06.12.2022

The recoupling episodes are a lesson in spotting the red flags of gaslighting

First there was Danny Bibby’s negging, then there was Toby Aromolaran’s cookie-jarring. And now, Liam Reardon’s playing away in Casa Amor and returning to Millie Court has showcased another problematic behaviour – gaslighting.

It seemed impossible, but the men on this year’s Love Island have doubled down on their toxic behaviour.

But before we go into ‘why’, here’s a bit of background: On their website, the charity Solace Women’s Aid says: “Gaslighting is an aspect of coercive controlling behaviour. It increases the isolation and vulnerability of the victim, thereby increasing the abuser’s control. It aims to destroy the victim’s sense of self, as she loses the ability to think clearly or trust her perceptions and instincts.”

The charity notes that an abuser might gaslight in the following ways: “The abuser questions the victim’s memories of events and accuses her of misremembering situations, denies that particular events happened, or minimises them. The abuser tells the victim she is imagining things.”

If you watched Love Island at the weekend, the above may sound familiar – because it reads like a play-by-play of Liam’s behaviour.

In a much-anticipated recoupling, viewers saw Liam head back to the villa from Casa Amor, Lillie-less. It was bittersweet, as Liam’s straying was the hardest pill to swallow out of all of the lads. He’d gone from gushing that he was ‘falling’ for Millie and wanting to be around her all the time – to talking about how much he wanted to kiss Lillie.

My intense disappointment with Liam can only be likened to Tyra Banks’s iconic “We were all rooting for you!” tirade to Tiffany in America’s Next Top Model (if you know, you know). Because like many viewers, I so wanted Liam to be one of the good guys. More fool me.

While the cast cheered – celebrating Liam’s return and apparent loyalty to Millie – it was hard for us at home to watch. Fan favourite Millie was clearly full of relief, after spending four days visibly anxious and nauseous with worry, while Liam explored his connection with Lillie on the boy’s self-titled “lads holiday”. Ew.

Together, the six boys had whipped up some kind of warped rationale in Casa Amor, whereby flirting and kissing someone else simply meant that their feelings for the girls back home were proved and validated. This so-called logic was further justified with their favourite saying – the tagline of toxic men everywhere – “You’ve got to be true to yourself.”

Millie’s happiness was short-lived. As Liam kissed Millie’s shoulder, Lillie entered the villa and stood around the fire pit to have her say. She told the islanders that she felt her relationship with Liam was mutual: “I feel like the actions were pretty equal, sharing a bed together, kissing outside of challenges.”

Liam did not take a shred of responsibility for their rendezvous. Instead, he made Lillie out to be some kind of evil temptress, because apparently, he had no free will. He professed: “She was attracted to me. I was going keep myself to myself. Then she said to give her a chance, so that I could compare them both.”

Approaching Millie after the recoupling, Liam is quick to isolate her from her friends. He says: “Can we talk? Please? Because you’re going to get riled up now, you won’t even see the full side of it.”

It’s a tactic so often adopted by gaslighters. By removing her from any outside influences, Liam hopes he can convince Millie of his version of events. He wants his story to be the one she believes.

During this chat, Liam puts the entire onus of the courtship on Lillie. He insists: “We set on the tepee, we kissed. I went to give her a peck, she kissed me!”

Liam claims they didn’t cuddle at night time, and maintains he laid down the law regarding bed-sharing: “First night, she asked to share a bed with me, I stated to her every night, ‘you say on your side and I stay on my side.’”

Notice his use of Lillie’s pronoun when describing every.single.event: “She was attracted to me.” “She said give her a chance.” “She kissed me.” “She asked to share a bed with me.”

Still, he fails to take accountability and even blames the boys for encouraging him to get to know Lillie.

Poor Millie is left reeling, trying to decide whether or not she should or can give Liam a second chance.

Following Friday’s episode, I worried she might take him back. After all, anyone could see their strong chemistry and connection before Casa Amor, and without the facts of what really happened, Millie only had Liam’s word to go on.

But Liam showed serious red flags by putting all the blame on Lillie, and spotting such unhealthy behaviour early on can help women to avoid entering toxic relationships. I hoped Millie would spot those neon warning signs and get out of there.

Thankfully, our girl prevailed.

A “clear-the-air chat” was arranged for Millie and Lillie. Before Lillie says anything, Liam is quick to claim her account will be a fabrication. “If she wants to believe what she says, she can.”

It was a shock twist, beautifully put by the queen of one-liners Faye Winter: “He didn’t expect Lillie to have the opportunity to speak to Millie. Never in a million years.”

During their conversation, Lillie reveals to Millie that “cuddles”, “hand-on-hand contact” and “leg tickling” took place at night. Also, there was some frustration between the sheets. Lillie revealed the pair kissed three times during a conversation, instead of once.

When Millie confronts Liam with the facts, Liam lies that he’d already confessed to kissing Lillie three times. He insists: “I told you that.”

His attempt to make Millie doubt reality didn’t go unnoticed by viewers. One took to Twitter saying: “So much gaslighting from Liam. “I told you that” – No you didn’t!”

Liam still hopes Millie will believe his story, after he’s shattered all the trust between them. He asks: “You believe her? You’re saying you don’t believe me?”

Fortunately, thanks to her conversation with Lillie, Millie had the opportunity to get a firm grip on the facts and knows he is lying.

One Millie fan wrote on Twitter: “I absolutely *love* that even in the face of some serious gaslighting Millie stood her ground, kept it together and called Liam on his shit. A true queen.”

The truth is, anyone can fall victim to an abusive relationship, even the most head-strong women, as the manipulation can be so subtle and insidious, it is hard to spot. So, identifying red flags early on can save women from controlling, coercive behaviour later.

Not only does Millie deserve better, but she’s dodged a bullet.

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