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Gaslighting Parents – 37 Examples, Signs & Fightbacks

Signs | 37 Examples of gaslighting parents | Effects on the child | Is gaslighting abuse | How to cope

What is a gaslighting parent

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse involving repeated attempts to influence someone into doubting their own memory, judgment, or sanity. People who gaslight make victims feel or seem “crazy” using fake environments or claims. A gaslighting parent consistently denies or disputes a child’s experiences or feelings, making the child doubt their recollection so that they can escape responsibility for their actions​1​.

Parental gaslighting is a subtle and covert form of emotional abuse. These parents manipulate to undermine the child’sphr sense of reality and mental stability. 

Some well-meaning parents may gaslight their children in an attempt to protect them. For example, “You will love these vegetables as they are so yummy.” However, many more do so to maintain control, power, and a sense of rightness in the parent-child relationships.

gaslighting mom ignores sad daughter

Common signs of gaslighting parents

  • They deny their children’s experiences.
  • They twist facts to suit their own purposes.
  • They believe they are always right.
  • They never apologize.
  • They think they know what’s best for their children
  • They believe they know their children better than they know themselves
  • They keep dismissing their children’s feelings.
mother yells at daughter

37 Examples of gaslighting parents

Here are some common gaslighting phrases used by abusive parents​2​:

  1. Don’t be silly. That never happened.
  2. That is not true. You must be confused again.
  3. There you go again, making things up.
  4. Anybody can do that. You’re just making excuses.
  5. You are wrong or you must have dreamed it.
  6. I’ve never done that. It’s all in your head.
  7. You failed because you had a bad attitude.
  8. You remember wrong.
  9. I did not do what you said.
  10. No, you’re not tired. Now go finish your homework.
  11. It’s not a big deal. You’re overreacting.
  12. That’s ok. It’s just a small cut. It doesn’t hurt.
  13. What are you talking about? What I did was so good for you.
  14. You are cold and need to put on a coat.
  15. Well, you survived, didn’t you?
  16. I told you not to do this. Why didn’t you listen?
  17. You could have finished it on time. Why did you let it happen?
  18. You’ve changed. You used to be better at this.
  19. No, you didn’t see that because I didn’t do it.
  20. I put it there for you. You just ignored it.
  21. Everybody knows that I’m a good parent.
  22. The assignment is not too hard. You’re just being lazy.
  23. No, you don’t need therapy. You just need a good sleep.
  24. There is nothing wrong with me. You need to be more respectful.
  25. The keys don’t lose themselves. You’re being irresponsible.
  26. You were so lazy, why didn’t you try harder?
  27. You should feel grateful because it was good for you.
  28. No, it’s not. Your favorite color is blue.
  29. You’re misunderstanding. That was not the case.
  30. If you were determined to do well, you would have succeeded.
  31. That’s not true. Your memory cannot be trusted.
  32. If I had done that, it must have been done out of love.
  33. I never manipulated you.
  34. I absolutely didn’t do that. You’re just trying to make me look bad.
  35. See I did all these for you. I’m such a good parent.
  36. Everybody appreciated what I did, except you. Why is that?
  37. I am right and everyone knows that, including your brothers and sisters.
father yells at daughter

Gaslighting effects on the child

One of the most insidious aspects of gaslighting is the denial of reality. Being denied what you have experienced and know to be true. It can make anyone feel like they are crazy, but they are not.

The parent’s gaslighting behaviors can lead to confusion, increased self-doubt, and diminished self-esteem in the child. They may develop anxiety or depression. In severe cases, the child may experience mental health issues such as psychosis while their distorted reality continues to deteriorate​3​.

Is gaslighting abuse

When severe, gaslighting can be considered a form of emotional child abuse. 

As opposed to physical abuse, emotional abuse doesn’t show obvious signs like bruises or injuries.

If you are a child and experiencing gaslighting that causes you to feel hurt, talk to your school counselor and other trusted adults for help.

How to cope with a gaslighting parent

Adult children who suffer from constant gaslighting from their parents can take the following steps to protect themselves​4​.

Build a circle of support

Acknowledgment is a crucial part of healing childhood emotional abuse. Having their suffering acknowledged and validated makes a significant difference in how a childhood trauma victim recovers​5​.

It’s important to have friends who understand and acknowledge your experience. Build a network of support who will acknowledge your suffering. 

Your parent’s manipulative behavior can cause you to second-guess yourself and blame yourself for everything. When you are in doubt, your support network can also give you a reality check.

Own your feelings

Accepting your own feelings without seeking permission from others.

To maintain their power, fathers or mothers who gaslight often ignore and dismiss their children’s feelings. Trying to undermine someone’s feelings is just as persuasive as saying your perceptions are wrong: you’ll eventually be convinced that your reality is you “imagining” it.

Make it clear that you do not need their permission to feel. Your feelings are your feelings. It’s like if you’re hungry, you’re hungry. That is not up to them to deny.

Don’t engage in arguments

After years of abuse, you are understandably looking for recognition and validation, but unfortunately, you are unlikely to get that from your manipulative parents.

Gaslighters are usually narcissistic and authoritarian. Narcissistic parents will not accept that your memories (their faults) are real​6​. Arguing with them about your experience is pointless.

However, history and the actual reality don’t change based on who wins the argument. Therefore, don’t try to win the conversation or convince them that you’re right.

girl uses her hand to set boundaries for gaslighting mom or dad

Set boundaries

When they gaslight you by denying your experience, walk away from the conversation. Tell them you refuse to engage in a fight.

Avoiding arguments will not only save your sanity but will also prevent them from gaslighting you.

But this is not as easy as it sounds. For some people, it may mean you won’t see them at all. Sometimes, you have to choose between your parent-child relationship and your sanity.

Make your goal

Aim to live life to the fullest regardless of your childhood trauma. If you have toxic parents, you can’t change them. So don’t make that your goal. Reaching your full potential and living the best life possible are your goals.

Seek emotional comfort

Some adults who suffered from childhood emotional abuse report that additional emotional comfort, such as joining a religious group or getting a pet, has helped them cope​7​.

Get therapy

It is hard for abused children to handle such a difficult situation on their own, even as adults. An experienced mental health professional can give you extra support and help you in your healing journey.

Family therapy

If your parent shows a sincere desire to amend your relationship, you can seek family therapy as a group as part of your healing process.

Learn more about Toxic Parents: How To Identify Them And What To Do If It’s Your Family and Toxic Things They Say

gaslighting mother father in family therapy

References

  1. 1.
    Sweet PL. The Sociology of Gaslighting. Am Sociol Rev. Published online September 20, 2019:851-875. doi:10.1177/0003122419874843
  2. 2.
    Abramson K. Turning up the lights on gaslighting. Philosophical perspectives. 2014;28:1-30.
  3. 3.
    Hightower E. An exploratory study of personality factors related to psychological abuse and gaslighting. Presented at: Doctoral dissertation; 2017; William James College.
  4. 4.
    Stern R. The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulations Other People Use to Control Your Life. Morgan Road Books; 2007.
  5. 5.
    Gavin H. Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones: The Effects of Emotional Abuse. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Published online July 2011:503-529. doi:10.1080/10926771.2011.592179
  6. 6.
    Leunissen JM, Sedikides C, Wildschut T. Why Narcissists Are Unwilling to Apologize: The Role of Empathy and Guilt. Eur J Pers. Published online July 2017:385-403. doi:10.1002/per.2110
  7. 7.
    Doyle C. Surviving and Coping with Emotional Abuse in Childhood. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. Published online July 2001:387-402. doi:10.1177/1359104501006003008

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University).

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