Gaslighting the Autistic Experience
Gaslighting occurs when we cause another person to question their lived experience and perception.
Most depictions of gaslighting surround intentional actions: when a person deliberately manipulates another person to believe that they’re not sane or accurate.
However, I think the majority of gaslighting is unintentional. Simone Seol recently led a workshop on gaslighting in which she defined gaslighting as “the act of undermining another’s reality by denying the fact, the environment around them or their feelings.” She then explored the myriad of ways we unintentionally do this to others.
Gaslighting frequently happens to autistic people because their internal experience and reality are different from neurotypicals. Neurotypicals’ lack of understanding can cause them to doubt the lived experiences of autistic people, and therefor gaslight them.
For example, I am autstic and experience extreme sensitivity to light. I get headaches and cannot see well when the light is at certain angles to my line of sight. As a child, I was often made to feel that I was “overreacting” and there was actually nothing wrong. The neurotypical people around me simply did not understand or believe my lived experience. As a child, I did not have enough self-understanding or self-trust to stand with my own convictions. I believed the people around me and thought there was something wrong or broken about me.
My intent in writing this brief essay is not to blame neurotypical people or label them as “bad” or the enemy to autistics.
My intent is to help autistic people realize this is a common experience for us. When we know it is common and we are not alone in this experience, we can begin to trust our lived experiences more. We can develop greater awareness of when gaslighting is happening.
Instead of giving our power to someone else (such as doubting ourselves when someone confronts us), we can trust our lived experiences and simply remind ourselves that the other person does not understand. It is their problem, not our own.
Thank you for reading. If you would like to learn more about my therapy work with late-identified autistic individuals, you can do so here.