I stand up for what’s right and speak the Truth. I try to defend the one in the right and almost always have good amount of courage to say fierce things– distinctive traits that most autistic people have. Because of these traits, I believed I couldn’t be bullied.
My picture of bullying was movie-like: being hit, humiliated in public, my things being taken away, etc. But the reality can be so different.
Unfortunately, you probably are going to find familiar experiences in this article, so either for your own sake, or for a loved one’s, please make yourself aware of how gaslighting presents in general and how it can affect autistic people specifically.
Are You Being Bullied?
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions.
The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.
|American Psychological Association
Bullying has several types, each type contains certain activities, but all of them can hurt you, either physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or all of the above.
Hitting , punching, or any physical harm that can cause long-term or short term damage.
Name-calling, teasing, any kind of sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise prejudiced verbal abuse, etc.
Bullying using technology. Sending any abusive content or organizing against someone through the internet, typically on social media.
Social bullying can be hard to notice or pinpoint: spreading rumors, being unkind, ignoring or isolating someone, giggling or getting quiet when a victim enters the room, or basically ruining someone’s social reputation and social acceptance.
Psychological abuse is often called emotional abuse because it affects someone’s mental health. It requires malicious intent to hurt people’s emotions and cause them to doubt themselves. It can lead to psychological trauma, depression, and anxiety.
Gaslighting is type of psychological bullying.
The term comes from the 1938 play and then more popular movie, in which a husband tries to manipulates his wife to think she is not sane.
From her book, The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life (2007), Dr. Robin Stern offers fifteen tell-tale signs of gaslighting:
1. You constantly second-guess yourself.
2. You wonder, “Am I being too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
3. You wonder frequently if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/wife/employee/friend/daughter.
4. You have trouble making simple decisions.
5. You think twice before bringing up innocent topics of conversation.
6. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
7. Before your partner comes home from work, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong that day.
8. You buy clothes for yourself, furnishings for your apartment, or other personal purchases thinking about what your partner would like instead of what would make you feel great.
9. You actually start to enjoy the constant criticism, because you think, “What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.”
10. You start speaking to your husband through his secretary so you don’t have to tell him things you’re afraid might upset him.
11. You start lying to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.
12. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
13. You frequently wonder if you’re good enough for your lover.
14. Your kids start trying to protect you from being humiliated by your partner.
15. You feel hopeless and joyless.
I’ve Been There
There is this HUGE feeling of self-loathing, up to an unbearable point where you just want to escape, beacuse you can’t stand this person that you know is going to be with you with every breath. You just can’t. You’re fed-up.
Everything is harder than it possibly can be, whether it’s reading a book or wearing your socks. Dark thoughts of ending your life crop up all the time, on the bus, at work, at school. You want to empty yourself. You want to cry your eyes out. You want to shout and shout and shout until the voice doesn’t come out anymore. You want to bleed to death.
Yes. This is the depression that comes with gaslighting. And we, people who have unfortunately been there, know that you’re not going get better by listening to a happy song or watching a comedy.
You need to seek outside help if you are in this situation.
Texting A Gaslighter: The Progression (A Scenario)
Imagine you’re having a text conversation with your friend or partner, you’re talking about a series you’ve been watching that they’ve not seen. You are taking about how good it is and suggesting it, when you suddenly see such text:
Them: Ugh. G-d I hate this. Sorry.
And they go offline. You are completely lost. You wonder, What the hell did I say!? What was wrong? What is it that they hate so much?!
And soon you realize they just mean this chat with you.
Gaslighters tend to want to be the superior, they have to be better than you. It doesn’t matter in what, whether it’s a movie you’ve watched earlier, your grades, or your job.
You bring up a topic to talk about simply because you’d like a conversation with this person, though it’s a conversation that you very soon are going to regret.
You ask about a new trend, and without giving any indication of your ideas or thoughts about it, ask about their opinion– and here it comes, this reply that you could not ever have imagined this conversation could lead to:
Them: Why are asking this? Don’t say no reason!
