Hello there, friends!
I apologize for the brief interlude, it is summertime and I have been fuzzy-headed and not had brainspan for much besides reading terrible romance novels and staring into middle distance.
Today we’re here to talk about a nuance of emotional abuse that some folks get confused about, because most folks have a limited amount of words with which to talk about these things.
This is a conversation about definitions, and one of those semantical pieces of “all rectangles are squares, but not all squares are rectangles.” You with me? Great!
We’re here today to define the difference between gaslighting and invalidation. Both are harmful, both are abusive, but they’re not the same thing.
Gaslighting has gotten a little more airtime in the recent past, so I’ll begin by defining invalidation, or creating an “invalidating environment.”
Invalidation is chiefly the practice that other people engage in that is based in fundamentally disagreeing with someone. This may begin with simply disagreeing with a person’s stated feelings or needs, or denial that they exist at all.
Gaslighting goes one step further, by attempting to convince a person that they do not in fact feel that way.
Invalidation can sometimes be framed as a positive, along the lines of “You don’t really mean that!” when someone expresses a mean-spirited thought, or “Cheer up! It’s not that bad!” when people (often as children) are upset by things out of their control. (which is often)
Gaslighting is often a more deliberate manipulation- whether through active manipulation of the environment, denying that they said or did certain things that they absolutely have done.
Invalidation says, “You’re overreacting!” and gaslighting says, “I didn’t do that!”
Invalidation allows for a slender thread of accountability or acknowledgement while trying to tell you otherwise, while gaslighting wholesale wants to shut down any difference of opinion.
Knowing the Difference Makes a Difference
While neither feel good, it may be helpful to parse out the difference between gaslighting and invalidation. Articulating the difference between behavior that feels bad vs behavior that is abusive gives you good information about yourself!
When we don’t have good information about what feels bad to us, (vs what is explicitly abusive) we respond to all negative emotions or interactions in the same way. Given that trauma often has the impact of smashing people’s capacity for discernment, this is understandable.
However, in your particular trajectory of healing, the more specific information you get about yourself, the more capacity you will have to engineer something different in the future. A different future might look like more boundaries in invalidating relationships, or seeking out new ones entirely that have more spacious room for your needs and feelings.
In either case, certainly you deserve better than outright gaslighting or well-meaning invalidation. There is room for all of you. Give me a call if you need help believing that.
Queer of La Vista may be found here.