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How to Divorce a Gaslighter in Texas

Gaslighting is a subtle yet damaging form of psychological abuse that can have adverse effects on a marriage. In some cases, the abusive behavior continues even after one spouse has filed for divorce. Divorce is a difficult and emotional process in the best of circumstances, and a spouse’s attempts to control or manipulate the process through gaslighting can make it even more challenging for the other spouse

When divorcing a spouse who employs gaslighting techniques, it’s essential to recognize the signs and anticipate their behaviors. The experienced and compassionate Texas divorce attorneys at Balekian Hayes, PLLC, can support you through your divorce by helping you stand up to gaslighting and advocating for your rights.

What Is Gaslighting in a Marriage?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that often occurs over an extended period in abusive relationships. It is a type of emotional abuse that causes the victim to question their reality, sanity, and memories. The term comes from Gaslight, a 1944 film in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing that the dimming of their gas burner lights is a figment of her imagination caused by psychotic episodes.

In the context of a marriage, gaslighting is characterized by one spouse’s deliberate attempts to distort the truth and undermine the other spouse’s perceptions. Over time, gaslighting erodes the victim’s sense of reality, causing them to question the validity of their thoughts, memories, and even mental stability. Gaslighting victims often doubt their own beliefs and feelings about interactions with their partner and others. Gaslighting leads to a loss of self-esteem and fosters the victim’s dependency on the perpetrating spouse. 

Gaslighting is difficult to recognize because the manipulation often occurs sporadically or slowly progresses with time. Gaslighting behavior often becomes normalized in a marriage, so the victim may not realize they’re being abused. Understanding how gaslighting behavior manifests itself is crucial to identifying and addressing it in marriage and divorce. Common examples of gaslighting include:

  • Denial A spouse may deny they said or did something they undoubtedly said or did, leading the victim to question their memories and perceptions. By using phrases like “that never happened” or “I never said that,” the gaslighter shifts the narrative away from their actions to make their victim doubt the accuracy of their memory.
  • Questioning Your Memory In addition to denying something that happened, a spouse may accuse the victim of constantly misremembering and forgetting.
  • Controlling Behavior – Coercive tactics are red flags of gaslighting. These include such behaviors as controlling money, monopolizing time, and giving ultimatums.
  • Minimizing Emotions – A spouse may accuse the victim of overreacting or being irrational when the victim is upset by the spouse’s actions. A gaslighter may often rely on stereotypes in the process of minimizing their victim’s emotions. For example, they may accuse a female spouse of being mentally unstable.
  • False Apologies – Using phrases such as “I’m sorry you think that I hurt you” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” divert the perpetrator’s responsibility for their actions and place blame on the victim. False apologies cause the victim to question whether they are being overly sensitive.
  • Discrediting – The spouse may discredit the victim by talking to others about the victim’s unstable mental health or by spreading rumors about the victim’s mental state. This may lead others who believe the gaslighter to doubt the victim’s version of events.
  • Refusing to Engage – The spouse may completely ignore the victim or pretend not to understand when the victim tries to discuss important issues about the relationship. This enables the gaslighter to avoid having uncomfortable conversations or confronting their manipulative behavior.
  • Alienation – Used to control the victim, this often manifests as hot/cold behavior, where the gaslighter idolizes the victim one minute, then ignores the victim the next minute. Compliance results in love and affection, while noncompliance leads to alienation. This behavior may lead to the alienation of children, family members, or friends in an effort to alienate the victim from outside support.

Why Does a Narcissist Gaslight You?

Gaslighting is commonly associated with narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists aren’t the only people who gaslight, but frequent use of gaslighting techniques can be an indicator of narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissists have an inflated self-view, constantly need attention and respect without giving it to others, and overall lack empathy for other people. Narcissists must always be right and enjoy feeling a sense of authority over others. It makes sense that gaslighting is a tool in a narcissist’s arsenal for manipulation. 

Narcissists gaslight for various reasons. Usually, they want to manipulate, control, or hurt their spouse. Narcissists may also want to make their spouse dependent on them. Other common reasons that narcissists gaslight their spouses include:

  • To boost or protect their ego
  • To make themselves feel better 
  • To gain power or control
  • To make their victims doubt their beliefs
  • To keep the victim from leaving the marriage

Determining how to divorce a gaslighter who is also a narcissist can be especially difficult. The narcissist will likely try to manipulate the divorce proceedings, discredit their spouse, convince others of their spouse’s mental instability, and more. While a victim cannot necessarily stop the gaslighting behavior, they can take steps to protect themselves during the divorce proceedings. Some tips for divorcing a gaslighting narcissist include:

  • Contact a Dallas divorce lawyer right away to receive the legal advice you need.
  • Don’t let the gaslighter know of your plans to divorce until absolutely necessary, as they may respond in a harmful way. Divorce requires preparation and planning. An emotionally manipulative spouse is unlikely to respect boundaries in the interim.
  • Keep a written record of the spouse’s gaslighting attempts. Recall when the behavior began, how it evolved, and its impact. Be specific and note any corroborating evidence and names of witnesses.
  • Limit in-person contact as much as possible.
  • Choose battles carefully, as a narcissist will readily fight over every little thing.
  • Put together an emotional support team.
  • Understand that the spouse will not play fair and may prolong the divorce proceedings.
  • Work with a counselor (like Cindy Hyde of Living Strong Counseling) to help deal with the emotional trauma suffered.

Seek the Help of an Experienced Dallas Divorce Attorney

If you are thinking of divorce from someone who you suspect is a narcissist or is gaslighting you, or you simply want to explore your options, set up a consultation with Balekian Hayes, PLLC, today. Our knowledgeable attorneys will sort through fact and fiction to prevent your spouse from continuing to gaslight you during your divorce.

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