A culture of gaslightening people into staying with toxic family members

We live in a culture that places family before anything and whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is wrong when other realities are not considered and denied and when this is valued above an individual’s well-being and their right to cut off or distance themselves from a family member(s) that is toxic.

In my work, I have come across many children that have grown into adults injured by a parent, both or another family member and who already carry guilt and shame that isn’t theirs to bare. I have witnessed the injuries first hand and listened to the challenges and struggles it brings.

Before we begin to explore this further, we need to first understand, what is gas lightening? We need to understand this, because when we silence victims, with, but it’s family! You can’t walk away from family! How can you do that to your family? You must forgiven them…(fill in the blank), what we are doing is gas lightening.

Wikipedia describes it as:  “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem”.

Cognitive dissonance is a term to describe, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. An example of this is knowing something is bad for us but still wanting it. Example, knowing smoking is bad for us (cognitive) and then still taking the action to do so (dissonance). Due to the fact certain truths can lead to a feeling of mental discomfort we alternate our thoughts, behaviours, attitudes or beliefs in order to reduce this discomfort and restore balance. Therefore, it is when inconsistency can be found within us and a mental conflict is occurring.

Gaslightening not only as victims question their own judgement and reality but then also has people stuck in the cycle of cognitive dissonance and serve to keep others in their mental prison. To have pain invalidated is a form of violence.

So let’s go on to see what we mean by family, because words such match their meanings and family is more than just the word itself. Words need to be used accurately to have meaning.

What is family?

Family is more than just DNA, blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family. Family doesn’t mean others owe us, we are not bad if we walk away or cut contact with toxic family members even if this is a parent/caregiver or parents/caregivers. We are nobodies possessions and we are not objects.

One needs to earn trust and respect it is not given because someone is simply a parent to us. Relationships are not one sided and love is not being ‘loved’ by what we do rather than who we are. Love isn’t control, family shouldn’t be about being controlled. People don’t get a right to mistreat us and a free pass to do this and get out of jail card because they are ‘family’. Titles need to be earned and people need to represent the meaning of such titles or else it means nothing, blood isn’t always thicker than water. It doesn’t automatically give them a licence to kill. Emotional abuse can and does kill, not being seen, heard kills, isolation which is what this leads too kills, being silenced kills and we need to stop silencing and shaming people.

It takes immense courage and intelligence to break generational patterns and unhealthy cycles. Individuals should be empowered and encouraged to have these rights, they are modelling boundaries and healthy behaviours and self care and taking action to put these in place and have these in place and that’s never wrong. It’s not an easy choice to separate form what is meant to be the people that are our first love object(s). It is excruciatingly painful to accept that we were never loved, protected, wanted, respected by those closest to us, by who was meant to be our everything and who where the blueprint to how we would then see the world, others and ourselves.

Whilst family is important and whilst a  parent and child bond especially with mothers are seen as being unbreakable and strong, the truth is, this is not always the case. Mothers can be toxic and cause harm and destruction to their child/ren with their behaviours. It doesn’t automatically mean a person is good or great because they have given birth. I am not talking about mothers who love their child/ren but suffer from post-natal depression and find it hard to bond with their child and connect, I am not talking about women who have the right not to want a child/ren or like children much but that respect and cause no harm. I am talking about individuals who purposely manipulate and have caused suffering to their child/ren.

Where victims of this, have to grieve a loss of childhood, a loss of a parent(s) they will never have, a loss of their choices, loss of self esteem, loss of self worth, loss of their authentic selves and identity, loss of security and safety.

Where family sees them as the black sheep when they assert their rights for respect, boundaries, to be treated with dignity and where constantly they are forced into conforming and living in fear of judgement or punishment. Where society and people keeps them stuck because they are seen as the bad one for family is everything. Family isn’t disrespect, abuse, manipulation, betrayal, or abandonment (abandonment meaning emotionally not just physically).

I hate how society shames children into staying, loving, forgiving parents that have failed them in ways that were in their control and how this allows that parent(s) to feel like they have done no wrong and never be held accountable and how other family members may support the toxic parent. When said parent(s) fail their own children, and don’t care about the damage they inflict or have. Aspects such as disrespect, lack of support, attention, and protection are silent killers that often accompany victims in their adult lives as wounds and scars. Even with a sad and pathetic sorry, when sorry is said and actions never change, those wounds don’t heal easily and go deep.

Just because you may have had loving parent’s who have died and this is valid pain and heartbreaking no doubts about it, but don’t emotionally blackmail those of us who need to break away from toxic parents by guilting us to forgive or say how lucky we are to still have a parent(s), we never did, and old or not, we don’t owe to protect them because of their age when they didn’t protect us when we were of a vulnerable age or even adults that were not taught to protect ourselves and never were offered protection.

This only fuels self-gaslightening for survivors and only serves to keep them stuck and feeling helpless trapped into this labyrinth of dysfunctional patterns. Survivors should not be expected to tolerate this, to go along with this and enable this, society should not make it so this is being enabled and people who care about us should not ask us to betrayal and sacrifice ourselves and well-being in the name of so called “family”.

The only people we need to love, protect and rescue is ourselves not our toxic parent(s).

This is not to say that everyone must break all ties, this decision is an individual one and each person and situation will be different. Only that person knows what is best for them and can make that decision and they have a right to decide whatever suits them best.

But it does mean that boundaries need to be put in place and if someone’s behaviour isn’t changing or has, then partial or complete separation needs to be placed. If patterns don’t change and are repeated, it is no longer a mistake but part of someone’s chosen behaviour. Nobody can love someone into changing abusive behaviour, because the problem isn’t you. This may mean seeing someone less, having contact in ways that feel safer and total separation if this is needed.

Your psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical well-being is imperative and remember that emotional abuse is just as destructive on it’s own and causes physical damage because there is a direct link with emotions and our bodies and stress and trauma all happen there in our nervous system that is then interlinked to all other systems in our body.

Love doesn’t require us to set ourselves on fire in order to keep who is hurting us warm. Attachment doesn’t equal connection, trauma bonds don’t equal love.

We need to prioritise victims, not shame them, not enable family to continue to be dysfunctional and destructive and not allow them the means to do this and the privilege all because of DNA and the relationship this creates. Nobody chooses their family, but they can chose who is family and who deserves to be in their life or not. Abuse cannot be justified.

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