It’s shit but most women are raised to think of others, to be self-reflecting, to be unsure of themselves, to question their own motives and judgement and to defer to other’s (especially men’s) opinions.
This kind of crap kept me in an abusive relationship. My answer to “But why did you stay?” is,
“ Because I was socially conditioned to self reflect every time someone said something negative about me. Because I’m a fucking good person so if someone says I’m in the wrong I analyse my behaviour to search for where I went wrong. Because I believed the best in others, believed in their good intentions and motives.”
Society didn’t prepare me for reality. No one taught me what gaslighting was or how to spot the signs, no one taught me that I should start with the premise (like men do!) that I have done nothing wrong. I wasn’t given a class in discerning when someone is embarking on a concerted campaign to break me down psychologically. In fact everything I’d learnt about being a woman in the world had taught me to suck it up and take it. So I have a message for the women reading this. YOU ARE NOT WRONG. You do not need to internalise the shitty things people say about you — they are not you, and not your fault.
The ONLY thing that causes people to treat you like shit is them and their crappy values. Unless you have done something awful to another person (and let’s face it, most of know when we’ve done that) there is every possibility that the majority of times other people make you feel shit about yourself are times when you have done nothing wrong.
This is especially true in abusive relationships (and they can be between friends, family, partners etc). However I think generally women are so conditioned to always assume they are in the wrong that we end up putting up with all kinds of crap in our dealings with other humans. Crap I might add, that MEN DO NOT HAVE TO PUT UP WITH. Crap especially designed for women. Let’s stop eating shit. Let’s teach our selves and our daughters and out mothers and our friends to stop the pattern of being self critical and believing in our wrongness.
The domestic abuse survivors I have worked with have been good people. There was nothing wrong with them and they did nothing to deserve being abused by their partner. In fact they were extra empathic, extra kind people for the most part, which is the very thing that kept them in abusive situations for longer. They empathised with their partner, they felt sorry for him and they also took on board criticisms about themselves. They did this because as girls they were socially conditioned to be receptacles for men’s frustrations, abuse and misogyny. Like most girls are.
When these girls grow up they’re in a very dangerous and vulnerable position, primed for abuse, ready to be taken advantage of. It has taken me years to undo the damage done to me from being in an abusive relationship. I still sometimes go into being overly critical of myself if someone tells me I’ve done the wrong thing. In fact if I’m accused of causing distress to another human I experience something close to a panic attack. Some of this is connected to being a victim of domestic abuse. Some of it is that my default position when challenged (like many women’s) is to go deeply into my own wrongness. Rarely have I been in the wrong in these situations. (Not that I am never wrong, I am wrong often, but in terms of causing pain to other people that is something I rarely do). It is other people’s projections on me, or attempts to hurt me that are the problem but instead of holding them accountable I’ve been taught to self blame. I know I am not alone in this response.
Men on the other hand are raised to be very certain about their “rightness” (could this be the why we have mansplaining?) How fucked up is it that men are raised to be so sure about their rightness and women are raised to be so unsure about theirs? ESPECIALLY when we live in a world that is already so tipped in men’s favour.
I’m still trying on my rightness. It’s taking me a long time to undo the conditioning I have when challenged. It’s a fine line too as I don’t want to not hold myself accountable when I am wrong. But I’m getting there. I’m embracing my rightness. My sense of self. I’m feeling into criticisms more, seeing how my body responds, does it feel legitimate? Does it feel motivated by something sinister? Is it a time to go into my rightness or a time to explore the possibility that I fucked up? I’m trying to teach my daughters to do the same. I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking men’s criticisms are always valid. And I’m teaching my son’s to watch what they say to girls and pulling them up if they are overly critical.
Like I say to my daughters, You know when you’ve done the wrong thing and need to own it. You know when your actions and words accurately reflect you. Don’t let anyone sell you a lesser idea of yourself. Step into your Rightness.