There are certain terms, buzzwords they are called, that seem to take on added importance in society during certain periods. It seems like the term "gaslighting" is one of those buzzwords that is used with great frequency nowadays. This may apply only to me but sometimes I hear a word used in popular culture, think I know what it means only to find out that I was using it wrong the entire time. My wife, among others, is always happy to laugh and correct me. Before we make that mistake with gaslighting let's give a basic definition and then we can get on with the rest of our blog.
Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse. A person who engages in gaslighting will use their words and actions to try and convince you that an obvious truth in your life is, in fact, not true at all. This is a devious trick that spouses can play on one another that can cut to the core of their relationship. When your spouse chooses to gaslight you, he or she makes two decisions simultaneously. One is that he or she will do whatever it takes to manipulate and take advantage of you by trying to deceive you. The other is that he or she does not value you and would prefer that you think that you are losing touch with reality.
It does not matter how right you are- if your spouse is willing to gaslight, you then he or she is willing to take a major risk with your relationship to gain an advantage in your relationship. If you cannot trust yourself to be able to look around you and determine right from wrong, fair from unfair, etc. then how can you possibly judge if you are able, to tell the truth from a lie? The farther you go down this rabbit hole the more likely you are to second guess yourself- and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt even when you have reason to believe he or she is up to no good.
Your spouse may not choose to gaslight you at every turn. Rather, he or she will likely pick their spots to purposefully confuse you or cause you to second guess yourself on a particular subject. For example, if you are upset because your spouse did or said something hurtful to you on a particular occasion, your spouse may choose to tell you that your rendition of the facts is completely the opposite of how it was. Hearing your spouse tell you that you are not only wrong but that the exact opposite is true can lead to a couple of different results. You may know that he or she is purposefully gaslighting you which can lead you to distrust him or her even more. Or you may find yourself second-guessing yourself on this and several of your other memories.
This sort of emotional manipulation can be traumatizing to a person. If you are put into a position where you are constantly second-guessing yourself then this is a difficult position to be in. There are certain times in a relationship when you need to be able to stand up for yourself. However, if you do not have the confidence in yourself that what you remember or believe to be true is accurate then you are not going to be a very effective defender of yourself and your self-worth. Deferring to your spouse in all things can be dangerous when your spouse is untrustworthy.
In an extreme situation, you may even find yourself being susceptible to abuse at the hands of your spouse. We hope that this isn't the case. It is bad enough to be gaslit into believing things that are not true and not believing true things. However, if you are being gaslit while being emotionally or physically abused then this is a dangerous situation to be in. You may end up believing that you deserve the harm that you are suffering due to the belief in certain untruths that you have been told by your spouse.
Blame deflection and finger-pointing are part and parcel of gaslighting. Don't expect your spouse to simply gaslight you and then leave it at that. Rather, your spouse will likely look to convince you of things that are not true in the most remote sense. Then, he or she can use your self-doubt to creep into your psyche so that you will not trust yourself to stand up for things that you ordinarily would have. Why stand up for yourself when you cannot be sure that what you are standing up for is accurate? You will look like even more of a fool-doubling down on something wrong. This is dangerous territory for you to be in. When you are unwilling to defend yourself from finger-pointing and blame coming from your spouse you are vulnerable in more ways than one.
Abuse situations are even worse. Imagine being put into a situation where you believe that your spouse either did not abuse you or did so due to something wrong that you did. While everyone reading this blog post can tell you that there is nothing that can justify abuse in a relationship, a person who is being gaslit may not be able to make that sort of pronouncement. If you cannot trust yourself then you cannot trust the things that you have to say. You are welcoming more abuse when you fail to protect yourself and stand up for what you are right.
When you are gaslit this behavior tends to creep into other areas of your life, as well. You may not only be shy about protecting yourself and standing up for what you know is true when it comes to your spouse, but you may also be that way with friends and family. You need to have friends and family who can help you identify when you seem to be losing track of what is right and what is wrong. These folks can help you regain some semblance of reality in your life when you may feel like you have become untethered due to the actions or words of your spouse. It is not a great idea to defer constantly to your friends and family as barometers of normal. However, when you are being gaslit and feel untethered to reality then your friends and family may be your best bet to pull you back into the real world when you are adrift in a sea of self-doubt.
When I have worked with people who were being gaslit by their spouses these people are usually unable to get out of their minds. For example, if you have ever second-guessed something that you have said to another person imagine how it must feel to be this way but regarding an entire section of your life? Imagine that suddenly you found out that the sky is green instead of blue? Or that you were adopted when you were a baby? These would be huge realizations that could cause you to be disoriented to reality. This makes you even more susceptible to gaslighting in the future.
