that person emerges.
  • But the “real person” is actually figment of their imagination.

The disabled person is already real:

  • The helper doesn’t like this already-real disabled person very much
  • The helper ignores most of what the already-real person actually says, does, thinks, and feels.
  • They’re looking past the already-real person, and seeing the ghost of someone they’d like better.

This ends poorly:

  • The already-real person never turns into the ghost the helper is imagining
  • Disability stays important; it doesn’t go away when a helper tries to imagine it out of existence
  • Neither do all of the things the already-real disabled person thinks, feels, believes, and decides
  • They are who they are; the helper’s wishful thinking doesn’t turn them into someone else
  • The helper eventually notices that the already-real person isn’t becoming the ghost that they’ve been imagining
  • When the helper stop imagining the ghost, they notice that the already-real person is constantly doing, saying, feeling, believing, and deciding things that the helper hates
  • Then the helper gets furious and becomes openly hostile

The helper has actually been hostile to the disabled person the whole time

  • They never wanted to spend time around the already-real disabled person; they wanted someone else
  • (They probably didn’t realize this)
  • At first, they tried to make the already-real disabled person go away by imagining that they were someone else
  • (And by being kind to that imaginary person)
  • When they stop believing in the imaginary person, they become openly hostile to the real person

Tl;dr Sometimes ableist hostility doesn’t look like hostility at first. Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to respect disabled people seem friendly at first. They try to look past disability, and they interact with an imaginary nondisabled person instead of the real disabled person. They’re kind to the person they’re imagining, even though they find the real person completely unacceptable. Eventually they notice the real person and become openly hostile. The disabled person’s behavior has not changed; the ableist’s perception of it has. When someone does this to you, it can be very confusing — you were open about your disability from the beginning, and it seemed like they were ok with that, until they suddenly weren’t. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

Not being believed

Content note: This is a post about ABA, and not being believed about the harm ABA does.

Anonymous said to :

People don’t believe me when I say I was a victim to ABA abuse, not even my parents.

I was misgendered routinely, I could not drink water even though this was harmless and was often asked to write my name even though this was effectively pointless.

How should I convince people I was really abused?

Am I just whining and should I “get over it” because that’s not “real abuse” and I’m not autistic?

realsocialskills said:

It’s not your fault that therapists hurt you. It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. What people did to you matters, even if no one believes you.

ABA is degrading on a level that it can be very hard to recover from or even describe. The basic methodology of ABA is finding out what you care about most and using it to get compliance with arbitrary demands.

I’ve written some here and here and here about the kind of damage that does, and that’s only scratching the surface.

Increasingly, one of the things behavior therapists demand is that you pretend that they’re not controlling you. They often go so far as to demand that you act like you like what’s happening and believe that it’s both necessary and enjoyable. And they do that even as they make you do obviously pointless things (like writing your name over and over), and even as they do obviously awful things to you (like denying you water and misgendering you).

That kind of thing can mess with your mind really badly, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe you.

It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. They can refuse to acknowledge what people did to you; you can’t make it go away. It matters even if no one around you cares.

You will probably always have to deal with people who don’t believe you. Most people are reluctant to believe that therapists ever hurt people in ways that matter, and ABA has a particularly effective publicity machine. Some people will say that you’re whining, that you’re lying, and that the things you’ve described don’t happen. They’re wrong. It matters that people hurt you in the name of helping you. It’s horrible that people who you should be able to trust don’t believe you.

Some of them may eventually come to understand. Sometimes people come around, in the long term. But you don’t have to wait for that in order to be ok, you don’t have to explain it to them if you don’t want to, and what happened to you matters whether or not people believe you.

Also… You are not alone. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is a community of people who know that it’s wrong to treat people that way. Making connections with people who believe you might help a lot.

It’s much easier to hold on to your perspective if you’re not doing it alone. This is hard. It’s also possible. You’re ok.

tl;dr Abuse matters even if no one believes you. That said, making connections with people who believe you can help a lot. You are not alone, even if really important people in your life don’t believe you.

ischemgeek:

realsocialskills:

how do you tell the difference between when someone is gaslighting you and when you’re doing the distorted thinking thing from anxiety/depression? (for example you KNOW they’re judging you because they’re your parent and you’ve learned what that LOOK means but now…

ischemgeek said:

Yes on distorted thinking and gaslighting being not-mutually-exclusive. I had distorted thinking when I had situational depression as a teen and I thought everyone in the world hated me (literally everyone. And that I deserved it). At the same time, my parents were being emotionally abusive and they were gaslighting me about it. At that point I was also getting very angry/frustrated with their utter lack of action on the bullying front and was calling them out a lot about it and they were always, “no, that’s not what happened” even though it was.

