I don’t know how to define what happened to me at work. I just describe it. After the sexual assaults came the stalking and harassment. I was in denial, in shock. I just wanted to keep working with the kids. I was born for that job, or so I used to think. As I began to realise that I was under continuous attack, I thought that if I spoke up it would stop. Clearly illegal and unethical behaviour would have to be dealt with by the boss – right? Well, wrong. So naïve! I stepped out of the classroom and into Wonderland. How the hell did I get dragged under by people so patently lacking in professional ability, yet in roles of power and authority? In a primary school, no less. I don’t wonder anymore. I just know how it feels inside – and how I feel about my future. There’s a term, though, which was used in a blog post which I found via twitter this week. Gaslighting.
I have heard this term before, on an episode of Oprah or similar. The term originated from a play by Patrick Hamilton, made into a movie in 1944. In the story, a man manipulates his wife and controls her to such a degree that she begins to doubt her own sanity. Here are a couple of explanations:
“A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent”. Source
“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”. Source
Dr Robin Stern has written a much-quoted book on this topic which was published in 2007. I haven’t read the whole text yet (but I will!) but there are a variety of articles and blog posts I found which refer to her work.
Stern defines three types of gaslighters: the glamour gaslighter, the “good guy” gaslighter and the intimidator gaslighter. At my first school, I had very clear manipulation by an Intimidator Gaslighter (the sexual offender) and our boss, the Good Guy. I find this amusing as people used this exact term often when describing him. ‘He wasn’t ready to be Principal yet but he was the best on the day (of interviews). He’s everybody’s favourite good guy’. ‘He hasn’t got the skills to take action on the tough issues but he’s such a good guy’. He always runs the barbecue. He loves footy. He’s such a – good guy’. And a Good Guy wouldn’t condone and excuse rape, stalking and belittle and dismiss a graduate teacher’s pleas for help, would they?
Intimidator Gaslighter/Sexual Offender was trouble from day one. He was brought into the school as a ‘coup’ for staff, as we were told. Turns out, Intimidator and Good Guy went to high school together and were connected somewhat through other people in the sector. There is no way that this prior knowledge did not play a role in his appointment, despite later claims. They joked about ‘that old bat, Mrs So and So’ the maths teacher who always blah blah blah… Intimidator flaunted this shared history in the staff room and derived great pleasure from its publicity. I may have written about this before, but a week or so into the term, I was asked by the first Principal to “help him (Intimidator/Sexual Offender) fit in” as he had a “big personality” and if I “accepted him” the others would follow. I was fresh out of the gate and I thought I was special being asked this favour. It was later used against me that I had spoken at all to the Intimidator, “seemed to like him” and “laughed at his jokes”. Because this was leading him on and letting him think he could assault me. You know, I wanted it deep down and he was just confused by my mixed lady-signals. Yes, these things were said to me.
I was shocked after the assaults and got scared when I started to get emails and see him watching me through the windows everywhere. He called me into his office one day and said, “I’m just so hurt…You used me. I feel dirty”. He said that. To me. With his face screwed up and attempting to convey pain and confusion. He was quickly changing his role to that of the victim when he was actually a rapist. GASLIGHTER. My jaw hit the floor. It probably hasn’t come back. I was in the Twilight Zone. Like a nightmare. Like some kind of really f*cked up Candid Camera.
The intimidator is easy to recognize; and for that reason I used the techniques of an intimidator in describing the three stages of the Gaslight Effect. You know when you are involved with an intimidator by the fact he invokes your worst feelings or fears about yourself, carries the explicit threat of exclusion, mocks you openly or under the guise of humor and so forth.
He was so inappropriate in front of everyone that many staff spoke about it. Parents spoke about it. The kids most certainly spoke about it. But that was part of his front. ‘I’m wacky, I have no filter. I’m having fun! I don’t mean harm. Just tell me if I cross the line…’ The same person who would whisper in my ear that he “wanted to make me come” while we were in a staff meeting. No one else heard his words but they began to think we shared secrets – of the consensual kind. Which was of course not the case. When I asked for help, I got the clichés, the excuses. Which he had planted the seeds for himself. GASLIGHTING. Very clever. ‘It’s just me, I’m out there, I don’t have a filter, I would never hurt her…’ So he was the victim. I was being insistent, even aggressive. I was told I was unprofessional and being too sensitive.
The “good guy” gaslighter is harder to spot because his power motivations are far from obvious. He STILL has a need to be right; but also needs to see himself as being “good” by some particular definition. He has a need to do nice things – at least, “nice” as defined by a certain worldview – and you just happen to be the foil he uses to accomplish this.
