Gaslight and the Forgotten Abuse



From Picard’s four lights to a teacher’s “apologise!” to a student, gaslighting exists all around us…

The other day, yet another charming young lady made a beeline to my door. Like the ones before her, and no doubt the ones to come, she presented her credentials and asked whether she could take up some of my time – in this case, fifteen minutes.

The topic of this particular survey was domestic and other types of abuse, as well as women’s rights, and the much-hyped “equality”. The last two items in the list set my teeth on edge; but I decided to see whether the questions lead before commenting.

Abuse by my partner would have included anything from being beaten up, whether or not he would have been blind drunk at the time, to being forbidden to associate with my friends; abuse from associates would have included being discriminated against because of gender, and abuse from strangers would have included flashing or inappropriate touching.

I was asked whether I was aware of any media campaigns on the topic – and frankly, whereas the repetitive Nista’ ones flooded my mind, I had to really wrack my brain to remember the Dignity for Domestic Violence Survivors posters in the street which urged us to seek help should we need it, as the woman in the picture who “used to be a victim” did. And yes – the persons portrayed in the posters were all victims of physical abuse.

Another question asked whether I knew of any entities that were “doing their best” for women’s rights – and, in truth, the very need that there is any need of “equality” unit sets my teeth on edge. Mention of Parliament made me say that politics did not interest me, but I am sure that if “they” had done something about it, we would have known for sure, because the MP responsible for it would have touted the news from the church steeples, not to mention the newspapers and sundry social sites.

The young lady asked me whether I had anything to add, and I said “lots”. She raised an eyebrow and opened her eyes wide, but which I assumed that I had been the only one on her list (“from the electoral register”) to say so with such vehemence.

In the name of all my friends and acquaintances who had ever been abused, I insisted that it was not fair that in the majority of the cases, it was the woman and the children who had to leave the home for their own safety, whilst the perpetrator usually remained and thumbed his nose at them… or else promised to ‘behave’ and repeated the abuse “as soon as she misbehaved again and ‘made him do it’ ”.

That was not all, however.

Although I was given a form with multiple-choice answers to some of the aforementioned questions, to fill in anonymously, and asked to seal it in an unmarked envelope, there is no way I noted it was not placed randomly in the sheaf of envelopes; and moreover, the company that commissioned the survey will probably check that the young lady did indeed interview me – and now they can pair my information, my details, and my telephone number.

This in itself raises several questions.

Would a woman whose partner abused her, or who had been raped (by a family member, friend or stranger) and kept it secret, actually admit this if there was anyone within earshot?

But the most important point I raised had not even been hinted at in the questionnaire – and this brings me to my point; nobody considers psychological tactics, or Gaslighting, as abuse.  It is assumed that if you have no bruises to show, they you are imagining things – or lying to get your partner into trouble.

Women who have been through this say that they actually believe they are crazy.  Their partners do not lift a finger, because they know this would leave a mark that may – probably will – be photographed.

And yet they continuously denigrate the woman’s cooking, he hair, her figure, her clothes, her family, her friends… anything that could make her feel good about herself.  They pick on her manner of speaking; they make her feel inadequate in and out of bed; they compare her to other women – and she never matches them in anything. Abusers use ambiguous words so they can claim “it’s not what I said, it’s what you think I did… and as usual, you’re wrong… because you’re stupid.” And anyone who does not share their point of view is wrong.

They stretch the truth and move her things about so that they are not where she put them last, and then accuse her of having her mind “on other things” when she looks for them. The implications of this are obvious; a man will act suspiciously on purpose, to make her think he has a lover, just to goad her into a reaction.

Alas, these women spend hours trying to figure out what it is they would have done  wrong; they may even resort to staying at home so as not to face a barrage of questions about where they have been and whom they have talked to, and about what. They know that the supermarket closest to your house does not have the items they want but fear going to the one across town because he “knows” that the man at the cheese counter flirts with you each time you go.

They think that if they sit their partner down and explain that they love him beyond life itself and that they would never do anything to hurt him or endanger the relationship, all will be well. The man says he sees her point – but rarely does he say he understands it, for to do so would mean he loses his power over her. He will tell her that he knows it, and that she is nagging. And she thinks this signals an end to the interrogations and the negative comments.  It does not.

These tormentors have their own version of the truth; a woman watches television because she has a crush on an actor; she was already sexually active as a child to have money for sweets and he has “saved” her from prostitution; she got her degree by sleeping with the lecturer, or that she is pretending to be a good wife but she is actually an evil woman; he is “only joking” and she is a “head-case” to think otherwise.

There is only a thin, barely discernable line between verbal, and emotional, abuse. Abandonment, accusations, anger, belittling, blaming, brainwashing, bullying, comparisons, control, criticising, cruel jokes, discrediting, devaluing, gaslighting, insults, isolation, judging, manipulation, name-calling, ordering, silence, unpleasantness… all these are abuse tactics.

But if even those who undertake nationwide questionnaires do not realise this, what hope is there for the “ugly, stupid, fat, dirty, scrounging whore” crying herself to sleep… again?




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