Journaling is really useful for this, too, I found. Just write down the conversation and come back to it a while later after the heat of the moment is gone and look over it again. Future-you can reality-check now-you. Plus, journaling helps if they’re prone to denying that conversations even happened, like my parents are. If your abuser says, “No, you never told me that Jonas was bothering you! If you told me, I would have done something!” you can go back to your journal and if you find an entry that says you told them about Jonas and they laughed at you, you know you’re right. In this way, past-you can also reality check now-you.

realsocialskills said:

Those are good suggestions.

One thing though: I think the main point of accumulating evidence is to figure out for yourself what’s going on. It can also be good as a way to show other people what’s going on.

It’s worth being a lot more cautious about using evidence to confront an abuser. People who are gaslighting you already know they’re lying, and they’re already committed to tricking you. When you gather evidence and figure out for sure that they’ve been manipulating you, that will shift your perspective considerably. But for them, it will not be a perspective-shifting revelation because they already *know* that they’re gaslighting you.

So, be careful about thinking that you can find arguments and proofs that will convince someone to stop gaslighting you. If you’re in that situation, the most important thing is probably to find ways of protecting yourself.

slashmarks:

realsocialskills:

how do you tell the difference between when someone is gaslighting you and when you’re doing the distorted thinking thing from anxiety/depression? (for example you KNOW they’re judging you because they’re your parent and you’ve learned what that LOOK means but now they say they’re not judging you which means you can’t trust your own perceptions)
realsocialskills said:
  
One thing that’s important here is that distorted thinking and gaslighting are not mutually exclusive. When you know that you have distorted thinking, gaslighting abusers sometimes exploit that to get you to doubt your perceptions. Even when you are having an episode of actively distorted thinking, that doesn’t mean that the things someone else wants you to believe are necessarily true.
  
I think there are a couple of things that can help to sort out what’s really going on and what’s distorted thinking: outside perspective, and paying attention to your perceptions over time.
 
Regarding paying attention to your perceptions over time: Even if you have depression, you’re not always going to be equally depressed. Even if you have anxiety, you’re not always going to be equally anxious. If you still don’t like what someone is doing to you even when you’re not actively anxious or depressed, it’s probably not distorted thinking.
  
Also, if every time you object to something someone does, they consistently convince you that it’s distorted thinking, something is probably wrong for real. Nobody is perfect, and sometimes you’re both depressed *and* reasonably objecting to something. If someone consistently uses your mental illness to try to make conflicts go away, that’s gaslighting and wrong even if your perspective actually is distorted.
   
 (That said, if you’re actively anxious or depressed, it can be hard to tell in the moment whether or not something is a pattern. It’s possible to feel like it is a pattern when it isn’t, due to distorted thinking. That’s a reason why it can be really helpful to pay attention to how you feel over time.)
   
One way to keep track of how you feel over time is to write a journal. If you write a journal, you can pay attention to how you felt yesterday and whether you still feel that way today. Writing down your perspective is a more reliable way to track things over time than relying on memory. It’s hard to have accurate memories of how you’ve felt over time, and it’s particularly difficult to have accurate memories of what you thought when your thinking was distorted. (That said, journaling does not work for everyone, and if you can’t do it, that doesn’t mean you can’t figure things out.)
  
Outside perspective can also help a lot. That’s one reason that therapy is very helpful to a lot of people who struggle with distorted thinking. If you can find a therapist who you can trust to have a good sense of when you’re probably getting something right and when it’s probably depression/anxiety-related distorted thinking. This backfires horribly if your therapist *isn’t* trustworthy. I don’t really have any advice about how to find a good therapist (I wish I did, and if I ever figure it out, I’ll post about it), but I know that for many people it is both possible and important to find a good therapist. 
  
Personal blogging can also help as a way to track your perceptions over time and get feedback, but be careful about that. Personal blogging attracts two kinds of people who can create problems for those who struggle with distorted thinking: mean people who try to make you feel awful about yourself, and people who unconditionally offer you validation no matter what you say or do. Neither of those kinds of perspectives are helpful for sorting things out. In some ways, unconditional validation is particularly dangerous, *especially* if there’s a possibility that you’re abusing someone.
  
