In my early 20s I was in an abusive relationship. He was an addict who was very sick, but I think, in hindsight, he was also a mean, selfish person. Those two things (addict and bad person) do NOT go hand in hand as a rule, but in his case they did.
These past few days I’ve been trying to drill down into why I have felt so physically upset about this administration, especially recently (beyond the obvious decent human reaction to what’s going on/ has been going on). Trump’s attempts to make himself the compassionate one by stopping the zero-tolerance policy HE allowed in the first place, plus Melania’s dumb jacket thing today, helped me finally place it in terms of my own personal reactions.
Back when I was dating this guy, he would gaslight me until I felt crazy. Instead of Fighting or Flighting, two reactions I had at first, the gaslighting eventually made me Freeze. Every day felt more surreal than the last and thoughts like “this can’t be happening,” “who would do this,” “it can’t really be this bad” eventually took up all my cognitive space. I would simply shut down in the face of something he did to me or lied about instead of doing more to stand up for myself. Freezing was a coping mechanism for a situation that got worse every day, to the point I was so isolated from my understanding of the world that I just stayed in the one he had made for us. And he would take every concession I made or apology I gave for my reasonably emotional reactions as an opportunity to deepen his cruelty toward me. He would take advantage of my conscience.
Abusive people are highly skilled at making you feel powerless and guilty and then using the time when you are down to pull themselves five stories up. They gain power not from your emotional reaction. They gain power when you doubt yourself.
I’ll say that again: Abusive people gain power over you when you doubt yourself that what they’re doing to you is, in fact, abuse.
(This is tricky territory, because I’m not saying that I didn’t do my own codependent dance with him or that I’m now never wrong or that I never need to apologize. The damage my relationship with that guy caused me is part of what fueled my own addiction in the years that followed and then made ME a terrible partner until Justin held his boundaries and broke up with me until I got some help. Cycle of violence, etc. I think most things and people need to be considered case by case. I’m now as cautious with my judgements/reactions as I am with my apologies because of what that abusive relationship forced me learn if I wanted to survive and then if I wanted to be happy.)
I know why we shouldn’t react to Melania’s stupid jacket stunt. Our outrage is what they wanted. She wore that on purpose. Because then the people who demean our feelings by calling us sensitive snowflakes can just lean into that even harder and flip the script, focus everyone’s attention elsewhere, pat themselves on the back for being “strong,” make us doubt ourselves.
But I know what it feels like to shut down, to freeze, to disassociate in hopes that maybe if you lie in wait long enough, you’ll see your opening and can unfreeze and get out. It’s a tactic. It’s manipulation. And it’s really difficult to get unfrozen. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to get unfrozen, then you have to deal with the damage you’ve inflicted on your own self-trust for sitting back and taking it.
If you’re appalled by Melania’s fucking jacket, don’t feel bad for saying something. The “see something, say something” ideal applies to non-physical danger too. And wearing a jacket like that is dangerous to all of us. Like it or not, she and DT are representatives for all of us right now, and if you don’t like something they do, you have a right to express it. They work for all of us, not just people who agree with them.
Sure, pick your battles, but picking them amongst ourselves is counterproductive right now. Don’t let people on either side of an argument shut you down in your own space (your head and heart). Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have a right to react or that you don’t have ground to stand on when something awful is knowingly being done to other living, breathing, vulnerable people.
Manipulative tactics are easy to sniff out once you’ve been hurt by one, especially if you were able to get out of their grip to see how it all shook out from the perspective time and distance afford. I have a lot of boundaries around people I should technically have relationships with, but I won’t allow it because I can see all the ways they are, usually subconsciously, trying to manipulate me to fill some hole inside themselves instead of figuring it out on their own.
Trump has long been known to gaslight people. This administration is like an abusive partner, but the trouble is most of us don’t have the ability to leave.
So we have to wait. But we don’t have to shut up.
Follow the money.
Make an effort to find the facts—as many as you can.
See something, say something (doesn’t have to be on social media).
Do something nonviolent that you know will help.
Take care of yourself and your neighbors.
Support human rights, including your own.