Gaslighting: What It Is and What It Isn’t

When I was still living with my parents, just before I got married and made my escape from the cult, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I was under tremendous stress, and that on its own was probably enough to drive me a bit batty. But I had more than a little bit of help in reaching a point of actively questioning whether I was going insane.

It started subtly at first, with my parents denying things that had happened years ago—long enough ago that it made sense that we might remember those situations very differently. But then it increased to more and more recent events with my parents painting very different pictures of what had happened than what I remembered. At first, I didn’t think anything malicious was involved, even as I increasingly began to question my ability to remember something accurately even a few hours after it happened.

Then one night, the veil was lifted, and I saw clearly the terrifying reality that my parents were trying to destabilize my sense of reality. The night before, I’d heard the sounds of Pete’s Dragon wafting from the living room to my bedroom. I barely took note of it as I went about doing whatever I was doing. But then the next night, as I walked through the living room, I noticed they were watching it again.

I paused and asked, “Didn’t you just watch this?”

I didn’t need them to tell me that they had. I knew they did. It was more a question of why—why watch the same movie twice in a row?

But they looked at me and feigned confusion, so I clarified, “You watched this last night. I heard you watching it last night. Now you’re watching it again tonight.”

Without missing a beat, they told me, “No, we didn’t watch this last night.” Their faces were calm and direct.

I felt the familiar stirrings of the paranoia I had increasingly been experiencing rising up in me, but I was confident enough in my hearing, if not other aspects of my memory, that I reasserted I had heard the movie playing last night.

They denied it again…and again…and again. I lost count of how many times they told me they hadn’t seen the movie the night before. I knew it was impossible that they wouldn’t remember watching the movie twice in a row, but I never dreamed they would lie to me. The only other explanation was that my mind had officially broken.

I was on the verge of a panic attack and actively wondering if this was the moment I would go insane when their façade broke and they began to giggle, admitting that they had indeed watched the movie the night before. “We’re just playing with you!”

It was that moment that I realized they were actively enjoying my distress. I didn’t know what to call it at the time. It would be years later that I would discover the concept of gaslighting. But I could tell that it was intentional in that moment and that it was designed to unsettle me.

It wasn’t the first time I’d had the “but this happened”/”no it didn’t” argument with them. It wasn’t even the most serious incident because, honestly, them watching a movie twice in two nights had no bearing on my life. But it was the first time they had slipped up enough to lose the mask, their mirth leaking through.

I went back to my room, sick with the knowledge that for sport and control my parents were willing to actively fuck with my sense of sanity, that they were willing to lie to my face about my own experiences…and that they were damned good at it.

They never admitted to doing it again, but I recognized the signs from then on. I could not shake the paranoia they had instilled. Each time it happened again, I felt like my brain was going to snap. I resorted to transcribing conversations in my journal or on my computer immediately after they happened so that I had a record of what was said–and that it had even happened. Eventually I began refusing to have conversations with them without another person to witness, usually my fiancé phoning in over the phone, because I couldn’t trust them and had lost my trust in myself.

To this day, I get sick thinking about how close they came to causing a psychotic break in me. There are no words to describe the horror of feeling like your mind is someone else’s play thing.

Today, I see so many social justice activists tossing around the word “gaslighting” for anything and everything, and it concerns me to see how watered down the word has become.

Gaslighting is a terrifying and extreme experience. It’s a very serious form of abuse. But it isn’t what many people are using the word for.

Samantha Field has also spoken out on this issue, and I want to acknowledge that she has some great things to say but I want to expand on what gaslighting is and is not because I think it’s vital that social justice and the left stop using this word as a catch-all.

Gaslighting is not disagreeing with someone. It’s not disagreeing with their worldview, holding a different perspective from them on sensitive issues, or actively disagreeing with their interpretation of politics and society.

If someone thinks something is a result of sexism, it’s not gaslighting for another person to disagree with that and think that they’re misinterpreting what they experienced. That might feel silencing, demeaning, infantilizing, minimizing, and a whole lot of other things, but it’s not gaslighting.

It isn’t gaslighting someone to disagree with their interpretation of yours or someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or intentions. None of us are mind-readers and none of us can know the internal experience of someone else. There is room to disagree when someone else is purporting to know what a person who isn’t themselves is thinking, feeling, or intending.

It isn’t even gaslighting to remember the same situation in different ways. People’s memories are made of what their brains perceived as salient at the time; therefore, it isn’t uncommon for two people to have been in the same situation and have different memories of that situation.

In a similar vein, gaslighting isn’t forgetting details of a conversation, encounter, or event that another person seems to remember well. (This is where it took me some time to recognize it happening to me because there was a genuine chance that my parents didn’t remember something from five years ago the way I did. There’s also a chance I could have encoded my interpretation as opposed to the actual words that were said).

It’s not gaslighting trying to persuade or influence someone to agree with you using emotionally persuasive or manipulative tactics. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation, but not all manipulation is gaslighting.

I’ll even go so far as to say that denial and lying aren’t inherently gaslighting because gaslighting is a far more sinister technique that goes beyond merely trying to escape accountability.

Gaslighting is a campaign to undermine a person’s sense of sanity by making them actively question their ability to trust their memories and sensory perceptions (e.g. what they hear, see, smell, etc.). And it requires a relationship where the gaslighting person is in a position of trust and uses that trust to break down a person’s own ability to reality check themselves.

The term comes from a movie in which a husband actively drives his wife to the brink of insanity by insidious toying with her environment such as removing things from his wife’s purse and pretending she removed the thing and doesn’t remember doing so or causing noises and sputtering lights but then pretending that his wife isn’t seeing what she saw or hearing what she heard.

It’s part of what makes Shutter Island so terrifying, wondering if DiCaprio’s character has just been insane the whole time or if it’s all an elaborate plot to convince him he is because he knows too much. Once they can convince him he’s insane, they can control him.

This is not a tool in the average person’s tool box. It’s calculated and deliberately orchestrated. It’s not something a stranger can implement. It requires time…first to build up the victim’s trust in the perpetrator and then to erode the trust of the victim in themselves. I believe that’s important for people to understand.

As Samantha points out, misusing the term “gaslighting” whenever a discussion becomes uncomfortable and triggering waters down the meaning, but I’d also say that it discredits the word as well. People will remember being accused of “gaslighting” unjustly or seeing someone else unjustly accused of it, and it will influence how seriously they’ll take the concept.

Abuse survivors have a hard enough time as it is being believed when they disclose that they’ve been abused in various ways. False accusations, though comprising a small percentage of accusations, manage to undermine the credibility of all accusations.

In other words, those who cry wolf don’t just damage their own credibility, they damage the credibility of everyone who is watching out for wolves.

Which means we have to be careful about how we use terms that connote abuse like “gaslighting” (or “violence,” which could be a whole post on its own). We cannot allow these terms to come to mean merely that someone has made us uncomfortable by disagreeing, has stimulated difficult emotions, or has inadvertently triggered past trauma.

Those of us who know what it is have a responsibility to speak out when we see it being misused or misapplied. Otherwise, we assist the wolves. People will get so used to hearing “wolf!” that they’ll stop paying attention. They won’t see that someone is being psychologically eaten.

EDIT: my partner pointed out a caveat in which trust may not be present but extreme dependency is. I think it’s fair to say that in instances in which someone has power over defining someone else’s environment, as in the case of captivity, that gaslighting can happen in the absence of trust. The captive may not trust the captor but may not have another source of reality testing and validation available. For most people, that is not a circumstance they will encounter.

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The Nervous System: The Most Important Ally Social Justice Needs

Reading Stephen Porges on the Polyvagal Theory has strangely converged on some critical thinking I’ve been doing regarding social justice, difficult conversations, and change.

I like to question.

I like to think.

I like to grow.

It’s just part of who I am.

In each of my classes, my professors had to face the realization that I was going to pick things apart. Rarely was there a day when I didn’t have my hand high up in the air like a grad-school Hermione Granger.

