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. In my own abusive relationships, Detective Syndrome manifested itself as journals full of minute to minute coverage of what was happening in fights. This helped because gaslighting caused me so much confusion that I couldn’t recall what was actually happening, where the fight had begun, and whose fault it was. Gaslighting forces one to not rely the physical senses, and to deny one’s own perception. The funny thing is, I did know there was something terribly wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I started to write everything down. This symptom of Detective Syndrome only helped me in the long run, because I can now look back and know that what I was feeling was accurate. It did not, however, help me act within the moment of the abuse, because I did not heed the warnings of my senses and emotions. I relied on my analytical processes.

Analyzing takes a long time, and a lot of research. It lead to my being stuck within the cycle of abuse. As the gaslighting was also ongoing, much of the work I did was in vain.

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. I had the urge to do it many times, and I kick myself for never having acted on this impulse. Detective Syndrome is deeply rooted. Once it becomes a habit, it’s more a way of life.

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 is crippling. 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. This process of psychoanalysis, Detective Syndrome, hurts oppressed peoples and abused peoples because it causes them to become inert.

the fem columnSince they cannot fully explain or identify what is happening to them, 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. 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.

As radical Black Liberation speaker Stokely Carmichael talked about in his speech about Black Power, all the laws made in this country that were supposed to help black people were really for white people. He explained that when they made laws saying that black people could vote, that was for the white man, because he knew it the whole time. This is the essence of liberation.

Although there are many things that women could do to not participate in their own subordination, freedom will only come to pass if men to stop oppressing them. Full stop. It’s a paradox.

In an personal abusive relationship, the victim needs to get out in order to re-calibrate become comfortable enough, safe enough, to process their grief and then begin to socialize themselves into a “normal,” or healthy, life. Since women cannot escape patriarchy, they’re stuck in a double bind. They cannot escape the abuse and they cannot escape the need for assimilation because it is required of them, lest they be fired, beaten, jailed, further socially marginalized, etc.

Detective Syndrome will continue as long as the abuse continues.

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