The most popular English phrase that was coined in Botswana is most probably “passion killing” and there is no prize for guessing why. Type “passion killing” on your Google search engine and it almost always turns up a research paper or story about gender based violence in Botswana. With every reported case of a Motswana woman who was murdered by her partner after a long abusive relationship, the question that always follows is: Why did she stay in such an abusive relationship for so long? In most cases the answer comes down to one word: Gaslighting. If the term sounds esoteric, its signs are even more elusive.
For a better take on the subject, Imagine being physically abused by your significant other and each time you tell them to stop they simply says “it won’t happen again but you made me do it”. It is the kind of mental torment used so successfully by torturers who know that they can keep their prisoners compliant by frightening and disorientating them.
Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention & Support Centre CEO Lorato Moalusi explained to Sunday Standard Lifestyle that “Gaslighting is not just lying. It is not just manipulating. It is an intentional deceptive practice. The person shames you and blames you and insists what you saw, heard, experienced DID NOT HAPPEN. You start to question your sanity. It is complete torture. If there are no witnesses to the madness, you really start to think you are the bad one. You blame yourself and reprimand yourself and try harder to “act better”. Be a better wife, mother, partner, etc. The whole scenario is frightening. Being gaslighted over time effectively disconnects you from yourself, your feelings, and your ability to know what you want and don’t want, what you know to be true about yourself, others, and the world. It can eventually strip a person of their core sense of themselves, leaving them feeling dependent upon the gaslighter to define reality and provide approval and confirmation of what is real. People who do this to their significant others in relationships often say positive things to confuse them. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, “Well maybe they aren’t so bad.” Yes, they are. This is a calculated attempt to keep you off again.”
Of all the manipulative mental warfare that human beings wage against one another, gaslighting is of the more insidious sort — leaving the victim’s mind unsure of itself….However, considering the devious nature of the manipulation involved, trying to identify gaslighting alone can prove to be both tricky and mentally taxing. In Botswana, the only evidence we have of gaslighting may be the growing statistics of women who are murdered by their partners in a fit of jealous rage.
The signs are actually difficult to spot, as this form of abuse is extremely subtle. It evolves gradually, and it works by destroying the very foundation of your own judgment. So by the time the pattern becomes clear to others, the victim is already too confused to be able to correctly interpret this behaviour as abuse and take steps to leave the relationship. The process sends the victim into a spiral that starts with disbelief, and can end in depression. Their self-esteem hits rock bottom, they question their thoughts and opinions, and distance themselves from others. With a skewed perception of reality, they wonder if they are “too sensitive” or “crazy”, apologise more often, and excuse and lie to cover up their abuser’s behaviour.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says, “Abusers like to keep women trapped at home, where they can control them. They may discourage their victims from having outside relationships and sometimes even forbid them from working. An abuser controls, stalks and degrades his victim, but when the victim fights back, the abuser always says she had it coming. The goal is to make the victim or victims question their own reality and depend on the gaslighter. Gaslighting allows perpetrators to evade accountability for their actions, to deflect responsibility and exercise their control over their partners with alarming ease. Even if a relationship seems otherwise non-abusive, Gaslighting is emotional and mental violence. This process in and of itself is toxic and unhealthy, regardless of whether there are other abusive behaviours taking place within the relationship. Another way to manipulate someone into thinking that they’re not experiencing harm or abuse is to constantly turn the conversation towards the abuser, making it seem like you are doing harm by even bringing up what’s hurting you.”