It’s how I learn.

I take the idea presented to me, break it down, challenge it according to previous knowledge and experience, and figure out how to integrate it. Even when I’m not taking classes, I will seek out books, articles, and videos that challenge my thinking and stretch my comfort zone.

Those professors who could appreciate and embrace my need to question found me an engaged and enthusiastic student.

But even as someone who values critical thinking and open-mindedness, I have limits. If I feel trapped into a conversation and unable to exit, if I’m not free to question all sides of the issue, or if I feel demeaned or forced to change, one of two things will happen.

I will shut down and refuse to engage.

OR

I will become actively suspicious, defensive, and potentially hostile.

Polyvagal Theory helps me understand why that happens. It’s not a function of being stubborn or hard-headed or unwilling to consider someone else’s perspective—it’s a function of a nervous system designed for survival.

When learning about the autonomic nervous system in the past, I got the impression that arousal meant fight/flight (the sympathetic nervous system engaged) whereas the opposite was the parasympathetic nervous system promoting rest and peace.

What Porges brings out is that safety isn’t about the lack of arousal. Rather, arousal also happens within the context of social engagement, balanced by the parasympathetic nervous system.

Creativity, exploration, and play all require a certain amount of arousal…but the arousal doesn’t signal the body to danger when the social engagement system is on and tuned into the smiles, melodic vocals, and eye contact of others that tells our nervous system that they aren’t a threat.

In other words, the difference between a playful wrestling match and an actual fight has to do with cues that our nervous system receives from others and sends  to others that “this is play, not war.”

If our nervous system receives cues of aggression or doesn’t receive cues of safety from the person with whom we are engaging, it is likely to switch into a fight/flight or shut-down mode without our conscious choice or control.

Which means that our creativity, open-mindedness, and willingness to explore will suddenly dramatically reduce or cease altogether.

Woah! Right?!

I mean, it makes sense when I think about my own experience. I can’t consider alternative points of view or think about creative solutions to a problem if I’m high into my mobilization energy or have disconnected from my myself because I’ve been overwhelmed.

But how often do we think about that when we approach a difficult conversation with someone else?

Reading about the nervous system has led me to completely reconsider certain concepts that seem taken for granted in social justice circles. Not that I hadn’t been rethinking those on my own. I’ve been considering the toxicity of the shame-culture and call-out culture with which I’ve become deeply disillusioned for quite some time.

But learning about the nervous system takes this thinking to a whole new level. I’ve gone from wondering if there’s a better approach to realizing that in many ways we have set ourselves up for failure as advocates if we aren’t paying attention to how the nervous system works.

Our conversations with those with whom we disagree are often riddled with tension, aggression, anger, and distrust…yet we want people to be willing to critically think, empathically engage with us, and be open to change—things which neither we nor they are probably capable of given the physiological state induced by the cues present in the conversation!

It makes me curious. What would social justice look like if we approached it from a neurophysiological standpoint?

Stay tuned for more thoughts on this topic!

 

The Chimera of Shushing the Taboo

Laci Green has become the latest social justice pariah, and there’s a good chance I’m committing social media suicide today by defending her…but I just can’t let this go.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Laci recently drew ire for her decision to begin talking to people with whom she disagrees, both in private as well as more publicly.

There are so many layers to what’s happening that I could talk about, one of which is the growing cult of shame within social justice. Thankfully there are many people who have begun writing about the toxicity of a culture built on shame and control. If you’re interested, read this, this, and this. I feel like they give a good enough break down of my concerns that I would only be redundant if I focused on that aspect.

So instead, I want to talk about one of the other pervasive themes I’ve seen in the critique of Laci Green: the “How dare she have that conversation about or give a platform to that stance/idea?” critique.

Yes, she’s talking to people who have some ideas with which I strongly disagree. Hell, I even disagree with some of her beliefs and stances, topics about which I would love to be able to talk with her further.

But here’s the thing that I thought/ hoped we had learned after the election: Telling someone not to talk about something doesn’t make them stop talking about it. It just makes them stop talking about it to you.

