Tonight, on Bachelor in Paradise: Gaslighting in action!

Here at JWI, many of us identify as devout supporters of Bachelor Nation and we’ve been watching this season of Bachelor in Paradise every Monday and Tuesday. However, we were deeply frustrated last night about Leo’s disrespectful treatment of Kendall that exhibited classic signs of gaslighting.

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Gaslighting, which we’ve written about before in our magazine, is a verbal form of exerting power and control over another person, and can occur in both platonic and romantic relationships: at home, among coworkers at the office, or on a vacation getaway island. Gaslighters intentionally try to distort reality, or twist the dynamics between themselves and another person, which causes confusion and makes it difficult for the impacted person to pinpoint what’s going on.

Key components of gaslighting include:

  1. An individual acquires the trust of another person, then takes advantage of that trust and the existence of vulnerability within their relationship on a recurring basis. This combination of trust and vulnerability is pivotal because it allows a person to convince the other what they are saying or feeling must be true and cannot be perceived otherwise.

    Example in Paradise: Kendall and Leo have an amazing date; after returning to the island, Leo kisses another girl. Because of the nature of Paradise, Kendall assumes they’re both being transparent about past/current relationships, and that actions are mirroring feelings. Leo seems to have a different view of Paradise, as a free-for-all, and he doesn’t feel responsibility or an obligation to communicate his tryst to Kendall.

    In a healthy relationship, building and maintaining trust goes both ways.

  2. The gaslighter verbally takes advantage of another person, accusing them of being “too sensitive” or “dramatic.” Most often the gaslightee conveys empathy towards the other person and genuinely wants to understand why, how, and what the other person is feeling. This becomes a vicious cycle as the gaslighter takes advantage of that empathy, using it against the other person.

    Example in Paradise: Leo says, “You ruined my day by making me feel horrible.” He says he is extremely hurt that she would do something like that to him, turning the situation around to indicate that it is her fault. In doing so, he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Kendall never says that she’s upset about the kiss, she’s upset that she was the only person who didn’t know about it – yet, Leo makes it all about his feelings.

  3. Gaslighting causes an individual to experience self-doubt, questioning themselves and their relationship with the gaslighter. This can be incredibly harmful for an individual’s self-esteem, as they experience an overwhelming sense of emotional insecurity. Ultimately, it can have long term, negative effects on their mental health.

    Example in Paradise: Leo tells Kendall he, “hopes it works out with you and Joe.”, and then insists he’s not being condescending, because he really just wants Kendall to be happy. His words don’t match his actions: if he wanted Kendall to be happy, wouldn't he apologize, instead of acting out? Leo denies there presence of any real feelings between the two of them, accusing Kendall of “faking” her feelings towards him and thus faking their relationship.

Ultimately the gaslighter intentionally deflects and avoids taking responsibility for their own actions, placing blame on the other person. The gaslighter takes advantage of their perceived power over another person, creating a harmful and disrespectful environment for everyone involved. Leo does exactly that by being dismissive and hypercritical of Kendall’s feelings. Through his body language, use of microaggressions, and back-handed “compliments”, Leo attempts to retain control of the narrative and refuses to engage with the issue at hand in an open, honest way.  

In the era of #MeToo and the continued popularity of the Bachelor franchise, it’s important that we take the time to talk about examples of unhealthy relationship behavior, which by nature comes to the fore in these shows. This includes pinpointing recurring trends, such as gaslighting, that often perpetuate and uphold harmful societal norms. Leo’s treatment of Kendall is unacceptable, and we need to take more steps towards lasting cultural change that highlights and uplifts characteristics of healthy and respectful relationships.

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Erin McMullen is the Development Coordinator for JWI. When she isn't exploring all the live music and noms that DC has to offer, she's probably fighting off "love bites" from Cooper the cat.