Friends and relatives can also sometimes be really helpful, particularly if they know the people involved or observe things.
 
If you have a sibling you can trust (not everyone does, but some people do), you might be able to have this kind of conversation:
  • You: Sarah, when Mom made that face, was she judging me or was I imagining it?
  • Sarah: Yeah, that’s definitely her judgey face. 
  • or, depending on what she thinks:
  • Sarah: Actually, I think she probably didn’t mean it that way this time. She just talked to me about her obnoxious boss and I think it was her pissed at my boss face.
Similarly, friends sometimes have a really good sense of what’s going on. 
   
The caution about blogging goes for consulting friends/family and other forms of peer support. Be careful about people who offer unconditional validation of all of your thoughts and feelings no matter what. That can end up reinforcing distorted thinking, which is not going to help you learn how to improve your perspectives and trust yourself when your perceptions are accurate.
  
People who are offering you useful perspective will sometimes tell you that they think your perceptions are off base, and they will not be jerks about it when they are critical. They will also not try to coerce you into adopting their perspective. Sometimes they will be wrong. Sometimes you will disagree with them and be right. You are allowed to think for yourself, even if your thinking is sometimes distorted. No one else can think for you, even if you go to them for perspective and help sorting things out.
tl;dr: Gaslighting and distorted thinking are not mutually exclusive. It’s common to experience both, even simultaneously. If you have distorted thinking, people inclined to gaslight you tend to exploit it. Tracking your perceptions over time, and getting outside perspective, make it much easier to sort out what’s actually going on. Sometimes therapy is helpful. Sometimes blogging is helpful. Sometimes friends and family are helpful. Be careful about trusting people who are mean to you or who offer unconditional validation. 
 
What do y’all think? How do you protect yourself from gaslighting when you struggle with distorted thinking?

slashmarks said:

What I did when I was trying to figure out if I was being psychotic or my mother was actually being horrible was, right after something upsetting happened, I would text or IM my partner and describe what happened (not just how I felt about it; what she said, what she did, things that aren’t really a matter of opinion.) I had both a second opinion of things and, in the case of IMing, a record of everything that had happened right after I sent it.

This also meant that when I was trying to figure out if my memories of something were real or not, I could ask my partner and she would remember me telling her about it right afterwards.

mulder-are-you-suggesting:

realsocialskills:

how do you tell the difference between when someone is gaslighting you and when you’re doing the distorted thinking thing from anxiety/depression? (for example you KNOW they’re judging you because they’re your parent and you’ve learned what that LOOK means but now…

mulder-are-you-suggesting: said:

This is a really tricky thing to tell the difference between. I was gaslit by several therapists who dismissed a lot of what I said out of hand as “distorted thinking”, even when I presented them with evidence to back it up. And I think that’s what kind of made it clear to me that I was being gaslit: the fact that they wouldn’t try to refute the evidence I presented them with by actually making arguments against it, but that they just dismissed everything out of hand.

realsocialskills said:

That’s a good point. When people refuse to listen to your perspective, they’re probably not people you should trust to evaluate it.

how do you tell the difference between when someone is gaslighting you and when you’re doing the distorted thinking thing from anxiety/depression? (for example you KNOW they’re judging you because they’re your parent and you’ve learned what that LOOK means but now they say they’re not judging you which means you can’t trust your own perceptions)
realsocialskills said:
  
One thing that’s important here is that distorted thinking and gaslighting are not mutually exclusive. When you know that you have distorted thinking, gaslighting abusers sometimes exploit that to get you to doubt your perceptions. Even when you are having an episode of actively distorted thinking, that doesn’t mean that the things someone else wants you to believe are necessarily true.
  
I think there are a couple of things that can help to sort out what’s really going on and what’s distorted thinking: outside perspective, and paying attention to your perceptions over time.
 
Regarding paying attention to your perceptions over time: Even if you have depression, you’re not always going to be equally depressed. Even if you have anxiety, you’re not always going to be equally anxious. If you still don’t like what someone is doing to you even when you’re not actively anxious or depressed, it’s probably not distorted thinking.
  
