Gaslighting in a divorce case is an especially difficult thing to deal with. When we talk about gaslighting I am referring to a situation where your spouse is purposefully causing you to question your sanity by denying obvious facts and circumstances of your marriage. On top of that, he or she is very likely trying to convince you that not only are you wrong but that a completely different set of facts and circumstances are accurate. When exposed to gaslighting on a consistent enough basis over a long enough period it can certainly have an impact on how you approach your marriage and your life in general.
What does gaslighting look like in a marriage?
Manipulation is the number one goal of your spouse if he or she is gaslighting you. Your spouse wants to be able to exert control over you. However, unlike the domineering spouse who actively and explicitly attempts to control your actions, a gaslighting spouse instead will attempt to be more subtle in how they control you. By purposefully convincing you that fiction is a fact, their efforts can be more impactful given that you may lose feeling for what is reality and what is fantasy or an outright lie.
Your spouse, frankly, is in a great position to gaslight you. Preying on your sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and fears, your spouse knows what makes you tick and what buttons to press to achieve certain results. Knowing what is most important to you allows for your spouse to hover above you. Not physically of course, but the specter of your spouse will constantly hang over you whenever you come face to face with a decision that must be made. If you cannot be trusted to make good decisions or to even understand what is in your child’s best interests then this is a problem for you.
Making good decisions impacts you and also your kids. Remember that the best interests of your child will be the standard by which a family court judge looks at your case. It would follow that if you cannot make good decisions for yourself then you would likewise be unable to do so for your children. Having this degree of self-doubt can be disastrous for your case and your kids. When you begin to think that you are placing your children in harm’s way and that they would be better off with your co-parent most of the time then the gaslighting job is complete.
What you may be left with is a sea of self-doubt that you are swimming in. Doubting the essential realities of your life and your family are enough to leave anyone feeling vulnerable. However, many people who are left to fend for themselves after being gaslit find that the best path out of the situation is to directly address the problems. This will require a dependable support system and a willingness to accept your limitations and view your case and life from an angle that you have never done before.
A very real danger of gaslighting in a marriage is that the spouse who is gaslit may develop mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Be aware of how your spouse’s actions can have a negative impact not only on your current situation but on your mental health, as well. Do not discount the profound effect that gaslighting can have on you as a person. If you can seek out marriage counseling with your spouse to identify and begin to fix these problems in your marriage that would be for the best. Even if your spouse is not willing to go you can attend counseling sessions to help yourself deal with the stress and anxieties of this time of your marriage. Your spouse’s unwillingness to attend counseling with you may be a good indicator that your marriage is possibly headed for divorce. You can use this time to prepare for that and to strengthen your mental health all at the same time.
For example, does your spouse make you feel like you were emotions do not matter or that the way you feel is less important than the way you make others feel? Repeatedly telling you that something is not a big deal or is not as important as something else going on in your life can be a great example of gaslighting behavior. Sometimes it is appropriate to help your spouse understand the importance of something relative to another issue. However, when you are going through something serious in your marriage your spouse and you should not have opposing views on that subject. Rather, if you find yourself disagreeing a great deal with your spouse on an issue that is extremely important you may be in a position where your spouse is trying to gaslight you and attempt to convince you that the reality that is staring you in your face is not as bad as you would think.
Sometimes, to reinforce their bad behavior, your spouse will tell you that he or she knows of people in your life that are talking about you behind your back. The purpose of telling you these types of stories is to convince you that you are acting out of character or irrationally. The truth of the matter, of course, is that your spouse is the one acting irrationally and without good cause. However, he or she will do whatever it takes to try to convince you that your actions are inappropriate and that their actions are appropriate. This is all the more reason to have a support structure around you to help you ensure that you’re acting appropriately given the circumstances in your marriage. What you want to avoid is a situation where your spouse can convince you over a long period that your actions are inappropriate or without merit. This would cause you to lose any sense of reality and could spur the development of the sort of mental health conditions that we just finished discussing a moment ago.
Another example of gaslighting in action is your spouse denying conversations that you very clearly had with him or her. Think back to any time when you and your spouse had an unmistakable conversation about a particular subject. The subject matter could be something very important or could be something mundane like household chores. If your spouse came back in the future at some point and denied that you all ever had a conversation, for example, if he or she failed to pick up the kids or pick up the trash, then this may be in a sample of gaslighting. You were being made to think that the reality that you recall is not accurate and that your spouse is the only person who can tell you what occurred in reality.
The opposite of this can also occur in the area of gaslighting. Your spouse may repeatedly tell you that a conversation or an event did occur when it certainly did not. This is trying to accomplish the same objective that we just finished discussing but by doing so in the opposite way. Namely, your spouse would try to convince you that you all had a conversation about a particular event when you certainly did not. By trying to show you that your memory cannot be trusted, your spouse is showing you that you cannot trust yourself. This is a dangerous path for you to go down in one where you need to be very diligent about paying attention to the things your spouse says and not getting caught up then there are attempts to gaslight you.
