Gaslighting and Family Law

What is gas lighting?

The term refers to a form of intimidation or psychological abuse where false information is presented to the victim, in order to encourage them to doubt their memory and perception.

Phrase comes from a film called ‘Gaslight’ in 1944. During the plot of this film, the husband slowly manipulated his wife into believing she was going mad. He did so by  using gas lights in an upstairs flat which results in the dimming of lights in the downstairs, when the wife brings this up, he convinces her she is imagining it.

At it’s most extreme, gaslighting is used by abusers in conjunction with physical abuse to prevent it being reported.   The techniques have been compared to brainwashing and have lasting effects on the victim. Gaslighting is often difficult to spot as it has no obvious physical signs however is often very manipulative and can cause long-term mental health issues which often lead to victims questioning their own sanity.

5 Key characteristics of gas lighting:

  • manipulation;
  • denial;
  • misdirection;
  • contradiction;
  • lying.

Have you been subject to gaslighting?

Victims will often doubt themselves.  Their self-esteem will be undermined and they will believe that they can’t trust their own instincts.  Within a context of a divorce, this will mean that they will find it difficult to trust any advice being provided to them by their lawyer if it contradicts with the opinion of their former partner.

Top tips: What to do if you think you are a victim

  • Keep a diary, recording all events of lying or conversation during which abuse is trivialised or completely ignored.
  • Seek comfort from friends and family – reconnect with those who you have been distanced from, and let them know what you are experiencing.
  • If the behaviour becomes emotionally damaging and controlling or abusive, report it to the police. Coercive control is a criminal offence.

What to do if you are accused of gaslighting

  • Stay calm
  • Do not try and remonstrate or talk round your partner
  • Keep a record of conversations
  • Use a third party to act as a facilitator to enable communication between you both to continue

What is the relevance of gaslighting within a divorce

It should not be assumed that an allegation or even a finding of finding will result in an increased financial award and so in some ways the discovery of gaslighting will not be relevant within the divorce.

The important aspect of gaslighting is an understanding of the fact the way in which decisions were made within the marriage will need to change.  If you have been a victim of gaslighting, then you need to re-establish your self-esteem and rebuild a trustworthy network of friends and advisers

What we can do

We have a large team of family law specialists who have a great deal of experience in high conflict cases.

In order to resolve a case, a clear strategy needs to be put into place that recognises the need for a constructive dialogue to occur that will break the cycle that had taken place before.

If necessary, we can point our client to specialist therapeutic help which should enable them to further cope with the whole process.

The breakdown of any relationship can be stressful but when there are complicating factors such as this, it is imperative to get expert help to guide you through.

If you would like to speak to one of our family law specialists about this or other family matters please contact us.

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