Also, if every time you object to something someone does, they consistently convince you that it’s distorted thinking, something is probably wrong for real. Nobody is perfect, and sometimes you’re both depressed *and* reasonably objecting to something. If someone consistently uses your mental illness to try to make conflicts go away, that’s gaslighting and wrong even if your perspective actually is distorted.
   
 (That said, if you’re actively anxious or depressed, it can be hard to tell in the moment whether or not something is a pattern. It’s possible to feel like it is a pattern when it isn’t, due to distorted thinking. That’s a reason why it can be really helpful to pay attention to how you feel over time.)
   
One way to keep track of how you feel over time is to write a journal. If you write a journal, you can pay attention to how you felt yesterday and whether you still feel that way today. Writing down your perspective is a more reliable way to track things over time than relying on memory. It’s hard to have accurate memories of how you’ve felt over time, and it’s particularly difficult to have accurate memories of what you thought when your thinking was distorted. (That said, journaling does not work for everyone, and if you can’t do it, that doesn’t mean you can’t figure things out.)
  
Outside perspective can also help a lot. That’s one reason that therapy is very helpful to a lot of people who struggle with distorted thinking. If you can find a therapist who you can trust to have a good sense of when you’re probably getting something right and when it’s probably depression/anxiety-related distorted thinking. This backfires horribly if your therapist *isn’t* trustworthy. I don’t really have any advice about how to find a good therapist (I wish I did, and if I ever figure it out, I’ll post about it), but I know that for many people it is both possible and important to find a good therapist. 
  
Personal blogging can also help as a way to track your perceptions over time and get feedback, but be careful about that. Personal blogging attracts two kinds of people who can create problems for those who struggle with distorted thinking: mean people who try to make you feel awful about yourself, and people who unconditionally offer you validation no matter what you say or do. Neither of those kinds of perspectives are helpful for sorting things out. In some ways, unconditional validation is particularly dangerous, *especially* if there’s a possibility that you’re abusing someone.
  
Friends and relatives can also sometimes be really helpful, particularly if they know the people involved or observe things.
 
If you have a sibling you can trust (not everyone does, but some people do), you might be able to have this kind of conversation:
  • You: Sarah, when Mom made that face, was she judging me or was I imagining it?
  • Sarah: Yeah, that’s definitely her judgey face. 
  • or, depending on what she thinks:
  • Sarah: Actually, I think she probably didn’t mean it that way this time. She just talked to me about her obnoxious boss and I think it was her pissed at my boss face.
Similarly, friends sometimes have a really good sense of what’s going on. 
   
The caution about blogging goes for consulting friends/family and other forms of peer support. Be careful about people who offer unconditional validation of all of your thoughts and feelings no matter what. That can end up reinforcing distorted thinking, which is not going to help you learn how to improve your perspectives and trust yourself when your perceptions are accurate.
  
People who are offering you useful perspective will sometimes tell you that they think your perceptions are off base, and they will not be jerks about it when they are critical. They will also not try to coerce you into adopting their perspective. Sometimes they will be wrong. Sometimes you will disagree with them and be right. You are allowed to think for yourself, even if your thinking is sometimes distorted. No one else can think for you, even if you go to them for perspective and help sorting things out.
tl;dr: Gaslighting and distorted thinking are not mutually exclusive. It’s common to experience both, even simultaneously. If you have distorted thinking, people inclined to gaslight you tend to exploit it. Tracking your perceptions over time, and getting outside perspective, make it much easier to sort out what’s actually going on. Sometimes therapy is helpful. Sometimes blogging is helpful. Sometimes friends and family are helpful. Be careful about trusting people who are mean to you or who offer unconditional validation. 
 
What do y'all think? How do you protect yourself from gaslighting when you struggle with distorted thinking?

Nice Lady Therapists

Content warning: this post is about physical and emotional harm done to people (especially children) with disabilities by (mostly) female therapists. Proceed with caution.

 This is a hard post to write. It’s about abuse. It’s about a kind of abuse I haven’t seen described much. I think abuse is the right word, even though a lot of abusers probably genuinely think they’re doing the right thing.

Anyway, here goes:

Many, many people with disabilities I know have been harmed or even outright abused by Nice Lady Therapists. (Usual caveat: not all therapists are abusive, and this post is not opposition to childhood therapy. I’m saying that therapists need to stop hurting kids and other vulnerable people, not that therapy is evil. Pointing out that therapy is often important and that many therapists are good is not an answer to what I am describing.)

