People often wonder why those who are in abusive relationships don’t just leave their partners. But it is not just physical abuse that is at play here. They use an effective technique of manipulation called gaslighting to make their partners so vulnerable that they begin to question their own memory, perception and sanity.
Dr Naga Lakshmi, psychiatrist at KIMS Hospitals, breaks it down. “Gaslighting is just a new terminology for something that’s seen in emotional abuse and physical abuse cases. The person influences the victim by putting him/her in a confused state by repeatedly saying demoralising things about them, making them think that they’re crazy. This could happen in any kind of relationship, not just a romantic one. If parents do this to their kids repeatedly, the kid will grow up with an extremely low self-esteem. Bosses could be doing this to subordinates, girlfriends to boyfriends and vice versa.”
Recently, the editor of a popular online fiction magazine stepped down and shut down the venture over allegations of workplace harassment against him. Another allegation made by his friends and scores of people who have worked with him was of gaslighting.
Mansi Goda, an ex-employee, was the first person to speak out. In a detailed post, she wrote that his romantic relationships with some of his colleagues were, “abusive, showed male chauvinism and gaslighting a significant portion of the time, and detrimentally affected the mental well-being of women involved.” She adds, “His girlfriend confided in me and I have heard his side too. It was clearly he who was at fault but she would say things like, ‘but he isn’t that bad’ by the end of a conversation. He has said things like ‘You have low IQ, my dog can work better than you’. This was being done to a person that he hired for a top job, and was also his girlfriend. He has also tried to cloud my perception about her, saying she deserves it, and I definitely felt the push. He would also try to make me believe that I was the bad guy since I was ‘interfereing in personal matters’. I realised this was emotional abuse, and I warned him that allegations may be raised about his behaviour if he doesn’t get his act together, but nothing changed. The last straw was when he denied that he blackmailed his ex-girlfriend. I then reminded him that he told me himself that if she messes things up, he would use some private information to blackmail her. Then, he said “I said I could, but I would never.” Just in those six words you can see how manipulative he was being.”
Sushma (name changed) has also faced gaslighting from the same man. She was also in a romantic relationship with someone very similar. She explains why she found it very hard to get out. “Gaslighters often play victims and make you feel like the bad guy. Back then, I felt like I cannot walk away from the person who I hurt, so I felt like I owed it to him to stay on.”
Consultant psychologist Srikanth Acharya says, “This is a psycho-pathological disorder and narcissists and compulsive liars do this a lot. They know that they are manipulating but don’t accept that this is a disorder that needs help. They think they’re healthy and since narcissists love themselves, even if they are made aware, they wouldn’t like to change. Their family should notice this and muster the courage to tell them that they need to seek the help of a mental health professional.”