Shadowed Flames: PTSD in RWBY Part 8

Disclaimer: These articles contain in-depth discussion on the topics of mental health/illness and topics such as abuse. 

The writer is also not a trained nor certified therapist. However, they have been writing for twenty years with a heavy focus on correct, realistic portrayals of mental health. They have studied PTSD and C-PTSD in depth and speak from personal experience. Of course, they only speak from one point of view as PTSD symptoms and experiences are unique to each and every person. This is done from a clinical viewpoint, using sourced academic literature.

More technical jargon (namely the actual list of symptoms) will be given in more everyday language when and where possible.

All right, so we can’t go into this next stretch of this series especially this article without at least acknowledging the controversy about Adam and Blake’s past. I’m admittedly on the periphery of the fandom. However, I am very aware that people claim Adam isn’t abusive, there was no grooming or somehow Blake groomed Adam, etcetera. I’ve seen a lot of the arguments, and I’ll admit I’ll be taking a stance here. I’m not trying to incite arguments and anger; I’m simply presenting my own view based upon my knowledge of psychology. 

And I will address my source for this particular article. Yes, I know that using a site that unironically uses “Radfem” is…not the best source. However, in digging, it was the most in-depth exploration of gaslighting tactics I could find. I am focusing solely on the descriptions given and not any of the “societal gaslighting” presented in the article. Basically all other articles are “Signs you’re a victim of gaslighting” or something along those lines. None of them really focused on the tactics like this.

With those additional disclaimers out of the way, let’s begin.


So the first bit of evidence I’m gonna personally pull up for there being abuse between Blake and Adam is actually their ages. While we do not know Adam’s age at any point in time, he’s clearly a fair bit older than Blake. This is especially evidenced in his character short. We never really see him change in age, only his outfits change. Granted, that…is not exactly the best example as it seems like the writers/animators didn’t entirely think that short through. I mean, we see Ilia fighting with the White Fang at her V4/V5 age when she should obviously be much younger. 

And, yes, I will acknowledge that me bringing up this point weakens my own arguments for when we delve into part of that short later. A lot of us (including me) acknowledge that the writers often do not pay attention period, so I think it’s fine. Anyway, I’m digressing from my main point.

I would like to direct everyone’s attention to V1 C16, “Black and White,” while Blake is giving the spiel about the White Fang’s history. 

[Image description: A burgundy and black mottled background. The White Fang symbol of a white lion’s head surrounded by a circle on a flat blue flag is shown in the center of the frame. A black flagpole is on the right. Subtitle says, “Blake: And then, five years ago”.]
(Also yes, I had to add the subtitle because this episode doesn’t have any on the RT site)

The leadership and philosophy of the White Fang changed “five years ago” as evidenced by the quote. While we do not know exactly when Blake and Adam met, we know that it was even before five years ago. 

[Image description: Adam takes up most of the foreground in his V1-3 attire. Ghira stands in the background in his attire from the Adam short.]

The short clearly shows that Ghira is still the leader of the White Fang in the second scene of the short. That means this is at least five years ago.

Why am I harping on this particular point?

Seventeen minus five is thirteen. That means, at a minimum, Blake was thirteen when she met Adam. Again, I know we don’t know Adam’s age specifically which does make this argument somewhat wobbly. His vague age could put him minimum 3-4 years older than Blake which isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be. But just from the way he moves, acts, and the strategies he uses, to me, implies he’s a fair bit older. However, that is bringing headcanon into this which isn’t any grounding for the arguments I’m making.

However, I want to move onto my second argument which I feel is much stronger.

It’s the scene between Blake and Adam in his short which seems to be fairly clear gaslighting. 

A quick note, I know there’s a post floating around on tumblr that does the same thing what I’m about to do with this scene. I have read it a couple times, but it’s been a long while. I’m mainly just pointing this out because there probably will be unintentional similarities. I am not plagarising, though. 

So getting into it…

[Image description: Blake to the left of the frame in her V1-3 attire minus her bow. Her head is bowed, eyes narrow, and her arms are folded. Her back is to Adam who’s approaching from the background. Subtitle says, “I told you it was an accident.”]

The first bit we see in scene takes place after Blake has called Adam out on killing humans.

And we are already getting into manipulation with the gaslighting tactics.

Adam is trivialising Blake’s worries. She’s rightly voicing her opinion that he shouldn’t be killing those that don’t really deserve it, but he’s trying to downplay it as simply “an accident.”

She continues to hold her ground despite it.

[Image description: Blake on the left of the screen in the background with Adam in the foreground, though he’s from the back. Subtitle says, “This wasn’t the first time humans have died on missions you’ve led.”]

