OK I admit it, I love to watch the soaps. I always have. I like how they help me switch off at the end of the day with a bit of cheesy drama, and I like how they tackle real life subjects and raise awareness about issues that can lead to discussions and lead people to seek help for the first time. When I read there would be a male rape storyline in Coronation Street involving newcomer Josh Tucker drugging and sexually assaulting David Platt, I thought this could be a great opportunity for them to raise awareness about this taboo subject. These types of storylines often prompt some victims to take the brave step of accessing dedicated services and helplines and finally receive help, and some may have their experience validated for the first time.
What’s going on for David
Survivors of rape and sexual abuse often experience a mixture of feelings including fear, guilt, shame, PTSD, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and many other emotions after the event. It seems that David is experiencing these difficulties, but I suspect something else may also be going on that is having a big impact on him. I think Josh is using a manipulation tactic called gaslighting, and this tactic will be adding to David’s feelings of confusion, disorientation and isolation, and may even be contributing to him not fully accepting and understanding what has happened to him. All this is done to keep Josh in control of the situation and keep David quiet, preventing him from telling his family or the police.
So what is gaslighting
The term gaslighting comes from a 1940’s film called Gas Light, in which a scheming husband plots to get rid of his wife by convincing her she is losing her mind and belongs in an asylum. He makes subtle changes in the home like hiding things, moving things around and dimming the lights, but tells her that she is the one doing these things and that she must be going crazy if she doesn’t remember doing them. Over time her husband breaks her spirit and she starts to believe him. She trusts her husband and believes that he loves her, but she ends up thinking what he wants her to think, and she feels confused, powerless, and no longer able to trust her own reality or judgement.
Simply put: gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that causes a person to doubt their own memories, judgement or reality, ultimately making them second guess themselves. A gaslighter will deny that something happened and tell the victim they are imagining things, confused or overreacting, even if the victim is sure something did happen and feels they have the right to be upset. And it is all done as a means of gaining influence and control over someone so they eventually doubt themselves to the point that they cannot rely on their own perspective or the truth of their own experience
Gaslighting sounds similar to lying but it is quite different. A person lies by denying the truth, usually to cover up something they’ve done, but it doesn’t involve attacking the other person. Gaslighting is also denying the truth, but it is different because it’s about deliberately manipulating and confusing someone, shifting the blame onto them and making them doubt the truth and their perception of events.
In order to use gaslighting tactics, a person will behave as if nothing happened and they will say things like; ‘It never happened’ ‘That didn’t happen’ ‘You’re wrong about that’ ‘You’re always making stuff up’ ‘You’re so childish’ ‘You’re always complaining’ ‘I never said that’ ‘I never did that’ ‘You’re the one with the problem’ ‘You’re feelings aren’t normal’ ‘You need to learn to communicate better’ ‘It’s always something with you’ ‘Why are you being so defensive’ ‘I used to think you were a nice person’ ‘I don’t have time for your games’ ‘Get over it’ ‘You should be over it by now’ ‘You’re too sensitive’ ‘Everyone agrees with me’ ‘Why are you are getting upset about something so small’ ‘You wanted to do it’ ‘You shouldn’t do that’ etc.
How does Josh gaslight David
Josh is using these manipulative gaslighting tactics because they will enable him to gain power and control over David and keep him quiet by subtly brainwashing him into believing that he is confused about the events of that night, and that he remembers things incorrectly. Josh tries to convince David that he wanted to have sex with him, and that what happened was not rape by saying things like; ‘I won’t tell Shona what we didn’t’ ‘You were all over me like a rash’ ‘We were both wasted and we both wanted it’ ‘It was just a laugh’ ‘It was one night of fun, that’s all’.
