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This powerful form of abuse can cause a lifetime of lingering health issues.

By Claire Gillespie
February 02, 2021
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Actor and activist Evan Rachel Wood has spoken in the past about being the victim of abuse and gaslighting in a relationship, and she's now named the alleged perpetrator. In an Instagram post on February 1, she wrote, "The name of my abuser is Brian Warner, also known to the world as Marilyn Manson."

Wood, now 33, met rocker Manson when she was 18 and he was 36. "He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years," Wood wrote on Instagram. "I was brainwashed and manipulated into submission. I am done living in fear of retaliation, slander, or blackmail. I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives. I stand with the many victims who will no longer be silent."

In 2018, Wood testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee to help get the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights passed in all 50 states. Although she didn't name a perpetrator at the time, she said, "My experience with domestic violence was this: toxic mental, physical, and sexual abuse, which started slow but escalated over time, including threats against my life, severe gaslighting and brainwashing, waking up to the man that claimed to love me raping what he believed to be my unconscious body."

In January 2020, Wood's Phoenix Act, which extends the statute of limitations on domestic violence felonies from three to five years and requires police officers to undergo more training handling intimate partner violence, became law in California. 

"Bad things can happen to you, but you can rise out of the ashes. That is exactly why I named it the Phoenix Act," Wood told People in 2019. "I do believe that you can come back from tragedy, sometimes even stronger than you were before."

Wood revealed that she had never planned to go public with her story until she realized that the person who hurt her had also hurt other women. "That changed everything for me," she said. 

Four other women—Ashley Walters, Sarah McNeilly, Ashley Lindsay Morgan, and Gabriella—have alleged abusive behavior at the hands of Manson, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and coercion. On Instagram, Walters wrote that "[h]orrifying, deranged behavior, and insane scenarios became normalized. He was extremely interested in mind control, torture tactics [ie: different sound frequencies that would shift your mood, or make you nauseous], and spy devices to gather information for blackmailing and manipulation."

Manson, who has been dropped by his record label and removed from his roles on American God and Creepshow over the latest abuse allegations, made a statement on Istagram on February 1 responding to Wood's allegations. "Obviously, my life and my art have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality," he wrote. "My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners. Regardless of how—and why—others are now choosing to misinterpret the past, that is the truth." 

In 2018, after a police report was filed against Manson citing unspecified sex crimes allegedly dating from 2011, his attorney told The Hollywood Reporter that the "allegations made to the police were and are categorically denied by Mr. Warner and are either completely delusional or part of a calculated attempt to generate publicity… Any claim of sexual impropriety or imprisonment at that, or any other, time is false." At the time, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office announced that it was declining to pursue that case due to a lack of corroborating evidence. 

Why gaslighting makes it difficult to leave an abuser

As Wood said in 2018, her experience of domestic abuse included gaslighting. This might be a relatively new term, but it's not a new phenomenon. This form of psychological abuse involves serious manipulation, when the abuser sows seeds of doubt in their victim that makes them question their own memory or judgment.

People who have ensured any form of neglect or abuse are prone to self-gaslighting,  Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for California-based Community Psychiatry, tells Health. "They dismiss their emotional responses to situations and contend that they are simply being too sensitive and dramatic. Individuals blame themselves each time something goes wrong or someone else is upset, and convince themselves that they fabricated their entire experience, and that their reality is simply a figment of their imagination."  

Many victims of abuse find it difficult to leave their partner, and gaslighting is a huge part of this. "When a person has been groomed to accept abuse, they are fighting against themselves, too," psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva, MD, tells Health. "They have been manipulated, brainwashed if you will into believing that they are either not being abused, they somehow deserve the abuse, or if they leave something bad will happen to someone they love. The manipulation by the abuser is profound.  The victim's experience is so intertwined with feelings of love, betrayal, guilt, fear, sorrow and insecurity that it becomes a psychological web that makes the victim stay handcuffed to the relationship."

Some individuals remain in abusive relationships due to fear and low self-esteem, Dr. Magavi adds. "They lose their sense of self and fear what it means to live life without their partner," she explains. They might also believe that with their love, their partner will change. 

An abusive relationship affects a survivor's health even years later

Domestic abuse becomes a huge talking point whenever a celebrity shares their experience surviving it, but it's something that happens every hour of every day to millions of people around the world. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, on average, more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the US will experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. 

Intimate partner abuse can have a serious impact on health and well-being, even after the victim has left the relationship. According to Dr. DeSilva, some of the significant long-term mental health issues include major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even psychosis. It may also lead to increased suicidal ideations and suicide attempts. In an open letter for Nylon, published in 2019, Wood revealed that a suicide attempt prompted her to ask for help, describing it as "the worst, best thing that ever happened" to her, because it led to her diagnosis of PTSD. 

"While some people may react with less symptoms than others after being victim to abuse, no one escapes unscathed," Dr. DeSilva tells Health. "Being victim to abuse can also affect one's future relationships—including developing trust issues, flashbacks, increased anxiety, mood swings, and self-harming behaviors. A person's mental health and quality of relationships are key determinants to feeling happy, and abuse undermines both, leading to difficulty with feeling generally happy and content."

People who have endured trauma tend to devalue themselves and experience a great deal of shame and guilt, and may self-medicate with alcohol or substances, restrict their eating, binge or purge, and/or punish themselves by burning or cutting their skin, Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for California-based Community Psychiatry, tells Health. Magavi routinely evaluates individuals who have endured emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and assault. 

Everybody heals from trauma in a different way, but for most victims, recovery from intimate partner abuse requires professional help—and time. "Meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist allows trauma survivors to confront their fears gradually and safely, at a pace that feels comfortable," Dr. Magavi says. "This may involve writing or speaking about their experience and processing it at their own pace with the help of a medical professional. If trauma survivors avoid the trauma itself, this could lead to self-deprecation and immense amounts of guilt and shame."

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