You: I just noticied EVERYBODY is having it, so I wanted to know your opinion on it.
You: That’s all. Just curious.
Them: Yeah, right… ok.
Them: why you’re asking?
You: Beacuse I don’t know why. I just keep forgetting that you would act this same way.
Them: And the great thing is
Them: That this so idiotic I can easily ignore it
You: What the hell?! Why do you interpret everything like this?!
Them: you know, your opinion really doesn’t matter. Stop making fun of others try try to get me to respect you. You say such stupid things, I just can’t take it
You: but I just wanted to make conversation! I didn’t mean anything. I promise I’ll never do such things again.
Them: I honestly don’t even know why you would TRY to make conversation…
You feel sabotaged. And hurt. Without any reason. Confused and so, so sad. Loaded with self-loathing.
Gaslighters are not looking for a reason to bully you. Any conversation can lead to you being hurt, when you absolutely have no clue why.
Most conversation ends with a fight, and if you say that out loud:
Them: Jeez! Relax! It’s not a fight! You’re just this big drama queen! QUIT IT.
They just DO NOT CARE. That’s a catchphrase they use.
Them: I. Do. NOT. Care. I don’t fucking care. Just listen and understand this. I DON’T FUCKING CARE!
You accept that you are boring, hateful, dramatic, making issues for yourself. You resign to acknowledging you’ve never been good enough.
The Martyr/Savior Friend (A Scenario)
Malik is autistic, and Sharon is a gaslighter. Sharon introduces Malik to a neighbor at a party and leads with the seemingly-innocuous statement that they are both very into classic films. Sharon knows that Malik does not always get social cues and that his passion for classic movies is more intense than the average movie buff.
After the party, Sharon tells Malik that he went on and on about movies and that Gary was clearly uncomfortable and bored. Malik has no way to verify this, and he would not understand why Sharon would possibly want to set him up or be lying to him.
This causes Malik, who appreciates blunt conversation, to feel grateful to Sharon. He’s embarrassed that he didn’t read the signs of Gary’s boredom and begins to feel shame about his inability to read other’s comfort and interest level.
Gary may or may not have been bored. Gary might have actually enjoyed the conversation very much. It wouldn’t matter to Sharon, though, because she doesn’t care about being honest.
If Malik ever brings it up in the future, Sharon can easily claim that she was just trying to be helpful to Malik. She can even claim that Malik doesn’t trust her because he can’t trust his own intuitions about social situations.
You started working at a new employer. While you can be a flexible person, your manager’s exacting– read: impossible— standards caused you to be picky as well, terrified of making a mistake. You do your job exactly as you’ve been taught, yet you still get reprimanded and have your judgement questioned.
It’s frustrating you because there are plenty of times where you feel that you are exercising sound judgement, and on top of that, you feel like your judgement has been impaired by your manager’s training, constant and often-conflicting advice, and the fear that asking questions will be met criticism about your ability to do your job or your failure to “pay attention.”
You try to let her know how her frustration and negative comments are affecting you, causing you to be anxious. You confide you’re having difficulty with organizing your thoughts. Her response is, “Everyone is that way to some extent.”
You make sure to qualify your language with “It seems” or “I feel” to show that you’re not trying to be accusatory, and tell her how you think this is more of a problem for you than others. She replies, “You don’t know how others experience things.”
You wish your perspective, high level of accuracy, and good work were not ignored, and that you had been treated how you deserved.
A Murky Abuse
Gaslighters muddy the waters of what you know and believe about how the world works and how people interact, mixing kindness with abuse and working hard to convince you that you are wrong and they are right. They do enough good to make you doubt yourself, and they try to make you believe there is something wrong with the way you experience the world.
The second part of this series provides you with more insight into how to recognize if you are being gaslighted and how to escape it. Click here to read Part 2 of this series.
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