There has been a lot written about gaslighting so I am not here to reinvent the wheel. I just want to point out that sometimes we inadvertently gaslight our kids when it comes to dealing with custody and access.
What is gaslighting?
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the aggressor makes a victim question their reality. This is a common technique of abusers and narcissists, and I see a lot of evidence of gaslighting when coaching my high-conflict divorce clients.
In a sense it is a slow process of brainwashing. The abuser will tell outright lies and convince you they are the truth. The abuser will later deny they ever said this, leaving you off-kilter and confused. They will attack your inner foundation in a cunning attempt to devalue your self worth.
How I was a victim of gaslighting
As a survivor of emotional abuse, I am particularly sensitive to gaslighting. You see, I had a husband who blamed me for things that were really not my fault, and over time, I actually believed him. I lost my sense of value and confidence.
I only wanted to do better to try to gain his approval, but he always found a way to criticize me. He would even suggest that everyone else, including his mother, thought this about me. And I bought in to this lie.
I can’t say exactly when the light bulb came on, but when it did, his dictatorship was finished. I decided that everything he told me about myself was totally wrong and had no merit. It was my time of reckoning, and this really allowed me to start rehabilitating my self esteem.
Gaslighting as a legal tactic
Many abusers in the divorce battle arena will gaslight to try to intimidate their opponent. For example, my client recently got an email from her ex saying that she is misinterpreting the recommendations of the custody assessment and his lawyer agrees with him.
The custody assessment is crystal clear, and it is he who is misinterpreting to serve his own agenda. The lawyer reference is a veiled threat to my client that he may bring this to court.
We cannot be intimidated by these shenanigans. There is no need to second guess what you know to be true.
Don’t gaslight your kids
In an attempt to coparent and follow the custody order, many people try to “sugar-coat” the visits to the other parent. If your child is upset or dreading visiting your ex, I think it is okay to validate their feelings. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have to follow the schedule – they do – but they need to be seen and heard by the parent that they trust.
Denying your children’s feelings will erode their trust and chop away at their reality. We don’t want to inadvertently gaslight our kids. They get to express and process their feelings and you get to be their soft place to land. This is a fine balance of validating their feelings without disparaging your ex.
Final thoughts on gaslighting
It can be very difficult to pull yourself out of a gaslighting power dynamic, but if you are living on your own, you are well on your way. You must stop the cycle of gaslighting through your divorce battle by simply not engaging in the ridiculous commentary. Just because s/he says, doesn’t mean it is true.
Work on building self reliance to not need anyone else to validate your reality. Your children still need your validation and this must be considered even when following a custody order.