That might feel good for you, in that moment…but it doesn’t destroy the idea or the topic.

In some ways, it strengthens it and adds to the allure–something I’ve come to label “the taboo effect.”

Making something taboo backfires. We’ve seen it time and time again. Telling teens not to have sex doesn’t prevent them from having sex. Telling people not to drink or use drugs doesn’t prevent them from using drugs. Telling someone not to commit suicide doesn’t prevent people from thinking about it or following through on it. Telling someone not to read/watch certain materials doesn’t prevent them from reading or watching those materials.

Making something unmentionable doesn’t destroy its existence.

It just drives it into the shadows where it festers and grows much more monstrous than it needs to be.

When we say that certain conversations shouldn’t be given a platform, we’re not taking away the table; we’re taking away our place at it. We’re ensuring that the conversations will be less likely to happen with diverse points of view and amongst people who can challenge each other.

Instead, they happen behind closed doors, with only like-minded people who feed each other’s perspectives.

And then you get an election where the polls say one thing and the results reveal a different mindset that has been hidden (because it’s taboo) but still growing until it explodes like a national cancer.

We didn’t get Trump because we were having too many open dialogues about racial issues, women’s issues, sexuality, politics, etc. We got Trump because we thought that controlling what was socially acceptable to say could control what people believed. We got Trump because we stopped listening to those with whom we disagreed—stopped listening to understand, stopped listening to engage.

Not only did we stop listening but we outright told them, “Sit down and shut up. Check your privilege. Your perspective doesn’t matter here.” And surprise! Yelling at people, demeaning them, and silencing them didn’t make them magically change their position.

So I don’t really care whether I agree with what Laci’s guests are saying on her livestream. I don’t care whether I agree with her.

What I care about is that she has the guts to have these conversations, even amidst the vitriolic angst that it raises amongst those who previously supported and followed her.

I care that she realizes that the conversations need to happen, as painful as they are.

I care that she is willing to respectfully listen to and be challenged by others with different worldviews and that doing so, in turn, means that they are engaging with her and listening to her and being challenged by her.

She’s pulling that table back out into the open and saying, “I want a seat. I want a say.”

So if you don’t like that your perspective isn’t being represented, don’t criticize her for the dialogue. Get involved in the dialogue. Stop trying to shove it back into the closet. Deal with it like…well, like an advocate, because ultimately this kind of dialogue is what advocacy is all about. And right now, Laci is one of the few people on the left that I see actually modeling that.

Radical Self-Care Doesn’t End Here

Over the last three years in grad school, I’ve been aware of the necessity for and committed to radical self-care. I couldn’t have gotten through grad school without that commitment.

Now that I’m graduated, the importance of self-care has not diminished, but the urgency is no longer as pressing. I have plenty of time to make sure I’m eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, hanging out with friends, stimulating my mind, caring for my emotions, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t have to choose what to sacrifice and what to give attention to anymore.

Ironically, now is when I’m realizing that I’m easily lulled into not caring for myself in the way that I need to.

Some things that I’ve sorely missed have been more readily done. I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on getting outside and exercising a solid 30-60 minutes most days of the week—which is great! I’ve missed running and haven’t felt great in my body for a while. I really enjoy being able to take an hour to move my body without the pressure of deadlines looming.

Other aspects of my wellness are harder though. I have to remind myself to make plans with friends—to not let that piece of me that is introverted and passive about social activities to drown out the part of me that needs to see people and be assertive.

I also have to remind myself not to become too obsessed with one project or activity. My time limitations are no longer set by syllabi; I have to determine, on my own, how much time is appropriate to spend on something like a political discussion or novel. And I’ve discovered that while I might feel incredibly energized and engaged for a LONG time on one thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for me to remain buried in that one thing for so long.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that self-care was easier when I was in grad school…but in some ways I think it was. I knew how important it was to carve out time for my various needs because I could feel the energy depletions happening on me at every moment.

The five, ten, or thirty minutes that I would scavenge to practice my spirituality or write in my journal were precious. I could feel them keeping me going.

Now, I don’t feel my energy depleting as quickly. It’s easy to say, “Oh I can do that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I don’t need to bother with that today.”

But I do.

I need to bother with making sure I stay balanced.

In the process of realizing that I need to renew my commitment to radical self-care, I’ve been having conversations with people about the definition of “radical.”

Colloquially, it has come to represent a word that means zealous—almost to extremism.

My understanding of and commitment to radical self-care certainly sometimes felt that way—when it seemed like I was making extreme choices to prioritize my well-being over the never-ending obligations and demands around me.

However, as I’ve been talking with people about how radical also means “to the root,” it’s been shifting what radical self-care means to me.

What does it mean to be committed to the root of self-care—to the necessity for balance of the multi-faceted aspects of wellness, to the rejection of habits or cultural norms that delegitimize my well-being or erase certain aspects of my self which are important to my well-being?

I know that radical self-care has always partially been about more than my individual choices. There is a huge component related to work practices in the U.S., gender role expectations, familial obligations, etc. The environment and outside factors cannot be ignored.

Yet how often do we actually talk about those factors as more than obstacles? I don’t know about others, but I have never been to a meeting with an organization to determine how the organization can improve the atmosphere of wellness for those working for it. If an organization is going to get involved in a conversation about self-care, it’s generally going to be because an individual hit burnout territory—the meeting will be about what the individual needs to do differently or what they’re not doing enough of.

I’ve been itching to be able to delve into an exploration of the external factors involved in wellness and how radical self-care relates to those, and now I have time!

Which means that along with reminding myself to take breaks and diversify what gets my attention, I can also finally begin looking more seriously at the systemic issues.

I am zealous about self-care, as a form of self-love and preservation but also as a form of resistance; that means getting to the roots, not just of my own well-being but of the self-within-society because, as Donne once wrote, “no man is an island.”

 

A Different Kind of Privilege Conversation

Good morning, lovely readers!

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind following a thought-provoking interaction with a friend.

A small group (including me and this friend) were prepping for a thing—the thing is not important in the context of the story aside from the fact that we were working on it together and made our way over to a discussion of privilege in the process.

But not the kind of discussion that you might typically see, where people “confess” which privileges they have and vow to stop using their privileges as though privilege were a sin.

Instead we started imagining that privileges could be purchased through a special, imaginary catalog, exploring which ones we each might choose to have if we could buy anything out of this catalog.

Most of the responses were pretty typical; I didn’t even have to think about mine before blurting out “visibility.” When it came time for my friend to go, he hesitated and pondered for a bit before expressing that this would seem off to some of us because of his being straight, white, and a cisman, but he expressed that the privilege that he really wanted was the sense of connection and belonging to a culture or identity like he saw with some of us.

The answer took me aback, but not because I have come to expect that socially conscious men acknowledge that they have “nothing but privilege” (not necessarily something I support, but a common enough reaction to privilege questions). Rather, it took me aback because of the intense longing I actually felt when he said that.

He pointed out to me something I didn’t even realize I had…which makes sense because you are typically blind to your privilege until you’re made aware of it, right? Right. Suddenly all those times that I had scoffed at people who said “Well when’s international men’s day?” or “We need a straight pride parade”—those times began to take on a different light.

Later, as he and I talked more, I began to realize that there isn’t really a positive identity towards which someone like him could turn.

As a woman, I can turn away from sexist characterizations of myself and draw on the beautiful feminist, body-positive, sex-positive, goddess spirituality that I have come to love. As a bi person, I can connect with the Queer community or specific bi groups where I can openly celebrate my identity, taking pride in my sexual orientation. Hell, I’ve even written posts about it.

I have long thought that it is important for marginalized individuals to find ways of celebrating and loving their marginalized parts so that the whole of their interaction with those parts isn’t just fighting against prejudice or discrimination.

