Thursday, March 19, 2020

Questioning Your Own Reality

 By Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
Gaslighting is a pattern of manipulation tactics used by abusers, narcissists, dictators, and cult leaders to gain control over a person or people. The goal is to make the victim or victims question their own reality and depend on the gaslighter. "Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do?" by Stephanie A. Sarkis, PhD, Psychology Today, January 30, 2017.
Much is being said these days about political gaslighting, conversations about "fake" news, twisting of details meant to make us question our understanding of reality. And now--in the wake of COVID-19--a dawning awareness that the world as we knew it has dramatically changed, yet still thinking to some degree "This can't be happening." Even when we admit the awful truth, denial defends us as we engage in escapist strategies to help us cope.

Perhaps now is the time to better understand the nature of gaslighting in childhood, experiencing--beyond the words of 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor River Kozhar--the horror of a tortured existence where everyone outside the family wants to believe "This can't be happening." 
 "When My Cat Died"
River Kozhar

When my mother gaslit me as a child, telling me over and over that what I was experiencing wasn't bad enough to be traumatic, I began to feel that what I was saying didn't actually reflect the horror of my childhood . . .      
     They were serial killers, but no one seemed to have the slightest idea that was the case. Guests would come and tell me how wonderful they were. They couldn't see the burn marks . . . the scars . . . never heard the words . . . whispered into the quiet corners of my life like poisonous wraiths until I forgot where they originated . . .  
     Children's Aid came once, when my parents were not so careful, but they left me there . . . dismissing it as a one-time thing. It was, however, shortly thereafter that I received a gift from my parents--two kittens . . .
     That nightmare was a dungeon in some abyss of the world, a hall of narrow cells always damp with blood or tears . . . and it did not take my life for two reasons: I had a vague recollection of love from my early years and had glimpsed goodness in people from the outside world, both of which gave me impossible hope; and I had two neighbours in the cells next to mine . . .
     They became my kin as well as my cellmates, but they were not human. Like some Tarzan of the feline world, I was raised by cats . . . slowly learned their language and their culture . . . learned to track scents on the wind, to walk in a circle before I curled up to sleep . .  how to snarl like a jaguar, how to wake to the particular meow that that meant someone had brought back a kill, how to purr, how to say I love you . . . 
*     *     *
River Kozhar has published prose and poetry in 15+ literary magazines and is seeking an agent for her second novel, a diverse NA/YA fantasy romance. Her nonfiction (under this nom-de-plume) has also appeared in the Deaf Poets Society. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

(Read the rest of River Kozhar's "When My Cat Died" (pp. 96-100), plus
more Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, and Haiku
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

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