“You’re too sensitive.”
Oh, if you could give us a dollar for every time we’ve heard this one - or come across stories of other women being labelled this or something similar.
It’s so frustrating.
You’ve built up the courage and the energy, and just as you’re calling someone out on their hurtful behaviour, or perhaps setting a boundary, they wield this one out and drop it on you - and you can feel, in a flash, that all the attention slips away from the other person’s potential misdemeanours that you were so keen to broach in the first place.
Then - everything starts to whizz through your mind.
Why you’re not too sensitive, why they’ve got it wrong (or have they got it wrong?), plus all the other times in your life where you may have overreacted, as you try to figure out if this is one of those too.
You sense-check yourself.
“Have I read into this one too much again?”
Then the self-doubt creeps in.
You grapple around in your head searching for the perfect argument and the perfect words to prove them otherwise.
If they could only just see your side, then you can get back to what you were talking about.
Let’s dissect what’s really happening here.
The truth is that unfortunately, phrases like these are not simply a misunderstanding that you can ‘prove’ wrong with logic; with the perfect amount of reasoning, so that the other person can understand.
We hate to say it, but often there is a lot more going on here.
Often this is, in fact, a form of manipulation called ‘gaslighting’.
You might have heard the term before, but if not, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse when one person makes the other doubt their version of reality.
It can happen in romantic relationships, within families and friendships, in the workplace - and even in society by our politicians.
The term originated from the 1938 play, Gaslight, where the protagonist’s husband slowly manipulates her into believing she is going mad.
The name comes from a part in the film where the husband dims the gas lights in their home, but pretends nothing has changed. He also manipulates small elements within their environment. His wife brings these things up, however he convinces her that she is imagining it.
Gaslighting asserts a form of control that often plays on the other person’s desire to ‘keep the peace’ - and their fear of losing the other person.
It draws up an unequal power dynamic that enables one person to claim that their version of reality, or their opinion is the ‘correct one’.
Other examples of gaslighting include: “you’re crazy”, “I never did that”, “stop imagining things” and “get over it already!”
As you can see, a person who gaslights may not only pretend that something didn’t happen, i.e. “I never did that”, but they can also make the other person doubt whether their needs are important at all, i.e. “Get over it already!” - making them feel like they’re too much.
If you’ve experienced these in your relationship or in another key area in your life, here are some ways you can regain your power:
- Untangle reality and distortion by journaling
After the conversation, write - without censoring yourself - what happened, exactly at the chat unfolded. Notice where the conversation started to take a turn via prompts from the other side - and note where the person starts to deny your experience.
- Feel all your feelings
Take some time to yourself and let yourself feel all the feelings that come up. None of them are shameful or ugly; embrace each of them and most importantly listen to them - if you felt uncomfortable or frustrated during one of these conversations, there is a reason why. Write about how you feel about the situation, as a way to become very mindful about your own feelings, thoughts and perceptions.
- Seek support
Gaslighters often try to isolate their victims, so they are easier to manipulate.
Talk to a friend or family member you can trust, or even seek professional help through a therapist if you feel you’d benefit from it.
You deserve all the support you can get, especially when it comes to working through the confusion.
1800 RESPECT is also a great resource if you want to speak to someone at any time.
Remember, if you are experiencing any of these continuously, know that you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect - and that you don't have to go through this alone.
You can also join our community of supportive, encouraging women by signing up for our Facebook Group here: link.