JUST a few years ago the term ‘gaslighting’ was relatively unknown. Fast forward to the end of 2018 and it’s so common that divorce lawyers are increasingly teaming up with counsellors to better understand the psyche of perpetrators and support victims.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in an individual or members of a targeted group, to gain power or control, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

The name comes from the 1938 play and subsequent film Gaslight in 1944, which features a husband’s systematic psychological manipulation of his wife, which eventually leads to her questioning her own sanity.

Three quarters of a century since the film, the phenomenon is rife. The issue was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year through the most unlikely of mediums – ITV’s Love Island – when a male contestant was accused of the practice. The matter of gaslighting even went as far as Downing Street, with Theresa May pledging to toughen the law on the issue.

Now, support networks and lawyers are working together to reduce the fallout of gaslighting and better support victims.

One local family solicitor who is adapting her approach to certain divorce cases as a result of gaslighting is Emilie Holland. Emilie works for law firm Trethowans in Winchester and is increasingly seeing how difficult it is for victims of gaslighting to navigate the divorce process.

She said: “Any ‘usual’ divorce, separation or dispute about children can be an emotive and testing time, but one which involves a person with gaslighting traits requires an enhanced level of care, management and consideration. In these cases it’s even more important to give the client extra support so they don’t fall foul of their ex-partner’s ways during the divorce process.

“The ultimate goal in legal matters, particularly with a divorce, is one of achieving fairness and doing so must be on the basis of real facts, and not manipulated ones.”

Emilie says the key to approaching a separation that involves gaslighting is adopting a conciliatory and non-confrontational approach.

“Demonising and labelling a person moves the negotiator further away from understanding them and can ultimately inflame and prolong the conflict. It’s about dealing with matters as expeditiously as possible and striving to reduce the conflict, rather than fuelling the fire that surrounds it,” she says.

“That said, it’s crucial for us to understand the psychology of an opponent so we’re increasingly working with experts in the counselling and psychology fields to gain an appreciation on how best to negotiate with a person with that particular mindset.

Emilie now works hand-in-hand with Nikki Emerton, a Master Practitioner in NLP, Coach and Clinical Diploma in Hypnotherapy and Lighting Process Practitioner® from Be U Achieving Health & Happiness in Salisbury.

Nikki says: “Often the first step for victims of gaslighting is understanding they are a victim. The very nature of the practice makes people question their own recollection of memories and events.”

She adds that tell-tale signs that you might be being gaslighted include questioning your own judgement and thinking, feeling like you are going mad or ‘losing it’, being afraid of speaking up and constantly seeking the approval of others, even for the most trivial of decisions.

Nikki says: “When divorcing a gaslighter you need to understand their structure of manipulation and completely know that it’s not you – it’s them. Often, they are completely unaware of the consequences of their behaviours.

“In an ideal world, the best option is to completely cut ties with the ‘gaslighter’ but often that is just not possible, or not until certain practical matters are resolved. Minimising contact and making sure that conversations are witnessed or documented can go a long way towards the victim realising that they were probably right most of the time. Being able to reliably recall accurate events from chronological notes will firmly put the manipulative behaviours back where they belong – with the person who is attempting to control the situation by ‘gaslighting’.”

While Emilie helps guide victims through the divorce process, Nikki’s work often centres around helping people recover and move on. “One of the major hurdles to recovery and beginning to be able to trust others and move forward to maintaining healthy relationships is the ability to trust one’s own judgement.

"The gaslighter has done an amazing job at teaching that person, through manipulation, that they are ‘no good’, that they’ are ‘flawed’ or ‘broken’ somehow, that they are not capable of making decisions, are weak and need the gaslighter to take care of them or they would be lost without them.

“My job is to teach clients how to learn to trust themselves again.”

Warning signs that your partner may be gaslighting you

• They trivialise your thoughts and feelings

• They make you out to be a liar

• They cause confusion by twisting and reframing

• They use what is most precious to you as a weapon against you

• They use their perceived superiority to edit and delete facts about money and events