In the last few years, I have come to understand the term “gaslighting.” Gaslighting is a practice of manipulation. It is when someone makes another person question their own experience, sometimes to the point of making them question their own sanity. For example: “That didn’t really happen that way!” or “You thought I hurt you? You were just being sensitive,” or “I didn’t abuse you! You don’t remember it right.”
Gaslighting is sneaky because it causes someone to doubt their own reality. It can make people feel like what has happened to them doesn’t really matter. It basically says “No, that’s not true. What you are feeling doesn’t count.”
If you have been a victim of gaslighting, I am sorry that has happened to you. It was not okay. I hope you will start to give yourself space to own your experiences so that you can start to heal.
I also want to invite all of us to one more thing, especially in this covid season. Please, let’s stop gaslighting ourselves.
You may wonder what I mean by that but I feel like I have seen this a lot in the last few months. Here’s what it looks like:
“I am finding covid really hard, but you know what? I shouldn’t. I’m not a frontline worker. It’s not really that bad for me.”
“I shouldn’t complain about isolation. I live with other people and I should be grateful for my family.”
“It’s silly I am so upset about losing Christmas traditions. I don’t really deserve to be upset about that when there are so many worse things happening.”
Did you hear it?
In each of these cases, there is that message to ourselves: “It’s not okay for you to feel this way. You don’t deserve to struggle. Your feelings shouldn’t count.”
To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for reasons to be grateful – we should. I’m not saying that we need to wallow in self-pity – that is also not helpful. I am not denying that this season is far worse for some than for others – of course it is.
What I am saying is that your feelings matter. For whatever reason you may find these months difficult, you are entitled to those feelings. It is okay and normal for you to feel sad or angry or overwhelmed during this pandemic. It is okay that you lament Christmas losses, even as you are grateful for Christmas blessings. It is okay that you are lonely even as you acknowledge that you have people who love you. It is okay for you to say that you find this hard even as you know that some people have been through harder things. You can be empathetic to the pain of others and be empathetic to you.
You don’t need to gaslight yourself.
What you are feeling counts. Don’t dismiss your own experience. We are all finding this time hard in different ways. None of us have ever been through anything like this in our lifetimes. All of us have had our lives changed. All of us are grieving in some way. Of course we find it hard!
You don’t need to diminish, downplay, or explain away your covid-feelings. Make space for them. They matter, and so do you.
So, let’s practice.
“I know it is harder for frontline workers and I support them…and I am also finding this hard in my own way.”
“I love the people in my home but I’m also feeling really lonely for the people I can’t see and that’s tough.”
“This pandemic is really hard.”
We can do this, friends. We can make space for our feelings to be valid, while making space for what others feel as well. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Covid is hard AND we all feel that. Together.