When David threatens to tell the police, Josh ramps it up and tries to scare him by saying; ‘There’s no point messing things up with Shona if you’ve got feelings for me’ and ‘You’ll bottle it, besides talking means admitting you’re a closet homosexual’
Another way gaslighters try to confuse their victims in order to control them and keep them quiet is to convince them they are going crazy and need to see a doctor or psychiatrist for their apparent insanity. Every time David tries to present Josh with the truth about what happened, Josh replies with; ‘If that’s what you need to believe’ ‘Wow, you really are messed up aren’t you’ ‘No one will believe you, even your own family think you are a head case’ ‘Save the drama’ ‘Get over it’ ‘You’re cracking up’
Josh will be hoping that over time David will identify with these statements and take them on board as if it is the truth.
Gaslighting isn’t just achieved by lying and twisting words, its also done by behaving as if nothing happened. Josh is acting as if what happened was no big deal and he even implies that they were lovers that had a mutual one night stand. This also gives David the message that things are not as his thinks they are and it will make him doubt himself even more. Gaslighting is often called ‘crazy making behaviour’ and its easy to see how being treated in this way over time could cause a person to think they are going crazy. After all, if others are behaving as if everything is fine, you will start to think that maybe everything is fine, even if your gut instinct tells you its not.
Josh’s gaslighting tactics will rewrite David’s reality and history, and subtly coach him to remember events differently to how they really happened, making David believe that he is alone in his beliefs and that he has no legitimate reason to feel what he senses in his gut to be true.
But David knows that something is wrong and his gut instincts and intuition are telling him that he was raped. This will all be so confusing for David and its probably making him feel like he is going crazy, especially when Josh is so charming and popular and everyone else thinks he’s a great guy.
Signs of gaslighting that are relevant to David
Over time, a victim of gaslighting can feel; lost, anxious, depressed, isolated, ashamed, hopeless, have difficulty concentrating, avoid people and places, have angry outbursts, self harm, become hyper-vigilant and constantly second guess themselves, and have a low self esteem and low self worth. They will feel very confused and be indecisive and may ask for help in making simple decisions. They might find themselves apologizing and feeling like they can’t do anything right. They have the sense that they used to be a more confident, relaxed and happy person, yet they struggle to understand why they are so unhappy. Their spirit and energy becomes depleted, and they are left unable to defend themselves from the abuser.
A victim will hardly recognize themselves and will quickly become a shadow of their former self. They become isolated with a skewed reality of what has really taking place. Many victims will also go on to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What could David do
Josh has done a good job of messing with David’s head and convincing him that even if he did tell anyone, he wouldn’t be believed. David probably feels overwhelmed and helpless but the best thing he could do is talk to someone he trusts that he knows will be a good support to him, and surround himself with people that love him and care for him and want him to be happy and healthy. Talking to others will also help get a different perspective and he can check with them if they think he is the way Josh describes.
David could talk to a counsellor or make a confidential anonymous call to one of the many dedicated charity helplines for survivors of rape and sexual abuse and speak to someone in confidence and receive some support and advice.
Over time and with support, David could learn to trust is gut instincts and intuition again, and ask himself if he thinks he is all those things Josh said. David could write everything down and keep a journal of the things Josh says and does. David could learn as much as he can about gaslighting and other manipulative tactics. Once David recognises it he can take a step back and stop himself from reacting to it or taking the bait. The more he knows the better able he will be to react in a safe way. He could step back and ask himself ‘Am I being gaslighted?’.
Most importantly, David needs to cease all contact with Josh if possible if he is to regain his strength and break free from the abuse.
I hope we get to see David finally get the validation and justice he deserves, and start his healing journey.
If you think you have suffered a sexual assault or an experience similar to David’s, or you are not sure and would like to explore it further, think about getting in touch with one of the dedicated charities or helplines like: lifecentre, rape crisis, survivors uk , victim support.
How can Hopeful Heart help
Has this article been helpful to you? Do you recognise any of the signs of gaslighting in your life or relationships? Do you think you might be in a relationship with a controlling, manipulative person? The solution is not to try and change them or even change yourself, but to recognise the signs and learn how to protect yourself from manipulative people and toxic relationships. I can help you explore these issues and identify any blind spots you might not be aware of so you can embark on healing and healthy relationships.
Call or email me and let’s talk about it.