Ariel Leve offers strategies to stay resilient in the face of psychological abuse that distorts the truth – much like what’s coming from Trump’s administration
Thu 16 Mar 2017
Right now, many Americans listening to their president are experiencing what I experienced frequently a child. Nothing means anything, and reality is being canceled. There is confusion, there is chaos, everything is upside down and inside out. When facts and truth are being discredited, how is it possible to know what to believe, especially when it comes from someone we expect to embody both ethics and etiquette?
It’s obvious to those already initiated. To those new to the phenomena: the president and the current administration are gaslighting us. It’s a term we are hearing a lot of right now.
The term “gaslighting” refers to when someone manipulates you into questioning and second-guessing your reality. It derives from a 1944 movie – and the play and another film that preceded it – in which this happens to the heroine. What perhaps people don’t understand is how to manage and cope with it. For me, all it’s very familiar. I know this behavior well and I know how to navigate it.
As a child, I was experiencing a world where there was no emotional safety while being consistently told that I had a beautiful and happy childhood and that I was ungrateful. What was I complaining about? Yet what I was exposed to caused me to feel unsafe. And those feelings had a verifiable origin. Whether it was witnessing violent arguments or being on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior, when I confronted my mother with the truth, it was denied; my reality was disavowed and asserting it would only instigate conflict. I was told that what I saw with my own eyes hadn’t happened.
When I would confront my mother with things that she had said, or things that she had done, she would say I was making it up, that it was a lie. When I confronted her with facts, they were batted away. So it wasn’t just that my reality was canceled, but that my perception of reality was overwritten.
As I wrote in my memoir, An Abbreviated Life, it wasn’t the loudest and scariest explosions that caused the most damage. It wasn’t the physical violence or the verbal abuse or the lack of boundaries and inappropriate behavior. What did the real damage was the denial that these incidents ever occurred.
The erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse.