While we’re only in November, I’m ready to join Merriam-Webster in declaring the 2023 word of the year: “gaslighting.” This term has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately, and for good reason. Gaslighting has gained notoriety for its pervasive presence in our lives and the way it shapes our interactions, from personal relationships to the war in Israel and beyond.
Gaslighting isn’t a new concept, but it’s certainly a word that has seen a resurgence in recent years. This term originated from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” where a manipulative husband tries to drive his wife to madness by making her question her reality. In 2023, the concept of gaslighting has transcended its cinematic origins and become a ubiquitous buzzword.
As a divorce lawyer, I’ve often been a witness to the emotional mazes my clients navigate when facing gaslighting in their personal relationships. The deliberate manipulation and erosion of trust that characterizes gaslighting can have profound effects on individuals undergoing divorce. Whether it’s financial deception, emotional manipulation or attempts to rewrite history, gaslighting adds an extra layer of complexity to an already emotionally charged process.
If this description sounds familiar, particularly as of late, it’s because the experiences of divorce clients facing gaslighting bear striking similarities to the challenges the Jewish community confronts with the ongoing war in Israel. Both situations involve the deliberate distortion of truth, a manipulative rewriting of narratives and a concerted effort to undermine the perceptions and experiences of those involved. The unsettling resurgence of this term speaks to the alarming disconnect between reality and the narratives we are presented with, and understanding this parallel underscores the pervasiveness of gaslighting, transcending individual relationships to impact entire communities: our community.
Indeed, the Jewish community is currently facing a unique form of collective gaslighting. Historical narratives are contested, misinformation spreads, and attempts to minimize the lived experiences of those directly affected contribute to a collective sense of disorientation. The deliberate framing of the conflict often leaves the Jewish community questioning not only our individual experiences but also in a constant state of defending our history and culture.
As a divorce lawyer familiar with the emotional challenges my clients face, I understand the toll gaslighting can take on one’s mental health. Similarly, in the complex landscape of the war in Israel, safeguarding mental and emotional well-being becomes imperative. Here’s advice, blending insights from divorce contexts with considerations for the ongoing situation in Israel, that can help you with the gaslighting that is reverberating across the world right now:
- Recognize Manipulation Tactics: Much like in divorce proceedings, it’s crucial to recognize manipulation tactics at play in the broader conflict. Educate yourself about the narratives and misinformation campaigns to maintain clarity and perspective.
- Build a Support Network: In both personal and geopolitical contexts, establishing a support network is vital. Connect with like-minded individuals, support groups or organizations that share your commitment to truth and justice.
- Document and Validate Experiences: Keep a record of events, narratives, and your own reactions. This documentation not only serves as a tangible record but also validates your experiences, counteracting attempts to manipulate perceptions.
- Set Boundaries: Clearly define your emotional boundaries and communicate them when addressing those targeting you with gaslighting narratives. Establishing what is acceptable behavior helps protect your mental health, especially in situations where manipulation is prevalent.
- Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote mental and emotional well-being. Whether it’s engaging in mindfulness, pursuing hobbies or seeking professional counseling, self-care is essential in both personal and geopolitical spheres.
- Seek Professional Guidance: Just as individuals facing gaslighting in divorce benefit from legal guidance, consider seeking insights from geopolitical experts or analysts. Understanding the geopolitical landscape can provide a broader perspective.
- Know When to Disconnect: Recognize when exposure to certain narratives or individuals is detrimental to your mental health. In both personal and geopolitical settings, it’s OK to disengage from toxic influences.
- Empower Through Knowledge: In divorce cases and geopolitical conflicts, knowledge is power. Empower yourself with information to counter gaslighting attempts, fostering a sense of control over your narrative.
By applying these principles, individuals navigating divorce, and those grappling with the emotional challenges of geopolitical conflicts can safeguard their mental and emotional health. Recognizing the parallels between personal and global gaslighting empowers individuals to navigate both landscapes with resilience and clarity.
Eliana T. Baer is a partner in the family law practice group of Fox Rothschild LLP, representing clients statewide in divorce, asset distribution, support, custody, domestic violence, premarital agreements, and Appellate Practice. Eliana has been selected to the Best Lawyers in America (2024), Super Lawyers—Rising Stars (2014-2023), New Leaders to the Bar by the New Jersey Law Journal (2018), “Top 10 Under 40” list by the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys (2017), and “Trailblazers” list in Divorce Law (2016).* Eliana appears in both civil and rabbinical court. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or [email protected].
*Award methodology available at https://www.foxrothschild.com/eliana-baer/honors-awards.