But I literally never thought about people like my friend and how they are expected to disown, distance, or divorce themselves from the identity of oppressor but have no alternative positive version of the identity to seek. All the “pride” groups for privileged identities are associated with vitriolic hatred and intolerance. If someone says they have white pride—the context basically means they are a white supremacist. If someone says they have straight pride—the connotation is that they’re homophobic.

But “pride” in that context is more about the way that it is used to mask intolerance, hatred, and superiority complexes. It’s so far from the definition and connotation of pride used in the context of marginalized identities that it’s barely the same word.

When I express pride in being bi, I definitely don’t mean that I think I’m superior to straight people or that I want to strip them of human rights. When I express pride in my feminine side, I’m not harboring hatred towards men.

I’m not trying to say that we need to reclaim the “pride” word. Rather, I’m thinking more about the possibility for…shall we call it healthy self-esteem and sense of belonging?

I want men to have a positive masculinity to gravitate towards. I want them to have ways of relating to their gender that isn’t rooted in shame (if they’re conscious enough to see women’s issues), neutrality (probably the most positive of what I see available currently), or hypermasculinity and arrogance.

I think it’s necessary, in fact. Because becoming interested in social justice shouldn’t carry the idea that you have to forever be ashamed of who you are and disconnected from a sense of dignity. My friend later expressed to me that he was extremely nervous, and I could see that in other contexts, he might have been raked across the coals without anyone bothering to try to understand where he was coming from.

In another context, I might have been the one laughing about fragile masculinity.

So what am I saying? I know I’ve rambled a lot in this post. I guess the thing that has been weighing on my mind is really that we need to do better at understanding that having privilege doesn’t mean that people don’t have a similar desire to belong and feel good about themselves—that that desire is not bad. It’s just a function of being human. We literally all have it. And social justice is a hobbled movement if we’re asking people to “wake up” but not offering alternatives of ways they can achieve those needs without resorting to harmful power structures.

 

 

My Wounded Activist Heart

I’m not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m as eager as anyone to see him discredited, dethroned, impeached, jailed, etc.

But I draw the line at attacking his wife.

Since the election, I’ve seen an upsurge of Facebook posts suggesting that Melania’s former work as a nude model makes her unfit to be the First Lady, disparaging her for being an immigrant, or negatively comparing her with “classy” first ladies like Michelle Obama or Jackie Kennedy.

As a liberal, feminist, bi activist, I cannot participate in those efforts in good conscience because they conflict with my values.

How Melania has expressed her sexuality shouldn’t matter. No woman deserves to be ridiculed and shamed for how much or little of her body she has shown. Having a history as a porn model or sex worker should have no effect on whether someone is qualified for political office, much less on whether she’s qualified to be the wife of someone in political office.

On a similar note, her former work shouldn’t imply that she’s less “classy” than other First Ladies because claiming such would require a view that sex work is shameful and debasing–a premise I adamantly reject.

Ironically, I have periodically heard people try to justify these attacks on Melania by claiming that it is no different from how Michelle Obama was treated.

But in my book, turn about is not fair play.

It’s not making people reconsider how they might have talked about Michelle Obama. It’s not preventing Melania from being the First Lady.

It’s not even hurting Trump because he unquestionably demonstrated that he had no problem taking jabs at Melania at the Al Smith Charity Dinner, despite his visible discomfort with any jokes directed at himself. Melania is expendable to him, only useful insofar as she feeds his need for power and prestige.

But I have another reason for my refusal to make sexist attacks on Melania. She is the first First Lady that I have worried about her treatment at home.

Trump is publicly emotionally abusive to virtually everyone he dislikes, particularly towards women. He has been accused of rape and sexual assault from more than one woman, including an accusation of marital rape and domestic battery from a former wife.

I have no confidence that he suddenly becomes a docile teddy bear in private with Melania.

It’s hard enough to get out of a toxic relationship in normal circumstances, but when your husband is suddenly the Commander and Chief with the secret service at his disposal and an ego as fragile as a butterfly wing…I don’t know about you, but I’d probably keep my head down and beg people not to make him angry as well.

