Namibia
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Are you Being Gaslighted?

The Significance of mental health is gaining recognition in Namibia. It was exciting to hear that the health minister, Kalumbi Shangula, is prioritising mental health issues and intends to pass a mental health bill, which will be tabled before the end of the year.

The World Health Organization reported that Namibia has an “estimate suicide rate of 9,7 in a 100 000 population, the fourth highest compared to neighbouring South Africa (23,5), Botswana (16,10) and Zimbabwe (14,1) in 2022”.

For a country with a small population, the suicide rate is alarming. One wonders what the mental state of our people is.

However, it is worth noting that suicide and other mental health issues are merely symptoms.

Perhaps it is time we zoom into some of the root causes that lead to devastating effects like suicide and have multifaceted interventions to address them.

In the past, we have been discussing the narcissistic personality disorder characteristics that have the potential to cause harm, as they affect their victims’ mental health.

In this article, let us zoom into one of the characteristics that are akin to people with narcissistic tendencies, or people who bleed on others when they are hurting. The article will look at gaslighting.

I have found that once I am enlightened about a certain behaviour, and I put a name to it, it helps me to deal with the behaviour better.

One can also consult books or professionals trained in dealing with such behaviour.

That is why I bring these issues to the fore, as such behaviour affects our relationships, our ability to effectively communicate and function at work or home.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, gaslighting is “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator”.

Have you ever heard terms like, you are crazy? You are overreacting, you are too sensitive, or you are just being paranoid? Well, chance is you are being gaslighted.

A gaslighter makes you doubt your reality and what you saw or experienced. They downplay your emotions and try to convince you that what you saw or felt is not real. A gaslighter could either be a boss, a lover, friend or anyone you trust.

Andrew Spear, an associate professor of philosophy at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, further noted that it is not enough for the gaslighter to manipulate, deceive or control you, he/she needs to make you come to agree with what he/she is saying or wants you to believe about yourself.

Examples of gaslighting can be such as someone stealing your phone and then telling you, you are irresponsible, and you are losing your mind.
It could also be, you told someone something, and they completely deny you ever having told them, to make you doubt and question yourself.

SIGNS

The Forbes Health magazine identified a few signs to look out for when you are being gaslighted among them is feeling like the situation is surreal, almost like it is déjà vu – being called crazy, irrational, or overemotional or exaggerating. Some gaslighters use terms like ‘crazy bitch’, leaving one feeling confused and powerless after an interaction with them.

It can also be seen in being intentionally isolated from friends, family and other support structures; your tone of voice gets criticise when you want to challenge or address something with gaslighter and your emotions get thrown off balance, as a gaslighter would verbally abuse you in one instance and praise you in another, often even in the same conversation.

The American National Domestic Violence Hotline lists five techniques a gaslighter may use against a victim:

Withholding – the gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen.

Countering – the gaslighter questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Blocking/diverting – the gaslighter changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts.

Trivialising – the gaslighter makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant.

Forgetting/denial – the gaslighter pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim.

HEALTH ISSUES

All the above-mentioned behaviours are known to cause the following mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, disorientation, lowered self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, a hyperbolised fear of danger, known as hypervigilance and suicidal thoughts.

If you are experiencing any of the above behaviours at work, home, church or generally among your friends, then I suggest you seek professional help.

Addressing the issue directly with the perpetrator does not yield positive results. It will just further drive you into a depression.
I hope more wellness officers, social workers and other professionals are adequately trained to help people to deal with such behaviours, and hopefully prevent the high suicide rate in the country.