Unless you’ve been hiding from the internet this past week, it's unlikely you've missed the Strictly Come Dancing story that’s been dominating the media. But on the off chance you are out of the loop, I’ll give you the redacted version: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy gets a gig on Strictly, girl objects to relationship between boy and his married female dance partner, boy apparently insinuates girl is "crazy", photos appear in the press of boy and dance partner kissing in public on girl’s birthday, girl dumps boy and exposes his grimy behaviour in a thoughtful post on Twitter.
The boy and girl in question are Seann Walsh, a comedian, and Rebecca Humphries, an actress. After photos emerged of Rebecca's boyfriend of five years snogging dance partner Katya Jones last Wednesday, Rebecca found herself in the unenviable position of having to deal with a huge emotional shock while under scrutiny from the national press. After Seann and Katya went on record to apologise to the public for their actions (without a mention from Seann of his girlfriend), Rebecca took to Twitter to clear up what she called "a couple of crucial elements" that the media narrative had neglected to mention, in an attempt to offer her side of the story.
Rebecca states that she had not only suspected that "something inappropriate was going on" between Seann and Katya, but that she had asked Seann about it. "He aggressively, repeatedly, called me a psycho/nuts/mental," she writes, "as he has done countless times throughout our relationship when I’ve questioned his inappropriate, hurtful behaviour."
This story is not new; we’re all familiar with the trope of people in the public eye cheating on their partners, getting caught out and apologising. But it is not often the case that the context of their actions gets so explicitly couched in terms that suggest a broader pattern of emotional abuse. Recent progress in media has catapulted the relatively niche psychological term "gaslighting" into our common understanding. For those of you new to this word, "gaslighting" describes a form of psychological manipulation in which the victim is made to question their own sanity. This is reinforced over time by a series of accusations that they are "crazy" or, to borrow Rebecca's word, "mental".
Unfortunately, it is a term with which I became very familiar around two years ago when, struggling to make sense of my own disintegrating relationship and my role in it, my friend mentioned in passing that it sounded like my then-partner was gaslighting me. It made complete sense because, despite knowing rationally that he was treating me extremely badly for the entirety of our relationship (insulting me, degrading me and criticising me), I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was me who was responsible for all our problems. "It’s because you’re too emotional", he’d say, or "it’s your anxiety", whenever I questioned things that he had done or said that had provoked a negative emotional response. Over a two-year period, my emotions came to be labelled by him (and believed by me) as the source of our problems rather than a product of his actions.
This continued until eventually his actions escalated to a level that attracted the attention of my nearest and dearest, who stepped in to airlift me out of the wreckage. Despite their heroic efforts to reinforce the view that I had been consistently mistreated, it took (or should I say is still taking) two years of regular therapy to rewrite the view that my emotions are wrong or that everything was my fault.
I don't know the details of Rebecca’s situation, but the takeaway message is crucial for anyone who feels they are being controlled. Manipulative behaviour is often used to distract attention from the perpetrator’s own bad behaviour in romantic relationships. Control and other forms of manipulation are not part of a normal, healthy dynamic between two people. It is important to know that the emotions you’re feeling are not "wrong" or "bad". It is important, as Rebecca explicitly states, to trust your instincts and believe in your version of reality. To learn to love yourself. To believe in yourself. It is important to watch, read and see stories of brave survivors pulling themselves out of the mess, and standing up for themselves and their truth.
Above all else, it is important to recognise that this does not make you a victim, and I hope, like me, you find Rebecca’s message a vote of confidence in your ability to move past mistreatment and into a healthier, happier relationship with yourself and those around you. Because while such a life may not appear plausible right now, it absolutely is, and it is yours for the taking.