gerund or present participle: sloughing
  1. shed or remove (a layer of dead skin).
    “a snake sloughs off its old skin”
    • get rid of (something undesirable or no longer required).
      “he is concerned to slough off the country’s bad environmental image”
    • (of dead skin) drop off; be shed.
    • (of soil or rock) collapse or slide into a hole or depression.
Middle English
(as a noun denoting a skin, especially the outer skin shed by a snake): perhaps related to Low German slu(we ) ‘husk, peel.’ The verb dates from the early 18th century.
Sloughing is, first and foremost, a gross word.

I’ve come to use it as a figurative term for a gross habit some people seem to have — shedding responsibility.

I’m sure you’ve witnessed someone slough (ew).  It can sound a lot like this:
“There was a miscommunication…”

“Things were said…”
In each of these cases (and other similar cases), what happens here is that the locus of influence (and therefore, accountability) is placed on a non-human, impersonal set of forces or events, rather than on the shoulders of people who do things.  It’s commonly taught in communications courses as a way to distance oneself from culpability and present sh*tty news in a neutral way so as to avoid conflict, disagreement, or explicit placement of accountability.

It is also, for the people harmed by the culpable party, dehumanizing, belittling, and disempowering.  I’ve learned, over the last thirty-two years, that the more impersonal, distant, and blameless-sounding the sloughing, the more egregious the actions of the slough-er tend to be.  We see it a lot in public faux-pologies and it’s usually followed by a statement of the slough-er’s own harm (“I lost something, too!”) or back-pedaling (“but here’s why this is okay!”), or re-branding (“but really this is a lesson for all of us about ____!”).

Can I just say, let us all stop doing this.  Let it be known that sometimes, we are all assh*les.  Sometimes, we are assh*les at each other.  It happens.  We are human.  Sometimes, someone will be an assh*le to you, and you’ll be an assh*le to them back, and it devolves into a mess and there are irreparable consequences.  I’m not saying dish the dirty details to anyone who will listen.  But like, express some agency.


2 thoughts on “Sloughing

  1. Any thoughts about the habit of sloughing as the victim? Like, instead of “when X did Y to me” saying “when Y happened” or “the Y incident.” I’ve been catching myself doing that a lot (and my therapist totally called me on it in a super-gentle and subtle way).

    1. I think this is common, especially for people who know or once chose the person who caused the harming behavior. It depersonalizes the harm, which can make it feel less likely to provoke criticism, questioning, or blame reversal.

      I’m so glad your professional found a gentle way to illuminate that habit, and call into question its use and function in your recovery! It can be a hard habit to break, because it means confronting the harsher truths of the harm done to you (as purposeful, as intentional, as predatory) and also can feel like you present yourself without as much agency “X was done /to me/” which is something we’re socialized to not say.

      Sloughing as a victim is a way of wrapping ourselves in a fluffy blanket of insulation from the idea that one person can hurt another person so immediately, directly, and unkindly. That distance feels safe, when you’re recovering, but is ultimately not as empowering or healing as we might like.

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