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Cluster B Custody Battles and Gaslighting

Cluster B Custody Battles and Gaslighting

by Rebecca Davis Merritt (OMB President) and Jennifer (OMB VP)

If you and your children are experiencing Domestic Violence by Proxy chances are your children are being gaslighted.  A Cluster B gaslights the children by portraying you as an uncaring, negligent, untrustworthy parent when you are none of these things. Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse and signs include:

  • Information is often twisted and spun against you or falsely reported by the Cluster B to your children
  • Your children find themselves second guessing their initial response to gaslighting parent, having difficulty distinguishing between reality versus the Cluster B’s story-telling false reality.
  • Your children feel compelled to defend the Cluster B parent by creating excuses or justifying lies, manipulations, and abuse by the Cluster B. They become secretive and may become an in-house spy for the Cluster B smuggling out documents or property trying to win affection and praise from the Cluster B. They are unable to respect appropriate boundaries due to the successful manipulation by Cluster B.
  • You experience secondary gaslighting based on your children’s behaviors wondering if you are the problem and if you should just give up, let the children move in with Cluster B or always let him or her have their way to diminish conflict (note: neither are effective coping strategies).
  • The Cluster B is slowly eroding your parental bond with the children. You do not want to badmouth their other parent to the children but you want them to feel safe and secure not just with you but with their thoughts, feelings, and memories.
  • How can you help your children resist gaslighting, be authentic, and set appropriate boundaries with Cluster B parent? The answers depend on the developmental stage of the child and it is best if the healthy parent can begin this anti-gaslighting training while the child is young. If your child is a teen, looks up to Cluster B parent and craves their interest and attention there is very little you can do beyond providing external resources like individual therapy.  Any time you try to counter the disinformation the teen received, you, in their eyes, confirm the negative messages Cluster B had given them about you being unfairly disposed to criticizing or attacking their other parent.  Even parents who have done anti-gaslighting training from early ages can find the teen years very tricky especially if you are the primary custodial parent. Teens see you as the rule setting no fun parent while the other parent may be seen as the “Disneyland” parent with no rules, much freedom, and fun. One of the best messages you can give your child regardless of their age is to promise you will never lie to them. Say it to them and keep your word. You may have to say, “I cannot talk to you about that now,” but always be truthful. This will help them very much in coping with a Cluster B because they will see a distinct difference in parents as Cluster Bs lie so often the children eventually will recognize it.

Assuming you have younger children how can you implement strong and healthy, anti-gaslighting training while not badmouthing the other parent? Here are some tips:

Teach your children how to set and protect their own personal boundaries. Children should learn about all boundaries, not just with the Cluster B. In return, respect your children’s boundaries. For example teaching young children to object to others touching their bathing suit covered parts of bodies helps them set an appropriate boundary, learning who is and is not trustworthy. and having the right to use their voices. Teaching them to immediately tell you if any adult ever asks them to not tell you a secret teaches them healthy boundaries. Cloud and Townsend have a book about boundaries to use with your children, one for teens, and one for you.

Teach your children how to be assertive and use their voice and voice their boundaries. Teach them to say no when they feel uncomfortable. Teach them that the word, “no” means “no”.

Teach your children about children being kids not adults. It is not their job to take care of adults. It is adults job to take care of them. If Cluster B tries to place child in the middle of parenting issues, do all you can to remove them from the discussion and make it clear to child it is an adult issue. When an adult conversation comes up, tell them the conversation is a grown up issue. Stress that it is not a child issue and therefore should not be discussed with you. Teach them if anyone brings up adult issues with them to state, “I am a kid. Don’t talk to me about adult things”

Talk with your children about respecting other people’s boundaries, empathy and what it means to be kind to others. OMB strongly recommends the Bucket Books by Carol McCloud. ‘Have you Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids’ is a great resource for younger children and ‘Growing UP with a Bucket Full of Happiness’ is a great book for older children (7+). You need to read these books to younger children at least once a week, develop a shared language from this book. Teach your children to be bucket fillers. Also focus on bucket dippers as this is what their cluster B parent is, a bullying, unkind, bucket dipper who breaches boundaries. You do not label their unhealthy parent, you do not say like dad or mom but you give your child the ability to recognize and label unkind behaviors as being the “fault” of the perpetrator and not the victim.  Simultaneously, model kind behaviors to the child via volunteer activities. Volunteer in your community, at churches, homeless shelters, donate items/clothes.  Keep toiletry items, bottled water, protein bars in a ziplock bag in your car to give to homeless people.

