When @LaLegale from Twitter suggested I look up ‘gaslighting’ I had no idea it would solve a puzzle from the height of the bullying I went through.
Here’s what it says on Wikipedia:
“Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
The term "gaslighting" comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations, in which a husband secretly dims the gas lights in the house and, when his wife remarks on it, he claims that she is mistaken.”
In a ruthless campaign of sustained bullying you’d think it would perhaps be hard to pick and choose one particular incident, but I was deeply tormented by Howard’s cartoon depiction of me recorded in a blog called ‘The Other Side’. Here’s an extract.
“Yesterday was a new low. Having poked fun at me all morning, Howard drew a picture of me naked, being menaced by a shark (him) and saying “Help, help – I’m a vulnerable person”. Then he added a penis to the picture of me, before tearing it to shreds and putting it in the bin. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t forget it”.
The last line was the understatement of the century. When talking about this particular incident on a radio show 3 years later, I was overcome again with hurt and anger. But what bothered me so much? Was it the shark imagery? Was it the crude sexual context? Probably in part, but it wasn’t half as complex as I’d imagined.
Thanks to @LaLegale, I realise my difficulties stemmed from Howard’s use of gaslighting for the first time. Previously, there had been more smaller examples of scribbled obscenities which were then shredded, but Howard was blasé about these. The shark illustration was the first time that he denied it occurred at all – implying that I was crazy.
Time heals, of course. It doesn’t bother me now the way it used to. But if there was any healing left to be done on this point, putting a name to the technique does make us feel better. I’ve answered a question from my own blog with the help of someone from Twitter. Finally, I know why a juvenile sketch caused me so much anxiety. It wasn’t the picture, so much as the way the it was created, removed, destroyed and immediately denied completely that caused me such grief.
This is the wonderful thing about sharing and collaborating on a subject like workplace bullying. I like to think that for every instance of gaslighting, some present or former target of bullying is having a light bulb moment.