Reading this, it struck me that that is exactly what we do at Bonnie’s – we believe the women who come to us. So often women in difficult situations are not believed, who are told they are “irrational”, “overreacting”, or, worse, “crazy”.
How many women are disbelieved when their sadness and distress spills out? How many are dismissed for not being able to calmly discuss their experiences?
This happens on a personal and cultural level. People we love may tell us we are over-emotional, and the common narrative of femininity is one of irrational emotionality. And this isn’t a new thing. The word Hysterical comes from the ancient notion that the womb could wander around the body, causing emotional distress. But calling emotional reactions crazy, especially when they are in response to very real trauma, is a form of gaslighting.
You might have heard the word gaslighting before. It is an aspect of emotional/psychological abuse where the abused person is made to believe they are crazy. It is an attempt to destroy another person’s perception of reality.
It can be deliberate – such as in the play which gave the behaviour it’s name.
In the play the male perpetrator uses the house’s gas to search the attic, which dims the lights in the rest of the house, but convinces his partner that they are not dimming, and that she is, in fact, crazy.
But it doesn’t have to be deliberate. When someone makes a joke at your expense, then says when you get upset, “Why can’t you just take a joke? You’re too sensitive”.
Your reaction is real, and by saying that you’re too sensitive you’re being told that your reaction is unreasonable. This is gaslighting. Or when someone gets angry and scares you, but later tells you that you’re overreacting, and they weren’t angry at you anyway – that’s gaslighting.
But gaslighting needn’t be aggressive, either. It can be a case of placing a partner on a pedestal, and then refusing to believe them when they say they need a shoulder to cry on. And gaslighting can be cultural – when the media depicts women’s emotional responses as irrational – this gaslights all women, convincing them that the only way to avoid shame or ridicule, is to avoid emotional displays.
Gaslighting causes us to doubt our reality, our feelings, to blame ourselves when the blame should be elsewhere. Gaslighting dissuades us from seeking help when we desperately need it because we think no one will believe us. And as women, we capitulate to this, we dismiss ourselves and our feelings, we dismiss other women. We assume that our lived reality could be false. We constantly check and recheck our responses. It is exhausting, especially for those of us who experience other forms of violence.
To have the sanctuary of being believed would truly be a relief.
And here at Bonnie’s, we try to be that sanctuary. A refuge isn’t just a house; it is a refuge from the exhaustion, the constant self doubt. At Bonnnies, we provide a place where you are believed, a refuge from mind games, a place to believe yourself.
Opening quote by Amber Dawn in “The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care” which can be found here.
More information on gaslighting can be found here.
Written by Asha