validation

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.

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?

When outreach programs don't get it or don't help you

So, when I read abuse prevention and recovery things, something that’s almost always recommended is “call a hotline”.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. Hotlines help a lot of people, a lot. I don’t want to downplay that.

But I also know this: a year ago, I was afraid that someone in my life would become physically violent towards me, and a trained mental health professional close to the situation told me that I really needed to take that fear seriously. I called a domestic violence hotline looking for help figuring out how to assess risk and make a safety plan. They didn’t help me. The general attitude I got was “well, what do you want us to do about it?”

I had friends in my life who understood the situation. I had a certain amount of mental health support. I had access to validation and perspective and support from other sources. I was ok. But it hurt. And if I had been alone, if I hadn’t had other support, I think it would have been devastating.

I know that many other people don’t have the kind of support I did, particularly if the abuse they’re facing doesn’t fit stereotypical patterns. Some people are isolated and have no one in their life who gets it. And sometimes they call hotlines for help and the hotlines help them. But sometimes the hotlines don’t help either. Sometimes the hotlines are just another person who doesn’t understand. And that’s a horrible thing to go through, particularly if you fought through fear and feeling unworthy to find the courage to make the call.

So, if that’s happened to you, I want to tell you that you’re not alone. Hotlines don’t always understand abuse, they don’t always understand other problems, and they don’t always help. If they didn’t help you, you’re still worthy of help. It’s a reflection on them, not you or the problems you’re facing. If they didn’t understand, it doesn’t mean that you are wrong, and it doesn’t mean that no one will ever understand or help you.

If a hotline didn’t help you, all it means is that they didn’t help you.

Optimism in the dark places

Sometimes, people who want to see themselves as optimistic say things like this to suffering people they encounter:

  • “Look on the bright side!”
  • “Cheer up!”
  • “It can’t be that bad!”
  • “It’s ok.”
  • “Smile, you’ll feel better!”
  • “You have so much to be grateful for.”

Sometimes people who say this kind of thing mean well, but it’s still degrading. It’s degrading because:

  • Sometimes things really are that bad
  • Refusing to acknowledge that doesn’t help anything
  • And when you try to insist to someone who is going through something awful that it can’t be as bad as they think, what you’re really doing is refusing to listen to them
  • Telling someone to shut up is neither kind nor optimistic

This is particularly the case if you’re talking to someone in a bad situation that is unlikely to get better, or which is at least unlikely to get better in the near future eg:

  • Someone who has a terminal illness
  • People who are facing systemic oppression of a kind that isn’t going to go away in their lifetime
  • Someone who is trapped in an abusive relationship they see no way out of

I think that there’s another kind of optimism that is much more helpful:

  • Acknowledge that things really are that bad
  • Don’t try to smooth them over
  • Identify things that make life worth living
  • Work on building and recognizing love (including, love people enough to acknowledge how bad things are without pressuring them to sanitize them for you)

feliscorvus:

realsocialskills:

Do you think that reassurance-seeking is always a bad thing? Because some of your posts seem to imply it.
realsocialskills said:
I didn’t realize my posts sounded that way, but I see what you mean now that you point it out.
This. Plus there is a kind of mode people can get into (and I know this because I have been there myself) where you feel a deep longing for reassurance, but no amount or type of reassurance actually fixes things or lets you feel okay. Which means that while the problem *looks* like a lack of validation/reassurance, there is probably something different going on. Which makes seeking more and more reassurance essentially like eating more and more ice when you’re anemic.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that can also happen.

I’m having trouble thinking of examples of problems that can look that way, though.

Do any of y’all know of any?