If Anything, Love Island Has Taught Us About Gaslighting

Toxicity reigns supreme in this year's series.

All women need the term “gaslighting”. Well, all people really. 

For a term that hadn't hit the general sphere some two months ago, it's making up for lost time. Now the subject of viral tweets, heady opinion pieces and talk show issues – the term has grown legs and planted itself into collective consciousness, deeming it the most important thing to come out of Love Island 2019.

So, what is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is about systemically dissolving another person’s sense of self, until they’re questioning their every move and instinct. It’s a pernicious process whereupon reality is distorted, inducing a state of psychological near-paralysis in the disoriented, anxious victim. When it happens within a romantic relationship, imagine the person you’re supposed to feel safest and happiest with, spinning you around, until you can’t breathe, or get your bearings. Now imagine that happening all the time.

Gaslighting is real and dangerous, primarily about dominance and control, and can happen to anyone. That’s why the term has proved to be invaluable – educating and empowering women to trust their instincts about any abusive situation where their sense of judgment has been crumbled up like a stock cube.

The process is more than just plain meanness. Whereas “unkind” is the language of children’s books and schoolyard tiffs, “gaslighting” hints at a slow, psychological poison. For just as physical abuse should not be diminished – and attempts to minimise it should be resisted – psychological abuse is just as cruel a mistress, reducing the victim to a shadow of their former selves. 

Let’s jump straight to it: Wednesday’s episode was a prime example. Following Tuesday's recoupling, former 'nice-guy' Michael’s behaviour toward fellow Islander Amber was both dangerous and manipulating.

“Stop raising your voice,” he says. When Amber (very calmly) replies she wasn’t, Michael snaps “see, no point in talking to you”. The enraging conversation continues, and so does Michael’s toxic behaviour. 

“You disrespect me,” he tells her. “You made me not open up,” he says. 

His handling of the situation was so poor, that almost 200 complaints were sent to media watchdog Ofcom following Wednesday's episode. 

Manipulation is nothing new in the villa, but seeing so much of it in this year’s show is a sad reflection of life both inside and out in the wider world: in a culture where it’s no longer acceptable to be a caveman in the #metoo era, so those who want to keep women under control are looking for new ways to do it.

What's interesting is that joining Michael in the psychologically-confusing camp is Curtis. The non-threatening, mild-mannered gentleman who also fears for his public-approved good-guy image. The men who have the most to lose in the eyes of the public fear for their collective bashing and thus obliterate relationships past for pastures new. 

“I’ve been lying to myself,” is Curtis’s shorthand for “I'm young, horny and, at present, have the public on my side”. No wonder Amy looked at him aghast when he said: “Our relationship has stuff we need to work on.” (It’s been four weeks.)

What further perpetuates this narrative is that both men, in recent times, have been accused of feeding the most powerful force known to Earth – the male ego. 

During a challenge in which tweets posted by members of the public were shown to all contestants, Michael was confronted with the idea that he comes across as "whipped" to certain viewers. Many think this was the catalyst for the charming firefighters fall from grace. In the same breath, it was announced that the public wasn't fond of Amy and Curtis as a couple – thus terrorising resident sweetheart Curtis who had long been accused of repetitive game-playing. 

Upon Amy’s decision to open up to Curtis about her feelings, she was greeted with him trying to explain to her how him trying his luck with a new girl is all her fault.

Both Curtis and Michael blamed “problems in their relationship” for their decision to "crack on" with other women, even though they were quite happy having a casual dry hump under the duvet with the erstwhile objects of their affection less than a week ago.

Their sheer determination to make the women around them doubt themselves is more insidious and seems to be gradually eating away at those on the receiving end of it. If this has taught us anything, it's that psychological manipulation and controlling behaviour is far more common than we give credit for. While this instance is that of male behaviour, once should also be aware that women are also not innocent. 

The only positive thing to come out of these incidents is that if they’re so obvious on screen – and heartily disapproved of on social media – women might recognise it and have the courage to speak out if it happens to them.

READ MORE: In Defence Of Michael Griffiths

READ MORE: The Only Winners On Love Island Are The Ratings

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