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What is Gaslighting?

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Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the perpetrator seeks to sow seeds of doubt in someone else, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. This deceitful tactic can be used in any relationship, but it is particularly destructive within the context of a marriage. Some spouses engage in gaslighting intentionally, using it as a tool to gain control, exert power, and avoid accountability by dismissing or invalidating their partner's feelings and experiences. By systematically questioning and undermining their spouse's reality, the gaslighter creates an environment of confusion and dependency.

With this in mind, you might have found yourself asking, “Is my spouse gaslighting me?”

Common Signs of Gaslighting

Gaslighting, by its nature, starts as a subtle process. It's designed to slowly undermine the victim's confidence and self-trust, making it challenging to recognize in the early stages. This subtleness is what makes gaslighting particularly dangerous, as it gradually escalates, becoming more apparent and damaging over time. To effectively counteract gaslighting, the first step is to recognize its presence. Identifying these manipulative tactics early on can empower you to seek help, set boundaries, and take steps to protect your mental and emotional well-being.

Four common signs of gaslighting:

  • Frequent denial of your experience: The gaslighter will often deny things they've said or done, even when there is direct evidence. This tactic can make you question your memory and sanity.
  • Blatant lies and fabrication of facts: Gaslighters are known for telling blatant lies about events or situations. You might know they're lying, but their certainty can make you doubt your reality.
  • Actions do not match their words: A serious sign of gaslighting is when there's a consistent discrepancy between what the gaslighter says and what they do.
  • Gradual erosion of your self-esteem: Over time, victims of gaslighting may notice a decrease in their self-confidence and self-worth. The gaslighter's continuous undermining comments and denial of your reality can lead you to doubt your judgments and perceptions, weakening your sense of self.

Why Do Some Spouses Gaslight?

Spouses who resort to gaslighting often do so with the intent to distort reality for their partner, creating an imbalance in the relationship that serves their own needs and desires. This behavior not only undermines the foundation of trust and mutual respect critical to any marriage but also enables the gaslighter to maintain an upper hand in the relationship dynamics. The reasons for such behavior vary widely, but understanding them can offer insights into the gaslighter's motivations and help you recognize the situation that you’re in.

Three reasons why spouses tend to resort to gaslighting are:

  • Desire for power and control: Some people see gaslighting as a means to establish control over their spouse's perceptions and emotions, effectively dictating the reality of the relationship.
  • Insecurity: In some cases, a spouse might use gaslighting to mask their insecurities. By undermining their partner's confidence, they seek to elevate their own standing within the relationship, often out of fear of being inadequate or abandoned.
  • Narcissistic tendencies: Spouses with narcissistic traits may gaslight to maintain an image of superiority and infallibility. Acknowledging their partner's viewpoint or feelings could be seen as a threat to their ego, prompting them to manipulate their spouse's reality to uphold their self-image.

Gaslighting inflicts profound harm on marriages by eroding the trust that serves as the bedrock of any healthy relationship. The victim's ability to trust their own perceptions and judgments becomes compromised, leading to a state of dependency and diminished self-esteem. Over time, the emotional and psychological toll of living in a distorted reality can lead to isolation, depression, and anxiety, ultimately weakening the bond that holds the marriage together.

What Should You Do If You’re Being Gaslit?

If you find yourself in the troubling situation of being gaslit by your spouse, you should take proactive steps to protect your well-being.

Immediate steps you can take to stop gaslighting from emotionally hurting you again are:

  • Acknowledge what’s happening: Recognize the signs of gaslighting and understand that it’s not a reflection of your sanity or worth but rather a manipulation tactic that someone else is deliberately using on you.
  • Document gaslighting when it happens: Keep a journal or use other means to document specific instances of gaslighting, which can help validate your experiences and may serve as a useful reference in therapy or legal situations.
  • Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a professional therapist who can offer you perspective, validation, and emotional support.
  • Set boundaries: Clearly communicate your boundaries to your spouse. While challenging, setting limits on what behavior you will tolerate is necessary if any healing is to be done.

Long-term strategies to shield yourself from the harm of gaslighting can include:

  • Go to therapy: A therapist can help you heal from emotional abuse, rebuild your self-esteem, and develop strategies to deal with gaslighting. They can also guide you in making informed decisions about your relationship.
  • Build a support network: Cultivate relationships with people who affirm your reality and worth. Support groups, either in person or online, can connect you with others who have experienced similar situations.
  • Educate yourself: Learn more about gaslighting and psychological manipulation. Understanding these tactics can empower you to recognize them early and respond effectively.
  • Plan for the future: Depending on the severity of the gaslighting and the overall health of your relationship, consider whether staying in the marriage is in your best interest. In some cases, leaving the relationship via divorce may be necessary to fully recover your sense of self.

Want to Divorce a Gaslighter?

If you decide to divorce a gaslighter, you should approach the process with careful planning and support due to the complex dynamics involved in leaving a manipulative partner. First and foremost, consulting with a divorce lawyer experienced in handling high-conflict divorces can provide legal protection and guidance. Securing emotional support through therapy or support groups can offer both resilience and clarity during the emotionally taxing process, so it might be worth looking into therapists while you’re also researching local divorce attorneys.

At Gill Law Group, PC in Orange County, California, we have intentionally focused much of our family law practice on divorce cases involving narcissistic spouses and gaslighters. If you want to divorce a gaslighting spouse but don’t know where to begin, please know that we’re here to be your legal guides from start to finish. We want what’s best for our emotional health, and we’d be honored to help you achieve it if divorce is the answer.

Call (949) 681-9952 to talk to our team during a complimentary consultation.