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Of Emotional Abuse & Gaslighting

As already espoused in some of my previous articles emotional abuse is a form of gender based/domestic violence under Botswana laws.

Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse where the gaslighter manipulates the gaslightee emotionally in order for the gaslightee to doubt their own judgement, perceptions and view of the world. Gaslighting can happen in all types of relationships i.e. between siblings, parent – child relationships, lovers, workers etc. For the purpose of this article we will discuss gas lighting from an intimate relationship perspective.

The term ‘gaslight’ became popular after the movie ‘Gaslight’. In the said movie, the husband being the gaslighter sought to emotionally manipulate his wife who was his gaslightee in an effort to convince her that she was mentally unstable. This classic 1944 film is the story of Paula, a young, vulnerable singer married to a man called Gregory. Unbeknownst to Paula, her darling husband was restlessly trying to drive her insane in order to take over her inheritance. He endlessly told her she was ill and fragile, rearranged household items and then accused her of doing so, and most deviously of all, manipulated the gas so that she saw the lights dim for no apparent reason.

 Consequently, Paula began to believe that she was becoming mentally unstable. Her husband had successfully gaslighted her. Frightened and lost, she began to act hysterical, actually becoming the fragile, disoriented person that her husband kept on telling her she was. The more she doubted her judgement and perception, the more confused and hysterical she became.  Paula’s sanity and trust in her judgement were restored when a police inspector reassured her that he, too, saw the dimming of the light.

A full view of the aforementioned movie shows that there are stages of gaslighting namely when; the gaslightee disbelieves the gaslighter, the gaslightee begins to defend himself/herself and prove to the gaslighter that he/she is not the way the gaslighter sees them, the gaslightee is depressed and begins to believe the gaslighter’s version of the gaslightee.

Every so often women are gaslighted because a number of societies groom females to derive their identity from a man whilst males are trained to originate their individuality from their vocation. Men are also schooled by the public to maintain a strong facade even when they are crumbling on the inside. This manner of grooming by hook or by crook mounts pressure on certain males to admit when they have

blundered. In comparison to males, most females tend to easily admit their frailties and imperfections when they err.

As depicted in the previous paragraph womenfolk are at a higher risk of being gaslighted by their partners because they customarily hinge their identity on their partners and desperately seek their approval as a result.  It feels great to be genuinely complimented or given credit when we deserve it. However, it is knotty when compliments and external validation are oxygen for our worth and inner approval.

We are inherently approved and worthy by virtue of being human. Compliments and external validation only serve to re – affirm and not affirm our worth. Popular sayings in several humanities such as ‘ke ngwanyana ko A (my home village), ke mosadi ko B (my husband’s home village) carry undertones that infantilise single women and bestow reflexive maturity on wedded females.

The italicised adage that is used by married womankind in some Tswana communities colloquially means that ‘I am a girl from my home village A and a woman from my husband’s home village B. In my considered opinion, the saying connotes that the maturity and completeness of a woman is tied to marriage or a man. As a married woman that diametrically dissents with the aforesaid saying, I personally feel that though marriage comes with greater responsibilities, it is predominantly an extension of who the parties were before matrimony as well as who they choose to be subsequently; it is not a magic wanton for maturity or wholeness.

With reference to the aforesaid adage it defeats my logic as to how the same ‘creditable woman’ that a man proposed marriage to, denigrates her ‘worthy womanhood prior to marriage’ and suggests that she was a ‘girl afore marriage’ and now a ‘woman following marriage’. In my humble perspective, such sayings cause some womenfolk  in general to abdicate their self - worth and self - esteem to their partners and thus become victims of gaslighting and other forms of abuse.

The next article will be a worthy continuance of this one. 

Gaone Monau is a practicing attorney and motivational speaker. For bookings on gender based violence awareness seminars, motivational talks or consultations on relationships, confidence building, stress management and self-discovery contact +26774542732 or  Her facebook page is Be Motivated with Gaone.

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