She then questions him.

[Image description: Basically same shot as before. However, Blake’s ears are folding down, her expression is uncomfortable, and she’s folding her arms. Subtitle says, “How many more ‘accidents’ are there going to be?”]

He then brings up the fact that he doesn’t know and that people get hurt when they’re fighting. Granted, this is obviously wrong as we know, but within the logic of the scene, it makes sense.

But then—

[Image description: Single shot of Adam from the shoulders up. Red trees are in the background with pink and purple mountains above that in the distance. Subtitle says, “What do you want me to just abandon our cause like your parents?”]

Here we see countering and diversion

Countering is when one draws the victim’s attention to their memory and can use past incidents of gaslighting. It’s often done in the form of questions. We see him making Blake draw on her memory of her parents leaving and, no doubt, what she said to them. While we don’t know how that scene played out, we know she at least called them cowards. V4 V8 “A Much Needed Talk” shows us that much.

[Image description: Ghira and Blake are sitting on a couch in their V4 attire. Ghira has his arm around Blake. Subtitle says, “I called you cowards!”]

The diversion is pretty clear. He’s pulling her attention away from the topic at hand. 

This isn’t a gaslighting tactic (at least as listed in the article) but this particular question is driving Blake into a serious corner. It’s forcing her to make a decision about her parents as well as foster a black-and-white, us-versus-them mentality. She has to acknowledge either Adam or her parents are right. He’s questioning her loyalty to him and he’s stopping critical thinking. 

This multi-layered question makes her question herself and her thinking.

[Image descriptions: Two images.
First image: Shot of Blake facing Adam with her ears down but the insides still visible. Her expression is uncomfortable. Subtitle says, “I’m not saying that, I…”
Second image: Blake’s head is down much more, eyes completely obscured by her bangs. Her ears are much closer to her head too. Subtitle says, “I don’t know.”]

The next bit we see is diverting yet again.

[Image descriptions: Two images.
First image: Blake on the left in the foreground with Adam on the right. Subtitle says, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought them up.”
Second image: More or less the same shot. Only difference is Adam is bringing his hand to rest up on his chest. Subtitle says, “I just get scared when it feels like you don’t believe in me anymore.”]

Another point of diverting is the fact the gaslighter is making the situation all about them and that they’re the victim. 

The scene caps off with Blake apologising and Adam “accepting” it.

[Image descriptions: Two images.
First image: Adam in the foreground on the right of the scene with his back to the camera. Blake is below him, head bowed and eyes covered by her bangs due to her head being bowed. Subtitle says, “I never said that.”
Second image: Closeup of Adam and he’s smiling with teeth visible. Subtitle says, “Glad to know I’ve still got you.”]

Okay, so let’s take a very quick recap of the scene. Blake brings up the very real concern that people are literally dying while Adam’s leading missions. However, he dodges the enormity of it by saying that people die when they’re fighting. He then brings up her parents and makes her question why she’s asking in the first place. He then makes it look like he’s the victim and she apologises.

While I try to provide a fact-based view in these articles, in this case, I’ll break that and say this is clearly manipulation. Adam is making Blake question her perception of reality and why she’s criticising him. He makes her feel guilty. This is not how this sort of thing should be playing out. She shouldn’t be feeling guilty over the fact he is allowing people to die on his missions.

This is so clearly gaslighting. 

And then we have the end of Volume 6 with him attempting to use some of these tactics against her even if they ultimately fail. They happen numerous times so I’m not going to hit every example.

He uses countering to try to make her question why she left and how she treated him.

[Image description: Adam in his V4+ attire with a blindfold. He’s getting up from the snowy ground. Subtitle says, “Just forget it all? Is that what you did with me? You just threw all our memories away!”]

He trivialises her very valid desire to be safe from him.

[Image description: Shot of mostly Adam’s face with a blindfold, though he can be seen holding Blame’s wrist on the left side of the screen. Her head with her ear can just barely be seen in the lower right-hand corner. Subtitle says, “I wouldn’t have to be doing this if you’d just behave!”]

He tries to divert the issue of her fighting for her life due to play the victim card when we finally see his face.

[Image description: Shot of Blake on the ground with her ears drooped over slightly. Subtitle says, “People hurt me long before we met.”]

There is so, so much more I could do to break down even just the V6 fight scene, but I think I’ve made my point. I know many, many people will disagree with this take on things, but this is what I’m basing the rest of this article series on. 


Anonymy. (2018, April 7). SYSTEMIC SOCIETAL GASLIGHTING Part 1. A Radfem Types.

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