In dealing with a “good-guy” gaslighter, you almost get a good-cop/bad-cop thing going on. “I know you have a point of view,” he will say, “but it needs to be surrendered for your own good.” The implication is that if you don’t; an intimidator gaslighter will come down on you. So within the social context we are describing; the good-guy gaslighter will most likely be someone who is a stage three victim of the Gaslight Effect himself; and is using “good deeds” from the perspective of the multicult perspective to prove his own gaslighter correct. He has surrendered, and is using good deeds to inspire your surrender as well.
The Good Guy. Hmmm. The top job in the school because “he was the best of a bad bunch on the day” (member of the selection panel). Short, immaculate. Nice teeth. A Good Guy. Non- threatening. We had to “look after him” as he was out of his depth. He had a great big job and he was a Good Guy. Give him a break, yeah? Well there is an ugly side to a Good Guy Gaslighter. They can become extremely nasty and threatening. But who believes you? He’s a Good Guy! He hasn’t got that in him!
Good Guy asked to meet me in a local park when I was off work having counselling for sexual assault. He said, “What do you need to get back to work?” I replied, “Take him away from me” Good Guy asked what else. I said that I also couldn’t work with HER, as she had been present and encouraged the Intimidator to molest me. NO SHIT. She egged him on and laughed. And when I said I had to tell, she threatened me. Called me a slut. I don’t know what she is, though. That’s another post… But on this day, Good guy said, “Well, I’ll have to move her somewhere else. You can’t be with her day to day” I cried. Because he was hearing me. He saw what was happening. He knew I was good at my job and I needed help with these assholes. He was going to help me. I could still be a teacher…I asked, “Won’t the parents make a fuss, ask questions?” Good Guy said, “This is what I need to do”. I left thinking I was going to make it.
To this day he denies that meeting ever took place. Back at school, he would spit at me, “If you were a professional, you could work alongside them. She’s my friend. She would never do what you describe. She is very helpful. She always put photocopies of things in my pigeon hole when we worked together. You better watch yourself and who you accuse here…” He says I’m a liar but if I was lying, I’d have made up better responses than ‘she put photocopies in my pigeonhole’…FFS. Gaslighter or bloody maniac?!
I found the Good Guy much more destabilising to my mental health and sanity. I knew that the Intimidator had an agenda. Why the hell was Good Guy messing with me so badly? Why would he have an agenda? Why would he deny my pleas for help? Snort and laugh at my Letter of Complaint detailing my rape? Why would he say on the way out of Court that Intimidator pled guilty but he STILL DIDN’T DO IT? Why did he refuse to comment on my ability as a teacher, so that I could not work anywhere again?
Within the work environment, gas lighting occurs when co-workers or even your boss may be looking for a way to make you look bad in the eyes of others. It might be difficult to distinguish why gas lighting happens in the workplace. It could be in an attempt to get you to quit your job. It could also be an attempt by a co-worker to “take your place”. Source
This description struck a chord with me…
He began to create a situation known as gaslighting. This is when someone makes you doubt your memories, your perceptions, what you seen what you heard. He did this soo subtly he made me believe I was losing my mind and he was going to help me. He took away my sense of self, trust in my instincts and I started to rely on him to replace the reality he took away… and all of this to get off with what he did, to protect himself and bullies from my work. I lost my job. I tried to kill myself because no one believed me. My employment and this man made it out to people I was just mad to cover up what happened. Through research I have realised that I had been suffering PTSD due to the bullying and gaslighting. I am not the same person. My life is ruined. I don’t know how to get back to who I was. I don’t know how to get rid of the anxiety and paranoia. I can’t function the way I used to. I feel soo much pain I cry and cry all the time. I can’t cope. Source
Stern describes three stages of experiencing Gaslighting, a common thread in abusive relationships and particularly in romantic partnerships (family violence). This article can be found here.
1. Disbelief He said what? He did what? He’s not touching me, is he? Jesus, this cannot be real!
2. Defense I have been assaulted. Laws are being broken. You need to help me. I have the right to be safe at work.
3. Depression It did happen. They wouldn’t listen. Why do they keep lying? I’m trapped and no one is hearing me 😦
I don’t know how this might help me. But for some reason giving something a name – official name, rather than ^&*%^$% – helps to make it somewhat more manageable. Sort of.
Further reading on Gaslighting…
- Have You Been a Victim of Gaslighting? (rebekkaksteg.com)
- Of Slut Shaming, Rape Culture and SlutWalk (fromawhispertoaroar.wordpress.com)
- Who Cares? (fromawhispertoaroar.wordpress.com)
- Republicans: “Gaslighting” American Women (bigthink.com)
- Gaslight: Why the movie is now a verb… (girlygirl.typepad.com)