Many people associate the fall with pumpkins, lattes, and comfy sweaters but the month of October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Typically this month is when I see numerous Breast Cancer “Pink Ribbon” Campaigns. We see pink ribbon memorabilia, donation pink commercials on TV, and walking for awareness. I think very rarely if ever have I seen awareness events or commercials touching on this issue. It appears that society is finally okay with the concept of discussing breasts and the need for screenings but still remains quiet on issue of abuse, rape, and domestic violence. This issue has remained a taboo subject that is known about but seems to be as illusive as unicorns as far as public interest is concerned.
I think the general consensus in our society is that the definition of “domestic violence” or “abuse” is mainly physical, this is simply not true. Abuse can be any number of things to include the controlling of finances, manipulation, and verbal abuse. A form of abuse that I just learned about while watching the movie Gaslight is the phenomenon of “Gaslighting.” Gaslighted or Gaslighting is the process of causing “ a person to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation” Gaslighting is more than just moving picture frames and dimming lights as you watch Ingrid Bergman in the film desperately try and remember where she put the broach. Gaslighting is a slow psychological break, which leaves the victim feeling as though they are unable to function normally without others help. The victim often finds themselves lacking the confidence to make simple decisions, the ability to think for themselves, and as you watch in the film the victim often secludes themselves for fear of making mistakes.
I know most people will exclaim “oh that will never happen to me!” But, gaslighting can happen between more than just a significant other and yourself. It can happen between parent to child, boss to employee, and friend to friend. Can you honestly say that you have never met a toxic person? A person that somehow managed to make you doubt every choice you ever made? This person is someone who can get into your psyche because they know you and your weaknesses and make you feel like you are a constant screw up. Perhaps it never reaches the extreme of becoming completely helpless as Bergman does in the film, but if you have answered yes to any of scenarios above then you can acknowledge that it is indeed possible. It can happen to anyone. Abuse is not gender, race, age, or sexual orientation specific.
As I look back on some of my early dating experiences I can say I made some bad choices. One in particular stands out from all the rest. He was smart, talented, witty and we seemed to be a good match. But, as most people know abuse doesn’t start out as abuse. The person is usually a narcissist and in this case that definition fits the bill. He made me feel like a piece of garbage. There wasn’t a thing I could do right. Things that I felt so confident with like cooking, writing, and being a people person I started to question. He would often remark “ you know, for a smart girl you can be really stupid sometimes.” Then we ended up moving into an apartment that was farther away from my family. I would get in trouble for calling my mom, or for wanting to go visit. Thats when I knew something was truly wrong. The reality was I was young, and he was my first real boyfriend. I cared for him, and I wanted him to be happy. If only I had washed that pan correctly. If only I could iron a shirt like he showed me.
It took a break down over french toast at a breakfast joint with my mom one morning to make my decision. I had to get out of where I was, and I had to leave now. I think within two days time after a major argument I had gathered all my belongings in trash bags and a UHAUL was called. Sadly, for some people this process is not so easy. The guilt of leaving coupled with the failure you feel for not realizing sooner I can honestly say is crippling. But you learn a lot about yourself in the next couple of months. You start to discover who you are again, and although the situation is terrible you gain a strength that is unmatched.
There is no question that awareness has helped educate people about Breast Cancer. The same can be said for Skin Cancer when every summer we see articles and commercials on moles, sunblock, and wearing protective clothing. Why would awareness not be just as effective with this issue? I believe that society has come a long way but we are not where we should be on this issue. It shouldn’t take a celebrity to remind us that it happens and that its real. Lucky for Bergman she gained the help of a Scotland Yard detective and was able to free herself of her prison. But, for those of us who don’t have a detective watching our backs knowledge is power. My hope is that society will come to accept this is a real and current issue and treat it with just as much gusto as we do with all our other causes. Perhaps most of all, I wish for the stigma of yesterday to be forgotten.
Notes from the Writer: If anyone is interested in watching the movie Gaslight, which I highly recommend the link below gives the synopsis. If anyone would like to learn more about gaslighting check out the links posted.