One of the many benefits of the internet growing into such a staple is that it's much easier to share important knowledge. This often means things like global news or local advisories, but it can mean much more than that too, with smaller communities sharing work and terminology that can help others in need.
This is visible in the world of psychology and, more specifically, abuse survivors. With more people able to share their journey, their knowledge, or whatever else they may bring to the discussion, other survivors can see that they're both not alone and that there are people wanting to help them recover. A recent phenomenon has shown this perfectly, with the rising popularity of the term 'gaslighting.'
Over the past few years, you might have noticed an uptick in usage of the term 'gaslighting.' Gaslighting is a very specific form of abuse, in which the abuser makes the victim question their perception of reality by telling them things have happened but never actually did, or that they didn't say what they thought they said, anything that will make them feel 'crazy' and like they're losing their sanity.
Maybe you only recently learned this term yourself, putting you among the many who learned about a whole new side of abuse for the first time.
Growing Public Knowledge
With every new person who learned what the term was, there was a group of them that had a profound yet upsetting realization that they had been the victim of gaslighting. It's a hard thing to describe or even notice if you don't know the term for it, but now that so many more people are armed with knowledge, they have begun grappling with that fact.
It's not an easy thing to handle, and it opens the door to a lot of other dark realizations. If you're in this boat, know that you're not alone, and that more widely known recognition of gaslighting means there are bigger support networks for those who have experienced it.
Due to its rise in popularity in the public consciousness, researchers wanted to look into gaslighting and other forms of abuse that center manipulation A study was recently published in the journal Personal Relationships unpacking what they found out about the impact manipulative abuse has on survivors.
For this study, 65 survivors of manipulative abuse (also known as coercive control) filled out a questionnaire on their previous experiences. The focus was on gaslighting, but plenty was revealed about other forms of manipulation that often take place alongside instances of gaslighting.
First, let's break down what they found out about gaslighting.
The most frequently shared instances of gaslighting were abusers accusing their victims of being incompetent at something they were doing fine (or even well) at, being overly emotional when they were having a completely rational reaction, and general mental instability.
The end result, researchers noted, was the victim suffering a weakening sense of self, as well as a lack of trust in others. No surprise here, gaslighting can have severe emotional impacts on its victims that linger for years.
An abuser isolating their victim from the rest of their supports was another commonly cited tactic. This tends to come a bit later, after the two are established (if it's a romantic relationship) so the victim trusts the abuser somewhat. They'll then start speaking poorly about the victim's friends, family, coworkers, whoever could lend them aid. Since the victim trusts them, they'll start to distance themselves from their peers until they're entirely reliant on the abuser.
This not only prevents them from getting help, but the abuser also gets to avoid accountability, as there's now no one around to call them out on their behavior.
3. Cold Shouldering
One thing about coercive control-type abusers is that they love to make up arbitrary and imaginary 'rules' for their victims to follow, often without actually telling the victims those rules. So, when a victim unknowingly breaks one, the abuser will punish them by giving them the cold shoulder. In ignoring them completely, maybe serving some distasteful looks, the victim feels panicked. This person they now rely on is angry at them, and they don't know why.
This form of control can deal a massive blow to one's ability to communicate, and often ends with the victim apologizing without knowing what they did wrong. Or they'll be made to feel like a normal, everyday behavior of theirs is wrong and bad. It does critical damage to their self-esteem either way.
Another tool these types of abusers use is always being unpredictable in their emotions. Victims would describe how their abusers would be perfectly loving and affectionate one day, then exploding with constant rage the next. These shifts in behavior could happen in a second, meaning the victim never knew what type of person their abuser was going to be on a given day.
This would also include frequent arguments started over nothing, and general erratic behavior that left the victim feeling unsafe.
5. Love Bombing
The second element researchers saw often was the idea of love bombing. To love bomb someone is to give them an outpouring of intense, intimate love, one that's smothering and overwhelming. It can either follow or precede the abuser doing something terrible, and is used as either an apology or a cushion respectively.
It's most common for an abuser to love bomb in the early stages of a relationship before things go south. That way, should they be accused of being manipulative, they can reference all the love they gave and use that as 'proof' that they surely couldn't have done anything harmful.
After It All
The point of the study was to better understand gaslighting and all that comes with it so there are better options for prevention, awareness, and treatment for survivors of abuse like this. Its rise in popularity, though it seems scary, might have a net positive in the long run, with more people able to identify it in early stages of a relationship, and those who have suffered through it better able to heal with time.
In fact, the study also found that some participants experienced growth and recovery after their abusive experiences. They were able to build healthy, sane relationships and were better able to establish boundaries, with the most cited activity that helped them recover being socializing and reengaging with others outside of their abuser.
There's hope to be had even for those who have dealt with so much pain. Know there is a place for you, a place filled with peace and loving connection.