I want to tackle a sensitive subject area with you all this week… I want to talk about one of those taboo topics we rarely grant airtime.
Gaslighting. Psychological abuse. Emotional manipulation. It’s beginning to be recognised more and more… there are even laws against it in some countries now. We’re beginning to shine a light on some of those grey areas of abuse that are difficult to define. But we’re still not considering this oh-so-serious crime as much of a possibility outside of romantic relationships.
Okay, so sometimes we talk about these mind games in the context of familial relationships, let’s not forget about those, but what about when this type of psychological control and battery happens within the confines of a friendship? What then?
Let me share this with you… since I first started speaking out about some of the abuse in my own life and talking about the importance of hope and self belief, I’ve lost count of the amount of people who’ve come to me describing gaslighting, and similar behaviours, within friendships. And many of these people have been utterly broken by it.
We don’t even stop to consider this scenario, do we? After all, friendships aren’t bound by blood or a marriage certificate, are they? Surely they’re easy to walk away from at the first sniff of less than pure intentions.
Though friendship doesn’t carry the same ties, abuse can be clouded by so many other issues… for many, perhaps who’ve lost trust in blood lineage, friendship can seem the purest relationship of all; we base these connections so firmly on trust, mutual understanding and authenticity, don’t we? We might even argue that friendships ought to stand the test of time and weather all storms, precisely because the bonds were formed with acceptance and love on both sides, without expectations from others, documents to sign or duty to be done.
Abuse within friendships is one of the unseen horrors of this world, not least because we don’t want to see it.
If I go back far enough in my own history, I can pinpoint an abusive friendship really early on. On the face of it, we were best friends, yet behind closed doors I was being bullied horribly – everything from being undermined and talked down to to being slapped around the head when nobody was looking. Even then, as a child, this ‘friend’ of mine was devastatingly brilliant at emotional manipulation; she had a knack of turning and twisting the truth until she appeared to be the poor, wounded soul who needed protection. I remember trying to walk away from the relationship once only to find myself being surrounded by a bunch of bigger, older girls demanding to know why I was making new friends and insisting I went back, tail between my legs, to rekindle the friendship. It was made clear that there would be consequences should I attempt to walk away again.
I ended up moving schools in the end, just to break the cycle, but this was to be the first in a series of encounters with bullying, spanning romantic pairings, work relationships and, yes, sometimes friendships too.
It took me a long time and lots of soul lessons to learn that this would be one of my overarching teachings in this life and, certainly, I’ve experienced it in many forms through to adulthood. I don’t have to put up with it any more, but it took many years of repeating patterns and plenty of soul searching to recognise my own inner power and strength and to stand in that space when I needed to.
I no longer accept being bullied, but that’s not really the point of this article.
I want to tell you that it’s okay. If you reach a point where you realise a friendship is no longer feeding your mind, body and soul in a positive way, I want to tell you that you are perfectly within your right to walk away. Maybe you want to try everything you can to help or heal things first, and that’s okay too, but I still want you to know that you have the power to close that chapter when the time feels right.
It can be confusing. Sometimes our heart, soul, confidence and self belief can be in tatters. Sometimes we may not even want to believe that the person we’ve trusted with our innermost thoughts and dreams could really be treating us in this way. We‘d sometimes rather believe we’re at fault than damage that idyllic, picture perfect ‘best buds’ image we hold so dear.
But sometimes we need to breathe deep, get some distance and consider what might be best for us long term. And sometimes we might need to get some help from family, from friends, even from a professional far more skilled than I who might be able to advise and support you on everything from narcissistic behaviour to emotional abuse to psychological manipulation – and anything else that might register on the gaslighting spectrum.
I want to remind you that these unsavoury and damaging behaviours DO occur in friendships. I want to reassure you that there is hope and that self-blame, filling in the gaps to make things seem okay and constantly making excuses for your abuser can all be natural steps as we try to make sense of things, but that sooner or later we might need to draw a line in the sand.
We might need to call time.
We might need to turn our backs, walk away, wipe that slate clean and move into the future seeking cleaner, clearer, healthier relationships, having learned so much from the one we left behind.
I want to tell you that it’s okay. That you are enough. That you are perfect, just as you are.
And if you’re looking for permission to take that first step, this is it. Take it from me. The power is within you… you just need to find it, and you don’t need to do that alone.
Until next time,