By Anthea Ibembe
We live in an age of information overload and alarming terminologies which makes us numb to any psychological or scientific jargon being thrown around. But if we really are looking to lower the occurrence of gender based violence, we need to be alert to and remain alarmed by the term ‘gaslighting’
At Inpact Uganda, through our Girls to Girls Initiative, we offer ourselves as a safe space for young girls to open up conversations and enlighten them to the realities of gaslighting in a bid to equip them with the necessary mental skills to protect themselves.
By virtue of the compound word itself, one is able to pick up on the fact that gaslighting is an emotional action that has a lot to do with ignition of anger and guilt. Oftentimes abusers gaslight their victims because they know all their ‘buttons’ and seek to provoke a reaction that might ignite a physical fight, a fight in which they are certain they will triumph. So to simply define gaslighting under the lens of gender based violence is to say, the emotional manipulation of one’s partner to provoke a desired physical reaction.
Take this instance victim blaming (which is an arm of gaslighting). A husband loses his job and blames his wife for failing to keep an orderly home which he claims disorganized him in the mornings and made him perform poorly at work. This excuse creates a soft landing for all the violence he rains on her in the name of frustration.
From an aerial view, we can see that the connection between these two failures is farfetched, if anything parallel. However, she the ‘accused’ will find a way to connect the dots and make sense of her husbands accusations. This is the sweet spot for him; she feels guilty, he is the victim and better yet, he is fully in charge of the situation. The burden of guilt justifies whatever abuse she faces, convincing her that these are the consequences of her failures as a wife.
There is a trinity a of personal shields therapists swear by:
Self awareness and self assuredness
It is important for one to commune often with oneself. Examine your strengths and their limitations, make peace with your flaws and modify where you can.
This particular shield sits at the throne of the trinity because if the aforementioned wife was well conversant with her weaknesses, she’d not be learning about them from her husband who intends to use them for his own gain.
Some may argue that self assuredness is borderline arrogance and intolerance towards correction. To that I say, when self assuredness when well regulated, radiates as firm confidence
Gaslighting works perfectly in an environment of insecurities and even more effectively when the victim relies on their abuser to validate their thoughts and emotions. From what the wise say, it is important to take charge of one’s own emotions and thought process so as to lower the chances or the longevity of which one is a victim of gaslighting. Emotional independence is closely tied to self awareness. What triggers you? What empowers you? How do you react to either? Have you built up inner control systems to regulate your reactions?
Abuse and violence is a game of reactions, a potential victim must constantly prepare themselves to remain levelheaded in the presence of triggers that could end in a physical altercation.
Another profound similarity that emotional independence and self awareness hold; is the need to be constantly cultivated and evaluated because our thoughts and emotions evolve quite fast and one must keep up with themselves lest their of the control measures become obsolete and who’s to say the abuser (master of manipulation) will not learn a way around them and use them against the victim.
Finally, once one has learned to rely on oneself, they should keep a level headed confidante or two to share with the anomalies in a potentially abusive relationship. Again, drawing back to the aforementioned instance of the abusive husband that lost his job, it is be crystal clear to you and I and any therapist that his accusations are preposterous but it’s not clear to her. It then becomes the role of her confidante to highlight this manipulation to the abused. If a young girl can incorporate their knowledge of self and emotional independence with the counsel of a wise confidante then they are in a position to spot gaslighting tactics and act accordingly to protect themselves before it culminates into further abuse. And we at Inpact would have done an honest day’s job!