The term “gaslighting” has only been around for a few years, but it’s a practice that has been used against people for centuries. It is also a primary element within situations of sexual abuse, a practice that most commonly victimizes vulnerable people groups — especially children.
Gaslighting involves pressuring someone to question what they know to be true. It is the gateway to ongoing mistreatment and violence and a master form of manipulation that wrongfully convinces exploited victims that they themselves were in the wrong — that they brought actions of abuse upon themselves, or “asked for it.”
The reality is this: victims of sexual predation haven’t “asked” for what happened to them, nor is it their fault. Not only does gaslighting distort the reflective reality of the traumatic event(s) that have taken place in the lives of these affected individuals, but it also likely served as the initial manipulative seed planted before the acts of sexual abuse occurred in the first place.
Grooming and Gaslighting
We are all groomed in certain capacities throughout life. Whether we are conditioned to pursue an esteemed degree and career path, trained and encouraged to be accomplished athletes, or indoctrinated to believe that pleasing others is the only way we’ll ever find worth — we are all groomed in one way or another.
Unfortunately, there are countless women who have been groomed from a young age into lifestyles of abuse. They have been conditioned to believe that their value comes from granting sexual favors to others, therefore allowing their bodies to endure mistreatment and violation — for the sake of false fulfillment and acceptance — amidst confusion and heartbreak.
Sexual predators are oftentimes close relatives, family friends or trusted mentors. These types of abusers will traditionally aim to convince their victims that the sexual occurrences were in fact the victims’ own decisions, that they enjoyed the experience, that the act should continue and that they shouldn’t tell others about it in order to maintain a “special secret” or “bond” between the two parties involved.
This is groomed gaslighting — a cycle that, if launched successfully, tragically leaves victims feeling disoriented, silenced, broken and with little to no self-esteem. It also causes them to feel shame and blame themselves, rather than the abuser. Consequently, these individuals become more susceptible to repeated violence and exploitation by both their initial abusers and by a series of potential predators for years to come.
Bringing the Darkness to Light
It is only when these secrets are brought to light that true freedom can be found. It is so important to know how to explain and describe different forms of maltreatment, gaslighting, grooming and abuse — a crucial central theme of what our programs, SPEAK UP and REAL TALK, are all about. Life-controlling secrets and cycles of shame keep us back from our purpose and the freedom for which we are created. These pathway programs provide tools to eradicate that.
One of primary keys to rescue and recovery is having a safe adult available for these urgent conversations. If we can equip our children with knowledge and terminology to recognize what constitutes abuse, empower them to say “no” and teach them how and where to find safe adults, we can enable rescue and prevention — cutting the cycle off at the very root — saving our children from this rampant, horrific evil.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” Matthew 10:27
When survivors of abuse bring their trauma to light in a safe space, not only does the darkness once held over them lose its power, but their testimonies are also validated — defeating the gaslighting lies they have wrongfully once believed to be their reality.
It is through this renewal process that they learn their validity, their worth and their voice, ultimately breaking generation cycles and teaching kids to trust the power of their intuition. This is the best tool they can use when it comes to staying safe.
Just as sexual abuse and the tactics of gaslighting and grooming have their own significant ripple effects, the truth itself will also spring forth ongoing reverberations of profound freedom in the form of vindication, comfort and redemption — freedom that will spread like wildfire in the hearts and lives of others going through the same trauma.
It is our job to teach others — our family, our friends and those individuals God places in our path for this very purpose — the signs of gaslighting and abuse, the truth of their identity and voice, how to advocate for themselves in healthy ways, and the avenues of safety and recovery to which they can turn in order to heal and grow. I encourage you to take this important next step; have these intentional conversations with your family, protect your children, offer sanctuary and resources to others and shine a light in the darkness for the captives. If you are a part of a school or church, reach out to gain these valuable tools for your own system so that not one more person is silenced in shame and secrets.
“For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17
Elizabeth Fisher Good