The Breakthrough Voice 4th October, 2019

Understanding Emotional Abuse And Gaslighting.

We hear the term “emotional abuse” quite often these days. But no one really understands what it means, when to use it correctly and when it is emotional abuse. A lot of the times, this term is used when one has a negative encounter. Thus, it’s essential to establish what emotional abuse actually is.  

To put it in simple words, emotional abuse is when one tries to control another person, just like in physical abuse, except for having a physical altercation. It is easy to put it in simple words, but those who have suffered through this know for a fact that it is much more complex. 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand where emotional abuse begins and love ends. Is it the guilt trips? Is it when they ask you to not be friends with someone? Or is it when they tell you to change because your clothes are too revealing? Where does it start? While this may be subjective to each relationship, it usually starts with insecurity. When one is insecure in any situation, the first thing they try to do is gain control of what is going on, just like they do in relationships. They want to feel like everything is okay and under their control, which is when they stop realizing how abusive they are being to their partner. 

But is it always like that? Not really. Sometimes, these are deliberate attempts to control ‘what you own,’ your partner. The perpetrators of deliberate emotional abuse resort to gaslighting in order to keep their partners dancing to their tunes. Gaslighting is manipulating someone’s emotions and making them question their own sanity. We have often been victims of this, without even realizing it. 

In a survey we conducted at college with a sample size of 200 women, we found that a staggering 3 out of 5 women suffer from emotional abuse, and only a small percentage of these women talk about their experiences openly. The rest don’t even realize that they are being gaslit or abused. “Why is that? Shouldn’t it be easy to identify abuse? I mean, there has to be a way, right?” is what a lot of people ask when they are presented these statistics.

There is only one reason for this: women are taught to take care of their partners, no matter how bad it gets. As a woman, it just saddens me to think that women around me are told to keep the relationship going because “he does that because he loves you” or “he doesn’t like you wearing that because it’s not safe” and other such lies. This is a form of gaslighting, too, something that so many men and women do to other women. This is where we have to draw the line and teach our women that it’s okay to get out of abusive relationships where their needs are not respected.

Take, for example, the movie Kabir Singh (Hindi) or Arjun Reddy (Telugu). The male protagonist is seen being abusive not once, not twice, but throughout the film, constantly trying to tell the female protagonist what should be done and whatnot. In the opening scene itself, he is seen threatening a woman who changes her mind to have sex with him. Still, throughout the film, we see Preethi/Preeti adhering to the rules he sets for her, to follow what he does, to nurture, care and love him no matter what he does. 

When Kabir Singh hit the theatres, I was shocked to see the number of my male and female friends post stories on social media, talking about how the film was “so romantic!” That made me question what we, as a society, stand for today.

It’s not new information that films have an overpowering effect on the audience. We know how films and biopics are twisted and used as propaganda to change people’s opinions. We have known of Hitler and Stalin using films to change people’s minds throughout World War II. We have seen things go viral just because a famous actor decided to do it. We have seen how much influence actors have on the audience. It makes you wonder what men in the film industry are trying to achieve. Do they want a world where a woman would cross oceans for them, regardless of whatever they put her through?

In the Indian black comedy Lipstick Under My Burkha, Shireen, one of the female leads suffers the emotional abuse at first, which later turns into physical abuse by her husband, Rahim. She has to hide the fact that she works and earns from her husband because he “does not approve of it.” Later, Rahim is found to be cheating on Shireen, as a result of which she is seen confronting the woman Rahim is cheating on her with and taking up the permanent position at her job, which was long overdue. As a punishment, Rahim rapes her and then tells her to quit her job and stay home.

We have seen this not just in one, but many, many movies. It is overwhelming to see how often such themes are used, repeatedly, often without being questioned. And when questions are raised, like in the case of Kabir Singh where women tweeted and wrote and spoke up about how wrong it was to portray a character like Kabir heroically, a character whom people cheered for when he slapped Preeti on a scene, the counter-argument was “it’s just a film!” “it’s just a story, don’t overthink it!”

But how can one let this slide so easily when all it does is tell men that their entitlement, their abusive ways and their gaslighting is okay and that the woman always comes back? When something like that doesn’t happen in real life, these very people resort to a different manner of abuse – physical. 

Where does it end? When do people finally start understanding that where films are concerned, people often readily accept what their favourite star is doing and start copying like ‘monkey see, monkey do’? The need of the hour is for films to be more inclusive, more woke and more informative. We need to make better female characters that empower, that reach the remotest of places and inform, that are “woke” not just because they can cuss, but because they are accepting and inclusive. This is how we can combat films that make emotional abuse and gaslighting seem okay.

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