 

Nice Lady Therapists tell us that, whatever they do to us is by definition nice, and good for us. And that we like it, and that they love us, and that they are rescuing us, and that we are grateful.

They have a brightly-decorated therapy room full of toys, and assure every adult they come across that ~their kids~ love therapy. They use a lot of praise and enthusiastic affect, and maybe positive reinforcement with stickers and prizes. They might call the things they have kids do games. Some of them really do play games.

And every interaction with them is degrading in a way that’s hard to pinpoint, and hard to recover from. They do all kinds of things to kids with disabilities that typically developing kids would never be expected to tolerate. And they do it with a smile, and expect the kids they’re doing it to to smile back.

Sometimes it hurts physically, sometimes it hurts emotionally. Sometimes it’s a matter of being 12 years old and expected to trace a picture for toddlers for the zillionth time. And being told “This is fun! I used to do this all the time when I was a kid!”.

Sometimes it’s a matter of being forced to do a frightening or physically painful exercise, and being forbidden to express pain or fear. It hurts their feelings if a kid is upset. Don’t we know how much she cares? Don’t we know that she’d never do anything to hurt us? Don’t we want to learn and grow up to be independent?

Sometimes it’s a matter of being expected to accept intensely bad advice as though it’s insight. For instance, getting sent to therapy because you’re not making friends. And being told “We are all friends in this school! You have to give the other kids a chance.” And, if you try to explain otherwise, she patiently and lovingly explains to you why your thinking is distorted and you’ll have lots of friends if you just let yourself try.

Sometimes it’s - crossing a physical line. Touching in a way they have no good reason to be touching. Or touching over the objections of the kid in a way that is in no way justified by therapy goals. Sometimes sexually, sometimes not. Sometimes in ways that are against ethical standards of practice, sometimes not. But intimately, invasively. And if you say no, she patiently, lovingly, explains that you have nothing to be afraid of and that everything is ok. And that if you just trust her, you will have fun and get better. And when her profession has professional training about boundaries and appropriate touch, she thinks or even says “women don’t do that.”

Some male therapists do many of these things too, but there’s a gendered version of it that usually comes from women. And that can cause a problem for people with disabilities who are recovering from this. Most things about trauma and abuse of power are about misogyny in some way. They’re about men hurting women, and taking advantage of power dynamics that favor men to do so. Those descriptions are important because that pattern is common. But it is not the only abuse pattern, and it is not the only gendered abuse pattern.

Female therapists are subjected to misogyny and the power of men just as much as any other women. But they also have tremendous power over people with disabilities, many of whom are deeply dehumanized. The assumption that women have neither the power nor the ability to hurt anyone gets really dangerous really quickly for children with disabilities receiving therapy.

And it also means that people with disabilities often have a different relationship to gender than most nondisabled people. If you’ve been harmed by women over and over and assured that you liked it, it complicates things. If you’re a girl, it can make it hard to see a group of women as a Safe Space, especially if they think the thing making it safe is keeping the men out. If you’re a boy who has been repeatedly harmed by women who believed they were powerless, it can be hard to understand that the gender hierarchies that feminists and others talk about actually do exist. And it complicates things in any number of other ways.

But if you have been hurt by Nice Lady Therapists, you are not alone. If it has affected your relationship to gender, you are not alone. If it has left scars that others say you shouldn’t have because she was nice and meant well, you are not alone.

You don’t have to think someone is nice because she says she is. It’s ok to think that someone is hurting you even if that upsets them. You don’t have to think someone is safe or loving just because they are a woman or a therapist or smiling. Women can be abusive too. In human services, it is common. You are not alone, and it was wrong to treat you that way. The harm done to you was not because of your disability, and it’s not something that you could have fixed by being more cooperative or working harder or having a better attitude.  It’s not your fault, and it’s not because of anything wrong with you. And it’s not your fault if it still hurts. 

I’m not sure what else to say about this today. I think that there is a lot that needs saying (and I hope I will find some of it in the comments.) Any of y'all want to weigh in?

walkingsaladshooterfromheaven:

Nice Lady Therapists

realsocialskills:

Content warning: this post is about physical and emotional harm done to people (especially children) with disabilities by (mostly) female therapists. Proceed with caution.

This is a hard post to write. It’s about abuse. It’s about a kind of abuse I haven’t seen described much. I think…

walkingsaladshooterfromheaven said:

Not therapists specifically but other women in “helping” roles, particularly teachers/education professionals, have been this way to me.

In varying ways and to varying degrees. But there is a dynamic there.

It’s a “What I’m doing to you is for your own good and I’m being sweet and nice about it so you have no right to complain” sort of thing.

It’s subtle disrespect and dehumanization, in which they completely deny that that’s what they’re doing to you. It’s very gaslighty. And it is an attitude that is frequently encouraged among female education professionals.

It’s so terrifyingly ubiquitous and there are so very few guaranteed safe spaces from it.

Even women who do not normally have this attitude can take it on if they feel like you are being enough of a Problem to warrant it.

realsocialskills said:

Yes. As though being nice is a tone of voice, and that it does not require actual respect.

Nice lady therapists told me that restraint doesnt hurt, theyre keeping me safe. They put me in a baskethold and said it was a hug. They followed me to the bathroom when i was a teenager and made me do coloring sheets. They made me hug and cuddle and pretend to like it. They made me earn everything and acted like they were giving me a gift. If i didnt want their help it was problems accepting that others cared about me.
realsocialskills said:
 
I’m sorry that Nice Lady Therapists abused you in all of those ways. They shouldn’t have.

You are not alone

If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.

If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.

If you are being hurt by a community, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one from outside the community can possibly understand.

It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others outside your relationship, family, and community, who can relate to what you’re going through and who can help.

Some aspects of your relationship, family, or community are unique. Some of them are probably unusual, positive, and hard for outsiders to understand. But that is not the barrier that those who are hurting you want you to think it is. It is not insurmountable.

People do not have to understand absolutely everything in order to relate to your experiences in important ways.

You can make connections with others, and a lot of things you have experienced will be very, very similar. Some aspects of abuse are universal. Others are very common. (One very common aspect of abuse is that there is often something about the relationship that is positive, unusual, and secret or hard to describe.). 

The people who you can relate to may be very different from you in a lot of ways. They may be a different age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or culture than you. Maybe they are disabled and you aren’t. Maybe their disability is different, or more severe, than yours. Maybe the particular horrors they faced took a different shape. That matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

It is ok to relate to the experiences of people who are very different from you. It is not appropriation. (It is not ok to pretend that your experiences are identical; but it’s completely possible to relate without doing that.) Don’t let anyone tell you to only listen to people who are just like you. We all need each other.

People may be trying to isolate you, but you are not alone. Other people can and do understand and care about the ways in which you are getting hurt.

Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. (I said a little bit about this in my other post on ways NVC hurts people.) They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction. 

NVC has very different boundaries than are typical in mainstream interactions. Things that would normally be considered boundary violations are an expected and routine part of NVC dialoging.

That can be a good thing, in some contexts. There are settings where it can be very important to have different emotional boundaries than the default. To have intense engagement with people’s emotions. To hear out their emotions and state yours and try to refrain from judgement and just hear each other, and then talk together about what would meet your mutual needs.

In a NVC interaction, you have to regard your needs and the other person’s needs as equally important, no matter what they are. You have to regard their feelings and emotional reactions as equally valid and worth hearing as yours, no matter what they are. That is a good thing in some contexts, but it’s dangerous and deeply destructive in others.

That kind of interaction can be a good thing. I understand the value. But here’s the problem:

One way NVC can be abusive is that it supports coerced emotional intimacy, and coerced consideration of someone’s feelings even when their expressed feelings are abusive. This isn’t actually a good thing even when someone’s feelings are not problematic in and of themselves. Coerced emotional intimacy is a violation in and of itself, and it’s a violation that leaves people very vulnerable to greater violations.

I recently challenged an NVC advocate to answer this question:

Consider this situation:

An abuser has an emotional need for respect. He experiences it as deeply hurtful when his partner has conversations with other men. When she talks to other men anyway, he feels betrayed. He says “When you talk to other men, I feel hurt because I need mutual respect.”

Using NVC principles, how do you say that what he is doing is wrong?

This was their answer:

“You’ve described him as "an abuser”. Abusing people is wrong because a person with abusive behaviour doesn’t or can’t hold with equal care the needs of others.

