Definition of gaslighting
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb “gaslight” is “to manipulate (a person) by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity; reality.”
How does gaslighting affect a rape victim?
In the horrific event of a rape, the sexual assaulter/rapist will use the gaslighting tactic to mentally and emotionally abuse their victims. Gaslighting is used so the manipulator can gain control, power, and even conceal situations to protect their reputation. In addition, it suppresses the victim into questioning their own thoughts, accusations, and doubting their own views of reality. However, the statements and questions made by the rapists may seem normal. In actuality, those statements are the instigator to manipulation and mentally hurting the victim.
Things gaslighters may say to rape victims
Gaslighters use this form of manipulation to gain abusive control over their victims and keep their abuse private. The reasons behind their motive are so they can keep their victims silent as well as make up for their own insecurities and shame. Implementing harsh words and comments like:
- “You’re making up your own story, stop lying.”
- “I never said that! You’re delusional.”
- “I was just joking, don’t take everything I do so seriously.”
- “You don’t remember? You’re the one who told me I could. You just forgot.”
- “Don’t you think you’re just overreacting a little bit?”
- “I wouldn’t have done that to you.”
- “Don’t get upset over nothing.”
- “Why are you even here if you think I’m so terrible then?”
This is a way to fog their interpretation of reality and bring in insecurities. This makes the victim less likely to leave their abuser since they are manipulated into feeling hopeless without them. They may overreact and become violent when a victim challenges their gaslighting tactics. This is because they don’t want to face the reality of being an abuser, as well as training the victim to stop confronting their actions or else it will lead to the exact same outbursts and violence.
Effects of gaslighting
To outsiders, a few harmful words can be overlooked and not taken into serious consideration. Some people may tell the victim to “suck it up” or give the abuser a pass and say, “he didn’t mean that.” But in the situation of a rape victim, the same harmful words may cause depression, PTSD, suicide, and more. Gaslighting should be taken seriously because it can cause a lot of pain and disruption of reality towards rape victims. This may not allow them to leave their relationship, which allows them to be constantly abused by their abuser. Some effects may be:
- The victim will start to second guess their own decisions and become confused.
- Out of fear, the victim will always be apologizing, even if it is not their fault.
- Victims will start wondering if they’re too sensitive and over-reacting to their situation.
- Victim’s self-esteem is low, and they always feel like a disappointment.
- Since their reality is distorted, they may feel their own friends and family will not believe their story resulting in silence.
How to support rape victims
In the society we live in today, coming out with rape, sexual violence, and abuse survivor stories have been looked down upon. However, things are getting better as more women gain their strength to come out with their stories. It is hard for these victims to come out to the public because they may be scared of rejection, embarrassment, and shame. But, as a community, we can come together and help empower each other through traumatic life experiences.
When supporting rape victims, it is important to know that there should be no visible judgment, as it is already hard for them to tell you about their abuse openly. It is also important to believe them and avoid saying things that give the direction of looking at the brighter side of things. By listening and supporting them, you are reassuring them that their abuse and rape are not their faults. Some simple words can be:
- “I’m listening.”
- “It’s okay to cry.”
- “I support you.”
- “I’ll be here to listen when you’re ready to talk, no rush.”
- “How can I help you?”
- “Thank you for sharing your experience.”
What not to say to rape victims
When consoling a victim, don’t bring in your own emotions or opinions because it makes the victim feel like they brought more disappointment and burden into your life. Make sure to stay by their side as they work and express their feelings. In addition, don’t question their story because those questions may come off as accusations and can even trigger their experiences with gaslighting and start to second guess themselves.
- “I can’t believe that happened, I feel so bad for you!”
- “Don’t be so sensitive”
- “Don’t you think you’re overreacting a bit?”
- “Did you guys end up having drinks that led to him raping you?”
- “Cheer up”
- “Don’t cry”
In many cases, rape victims do not come out and share their stories because they are feared that no one will believe them, or their story is shameful. Allowing the abused and manipulated victim to vent and cry is a way in supporting them because you are not denying that their feelings are invalid.
As a friend, family member, or peer, it is essential to recognize the narcissistic ways of rapists who are gaslighting their victims. You can help the victim by putting a stop to any further abuse and help them get out of their relationship. Without knowing how a gaslighter acts or what they do to abuse their victims may look normal to the naked eye. Being informed can save a life.