Teach your children about manipulation through commenting on it when you see it in commercials (what is this toy commercial trying to make you feel and think?) or in movies (Frozen is a great example but there are many). The older children eventually ask why do some people almost always act like bucket dippers and manipulate others? In my house we learn about Cluster B personality disorders, those people who have profound deficits in empathy, understanding how others feel and caring about their feelings with an extreme need to control others by lying, manipulating, refusing to follow rules, and holding others responsible for making them comfortable, meeting their needs, even expecting children to take care of adults. We do not label Cluster B parent as Cluster B but teach the children to recognize Cluster B patterns of behavior in books and movies. You do not have to introduce the term Cluster B but you have to give your children the knowledge of its behavioral constellation so they recognize such types of people and can engage in self-protective coping including boundary management. Hopefully this knowledge helps not just with their unhealthy parent but in their future dating, friendship, and partnership decisions.

Get your child a therapist who understands domestic violence (the pattern of coercive control of Cluster B is DV) and Cluster B personality disorders, who does not subscribe to family systems approaches (rules out many social workers and marriage and family therapists), does not provides reunification therapy implementing PA or PAS “theories”, or who refuses to provide the court their perspective. In general look for a Ph.D therapist when you can but carefully screen. If you have a good DV program in your area ask them for referral names (lawyers and therapists) and see if they have educational support groups appropriate for your children.

Never tell your children the Cluster B parent loves them. You don’t tell them the Cluster B does not love them but the love of a Cluster B parent hurts and you do not want to do anything to encourage child to accept those behaviors as normal or loving. It is likely you will need to say, “I don’t know why mommy/daddy did that. You will have to ask him/her and decide for yourself if that is how you want to parent your children if you become a parent. Never make excuses or try to normalize abusive or neglectful parenting choices of a Cluster B.

Build your own support system, a tribe who understands Cluster B and can help you cope.

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One Mom’s Battle is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our mission at One Mom’s Battle is to increase awareness of Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder) and their impact upon shared parenting and the Family Court System which includes Judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad Litems (GAL), Parenting Coordinators (PC), therapists and attorneys. Education on Cluster B disorders will allow these professionals to truly act in the best interest of the children. Please consider a donation to help with our efforts.

History of One Mom’s Battle: In 2011, One Mom’s Battle began with one mother (Tina Swithin) navigating the choppy waters of a high-conflict divorce in the Family Court System. Since then, it has turned into a grassroots movement reaching the far corners of the Earth with chapter all over the world. In 2014, One Mom’s Battle achieved non-profit status which will allow the group to take their mission to the next level. Tina’s books, Divorcing a Narcissist and The Narc Decoder: Understanding the Language of the Narcissist can be found on Amazon.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Gaslighting

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Gaslighting

sorryI have been described as a free-spirit on many occasions in my life.  I’ve always been the happy-go-lucky one who can see the positives in every situation.  When I first met Seth, a modern day Prince Charming, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to grab hold of life with all of my might. Seth was drawn to my carefree attitude and innocent curiosity of the world around me. My spirit captivated him, but not in a healthy way.  Seth wanted to suck my spirit dry and rob me of my emotions because he wasn’t capable of having feelings of his own. Seth was (and is) an emotional vampire.

By year nine of my relationship with Seth; you would never have believed that I once lived a cheery life. Year after year, I lost more and more of who I once was.  It was a slow process but over time, I became robotic and empty.  I found that my memory, once as sharp as a needle, became undependable and I was at times left questioning my own sanity.  In 2008, a therapist said three words that would change my life forever: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

While I initially dismissed those three powerful words, they kept creeping back into my thoughts and eventually I began to study this disorder.  Light bulbs began going off in every direction and the past ten years of my life suddenly made complete sense. I had been living one of the most intense and stealth forms of emotional abuse at the hands of a person who lacked a conscience and empathy. Education soon became the most powerful tool to ever land at my feet.  In order to heal, I needed to understand what had happened to me so that I could make sense of it.  It was at that point in my research that I discovered “gaslighting” or ambient abuse.