Is he doing something wrong? Or is he being honest that he feels hurt when his partners talks to other men? His partner can become his ex-partner if she doesn’t agree to what he’s asking for.“

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with NVC philosophy. This abusive partner’s honest expression of his feelings is actually part of how he is abusing his partner. NVC has no way of recognizing the ways in which expression of genuinely felt emotions can be abusive. It also has no recognized way for someone to legitimately say "no, this is not a conversation I want to engage in” or “no, I don’t consider that feeling something I need to respond to or take into consideration.”

Part of what it would take for NVC to stop being an abusive culture it to recognize that NVC-style dialogue and emotional intimacy require consent every single time people interact that way.  Like sexual intercourse, this kind of emotional intercourse requires consent, every single time. Having a close relationship is not consent to NVC. Having a conflict is not consent. Anger is not consent. Having found NVC helpful in the past is not consent, either. Consent means that both parties agree to have this kind of interaction *in this specific instance*.

NVC can’t be the only kind of interaction allowed, even between people who are very close to one another. And it’s not ok to coerce people into it.

And yet, NVC culture is not careful about consent at all. NVC tactics are routinely used on people whether or not they agree to have that kind of interaction. (Some NVC advocates may say otherwise, particularly in response to criticism. But actions speak louder than words, and NVC proponents do not act in practice as though consent is important. They are case in point for When Your Right to Say No is Entirely Hypothetical) This is wrong. Emotional intimacy requires consent.

NVC practitioners express deeply felt emotions and needs to non-consenting others. They do this with the implied expectation that the other person experience their expressed feelings as very very important. They also expect that person to respond by expressing their feelings and needs in the same pattern. They also expect that person to refrain from judging the NVC proponent’s expressed feelings and needs. It is not ok to force this pattern on someone. Doing so is an act of emotional violence.

It’s not ok to force someone to be emotionally intimate with you. It is not ok to dump your deep feelings on someone with the expectation that they reciprocate. Other people get to decide what they want to share with you.

An example: White NVC proponents sometimes express feelings about their racist attitudes towards people of color, to people of color who have not consented to listening to this. They do so with the expectation that the person of color will listen non-judgmentally, appreciate the honesty, and share their intimate feelings about their experiences with racism as a person of color. This is a horrible thing to do to someone. It is an act of racist emotional violence.

NVC people also use empathy to violate boundaries. They imagine what someone must be feeling, name that feeling, and express empathy with it. Then they either insert a loaded pause in the conversation, or ask you to confirm or deny the feeling and discuss your actual reactions in detail. These are not really questions. They are demands. They do not take “I don’t want to discuss that” as an ok answer. They keep pushing, and imply that you lack emotional insight and are uninterested in honest communication if you don’t want to share intimate information about your feelings. That is coerced intimacy, and it’s not ok.

For instance, an NVC advocate with power over someone might say in response to a conflict with that person: I can see that this interaction is very difficult for you. I’m sensing a lot of anger. I’m saddened that your experiences with authority figures have been so negative. (Expectant pause). I think you are experiencing a lot of anger right now, is that right?

That is not ok. When you have power over someone, it is abusive to pressure them to discuss their intimate feelings rather than the thing they object to in your behavior towards them. Emotional intimacy requires consent; it is not ok to force it on someone as a way of deflecting conflict. And when you have a lot of power over someone and they aren’t in a position to assert a boundary unilaterally, you have a much greater obligation to be careful about consent.

NVC advocates may tell you that they are just trying to have an honest conversation, with the implication that if you want ordinary emotional boundaries, you are being dishonest and refusing to communicate. They are not right about this.

You do not have to be emotionally intimate with someone to listen to them, or to have an honest conversation. It is ok to have boundaries. It is ok to have boundaries that the person you’re talking with doesn’t want you to have. Not all interactions have to or should involve the level of intimacy that NVC demands. It is never ok for anyone to coerce you into emotional intimacy. Using NVC-style dialogue tactics on someone who does not consent is an act of emotional violence. 

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication. 

This is often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead expressing everything in terms of your own feelings. For instance, instead of “Don’t be such an inconsiderate jerk about leaving your clothes around”, you’d say “When you leave your clothing around, I feel disrespected.”. That approach is useful in situations in which people basically want to treat each other well but have trouble doing so because they don’t understand one another’s needs and feelings. In every other type of situation, the ideology and methodology of Nonviolent Communication can make things much worse.

Nonviolent Communication can be particularly harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors. It can also teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously, and to feel good about doing so. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.

