Last April, actress Seo Yea-Ji found herself at the center of controversy due to text messages she exchanged with her ex-boyfriend, actor Kim Jung-hyun. Although the term “gaslighting” is not new, it is not often publicly discussed because of its deceitful nature. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) will explore the meaning of gaslighting, its effects on the victim, and the means that society must take to exterminate gaslighting itself.
Gaslighting Around Us
-What Is “Gaslighting”?
The term “gaslighting” originates from the movie Gaslight (1944). In the movie, Gregory, the male protagonist, psychologically abuses the female protagonist, Paula, by brainwashing her to become suspicious of herself and overly dependent on Gregory. As such, gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation through abuse; the attacker’s main purpose is to strengthen their control over the victim. Usually, the attacker turns all blame on the victim, including minor faults that the victim may have experienced. The scariest part of gaslighting is that the victim is usually unaware of the psychological abuse and cannot make objective judgements. Because of this, most attackers cannot be punished by law due to lack of evidence. There are many types of gaslighting: the act of pretending not to understand the victim when they voice out their opinion, as well as distorting the victim’s memories.
|Gaslight (1944) (rottentomatoes.com)|
-It Is Around Us!
Gaslighting is most likely to occur with close relationships; in fact, it is far easier to spot relationships that revolve around gaslighting than one may think. Furthermore, it does not only happen in romantic relationships but may also be found in parent-child relationships and even friendships. In romantic relationships, the attacker may gaslight the victim through words such as: “I am only saying this because I love you,” or “no one will ever love you but me.” According to the Chosun Ilbo, a Korean woman was arrested in Massachusetts in 2019 for verbally abusing her boyfriend and sending him text messages such as, “It’d be better if you disappeared from the world,” which led him to commit suicide. Many parent-child relationships are also plagued by gaslighting. “We (mother, father) are upset because of you” is a common phrase when parents gaslight their children. Even though one should be wholly responsible for one’s own emotions, the parents blame the child, then sugarcoat the situation in the name of love. Dr. Robin Stern, the author of The Gaslight Effect, said that “It’s up to the parents to take care of their distress,” and advised victims to “stick to their feelings” after criticizing such relationships as “not being true love.
Dangers and Consequences of Gaslighting
-Aftermath of Gaslighting
Gaslighting tends to have a severe effect on the mental health and daily life of the victim. As the victim experiences gaslighting, they conclude that they may deserve to be abused, leading to distrust towards society. According to Medical News Today , the aftereffects of gaslighting include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In many blogs that recorded victims’ recovery process, they seemed to complain that even small acts became a trauma trigger because gaslighting had happened so often in daily life. In such cases, victims suffer from insomnia, memory loss, nightmares, and social maladjustment. Another problem with gaslighting is that it may even affect the daily lives of the people around the victim. Here, the recent case of actress Seo Yea-Ji and actor Kim Jung-Hyun comes to light again. Seo Yea-Ji, the attacker, continuously controlled Kim Jung-Hyun to become overly dependent on her and even demanded him to sever his relationships with others around him. As such, Kim Jung-Hyun refused any physical contact with Seohyun, his counterpart in the TV drama, Time . This became a huge problem, as he even asked the director to change the scenes so as not to have any physical contact with Seohyun, which led to a significant change in the story of the show. After a relationship that revolves around gaslighting comes to an end, the victim may have to deal with their severed social relations and psychological aftermath by themselves . If the victim is unable to overcome such aftereffects, the chance of becoming a target for gaslighting once again tends to increase, forming a vicious cycle.
|Aftereffects and Trauma (unsplash.com)|
Sexual grooming has recently become more prevalent due to the social problems that it has caused. The most widely known meaning for the term “grooming” is the act of cleaning one’s appearance to look neat. Despite the origin of the term, “sexual grooming” means something entirely different. Sexual grooming is different from other sex crimes. The perpetrator builds a relationship with the victim based on their social status and manipulates the victim into a sexual affair without physical or verbal assault. Most victims of sexual grooming are children without sexual awareness. Attackers deliberately target victims with weaknesses, such as familial neglect, and gain trust by meeting their needs. Later, they try to make the victim dependent on them by increasing their time spent together. Such relationships develop into sexual ones, and eventually, the victim must deal with the secret of sexual contact all by themselves. Then, the perpetrator gradually isolates the victim through gaslighting. Common examples of sexual grooming involve teacher-student and doctorpatient relationships. Social networks allow attackers to build trust with the victim online and request sexual photographs. According to a 2020 survey by the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center (KCSVR), 120 out of the 162 victims were reported to be victims of online sexual grooming. Of those victims, 78.6% were teenagers. However, as victims often deny physical coercion in their relationships, it is hard to punish sexual grooming as sexual assault.
|Sexual Grooming Steps (hani.co.kr)|
Breaking Away from Gaslighting
-Prevention at the Personal Level
The first step to overcome gaslighting is to differentiate the attacker’s thoughts from one’s thoughts – those who are susceptible to gaslighting often put others before themselves. Even if the attacker speaks critically, one must always keep the notion that their thoughts are different from mine. Furthermore, keeping a journal on one’s feelings about a relationship may help significantly. The journal may also serve as evidence of gaslighting and can help when receiving psychological counseling. The relationship with the gaslighting attacker must be severed. The relationship can never return to the ideal past relationship, so the victim must cut the attacker off from their life before more harm is done. However, rather than suddenly severing one’s self from the attacker, it is better to gradually distance oneself, as any signs of an attempt at a sudden breakoff may lead to further gaslighting. Moreover, it is recommended to immediately visit a counseling psychologist if trusted friends or family express concerns that the relationship may be unhealthy.
-Prevention at the Social Level
It is important to remember again that the blame for gaslighting does not belong to the individual, and society must also change to eradicate gaslighting itself. If gaslighting becomes more widely known, more victims may become suspicious of potential gaslighting. In addition to public advertisements, schools should also inform students of the existence of gaslighting. Furthermore, society must also make psychological counseling more accessible and less stigmatized. In a 2020 survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 50% of families with mental disorders cited public discrimination and prejudice as the main reason for refusing mental treatment. The government must aim to remove the social stigma of psychological therapy for the sake of those suffering from different mental illnesses, including gaslighting victims. According to Mindpost, New Zealand has maintained a mental illness awareness program for over 23 years. It is famous for its public advertisements of mental illnesses, which appear on TV during prime time. If there is greater awareness of psychological counseling, more can receive the treatment needed.
|Psychological Counseling (unsplash.com)|
Gaslighting is a notion that has been around for a long time, and even now, many suffer from these unhealthy relationships. Although the victim experiences long-lasting repercussions, the root of abuse has not been eliminated due to the difficulty in speaking out about their experiences. However, as gaslighting and sexual grooming become more prevalent in our society, we must make efforts to eradicate gaslighting itself at both the personal and social levels. The SKT hopes that this article may have given a chance for Kingos to think about gaslighting at a more personal level.
<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>