The connection between gaslighting and narcissism
there is a definite connection between narcissists and people who gaslight their spouses. A narcissist is a person who imagines themselves to be the main character not only in their own life story but in the stories of other people. Narcissists believe that they can do no wrong in that their actions are always meritorious and justified. A narcissist is a person who cannot imagine that you do not think the same way and as highly of them as they do. While it is important in a marriage to consider the opinions and positions of your spouse that does not mean thinking that your spouse can do no wrong. This is where a narcissist in their worldview takes up gaslighting as a means to increase their emotional and relational power over you.
At their core, narcissists believe that they are better than the people around them in that the world should revolve around their once and needs. You almost always see that gaslighters are also narcissists. People that are self-absorbed and uninterested in the feelings and the situation of other people oftentimes use gaslighting techniques 2 increase their social status or to simply harm other people as a game. Rather than building relationships and fostering the bond between husband and wife, a narcissist there’s nothing in the realm of relationship building unless it can benefit them in some way.
Narcissists view themselves as the main character in a story where they would serve as the hero. When they are playing the hero there must also be a villain or a person that must be conquered. At best, there is a sidekick who always defers to the hero and does what he row thinks is best. There is no evolving of characters where one day you would be the hero and your spouse would be the sidekick. Rather, your spouse views you as the hero at best you are their number two. In a marriage, where both spouses are supposed to be Co equals, this is a dangerous situation for you to find yourself in. Not only could your spouse view you as not being their equal but your spouse could also view any actions they take towards you as being justified given their role as provider or hero of your family.
does your spouse crave a great deal of attention from other people? This may happen given that your spouse views themselves as being superior and therefore worthy of praise and attention from other people. Many people marry narcissists thinking that these types of negative qualities will be outgrown or will fade away with enough time passing. While it is possible to work your way through these types of conditions either organically or through counseling a nurse assistant left unchecked will oftentimes develop worse personality traits as time goes by. When it comes to gaslighting this is just another example of the negative personality traits of a narcissist coming to the forefront.
An important characteristic for a spouse to have is to be empathetic. A person who has empathy can see a situation from the perspective of another person and understand how that person feels. As a result, the empathetic person will be more likely to act appropriately and fairly towards another person who may be struggling in a certain area of their life. In the ups and downs of marriage and life in general being empathetic, he’s an important quality to have. Or at least, it is an important quality for spouses like you and yours to develop over time with practice.
Unfortunately, narcissists are not empathetic. Narcissists have an incredibly difficult time approaching any scenario from another person’s perspective given how much they are caught up in their own lives. Do not assume that because many people can see that you are struggling with your marriage or that you are hurting because of any number of reasons your spouse would necessarily see things the same way as you do. A narcissistic person like your spouse has problems with seeing things from your perspective. Quite the opposite: he or she will likely force you to see things from their perspective primarily and only give passing consideration to the way you feel or perceive a certain situation. This is a recipe for disaster in any marriage.
a narcissist not only lacks empathy but takes advantage of you and other people will know you are feeling down or vulnerable. Being disinterested in how you feel and what you are experiencing is a common issue for narcissists. A narcissist can use gaslighting to create instability in your life. When you begin to mistrust your perception of reality and are confused as to the circumstances of your marriage that is when the narcissists can truly begin to influence how you feel. This is all to your spouse’s advantage. To be manipulated by a narcissist is to create a power structure where your spouse takes advantage of your vulnerabilities. It can also occur that your spouse utilizes your children in their goal to manipulate and dominate you from an emotional perspective.
How can you get help if you believe that you are being gaslighted in your marriage?
Understanding that you’ve been a victim of abuse and gaslighting is the first step that you need to take towards getting help. After all: if you do not understand that you are being gaslit in the first place then you probably are missing several other incidents of bad behavior on the part of your spouse. Sometimes it takes you talking to your support system or even attending counseling to be able to identify the sort of characteristics of a gaslighter that we have discussed already in today’s blog post. Your family and friends are people who have known you for a long time and can help you to trust yourself and begin to see your spouse fairly.
Therapists who are trained in domestic abuse can help you too I understand the sort of negative messaging that you have perceived throughout your marriage in the air spouse has been working with you to their vantage on. If you have any doubts or concerns about moving on with your divorce, your ability to live as an independent adult or understand the realities of your situation then a therapist or counselor is someone who can work with you 2 give you more confidence in your ability to execute on a plan to move towards divorce. What you want to avoid is a situation where your Co-parent and spouse dominate you in a way that is harmful to both you and your children.
Emotional abuse can be just as impactful and harmful in some ways as physical abuse. The scars from abuse like this can linger under the surface for many years and can cause you to lose confidence in yourself very quickly. Your only obligation in life is not to do what your spouse thinks is best or play the supportive role in their storyline as the hero. This is true no matter how hard he or she wants you to believe that this isn’t the case. Learning about narcissism, gaslighting and your options in divorce is incredibly important for you and your family’s well-being now and in the future.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.