The danger of living in an era of gaslighting.
The news is full of salacious gossip about a ‘B’ list comedian on Strictly who has been caught kissing his dance partner. According to his now ex – girlfriend, the man repeatedly “gaslighted” her throughout their relationship.
It seems contradictory that at a time when finally we are taking mental health issues seriously, we nonetheless trivialise this behaviour. And yet undoubtedly it can cause mental health issues.
Gaslighting (taken from the eponymous film) means manipulating someone psychologically into doubting their own recollection of events, leading to the individual questioning their own reality.
It’s all about power and it’s pure abuse.
For example, when an illicit discovery is made you’re told that you’re not seeing what you’re seeing, you’re imagining it, when in fact you’re seeing it all too clearly.
But your faith in the person/system doing the gaslighting, the intimacy that you share with them, or the investment you have made means that you are keen to believe the very best. Hence, when a sophisticated explanation is offered up you accept it.
Regular exposure to gaslighting results in the recipient becoming very worn down, making them an even softer target.
I was gaslighted for a long time.
Frequently I was told that I was imagining things, being dramatic, insecure, unreasonable, ungrateful, selfish and neurotic.
And then one day I learned that I was none of these at all; in fact, I had been very astute but easily silenced.
It left me with issues that I didn’t have before. Anxiety, panic attacks, hyper-vigilance and a very shaky sense – of -self and depression (albeit undiagnosed), which fortunately I dealt with.
But I am forever changed. Whereas beforehand I trusted instinctively, now it is a constant work in progress.
I have a very good inner circle and a core strength that refuses to wither, and so in my case it didn’t prove to be insurmountable. I have moved beyond.
But that is not always the case.
The mental scars that are left can impact on an individual’s life for a very long time, damaging their self esteem, confidence and any opportunity for happiness and success that might present.
But we live in an era when gaslighting is almost expected from those who govern us, to the point where it begins to assume a degree of normality. And that’s dangerous.
As soon as we see Trump’s face appear we wonder what half truths he’s about to spew forth. Often our own executive makes it up as they go along, in order to control the electorate.
Remember Windrush? Amber Rudd sat poker – faced while claiming to be totally unaware of any target for the deportation of illegal immigrants. Until she was presented with a letter penned by her very own hand, explaining that the target was “ambitious but deliverable” .
Suddenly she had “inadvertently misled” the committee questioning her, rather than attempting to deliberately disorientate them.
A lame apology and resignation followed, but that was pretty much it.
Go further back to Mr Blair and WMD in Iraq. Apparently he is richer these days than during his premiership, so gaslighting didn’t do him too much harm did it?
Until it could no longer hide the Catholic church used gaslighting to cover up the systemic abuse of children at the hands of priests, resorting to publically discrediting victims rather than admitting the truth which would have threatened their power base.
Pick up a newspaper and deciphering truth from fiction can often require the skills of a GCHQ decoder.
And every hour, on the hour, for the last two years we have been fed a smorgasbord of Brexit “facts” that has left even the most politically engaged of us catatonic.
So gaslighting happens regularly at the very highest levels of our society, by those who we rely upon to set the moral compass for our own navigation of life, and by media outlets that we used to turn to for the unadulterated facts of a given situation.
Whether it’s a Cabinet minister trying to confuse the public, an office manager wrongfooting an employee, or a husband manipulating his betrayed wife, we live with constant gaslighting which makes it all the more difficult to identify.
But there should be no trivialisation of gaslighting. It should not be considered ordinary, everyday behaviour, as suggested by soap opera storylines, the media, or through matey banter in the pub.
It might appear “everyday behaviour” due to frequency, but is is not ordinary and until we stop accepting it as such then there will be no incentive for guilty parties to desist. Whether it be at national or domestic level.
A black eye is visible evidence of abuse. You can’t see metal health trauma, but it’s no less significant.
It’s time to aknowledge the the abuse of gaslighting, both to the individual and the national pysche. It’s time for us all to get healthy again.