As a marriage breaks down and the divorce process begins, emotions run high and accusations may fly. While some accusations may be valid, others may be made in an attempt to gain an upper hand during the divorce, or simply to cause harm to you or your reputation. How you respond to accusations of gaslighting can have a huge impact on how your divorce case unfolds.
What Is Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” has entered the mainstream. It refers to a tactic of psychological manipulation that primarily involves deception, including denying things that were said or done. For example, a gaslighter will insult you and then deny doing so, pretending it did not happen. The deception is often bolstered by positive reinforcement such as compliments. The objective is to gain power in a relationship, confuse the victim and make them feel crazy. This typically happens gradually over a long period of time.
Is There Really A Gaslighting Epidemic?
While gaslighting is a valid term, its newfound popularity makes it seem as though we are in the middle of a gaslighting epidemic. However, the term is frequently misused.
In a column in the Guardian, columnist Barbara Ellen posits that gaslighting seems to be evolving into an umbrella term covering a wide range of behaviors, well beyond the original and intended use. Further, it’s not just being used in the context of relationships anymore, but in social and political contexts as well. As Ellen says, “not every lying creep is a gaslighter.” Misuse and overuse distracts from and devalues the very real instances of this tactic.
Could The Person Accusing You Of Gaslighting Be The Actual Gaslighter?
To make matters even more complex, it is often the person who is making accusations of gaslighting who is the actual gaslighter. According to an article from Psychology Today, a classic psychological manipulation tactic is to “accuse you of behaviors that they are engaged in themselves.” It is important to keep in mind that the true gaslighter may not be aware that they are engaged in the behaviors they are accusing you of, and they are projecting those behaviors on you. However, the accusations may also be a concerted effort to detract from their own problems or to cause harm.
How To Respond To Gaslighting Allegations
Your spouse may not only be making these accusations to you. They may also be sharing them with friends and family members, trying to attack your reputation. Your instinct will be to respond, to tell your side of the story. Don’t. Your accuser will attempt to use your words against you. Do not give them the opportunity.
- The first thing you should do is disengage. If at all possible, cut off communication with your spouse. Do not try to explain yourself in person or over the phone. Certainly do not send a text message or email, which can be shared by your accuser with others.
- Refrain from posting on social media. You may want to do damage control to salvage your reputation. Allegations of gaslighting can spread quickly through your social network, your family, even getting to your coworkers and affecting your workplace. However, if you make a big Facebook post trying to explain your side of the story, you may end up doing more harm than good.
- Document everything. Keep any texts or emails sent to you by your spouse. If they make social media posts accusing you of gaslighting, collect screenshots. If friends, relatives or coworkers share messages they received from your spouse trying to turn them against you, keep those as well. Instead of sharing your side of the story, write it down so that you can refer back to these notes during the divorce process.
- Finally, speak with a divorce attorney who understands how gaslighting allegations may impact the divorce process, and who can protect your reputation.