Ambient Abuse & Gaslighting

Explanation of five categories of ambient abuse often combined in the conduct of a single abuser.

It is the outcome of fear – fear of violence, fear of the unknown, fear of the unpredictable, the capricious, and the arbitrary. It is perpetrated by dropping subtle hints, by disorienting, by constant – and unnecessary – lying, by persistent doubting and demeaning, and by inspiring an air of unmitigated gloom and doom (“gaslighting”).Ambient abuse is the stealth, subtle, underground currents of maltreatment that sometimes go unnoticed even by the victims themselves, until it is too late. Ambient abuse penetrates and permeates everything – but is difficult to pinpoint and identify. It is ambiguous, atmospheric, diffuse. Hence its insidious and pernicious effects. It is by far the most dangerous kind of abuse there is.

Ambient abuse, therefore, is the fostering, propagation, and enhancement of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There are no acts of traceable explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen.

In the long term, such an environment erodes the victim’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victim adopts a paranoid or schizoid stance and thus renders himself or herself exposed even more to criticism and judgment. The roles are thus reversed: the victim is considered mentally deranged and the abuser – the suffering soul.

There are five categories of ambient abuse and they are often combined in the conduct of a single abuser:

I. Inducing Disorientation

The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and to cope with the world and its demands. She no longer trusts her senses, her skills, her strengths, her friends, her family, and the predictability and benevolence of her environment.

The abuser subverts the target’s focus by disagreeing with her way of perceiving the world, her judgment, the facts of her existence, by criticizing her incessantly – and by offering plausible but specious alternatives. By constantly lying, he blurs the line between reality and nightmare.

By recurrently disapproving of her choices and actions – the abuser shreds the victim’s self-confidence and shatters her self-esteem. By reacting disproportionately to the slightest “mistake” – he intimidates her to the point of paralysis.

II. Incapacitating

The abuser gradually and surreptitiously takes over functions and chores previously adequately and skilfully performed by the victim. The prey finds itself isolated from the outer world, a hostage to the goodwill – or, more often, ill-will – of her captor. She is crippled by his encroachment and by the inexorable dissolution of her boundaries and ends up totally dependent on her tormentor’s whims and desires, plans and stratagems.

Moreover, the abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is sorely needed. The abuser makes sure that his knowledge, his skills, his connections, or his traits are the only ones applicable and the most useful in the situations that he, himself, wrought. The abuser generates his own indispensability.

III. Shared Psychosis (folie a deux)

The abuser creates a fantasy world, inhabited by the victim and himself, and besieged by imaginary enemies. He allocates to the abused the role of defending this invented and unreal Universe. She must swear to secrecy, stand by her abuser no matter what, lie, fight, pretend, obfuscate and do whatever else it takes to preserve this oasis of inanity.

Her membership in the abuser’s “kingdom” is cast as a privilege and a prize. But it is not to be taken for granted. She has to work hard to earn her continued affiliation. She is constantly being tested and evaluated. Inevitably, this interminable stress reduces the victim’s resistance and her ability to “see straight”.

IV. Abuse of Information

From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim – the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it “to the cause”. The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleans, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.

V. Control by Proxy

If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.

Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser.

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July Updates at the Center

Dragon Boat Registration Open

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Registration for the Capital City Dragon Boat Race & Festival is open right now! Teams are signing up quickly and boats are limited, so don’t miss your chance to register. A few things to know:

  • The Women’s Center has been given a grant to fund two special boats. One boat is for at-risk young women, and one for survivors of illness, domestic, or sexual violence. If you are interested in paddling in one of these boats, please contact the Center for more information.
  • Priority registration for the boats ends tomorrow. We will still be accepting registrations after Friday, but instead of securing your spot with a deposit, the full registration amount will be due. More information on the website here.
  • We are looking for sponsors for the event! Get your business in front of lots of fans and participants this September. We have a number of packages available. There’s a packet and info on the website.

We have a number of classes and workshops this month at the Center:

Microsoft Word Training: Tue/Thu 5:30-7 p.m.
Whether you need a refresher or are new to Word, this training will benefit you! Classes are taught by staff from IBM, with classes in MS Excel, LinkedIn, and website development to follow. Classes start July 15th in the computer lab at the Women’s Center. Call 517.372.9163 to register or for more information.

Making Peace with Your Anxiety: 1st and 3rd Tue 5:30-7p.m.
Do you feel anxious, nervous, or tense? Come learn ways to decrease anxiety and strategies to relax in a supportive environment. Call the Center to register: 517.372.9163.

Work Your Image: Update Your Look, Your Career, Your Future
Join us August 4th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a new hairstyle, makeup tips and how-tos for today’s job market. You’ll also enjoy a chair massage and a wardrobe consultation. Got an interview coming up? This is the perfect chance to refresh your look and get tips on interviewing. Space is limited, call the Center to register: 517.372.9163.

Art Van Wrap-Up & Dragon Boat Kick-off

We just want to say THANK YOU again to the over 100 individuals and families who donated to our Art Van Challenge Campaign! We are thrilled with our success and your support. We may not have won the $75,000 prize, but we did get $6,493 to help support our programs in Lansing. Still want to help out? You can still donate to the Women’s Center through Crowdrise, or you can contact the Center for more information on getting involved.

We are also getting ready for our big fall fundraiser, the Capital City Dragon Boat Race & Festival on September 13th-14th at Adado Riverfront Park. We’d love for you to register a team! Boats are limited, so get your application and sign up today! Also, be sure to follow #CCDB14 on Twitter and Facebook so you don’t miss any news!

It’s the Homestretch!

First of all, thank you to all of you who have donated and spread our message and mission to your friends and family. We appreciate you so much! Thanks to you, we have reached $5,093 as of right now!

The contest ends Monday at 11:59 a.m., so if you’re still waiting, stop it! We have just a few days to win the $75,000 donation from Art Van Furniture and other finishers in the top 10 will receive prizes ranging from $60,000 – $7,500.

Can you make a small donation today and help us get back into the top ten? If you’ve already donated, could you please send this to your friends to let them know? The more people who see this, the more donations we’ll get.

We’d also love to invite you to our official Capital City Dragon Boat Race & Festival Kickoff on Monday! In conjunction with the showing of Awaken the Dragon at Studio C! we’ll be holding a press conference for the festival co-organizers and friends of the Center and anyone else interested. You can also pick up this year’s Dragon Boat Race & Festival stickers and sign up your team!

The press conference starts at 5:00 p.m. with the movie immediately following at 6:00 p.m. Tickets to the film are $6 and available at the theater. We hope to see you there!