At Consilia, we are pleased to share with you a guest blog, written by divorce coach, Danielle Barbereau on the important issue of Gaslighting. Danielle is a highly experienced divorce coach and provides emotional support for individuals going through a relationship breakdown.
‘Gaslighting’, the 1940s psychological thriller, brought attention and gave a name to this insidious and subtle form of abuse. In the film, a husband slowly manipulates his wife into thinking that she is insane.
‘To gaslight: to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity’ (Oxford Languages definition). According to The Oxford Dictionaries Gaslighting was one of the most popular words of 2018 (!)
As a divorce coach, I sometimes use the word ‘gaslighting’ with my clients to explain how they are being manipulated by their partners, to the point that they lose track of reality. They no longer know who they are, what they want or even what is right and wrong, real or not real. They forget what they use to believe; they lose their compass.
Take Josephine (not her real name). She wants to sign over her share of the marital assets to her estranged husband. She is 60 years old and the marital assets are very substantial. She says that she is doing so willingly for sake of keeping the peace, but in reality, it is out of fear because she has been in a coercive relationship for many years.
She is being accused by her husband and adult children of being ‘greedy’. Her fear is that by taking what she is entitled to, she will indeed appear ‘greedy’ and she can’t stand the thought. Meanwhile, her husband is showering the new (younger) woman in his life with expensive gifts, jewellery and holidays, sports cars, properties and shares in race horses. He is on a massive spending spree. Yet, he is the one accusing his wife of greediness. He often tells her that she is a fool to spend hard earned money on legal advice and that they could easily come up with better solutions without the involvement of lawyers.
He has managed to convince her that he is the sole owner of the marital assets, that she was a lazy wife, despite the fact that their successful businesses were built by both of them equally, after years of hard work and sacrifice. In addition, he thinks that his wife of 40 years should be satisfied with a small property ‘at her age’, rather than the equitable share of their substantial estate. He says that she does not ‘need’ more. As the solicitors and barristers are doing their work, he is frustrated not to get his own way and is trying to bully his wife to submission. It seems to be working.
Actually, my client is extraordinarily kind, selfless and generous to a fault. Part of my work is to make her fully understand the difference between being greedy (taking more than she is entitled to) and claim what is rightfully hers after 40 years of marriage. She is not greedy; she is merely taking her fair share. To make lasting progress, I address the underlying issue which is a complete loss of self-worth and self-esteem, typical of the long-term effects of gaslighting. After years in a coercive marriage, where she is constantly criticised and put down, she has lost confidence and track of reality. To make matters worse, he has isolated her from her friends and family. She is a very intelligent woman, but she believes that she is stupid and feels powerless and anxious. Part of the recovery process is to help her regain some form of control because her husband has established a strong hold over her life. Most importantly, I work on rebuilding her sense of self, which has been badly eroded over the years.
With time, she starts to see how he has made her feel guilty and inadequate and played on her vulnerability. She slowly regains some perspective and a sense of reality. One day, she stares at him and says calmly: ‘Don’t you dare accuse me of being greedy and stupid ever again.’ She copes with his angry response.
At our next appointment, I asked her how it felt to stand her ground. She smiled and said that it felt powerful and right. She was on the road to recovery.
If you are going through a separation and would like legal advice in relation to your own situation, please contact our specialist family law team on 0113 322 9222.
If you wish to receive more insights on Danielle’s work, please email: Danielle@danielleb.co.uk or visit www.danielleb.co.uk
Danielle Barbereau ,Professional coach, providing emotional support to clients during divorce and separation.
Author of After the Split (2nd edition) and the After the Split Café Podcast.
Author of: After the Split (2nd edition)
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1916192629/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_U1kAFbJ0PS5QE via @AmazonUK
Podcast: Danielle’s After the Split Cafe