According to Dr. Robin Stern, Ph.D., gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse and there is a “dance” that she refers to as the Gaslight Tango. This dance summarizes much of my relationship with Seth.  In an excerpt from an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Stern describes the Gaslight Tango:

“The powerful gaslighter (he has power both because he asserts it and because the gaslightee gives it to him!) engages in an ongoing, systematic knocking down of the other, less powerful person, purposely controlling the relationship by telling the other that there is something wrong with the way she sees the world or there’s something wrong with who she is — and– the gaslightee, by agreeing with him or allowing his perceptions define hers, over time, loses confidence, feels unsure and experiences a growing shakiness of self. Gradually, the gaslightee begins to question what she thought she knew—and gives up the power to stand in her own reality.”

Gaslighting played a huge part in my marriage and was constant.  One particularly troublesome year towards the end of our marriage, the roof on our brand new home began to leak after a heavy downpour.  It wasn’t a small leak. In fact, water was running down our wall in large quantities. I called Seth to let him know what was happening and he snapped at me. “Dammit, Tina! I told you to remind me to have the gutters cleaned out and you forgot.  Do you know how much this is going to cost?!”  He slammed the phone down on me in a fit of rage. Had this happened 8 years before, I would have known without a doubt that we never had a conversation about gutters and I would have stood up to his ludicrous allegation. By this point in time, I was conditioned to accept the blame and I was to the point where I questioned both reality and my memory.  Seth could have told me that the sky was red and I would have believed him. Instead of defending myself, I apologized profusely for the leaky roof and make a note on my calendar to have the gutters checked next fall. Ironically, we discovered that the roof leak had nothing to do with the gutters. Yet somehow, I still felt like that leak was my fault.

I recently reached out to Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love – Narcissism Revisited, for his thoughts on gaslighting, or ambient abuse.   According to Sam Vaknin, there are five categories of ambient abuse and many times, they are a combination of these components in play by the abuser:

  • Inducing Disorientation: The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and to cope with the world and its demands. She no longer trusts her senses, her skills, her strengths, her friends, her family, and the predictability and benevolence of her environment. The abuser subverts the target’s focus by disagreeing with her way of perceiving the world, her judgment, the facts of her existence, by criticizing her incessantly – and by offering plausible but specious alternatives. By constantly lying, he blurs the line between reality and nightmare. By recurrently disapproving of her choices and actions – the abuser shreds the victim’s self-confidence and shatters her self-esteem. By reacting disproportionately to the slightest “mistake” – he intimidates her to the point of paralysis.
  • Incapacitating: The abuser gradually and surreptitiously takes over functions and chores previously adequately and skillfully performed by the victim. The prey finds herself isolated from the outer world, a hostage to the goodwill – or, more often, ill-will – of her captor. She is crippled by his encroachment and by the inexorable dissolution of her boundaries and ends up totally dependent on her tormentor’s whims and desires, plans and stratagems.
  • Shared Psychosis: The abuser creates a fantasy world, inhabited by the victim and himself, and besieged by imaginary enemies. He allocates to the abused the role of defending this invented and unreal Universe. She must swear to secrecy, stand by her abuser no matter what, lie, fight, pretend, obfuscate and do whatever else it takes to preserve this oasis of inanity. Her membership in the abuser’s “kingdom” is cast as a privilege and a prize. It is not to be taken for granted. She has to work hard to earn her continued affiliation. She is constantly being tested and evaluated. Inevitably, this interminable stress reduces the victim’s resistance and her ability to “see straight”.
  • Abuse of Information: From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim – the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it “to the cause”. The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleans, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.
  • Control by Proxy: If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbors, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.

If you feel that you are the victim of gaslighting or any other type of abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you have the power to make changes and to leave the toxic relationship. Before ending a relationship with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder or any type of Cluster B Disorder, I advise you to seek a therapist who is knowledgeable on this topic.  I have discovered that the only thing worse than being married to these individuals is to divorce someone with a personality disorder. I encourage you to read everything that you can get your hands on and join in-person support groups or online support groups such as My Emotional Vampire, Respite from Sociopathic Behavior, After Narcissistic Abuse or One Mom’s Battle.  Through a strong support system, you will be able to take your power back and be a survivor instead of a victim.

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