Ultimately, I see attacking Melania as more than a direct conflict with my values; it’s potentially heaping yet more mistreatment onto an already mistreated woman, demonstrating to her that those who claim to be “on the side” of women are hypocrites, neither a safe haven nor living example of respect for her.

But standing true to my social justice values has resulted in some unexpected conflicts. Others that I would have previously assumed shared my values have reacted with hostility towards my discomfort with the treatment of Melania. I’ve found that people are willing to resort to prejudice and then claim oppression when I speak out against that prejudice. Just yesterday, I was accused of being a homophobe and a white supremacist because of this stance.

It’s a discouragement I didn’t expect to face as I headed into a Trump presidency. I’m not only contending with the horrible realization that sexism, racism, and despotism won the election, but I’m also having to face the reality that it’s infiltrated what I would have considered “my turf” and poisoned those I would have called “my people.”

Trump has said and done some truly awful things that shouldn’t be ignored…but if the attempts to oppose him sound more like something he would say, I’m not sure that’s a movement I actually want to be a part of.

I Put a Spell on You…and Myself

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A witch casting spells over a steaming cauldron by H.S. Thomassin

Let’s talk about magic.

I’m currently working on developing a binding spell for Trump’s presidency to limit the damage he can do. I realize that it may not work, but it feels better than doing nothing.

Depending on where you look in the world of magic, you can get very different messages about binding spells, some warning that you should never ever do them and others suggesting that sometimes it’s appropriate but you’d better have a good reason.

In both instances, the fear is that a spell designed to interfere with the free will of another has the possibility of creating some…karmic payback.

Wiccans in particular cite the “Rule of Three”—the idea that what you put out into the world will return to you threefold.

I don’t personally believe in the rule of three in a literal sense, nor do I ascribe to a spirituality that is all positive rainbows and sunshine. Darkness, destruction, and shadow emotions have their place. I also don’t expect myself not to have emotions such as anger because binding spells are usually my response to boundary violations that have gotten out of hand. Anger is entirely appropriate.

But I never let myself cast the spell when I am actively feeling vindictive. I think it’s valuable to consider how I would feel about being the recipient of my own spell because it makes me consider my intentions. For me, a binding spell is about setting a boundary not about “getting even.”

I write them in a way that if I were to be on the receiving end, I could live with what I was doing. Thinking about myself being the recipient helps me keep the best interest of the person in mind. It reminds me that I don’t want to prevent them from being happy. I don’t want to prevent them from accomplishing good.

I do want to limit their capacity to harm others (including me)…and I am totally okay with that coming back to me threefold or twentyfold because I also want to limit my capacity to cause harm to others.

Generally, I don’t even write the spell to force their choices or actions to change. I write the spell to interfere with how effective they can be if they make those choices.

In other words, I don’t try to mess with their free will. I just try to stimulate failure for any action that might be abusive or harmful.

So far, I have done three binding spells—all of them scarily effective considering that those people pretty quickly chose to exit my life afterwards.

Trump is definitely different because I don’t know him personally so I don’t know what his good intentions or positive qualities might be. It’s a little more tempting to wish him ill.

I also realize that it’s not enough to just cast the spell and rest comfortably in the hope that he won’t harm me personally. I have to also keep a watch on how he is affecting others and stay involved to the extent that I am willing to stand up to injustice, even if it’s not knocking on my door specifically.

However, I recognize that wishing him general failure means wishing the nation failure as well because, like it or not, he will be leading us come January. I have to work even harder to ensure that my motivations are pure, fueled by righteous anger but not coming from a place of malice because I don’t doubt that malicious intent towards someone so influential will have ripple effects on the rest of us.

In this instance, I specifically want to bind him from causing or inciting violence. I want to open his ears to hear the people who are vulnerable right now. I want to tie his success to justice, and call up failure on anything he attempts to do that would violate the rights of others.

And as with the other spells, I design my spell with every intention of having to live under it myself. I am committing myself to the same values with which I want him to lead. More than that, I am binding myself to staying active in the cause.

If you are a spell-worker, will you commit your energy to the same?