A gaslighter in divorce: extinguishing the self-doubt and questioning

16 Nov 2018

Emilie Holland and Nikki Emerton from BeU look at how to deal with a psychologically manipulative partner in separation or divorce.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, to gain power or control, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. The term is derived from the play Gaslight (1938) which features a husband’s systematic psychological manipulation of his wife, which eventually leads to her questioning her own sanity.

When a person discovers they have been a victim of gaslighting or consider that their ex-partner/spouse may have gaslighting traits and behaviours, the idea of having to enter into negotiations with that person, whether it be as part of a separation or divorce, or children matters, can be an overwhelmingly daunting prospect.

It is alarming to note that a film could be made surrounding this concept almost 75 years ago and yet, in a world with less dependency on one another than ever before, it remains a prevalent feature of many relationships today.

Nikki Emerton, a Master Practitioner in NLP, Coach and Clinical Diploma in Hypnotherapy, and Lighting Process Practitioner® from Be U Achieving Health & Happiness, has come to understand the consequences of manipulative behaviour such as gaslighting, and supports her clients to recover and extract themselves from such relationships, either solo or alongside the divorce/separation process. She has found that:

• You no longer trust your own judgement
• You constantly seek the approval of others, even for the most trivial of decisions
• You’re never quite sure if what you’re thinking is accurate
• You doubt that your recollection of memories and past experiences are true
• You are constantly trying to second guess yourself
• Your ‘what if’ conversation is confusing, and you tie yourself up in knots trying to work out what is true
• You can feel like you are going mad or ‘losing it’
• You become afraid of speaking up or expressing emotion, choosing to stay silent instead

Nikki explains that when divorcing a gaslighter, the first step is to understand their structure of manipulation and completely know that it is not you; it is them. Often, they are completely unaware of the consequences of their behaviours. Examples such as:

• Trivialising your thoughts and feelings
• Making you out to be a liar
• Causing confusion by twisting and reframing
• Using what is most precious to you as a weapon against you
• Using their perceived superiority to edit and delete facts about money and events.

In an ideal world, the best option is to completely cut ties with the gaslighter but often that is just not possible, or not until certain practical matters are resolved. Minimising contact and making sure that conversations are witnessed or documented can go a long way towards the victim realising that they were probably right most of the time. Being able to reliably recall accurate events from chronological notes will firmly put the manipulative behaviours back where they belong; with the person who is attempting to control the situation by gaslighting.

One of the major hurdles to recovery and beginning to be able to trust others and move forward in maintaining healthy relationships is the ability to trust one’s own judgement. The gaslighter has done an amazing job at teaching that person, through manipulation, that they are ‘no good’, that they’ are ‘flawed’ or ‘broken’ somehow, that they are not capable of making decisions, are weak and need the ‘gaslighter’ to take care of them or they would be lost without them.

In the initial sessions with Nikki, she teaches her clients how to learn to trust themselves. This gives them access to the ‘old’ version of themselves before they were affected by gaslighting. This is learned and modelled by choosing a trusted significant person to become their role model, in asking ‘what would x do?’, followed by learning practical skills to gain evidence that they are able to accurately trust their own judgement.

Any ‘usual’ divorce or separation or dispute about children can be an emotive and testing time, but one which involves a person with gaslighting traits requires an enhanced level of care, management and consideration. In these scenarios, it is imperative that a client’s best interests are looked after by appropriate representatives so as to ensure that they don’t fall foul of their ex-partner’s ‘ways’. The ultimate goal in legal matters, particularly with a divorce, is one of achieving fairness and doing so must be on the basis of real facts, not manipulated ones.

Emilie Holland, a family Solicitor based in Trethowans’ Winchester office, explains that ‘achieving the fairest result for our clients is always at the forefront of our work. We promote the handling of matters by way of adopting a conciliatory and non-confrontational approach. Beyond that, we recognise how crucial it is to understand the psychology of an opponent and deliberately take the time to work with experts like Nikki, so as to gain an appreciation as to how best to negotiate with a person with that particular mind set.’

Emilie has substantial experience in dealing with people whose behaviour can be challenging; it is part of the territory. However, she recognises that demonising and labelling a person moves the negotiator further away from understanding them and can ultimately inflame and prolong the conflict. She is committed to dealing with matters as expeditiously as possible for clients and they will always strive to reduce the conflict, rather than fuelling the fire that surrounds it.

If you feel you have been a victim of gaslighting and need help from an expert to recover, or if you are facing a divorce or family legal matter involving someone who you consider to have the traits of a gaslighter, then contact Nikki Emerton from Be U Achieving Health & Happiness or Emilie Holland at Trethowans and they will be pleased to support and navigate you through the complexities of either process; extinguishing the self-doubt and questioning.

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