Gaslighting is a term associated with domestic abuse. What it means is a deliberate process of destroying a person’s mind with the intention of leaving them unable to defend themselves, make decisions or trust their own sanity. A person who thinks they are mad, or whose reality has been damaged by gaslighting is much easier to control and abuse.
I think we’re seeing this happen at a national level. I’m going to speak to the British experience, but suspect it’s not just us.
We’ve had a lot of conflicting messages: Migrants are here to scrounge off the dole, but they’re also taking your jobs. We can afford nuclear weapons, but we can’t afford to look after the vulnerable. Socialists are an out of touch elite, while millionaires understand the needs of ordinary people… and many more such tales. Clearly these things don’t add up, but we’re getting a steady diet of incompatible ideas, which is more than enough to damage anyone’s sense of reality.
Gaslighters use blame and shame to control their victims. We have a government that blames people for not finding jobs despite the fact that universal employment is not feasible. The sick and disabled are blamed and demonised, as though their problems are wholly of their own making and purely about getting the pittance the government allows for those who cannot work. The poor are blamed for the consequences of poverty, demonised, dehumanised… And in recent conflicts, we’ve seen teachers, doctors, and other once-respected professionals equally blamed for things beyond their control.
We’re told that we can’t trust experts and professionals. People who should know what they’re talking about – we are to believe – know less than unqualified, uninformed people. Doctors don’t know if their patients are too sick to work. Teachers don’t know how to teach. Exam boards don’t know what subjects to offer. Scientists know nothing about climate change. Economists can’t be trusted to comment on the economy. Judges can’t tell us about constitutional law. And on it goes. Who do you trust in such a mad world? Who do you believe? How on earth do you make sense of things?
If the government and the media were living with us (we may be back in the austerity household for this paragraph) they would, under UK law, be guilty of controlling and abuse behaviour. If we, the other people in the austerity household wanted to run away from them, the police would help us get out to a place of safety. If any of us were treated by a spouse in the way the Tory party, and the media that support right wing politics are treating the British people, it would be very easy to label.
Why do people keep voting for politicians who will only hurt and harm them? I think it’s the same answer as why abuse victims so often stay with their abuser. When you don’t believe things could ever be better. When you have no hope, when you don’t trust your own ability to make decisions, when your reality is scrambled and maddening, you stay with what you know for fear that what you don’t know will be even worse.
It’s not an easy situation to get out of, but many victims of domestic abuse manage it, so perhaps whole nations can manage it too. It’s the point when you try to leave that a domestic abuse victim is most at risk of injury or death at the hands of their abuser. If we’re going to get out of the austerity house without more people dying, we need to look after each other.