“You’re Cynical”: Or, How to Gaslight, Silence, and Annoy the Hell out of Abuse and Trauma Victims in 3 Seconds Flat

I’ve been wondering what to write for my next article for a while, and at, like, 5 AM today, I got my answer. Today’s topic is about two little words that abuse survivors sometimes hear, and it manages to erase abuse, absolve an abuser, and silence and blame a victim – simultaneously. It crops up in accusatory anonymous messages, unsolicited comments, and most notably, the following Tumblr post I came across in the unholy morning hours. Here it is:


(Before we say anything more, let’s just applaud that response. Because damn. I love unapologetic responses to bullshit. And “you’re cynical?” Some top-tier bullshit.)

(Let me also disclaimer, in this article I’m talking about “you’re cynical” as an accusation, not “you’re cynical” as a statement. It can be a dotted line between them, but if you believe that a survivor feeling negatively about abuse is a bad thing, odds are it’s an accusation. See bottom for more clarification.)

If you’ve suffered abuse, chances are you may have heard “you’re cynical” or a host of its equally annoying cousins before. The problem with being told “you’re cynical” is that we’re so often told it in a tone that means “stop being cynical,” and in response to our expressing negative emotions about the abuse. Annoying cousins include:

“Shouldn’t you be over this by now? Why haven’t you moved on?”

“You can’t heal if you don’t forgive and learn to trust again.” 

“Have you ever started a psychotherapy to stop seeing Christians as devils, or are you content with that vision?”

(Yeah, I know. You should see the rest of the message.)

“You’re cynical” diminishes abuse, excuses abusers, weaponizes the Good Survivor Narrative, and best of all, makes you look like a Grade-A asshole

Let’s unpack why.

  1. If you tell an abuse survivor “you’re cynical” when they express anger, distrust, resentment, or other negative emotions,
  2. you’re saying “you have not forgiven and learned to trust again,”
  3. which implies “you should have forgiven and learned to trust again,”
  4. which implies “you weren’t hurt so badly that you can’t forgive and learn to trust again, and if you think you were, you’re wrong,”
  5. which is gaslighting.

Gaslighting is an emotional abuse technique where abusers make their victims question and blame themselves. Gaslighting is despicable because abusers use it to keep the wool over their victims’ eyes. Don’t leave me, I never hurt you because you made that up. It’s petty to be mad at me, you deserved what I did to you. Don’t tell anyone about this, you’re exaggerating.

Stop being angry at me, I am entitled to your forgiveness and trust. Even though I used you. Violated you. Controlled you. Imposed emotional, psychological, social, financial, spiritual, and physical suffering on you.

I covered this in my last article (see previous link), but there’s a popular lie out there that defines a right way to survive abuse or trauma – and a wrong way. Forgiving and “moving on” is good (which looks very specific in America, mind you: get back to work, be happy and social, don’t “dwell on” your suffering by making noise about it.) Staying angry, not forgiving, breaking contact – that’s Bad. Petty. Weak.

When you tell a victim/survivor to stop being cynical – to stop distrusting people who remind them of the abuse and to forgive the abuser – you agree with the abuser. You agree the abuser is right to not just expect, but feel entitled to forgiveness. Entitled forgiveness requires that the victim stop telling their story and calling the abuser out. Entitled forgiveness says absolve me and shut up. ASAP.

Which is why “you’re cynical” is the Good Survivor Narrative, weaponized. It says, you’re not surviving the right way. And in doing so, it says:

  1. You owe your abuser forgiveness. (Excusing.)
  2. The abuse wasn’t that bad. By not forgiving, you imply that it was. You’re wrong. (Gaslighting.)
  3. You should stop talking about the abuse, because if you don’t, you clearly haven’t “moved on.” (Silencing.)
  4. Your feelings about your abuse are not important. (Diminishing.)
  5. Your feelings about your abuse are wrong. (Bullshit.)

When you tell an abuse victim to forgive, trust, and quiet down, their survival and recovery are put on a timeline that you created. Their survival and recovery become something to be performed for you with standards set by you. Having survivors promptly stop telling their story and stop being angry means the abuse is forgotten, and what happened was okay.

Forgiveness is not inherently bad, but it is not inherently good either. Coming to forgive an abuser or abusive system may be helpful or pivotal to a survivor’s recovery, but it is not necessary for every survivor. Forgiving abuse and accepting abuse can happen separately.

Obviously, all shitty things to do. Tl;dr, don’t tell abuse survivors that they shouldn’t be cynical, or try to police negative expressions in other ways. It’s arrogant, abuser-affirming, and none of your business.

There’s also a difference between being angry and not forgiving, and obsessing. For some people, being too bitter can be unhealthy (although, can you ever be too bitter over something as costly as abuse?) – yet too bitter is for each survivor to define, never you.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today. Got stories? Questions? Qualms? The comments section awaits you. Happy New Year, everyone. I’ll see you in 2016.

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