“Gaslighting” has become a widely used term in recent years and its impacts are well documented. For those who are still not familiar with the meaning of the word, it is a form of psychological manipulation.
The term derives from a 1938 play, Gaslight, and later films, where a husband tries to drive his wife to insanity by dimming the gas lights outside their home and telling his wife she was imagining this.
The beginnings of it are insidious and the targets of gaslighting may not even be aware it is happening to them. Constant exposure to gaslighting can affect a person’s self-belief because they are constantly being told they are wrong. They start to have self-doubts as the perpetrator keeps twisting the truth and denying he ever said what he was accused of saying and telling his victim they are imagining things. This can affect the victim’s self-confidence and they may start to believe they are going mad.
Gaslighting, and associated bullying, can affect the mental health (and sometimes physical health) of an individual adversely. If perpetrated for a long time within an organisation, it can lead to an eventual collapse as was the case with ENRON. What if the gaslighting target is a country and the gaslighters are those in power? What are the likely outcomes?
Gaslighting a nation
When it became obvious that a referendum would be held in UK to decide our future relationship with the European Union, divisions within our society were amplified. The British relationship with the European Union has never been easy and the tabloid press had contributed to this by drip feeding anti-European messages into much of the British sub-conscious for decades.
The referendum in 2016 caused so much division and has destroyed some friendships, caused family rifts and in some cases precipitated marriage break-ups.
Those of us who pointed out the impacts of leaving the European Union were called “traitors”, “undemocratic” and “remoaners”. Not agreeing with the result became unacceptable and it was impossible to have sensible discussions with those who had chosen to believe the lies from politicians and the tabloid press. Our conviction that leaving was bad for the British economy and for British lives was just ignored.
As I mentioned earlier, gaslighting is a form of manipulation. It can be a way to gain control over another person. In my view Brexit was never for the good of the nation. I believe it was used as a way for a chosen few to enrich themselves. They did it by telling untruths like that we could spend the £350 million we paid to the EU on the NHS. And by repeating these lies the public become “gaslit”.
When pro-Europeans predicted what would happen once the UK became a “Third Country”, the gaslighters told them this was “Project Fear”, although now this is fast becoming “Project Reality”. When concerns are raised by UK businesses or the fishing and farming communities about the additional paperwork and costs they are now facing selling their produce to the EU, the government gaslights them with more untruths or simply ignores their concerns. It cannot admit that Brexit is a disaster.
What can we do?
We need to be alert and aware. We need to ensure that the lies are not simply swept under carpet. Campaign groups like ‘Led by Donkeys’ are doing a fantastic job reminding us of what politicians told us by tweeting the lies, making videos and posters for hoardings, and encouraging us to share them. There is also the Bylines Network’s own ‘Digby Jones Index’ of jobs lost through Brexit, compiled by Yorkshire Bylines.
As a life coach I encourage my clients to keep a thorough record of incidents of gaslighting/bullying which they can use as evidence in the event they raise a complaint. The tweets, videos and posters of the lies and falsehoods from politicians are evidence which we can use to hold them to account. We can all do our bit to remind the politicians of the lies and falsehoods that are spread. Businesses need to shout louder. Consumers need to protest about the empty supermarket shelves which according to the government are caused by the pandemic. If that were so, there would be delivery problems in the rest of Europe, but this is not the case.
These supply difficulties are said to become worse in the run-up to Christmas. I wonder if this could be a turning point. When supply problems remain once the veil of Covid lifts, will those who chose to believe the lies finally wake up? I would suggest people make the effort to find out what is happening in other countries to see if they are facing the same challenges we are experiencing here in the UK. Collect evidence and use it to hold the government’s feet to the fire!
At the beginning I asked what the likely outcomes were if the gaslighting/bullying target was a country. We are told that the shortage of lorry drivers is due to Covid whereas it’s really because of the loss of freedom of movement from the EU. If these problems are not confronted then the whole supply chain could collapse.
Only then will the British public realise they have been “gaslit”.