Unfortunately, there are all types of parental abuse. As in any kind of relationship, a child can be physically, psychologically, or sexually abused. But being raised by gaslighting parents can lead to all kinds of issues, both during childhood and well into your adult years.
So what exactly is gaslighting and how do parents use it to manipulate you?
What Is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which a person tries to undermine or control another person’s reality. They do this by confusing them or making them doubt themselves.
The person who is gaslighting will deliberately twist the facts, lie, deny, or minimise the truth to destabilise their victim’s state of mind. The object of gaslighting is to break down their victim.
This might be for financial gain, for psychological pleasure, control, or because the perpetrator has some form of anti-social personality disorder.
But why do gaslighting parents exist? Why would a parent want to manipulate their children?
Well, parents are simply people that have children. They are not imbued with some loving parental magic just because they have children to raise.
They are adults with all the kinds of psychological problems that other adults have. The fact that they are parents doesn’t make them immune from mental health disorders.
7 Signs of Gaslighting Parents
1. Make you feel stupid
The first stage of gaslighting from any kind of manipulator is to start to undermine your self-esteem. It is much harder to manipulate someone if their confidence is high. But with gaslighting parents, it’s a little different.
They are starting from scratch if you like. They have these little human beings who look to them for assurance. Parents are supposed to form secure attachments with their children. It is these attachments that allow children to explore the world confidently.
Moreover, a child that is assured and self-reliant is going to question the things you say and what you do. So gaslighting parents need to start young. They don’t want confident children, so one way to prevent this is to mock them by making them feel stupid.
Remember, in the first instance, we look to our parents to reflect our sense of identity and self-worth. We believe our parents and accept their version of this truth.
2. Accuse you of overreacting
An important tool in any manipulator’s armoury is to accuse you of overacting or being too sensitive. I had an ex that would always say nasty things to me and when I questioned him would say ‘Oh I was only joking, chill out.’
Being accused of overeacting is a very devious way of making you question your feelings. What the manipulator is saying is that they can do or say whatever they like and you have no right to feel the way you do.
However, acting this way towards a child is particularly toxic. Children need to know that whatever they are going through they can talk to their parents and not be rejected. Having your emotions dismissed is almost the same as saying ‘I don’t believe you’ or ‘I don’t care about your feelings.’
3. Exaggerate and are overdramatic
All the while, the child’s feelings and emotions are being negated, there is nothing small enough that isn’t a problem for the parent. The slightest little problem will be exaggerated, blown out of all proportion and made into a huge drama.
Whether it is forgetting to pick something up from the store or turning off the computer at night. It will have ruined everything and it will be the child’s fault.
The reaction to the issue will be grossly inflated and the child may start to alter their behaviour as a result. They will want to avoid such hysterical scenes in the future, but it seems that every little thing causes their parents to overreact. They become confused and start living on eggshells.
They might start lying or keeping things from their parents. Or they may try to overly please the parent to keep everyone happy.
4. Lie about past events
One way a parent can make children question their reality is to lie about past events. You trust your parents to be truthful so it can make children nervous about relying on their memory.
In the now-infamous film Gaslight (1944), the husband steals a brooch from his new wife but insists that she has lost it. He removes a picture from a wall but tells his wife that she took it down. Whenever he goes into the attic searching for missing jewellery, the gaslights dim in the house, but he tells his wife it is all in her imagination.
Eventually, the wife begins to doubt her sanity. And so it is the same with children of gaslighting parents. They start with small things such as cooking something for dinner and when you remark that it is different from what you asked for they tell you that this is what you wanted that morning.
5. Set goals for you or live vicariously through you
A parent that cares more about the achievements of their children rather than their wellbeing could be gaslighting them. This is also a sign of a narcissistic parent.
They are not concerned with the welfare of the child merely that the child is a representation of them in the wider community. They insist they know what is best for the child. It won’t matter to them about the child’s feelings or the child’s goals in life.
So long as the parent gains some kind of prestige or power over the child that is what is important.
6. Invade your circle of friends
Knowing who your child is hanging out with is a sign of good parenting. But inveigling yourself into the child’s circle of friends so that you can manipulate them is a sign of gaslighting.
Typical signs include badmouthing the child to their friends or mocking the child in front of their friends. They may also try to isolate the child by befriending their friends.
The parent may invite the child’s friends over without their knowledge. Or they may stop the friends from visiting the child.
7. Never admit they are wrong
A gaslighting parent will never say sorry or admit they are wrong. Why would they? That would undermine all their manipulation tactics so far. Instead, they will wait for the child to apologise.
They will deny, deny until the cows come home so that eventually they have worn you out to the point of exhaustion. If you ever come close to discovering the truth of a situation, they will likely explode with rage and change the subject.
They’ll accuse you of being ungrateful for all the sacrifices they had to make as parents raising you. They’ll switch tactics from accusatory to self-pity. You’ll end up saying sorry for bringing up the topic in the first place.
It can be difficult to know whether you are the child of gaslighting parents. The best way to deal with this is to get some perspective. Ask other family members or friends to help you recall past events.
Trust your gut instinct. Check with the people you trust. Remember, your parents don’t define who you are today. They just happened to be the ones that raised you.
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This Post Has 2 Comments
Janey, as I read this article, I thought to myself, she is so right on. This article proves I am not insane. These things happen more than we realize. I’ve always wondered, why was I gaslighted? The truth is it was never about me. But I’ve spent so much of my life trying to figure it out. I’ve come the conclusion, No one ever said life is always fair. But life goes on, and so we slowly let it go. Thanks again for one of the greatest articles I’ve ever read, Carol
Wish I had read an article like this decades ago! It would have opened my eyes & saved me a lot of time in therapy!