Detective Syndrome: the result of gaslighting

(TFC) – Gaslighting is an abuse tactic. The term comes from a play called Angel Street dating back to 1938. It’s about a husband who manipulates his wife’s at-home environment to psychologically confuse her. Wikipedia defines it as “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

When someone has been gaslit for a long time, they sometimes develop what I’ve coined as Detective Syndrome. Detective Syndrome is a phenomenon where one has been on the receiving end of the mental abuse known as gaslighting so much, that they become obsessive about finding the truth. This can happen on micro and macro scales.

On the micro level this happens in intimate relationships. Detective syndrome manifest in many ways. It could manifest as googling for hours on end. Google searches might include “what is abuse?”, “what is mental abuse?”, “why does my partner do xyz?”, “legitimate apologies”, “signs of abuse”, “healthy relationships”, and so on.

It could also manifest as compulsive note-taking. Detective Syndrome can manifest itself as journals full of minute to minute coverage of what was happening in fights. This helps victims because gaslighting causes so much confusion that they can’t recall what actually happened, where fights had begin, and whose fault it was. Gaslighting forces the victim to not rely their physical senses warning them something is wrong. Victims usually can tell something is wrong, but I they can’t put their finger on it, or end up blaming themselves. They will start to write everything down. This symptom of Detective Syndrome can help victims in the long run, because they can look back and remind themselves of what really happened to them, or find a way to regain a grip of reality because it is spelled out for them and they don’t have to trust a memory that is foggy.

In personal relationships, this can also manifest as secretly recording (video or audio) of events in real time. I’ve spoken to a few women who’ve done this in their abusive relationships. Publicly, one such case Amber Heard who took a hidden video of Johnny Depp and it got passed around on the internet.

Detective Syndrome extends from the micro to the macro. On a macro-scale, I see Detective Syndrome constantly within the Feminist community. Feminists spend much of their energy fighting with each other, simply trying to figure out is actually occurring, and what methods they could best use to liberate themselves. Detective Syndrome can be crippling if you are stuck on not being able to figure out reality. It causes one to live inside of their analytical processes instead of their bodies, which causes bodily denial of the fact that they feel constant discomfort that they cannot fully explain, especially in abusive environments. It can also help us to set the record straight in our own minds and for others. It can be a blessing and a curse.

the fem columnSince victims have a hard time fully explaining what’s happening, and they feel much confusion and deceit, their actions are stalled at the expense of trying to figure out exactly what’s happening and how to fix it. This is the root cause of detective syndrome. When feminists argue with each other about what is happening to them, or what they could do with in their personal lives to liberate themselves, they end up skirting around issues, taking blame, and self-policing. If we are to use Detective Syndrome, we should be using it to document our testimonies and figuring out the reality we are dealing with, so we can get a grip on the task at hand. So victims, or oppressed people, can clear the fog and see reality.

Charles Rae writes about power and social justice theories. Follow more women-centered news at TFC’s new faction The Fem Column on Facebook.