Your friends and family may find that you are more sensitive during this time. Things that you otherwise may have shaken off in the past may stick with you for longer periods. Confidence is such a huge thing in our lives. The more confident you are in your daily life the better equipped you will be to focus on what is important in your life. When you are rudderless then you may feel like you are flopping from one subject to another without any regard for what is important in your life. Hopefully, you have an extended support team who can help you get back to reality and then acclimate you to life after your divorce.
While you may have become accustomed to being gaslit (whether you know that you are being gas lit) that does not mean that it is any less dangerous for you. People that are willing to gaslight you are also willing to take advantage of you in other ways. If your spouse is seeing someone else during the divorce then there may be short trips, gifts, food, and other costs of dating that he or she feels emboldened to spend. After all your defenses are down, and your doubt is high after being gaslit to this extent.
Work-life balance is hard to come by after being gaslit
You may find that you are committing yourself to work more during your divorce due to the unpleasant nature of the case. The end of your marriage may be necessary for some regards but in others, it still offers you solace and peace. Knowing who your spouse is, and who you are trying to become is important for becoming self-actualized in divorce. However, this does not mean that you should ignore the divorce completely even if it feels good. Rather, you may want to look at parts of your case at different phases so that you are up to date on decisions that need to be made.
Mental health problems in divorce/gaslighting situations
While this outcome is far from inevitable, I think it is worthwhile to mention that mental health problems can be the result of being gaslit. Consider that your sense of reality is crucial to being a productive, happy, and pleasant person to be around. If you are not sure what is true and what is not true, then you are more than likely going to have some degree of problems psychologically. You can work with a counselor or therapist to help you identify any problems in your marriage or to help you pull away from and out of the mindset that you were in when your spouse began to gaslight you.
Problems with your children
If you cannot trust yourself to remember certain events or to be able to work on certain things in your marriage, then you may find that your relationship with your kids may begin to deteriorate as well. Of all the relationships in your divorce that you likely want to maintain as strongly as possible. Many parents who come to our office for help in a divorce or child custody scenario do so only after being gaslit for months or years. It can be especially difficult to snap out of a mindset like this in time for a divorce. Again, working with a family therapist and involving your children if you are comfortable with doing so is a great idea.
How can you tell if you are being gaslit?
Like most things in a family law case, the qualities, and characteristics of a gaslighting circumstance can differ greatly. I do not know your specific circumstances and therefore do not have much of a feel for what may be ongoing in your life as far as gaslighting. However, there are some tell-tale signs of gaslighting that I think to apply to most people who believe that gaslighting may have occurred in their lives.
Anxiety is a real thing. While people may be diagnosed more regularly than need be these days when it comes to anxiety, it is possible to go through periods of anxiety even if that medical diagnosis does not apply to your circumstances. For example, it takes confidence to raise a family, perform at work and stand up for what you believe. If you find that you are unable or unwilling to do either of these things, then that may be a sign that you have become a victim of gaslighting. Anxiety requires counseling and/or therapy to work through these sorts of major issues. You cannot expect to snap your fingers and have all your problems associated with gaslighting go away all at once.
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and had no idea who is looking back at you? Not that you do not like what you see but that you have no idea who that person is staring at you. Being gaslit can be like throwing a stick of dynamite into an otherwise calm environment. All it takes is one event, one lie, one manipulation to send you reeling. If you do not have the appropriate checks and balances in your life, then you can expect to be thrown for a loop if gaslighting ever occurs in your life.
Being sensitive to others is very rarely a bad quality to have. However, there comes a time that you may be asking yourself whether you are being too sensitive in how you interact with others and yourself. People that have appropriate boundaries can distinguish between appropriate conversation and interaction and inappropriate conversations and interactions. When you start to wonder if your spouse meant to do something that ended up being emotionally or physically harming you then it is almost too late. It is key for you to be able to determine gaslighting while it is going on to avoid it.
Have you ever had a bad day? A day where it feels like everything you do turns sour? Well, if your confidence is gone it can feel like everything you do is a mistake or could potentially hurt someone. If you get to the point where every action you take requires a great deal of thought, then that may be a sign that you have been gaslit. Even simple things like making dinner, paying bills, or playing with your kids can seem like they are insurmountable when you have been gaslit to second guess everything that you do each day.
Regardless, when you place fault at your own feet whenever something goes wrong you are putting a lot of weight on your shoulders from an emotional perspective. I know that you are saying that you can always have that weight pulled off once you learn about the gaslighting but sometimes the negative effects are here to stay. Having that nagging, self-doubt can be self-sabotage. Your spouse may be reaping the benefit of this self-sabotage when you cannot properly defend yourself or even remember a series of events as they occurred.
Finally, have you ever been around a person who constantly apologizes, even when it is not necessary? It can become tedious to have to tell that person that he or she has nothing to apologize for. Especially when it is apparent that he or she takes that position often. What you can remember is that if you determine that you have been gaslit, that is not something that you can take lying down. Rather, hiring an experienced family law attorney and aggressively pursuing options under the law to protect your loved ones is a great first step in fixing this situation.
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