For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Or “If you call me that again, I’m leaving.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.” All of those things are judgments, and it’s important to be judgmental in those ways.

You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Nonviolent Communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.

In order to protect yourself from people who mean you harm, you have to see yourself as having the right to judge that someone is hurting you. You also have to be able to unilaterally set boundaries, even when your boundaries are upsetting to other people. Nonviolent Communication culture can teach you that whenever others are upset with you, you’re doing something wrong and should change what you do in order to meet the needs of others better. That’s a major anti-skill. People need to be able to decide things for themselves even when others are upset.

Further, NVC places a dangerous degree of emphasis on using a very specific kind of language and tone. NVC culture often judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. Abusers and cluelessly powerful people are usually much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to mess with their head, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.

Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up. 

tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as. If you have certain common problems, NVC is dangerous.

a shorter version of the last post

As disabled people, we learn early that it’s our job to protect abled people from ever having to notice either the logistical problems or the hate we face. And especially, we learn not to show that it hurts us. And double especially, we learn that we are not allowed to tell friends or caregivers or ~nice ladies~ or others that they are hurting us. And triple especially, we learn that we are not allowed to be angry because that’s ~just the way it is~ and ~people don’t understand~.

I think that protecting abled people from having to notice disability and ways we are harmed as disabled people goes so deep we do it automatically and without noticing most of the time. And abled people *really* don’t notice, because they think it’s normal and natural and have not had any need to challenge it. They feel completely entitled not to have to deal with disability, and the entitlement feels so natural that they don’t even *notice*. And we don’t notice how much we protect them, either.

I’m not sure what to do about that. I would like to start unlearning it, but I’m not sure how. Have any of y'all found ways?

I told my therapist about how I was affected by things a parent did that hurt me. He said that they were “normal” parent things. He compared me being called a “failure” (among other things) to his boss making him do tasks he didn’t feel like doing, saying that “just because you’re hurt or uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being abused”. He also said that if someone is hurting me, it’s up to me to decide what my emotional reaction is to it & that there’s nothing I can do about it. Is this true?
realsocialskills said:
No, it’s not true.
Parents shouldn’t call their kids failures. Calling a kid a failure is not at all similar to making an employee do their job even when they don’t feel like it.
Everyone has to do things they don’t feel like doing sometimes. Everyone feels uncomfortable sometimes. Everyone hurts others in relationships, including parents. All of that is true, but there is a line. And calling a child a failure is over it.
Also, don’t get too caught up in whether something is serious enough to count as abuse. If someone did something to you that they ought not to have done, it’s ok to object. It’s ok to say that it’s still hurting you. It’s ok to want help dealing with the ways its affecting you. If someone is hanging everything on what’s technically abuse, that’s a major red flag. (Especially if you said it was hurting you and they responded as though you were accusing someone of abuse even if you never said that.)
I don’t know what your life circumstances are, but it sounds to me like maybe you’re a teenager and this is a therapist that your parents are sending you to in hopes that it will make you more compliant. If so, this post might be helpful. 

When your right to say no is entirely hypothetical

Some scary controlling people will tell you over and over how important consent is to them. They will tell you that they want to respect your boundaries, and that if anything makes you uncomfortable, they will stop. They will say this over and over, apparently sincerely.

Until you actually say no.

And then, suddenly, they create a reason that it wasn’t ok, after all, and that you’re going to do what they wanted anyway.

They will tell you that it *would* be ok to say no, and that of course they’d respect it, but you said it wrong. And that you have to understand that it hurts them when you say it that way. (And that you should make it better by doing what they wanted).

Or they will tell you that of course they don’t want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but you said yes before. And that this means that either it’s really ok with you, or that you don’t trust them anymore. And that you have to understand that it hurts when you withdraw trust like that (and that you should make it better by doing what they wanted.)

Or that they have a headache. Or that they just can’t deal with it right now. That maybe when they feel better or aren’t tired or grumpy or had a better day it will be ok to say no. (And that meanwhile, you should fix things by doing what they wanted).

Or that by saying no, you’re accusing them of being an awful person. And that they’d never do anything to hurt you, so why are you making accusations like that? (And, implicitly, that you should fix it by doing what they wanted.)

If this kind of thing happens every time you say no, things are really wrong. 

No isn’t a theoretical construct. In mutually respectful relationships, people say no to each other often, and it’s not a big deal.