I am so very glad to hear that Rosie Batty has been nominated Australian of the Year for her work on raising awareness of violence in our community, and I offer her my sincerest congratulations.
In my work as a psychoanalyst, I am familiar with the psychodynamics of violence and, for this reason, I recognise it around me all the time, even when others may not do so.
I see it in the classroom, in the workplace, in families, in government, in the judicial process, in the church, in prisons, in detention centres, in the streets.
Violence does not manifest itself only in war zones. And it need not be physical – it can be far more subtle.
One of the most pervasive form of violence is the violence described as “gaslighting” which was at the heart of the film “Gaslight” an American 1944 mystery-thriller film adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light.
Gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favour the abuser. It can take the form of false information being presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. It can be exemplified simply as a denial by the abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or even as the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
For anyone who is the target of gas-lighting, the experience can range from a continuing and pervasive sense of simple discomfort to the stage of being admitted to a psychiatric ward in hospital. It can lead to suicide. In my experience, it is often the condition-precedent to depression.
Once the dynamic is recognised, we see gas-lighting everywhere. It can be stated simply as this: “You deny my reality in order to assert your own”.
While we may think of violence as a physical force used to injure, damage, or destroy, violence is also an unjust or callous use of force or power, as in violating another’s rights, sensibilities.
When we violate, we break, infringe, or transgress a law, a rule, an agreement, a promise; we break in upon or disturb rudely and interfere thoughtlessly with something or someone; we break through or pass by force or without right; we treat irreverently or disrespectfully; we desecrate; we violate a human right; we molest sexually, especially, to rape.
All these examples of “violating” can be reduced to the phrase “I deny your reality to assert my own”, and we see it everywhere in society.
It is critical to recognise this, because it is the mental condition-precedent to all violence, both physical and psychological.
At the workplace, for example, bullying can be seen as an example of gas-lighting, where the manager demonstrates an intention to violate the psychological and physical integrity of the employee, by imposing a view, or a will that denies the reality of the target. “You can sit five blocks away from your team, it makes no difference” says the manager, while violating the reality of the worker who wants to work with her team just like all the others are doing. “We need the desk for the graduate”, says the manager, violating the integrity of the worker who needs to feel valued as a member of the team.
In government, we see gas-lighting where decisions are made that affect the safety and integrity of the populace; the decision-maker making policy that denies the reality of the people. We have seen examples lately where attacks on the integrity of the people and their safety have been made on Medicare, Education, and even the Australia Day awards, to mention only three.
As individuals we may not always be able to explain our “gut” reaction to such attacks, but if we look carefully we will see that these attacks have one thing in common – and it can be stated like this: “I, government, assert my reality (budget emergency) to deny your own (society’s wish for universal health care in society).
Of course, the most brutal examples of gas-lighting, in my view, are the serial government decisions in respect of asylum seekers on Manus Island where there is an extraordinary amount of violence towards the asylum seekers, and where government is saying “We deny your reality (that you are asylum seekers seeking our protection) in order to assert our own (that you are a class of persons deserving of our hostile treatment and deserving to be punished).
Gas-lighting is always a necessary condition precedent to violence. Once you know the dynamic, you will see it everywhere. I see it everywhere, and I especially see it on Manus Island.