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Gaslighting in Divorce

couple arguing

What is Gaslighting?

Simply put, gaslighting is a manipulation to make people believe that they are losing their mind or to question their own judgment. Some spouses begin using this technique as a marriage starts to fail. It is a common technique for narcissists or people with borderline personality disorder or other personality disorders to use manipulatively and intentionally, but some people use this technique without realizing it.

Many people, including psychologists use the term “gaslighting” to describe certain concerning and manipulative behaviors, but the term actually comes from a 1944 film in which the man pathologically tampers with the gas light in the attic, causing the lights to dim in the house. The woman keeps reporting that she hears footsteps in the attic when the lights are dimming but he repeatedly tells her it’s in her mind. This makes her begin questioning her own judgment and even ability to hear and process information.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. It is so difficult to address and deal with as often the gaslighting spouse is very convincing in the lies that he or she tells. It makes you question your grip on reality and whether you hav the ability to trust your intuition any longer.

How do you know your spouse is engaging in gaslighting? Some common traits include:

-Denying that he or she said or did something, even when you have proof or documentation;

-Words that do not match actions, resulting in confusion or misunderstanding;

-Telling direct and blatant lies;

-Telling others or you that you’re crazy, have mental illness, or you’re a liar;

-Accusing you of what the gaslighting spouse is actually doing and making you believe that you may be doing those actions;

-Trying to convince you that you are unable to trust others or that they don’t really care about you or have your best interests at heart;

-Trying to use your own shortcomings or fears against you, knowing the ways they can hurt you the most and using those things to create pain/hurt;

During a divorce process, frequently, these behaviors will include the gaslighting spouse trying to enlist a “bandwagon” of people to side with him or her. This could include family, friends, co-workers or even convincing your own legal counsel (through lies shared with his or her lawyer) to side with the other spouse. In the most extreme situations, the gaslighter will file false police reports against you, file motions with the court accusing you of the behaviors that he or she is actually engaged in or trying to push your buttons repeatedly to document you getting frustrated and then using those frustrations to allege that you are mentally unhealthy or unstable. Frequently, in custody cases, a gaslighting parent will try to push your buttons to get you to act out in the presence and observation of your children so that they can begin to believe the narrative the gaslighting parent is expressing to the children.

How do you combat a gaslighting spouse in the divorce process? The best thing you can do is to stay away and minimize contact with the other spouse. Require everything to be in writing. Often a parent communication application such as Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents or AppClose is ideal for these situations. Only communicate necessary things with as much focus on facts/information sharing, without anything further. If the gaslighting spouse learns even small, personal details, he or she may utilize that information manipulatively.

Also, by hiring a divorce attorney or child custody attorney who is familiar with these tactics, he or she will be able to give you helpful, experienced advice about steps to combat this type of behavior. Your attorney should be able to give you advice about safe communications (if necessary for the children involved) as well as other strategies such as protection orders and ways to minimize the interactions between you and your spouse.

If you are dealing with a gaslighting spouse, allow our firm to help you understand and develop a plan to address the behavior. Addressing the behavior early and quickly is a key to success in this situation. By sharing fully with your family law attorney the extent to which the other spouse is being manipulative, your lawyer will be able to develop a strategy to combat this behavior. Don’t give the other spouse fodder for their games. Call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation.