Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where an individual or group makes someone doubt their memory, perception, or judgment, often through denial, distortion, and lies, which can damage the victim’s mental health. A gaslighting parent manipulates their children by distorting facts and denying their experiences, undermining their sense of reality and mental stability, which is a form of emotional abuse.
Gaslighting parents exploit the power imbalance and a child’s dependence on them to invalidate the child’s emotions and experiences, instilling self-doubt and anxiety. 12 types of gaslighting undermine perception and instill self-doubt, including lying, denying reality, insulting intelligence, dismissing feelings, shifting blame, projecting negative traits, withholding information, diverting conversation, and isolating the victim. 40 examples of gaslighting parents are presented in this article.
Parents gaslight for various reasons, like seeking control and dominance, avoiding accountability, insecurity, difficulty handling emotions, and projecting their issues. Being gaslighted in childhood can lead to adverse mental, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes. There are 15 ways to deal with gaslighting parents, such as recognizing the signs, determining nature, trusting your instincts, and more.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in targeted individuals, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It often involves the abuser denying or distorting facts, dismissing the victim’s feelings, and using deceit or outright lies. This tactic can erode the victim’s belief in their own sanity or reality and can be very damaging to their mental health.
“Gaslighting” originates from the 1938 British stage play “Gas Light” and its film adaptations. In the plot, the husband manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her mind by secretly changing the gas-powered lights in their home and then denying that the light has changed when his wife points it out.
What is a gaslighting parent?
A gaslighting parent frequently manipulates their children by distorting facts and denying their children’s experiences or emotions, causing confusion and making them question their reality. These parents subtly and covertly undermine their children’s sense of reality and mental stability, constituting a form of child emotional abuse.
How does gaslighting work?
Gaslighting in the parent-child relationship works by exploiting the power imbalance and the child’s reliance on their parents for survival, love, and support.
In a 2019 article published in the American Sociological Review, sociologist Paige L. Sweet explored how the disparities of societal power enhanced gaslighting. Sweet pointed out that power inequalities, like those inherent in parent-child relationships, allowed parents to assert their version of events over children.
Parents invalidating or denying children’s memories and emotions repeatedly chip away at children’s trust in their own perceptions and memories. This can lead to confusion, anxiety, and dependence on the parents’ version of truth.
Gaslighting parents may also manipulate children’s emotions using guilt, fear, obligation, playing the victim, and withdrawal of love or support if children don’t comply. Since parents hold greater authority and power, children tend not to get support from others for their perspectives. Children are essentially isolated without support and are forced to rely on their parents for information and validation, impacting their self-esteem and mental health.
Gaslighting is prevalent in intimate relationships involving domestic violence with intentional manipulation. While gaslighting parents may not intend to cause harm, parental gaslighting can lead to psychological burdens in children, causing them to question their reality or feelings.1
What are the types of gaslighting?
There are 12 types of gaslighting.
- Lying/Fabricating: The gaslighter tells blatant lies or fabricates stories. This tactic makes the victim question what they know to be accurate, creating a sense of uncertainty. For example, “Remember? Susan did that to you. You always forget things.”
- Denying reality or minimizing events: The gaslighter denies what happened even when presented with evidence. This persistent denial can make the victim doubt their memory or perception. For example, “That never happened.”
- Countering: The gaslighter questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. This undermines the victim’s trust in their own memory. For example, “No, it was the other way around.”
- Insulting/Undermining: The gaslighter attacks the victim’s memory, intelligence, mental health, or competence. This makes the victim feel too unstable or inferior to trust their own perception. For example, “Listen to yourself. You sound crazy.”
- Trivializing feelings: The gaslighter may belittle or dismiss the victim’s feelings, making them feel that their emotions are invalid or that they are silly for feeling that way. For example, “You’re overreacting.”
- Shifting blame: Shift blame onto their children, making them feel responsible for the parent’s actions and questioning their own behavior. For example, “It’s your fault I acted that way.”
- Gaslighting by proxy: Undermine their child’s confidence and feelings by falsely suggesting a consensus of negative opinion, making the child doubt their own emotions and perspectives. For example, “Everyone thinks you’re being dramatic.”
- Projection: The gaslighter accuses the victim of behaviors in which the gaslighter is engaging. This projection can confuse and disorient the victim, enabling the gaslighter to deflect accountability. For example, “You’re the one who’s manipulative.”
- Withholding Information: The gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen to the victim’s concerns, effectively stifling communication and making the victim question their own clarity of thought. For example, “I don’t know what you mean, and I don’t want to hear it.”
- Diverting the Conversation: The gaslighter changes the subject or questions the victim’s thoughts to avoid addressing the topic, confusing the victim, and deflecting blame.
- Repeating Falsehoods: Constant repetition of a lie or false narrative can lead the victim to doubt their own reality and eventually accept the gaslighter’s version of events.
- Isolating the Victim: The gaslighter may isolate the victim from others who might support their reality, thereby making the victim more dependent on the gaslighter’s version of reality.
What are gaslighting examples?
Here are 10 gaslighting examples.2
- That is not true. You must be confused again.
- You’re too sensitive.
- There you go again, making things up.
- I’ve never done that. It’s all in your head.
- I did not do what you said.
- No, you didn’t see that because I didn’t do it.
- That’s not true. Your memory cannot be trusted.
- It’s not a big deal. You’re overreacting.
- Don’t be paranoid.
What are examples of gaslighting parents?
- That never happened. I never abused you.
- You are crazy. Your dad would never abuse you.
- You are imagining things.
- No, that doesn’t hurt. It’s only a tiny cut.
- You have a terrible memory. You always remember things wrong.
- Every kid gets spanked, and it’s your fault for failing the class.
- You’re exaggerating.
- Stop being dramatic.
- You’re not making any sense.
- You’re hysterical.
What are examples of a teenager gaslighting a parent?
- I did tell you I was going out tonight. You just don’t remember.
- You’re overreacting; you always get upset over nothing.
- I never said that. You’re putting words in my mouth.
- I did clean my room; you just didn’t notice, as usual.
- You said I could borrow the car tonight. Don’t you remember our conversation?
- You’re always paranoid about where I am. I told you where I was going.
- I don’t know why you’re upset; I’ve been doing everything you asked.
- You’re always confused. I definitely told you about my plans.
- You never mentioned having a family dinner tonight. You must have told someone else.
- I’ve been home for hours. Maybe you just didn’t notice.
What are narcissist gaslighting examples?
- I know what’s best for you better than you do.
- Trust me, darling, doubting me is just your insecurity talking.
- Jealousy clouds your judgment. Everyone else agrees with my decisions.
- Maybe if you weren’t so envious, you’d see my brilliance too.
- Everyone but you agrees. Maybe you’re the one who’s wrong.
- You owe me for all the things I’ve done for you.
- You’d be nothing without me; I made you who you are.
- This is above you, sweetheart. Leave the thinking to me.
- You should be grateful for my guidance. Without me, you’d be lost.
- You think it was just luck I got this prize, but that’s because you can’t see the truth about my importance like others do.
Why do parents gaslight?
Parents gaslight for various reasons, but here are 9 potential motivators.3
- Control and dominance: Some parents may use gaslighting to maintain control and power over their children. This can stem from a need to feel dominant or in charge. For example, a 2018 study by Flinders University revealed that some gaslighting parents of transgender children would misrepresent the therapist’s availability to control and delay receiving help.
- Avoiding accountability: Parents might gaslight to avoid confronting their shortcomings. By manipulating their children’s perceptions, they can deflect blame, maintain a self-image of competence and perfection, and avoid taking responsibility for mistakes. For example, “I never promised you that. You must have misunderstood me.”
- Insecurity and low self-esteem: Individuals with low self-esteem may use gaslighting to control and feel powerful, manipulating the truth to create a favorable self-image.
- Difficulty coping with emotions: For some, gaslighting can be a coping mechanism to deal with their own stress or inability to handle difficult feelings. They may not be aware of the harmful impact of their behavior. For example, “You’re just being too sensitive; it’s not a big deal.”
- Projection of Their Issues: Parents with unresolved personal issues, such as trauma, anxiety, or insecurity, might project these onto their children. Gaslighting, in these cases, is a manifestation of their internal struggles. For example, “You always overthink things and make a fuss, just like I used to do.”
- Model after their parents: Parents who were themselves victims of gaslighting or similar manipulative behaviors may unconsciously repeat these patterns with their own children, not realizing the harm they are causing. For example, “Stop overreacting; when I was your age, I dealt with much worse.”
- Social or cultural influences: In some societies or cultures, there are specific norms and expectations about parenting, family dynamics, and authority. Parents might feel pressured to conform to these norms, including maintaining a strict hierarchy or exhibiting control over children. For example, “This is how it’s done in every family.”
- Narcissistic traits: Narcissism involves traits like a heightened sense of self-importance, a need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Parents who exhibit narcissistic traits may be more prone to engage in gaslighting as a way to maintain their ego and status. For example, “Everyone likes me and listens to me. You must, too.”
- Lack of self-awareness or understanding: Some parents may not recognize or understand the harmful impact of their behavior. They may genuinely believe they are protecting their child or acting in their best interests, even if their methods are manipulative and damaging. For example, “No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just a small cut.”
What are gaslighting and parental alienation?
Parental alienation involves one parent manipulating their child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect, or hostility towards the other parent. This often occurs in the context of high-conflict divorces or separations. The connection between gaslighting and parental alienation is that one parent often uses gaslighting to manipulate the child’s perception of the other parent.
This form of gaslighting tends to involve the alienating parent making negative comments or accusations about the targeted parent, encouraging the child to feel angry, scared, or hateful toward that parent.
What are the effects of being gaslighted as a child?
Being gaslighted as a child can affect the child’s mental, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development, according to a 2021 study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science.4
- Mental: Confusion, anxiety, and depression.
- Emotional: low self-esteem, self-doubt, emotional dysregulation, difficulty trusting others, problem with identity and sense of self.
- Cognitive: Difficulty with decision-making, perception, and memory.
- Behavioral: Codependency, self-isolation, people-pleasing, vulnerability to further abuse, and difficulty forming healthy relationships.
What are the signs of gaslighting parents?
Parents who intentionally gaslight are toxic parents. Here are 13 signs of gaslighting parents.
- They deny their children’s experiences.
- They twist facts to suit their own purposes.
- They minimize their children’s emotions.
- They tell their children what they should feel.
- They make their children doubt their feelings or memory.
- They are controlling.
- They act like they know everything.
- They shift blame, and so they’re always right.
- They play the victim.
- They use guilt, fear, obligation, or other types of manipulation to change their children’s views.
- They make their children feel stupid.
- They isolate their children or make them feel alone.
- They cause their children to become reliant on them for information or direction.
How do I know if my mom or dad is gaslighting me?
Most parents do not intentionally harm their children. However, even when unintended, there is harm if you feel gaslighted. Here are the signs to look for to know if you are being gaslighted.
- You are often denied your experiences.
- You remember things are different.
- You are often told you have the wrong kind of feelings (“You are too sensitive” or “You are overreacting.”)
- You are often told you should feel another way.
- You are made to question your reality, feelings, or memory.
- You feel controlled.
- You are blamed for their actions or feelings, making you feel responsible for everything.
- You are isolated and cut off from friends or family who could provide support.
Note that gaslighting is a serious form of psychological abuse. If you suspect you are being gaslighted, take steps to seek help from a mental health professional and protect yourself.
What’s the difference between manipulation and gaslighting?
Both manipulation and gaslighting involve influencing someone’s thoughts, but the main differences are the intent and effects.
Gaslighting involves manipulation, but not all manipulation is gaslighting. Manipulation is often used to influence someone’s behavior or decisions, such as manipulative marketing, which gets you to buy more products. However, gaslighting is often used to gain control or power over someone. The impact of gaslighting tends to be more harmful psychologically because the person is led to question their reality, memory, or perception through deception and denial.
Here’s a summary of the difference between manipulation and gaslighting.
|What it is
|Influencing someone to change without their knowledge or consent.
|Influencing someone to question their reality, sanity, or memory.
|To get someone to change their mind or behavior.
|To gain power and control over someone.
|Can be used in healthy or unhealthy ways, depending on the context.
|Harmful as inducing self-doubt often causes psychological distress.
|A parent promises their child a trip to the amusement park if the child gets good grades. However, when the child achieves the grades, the parent changes the condition, saying the new condition is that the child also did all their chores without being reminded.
|A child recalls being promised a special outing if they got good grades. When they bring it up after achieving these grades, the parent denies ever making such a promise, insisting the child is imagining it or misremembering the conversation. This is gaslighting, as the parent is trying to make the child doubt their own memory and perception of reality.
How to respond to gaslighting
Here are some ways to respond to gaslighting parents when they dismiss your feelings, minimize the situation, create alternative realities, or shift the blame.
Dismissal of feelings: Gaslighters often use phrases like “You’re too emotional” or “You’re being too sensitive” to dismiss feelings. To respond, do not argue about the emotions and focus on the cause of the emotions. For example, “That’s not the point. The point is you did this.”
Handling minimization of situations: Gaslighters may say things like “It’s no big deal!” to minimize your concerns. To respond, validate your reaction and emphasize the gaslighter’s underreaction, maintaining focus on the issue. For example, “I’m not overreacting. You’re underreacting to what happened.”
Addressing alternative realities: Statements like “You’re imagining things” are used to deny your reality. To respond, affirm your experience, and not succumb to their distorted narrative. For example, “It is unfortunate that you are trying to rewrite history. But facts don’t change just because you say so.”
Dealing with blame and insults: Gaslighters may resort to personal attacks or blame, using phrases like “You’re so stupid.” To respond, focus on the cause of your reaction and not get sidetracked by their accusations. For example, “If you call describing the fact exaggerating, then I am.”
How to deal with gaslighting
Gaslighting is a form of abuse aiming to erode your sense of reality and self-worth and should not be tolerated. To deal with gaslighting and break free from this destructive gaslighting cycle, here are 15 tips.5
- Recognize the signs: Be aware of signs you might be experiencing gaslighting, as stated above.
- Determine the nature: Assess whether the behavior you’re encountering is truly gaslighting, a different form of manipulation, or misunderstanding.
- Trust your instincts: Believe in your intuition if you feel you are being gaslighted. Doubting and self-protecting are natural reactions.
- Document experiences: Maintain a journal or notes recording event details, dates, and dialogues. Stick to factual recording, avoiding personal interpretations or emotions.
- Rebalance power dynamics: Address and work to alter the power imbalance often present in gaslighting situations. Strive for equal footing in communication, avoiding submission or avoidance. Don’t shy away from asserting your rights.
- Establish boundaries: Clearly define unacceptable behavior and firmly express your limits. For example, “You questioning my memory upsets me,” or “Stop pressuring me.”
- Enforce your boundaries: Consistently enforce your boundaries, making the consequences clear.
- Opt for no contact: If boundaries are disregarded or harm persists, prioritize your well-being. This might involve temporary or permanent separation to safeguard your mental and emotional health.
- Agree to disagree: Recognize that you may not obtain validation from a gaslighter and avoid fruitless arguments. Don’t get drawn into right-or-wrong debates, draining your energy. Accept irreconcilable differences and focus on healing and personal growth.
- Build support networks: Create a circle of friends or support systems that understand and validate your experiences.
- Self-validation: Learn to acknowledge and accept your own emotions independently.
- Set personal goals: Focus on living your life fully despite past traumas.
- Self-care & emotional support: Dealing with gaslighting can be emotionally draining. Take care of your physical and mental health. Explore additional sources of emotional comfort, like joining support groups or having pets.
- Pursue therapy: Consider professional mental health support to aid your healing journey.
- Consider family therapy: If there’s a genuine willingness to improve relationships, family therapy might be beneficial.
- 1.Sweet PL. The Sociology of Gaslighting. Am Sociol Rev. Published online September 20, 2019:851-875. doi:10.1177/0003122419874843
- 2.Abramson K. Turning up the lights on gaslighting. Philosophical perspectives. 2014;28:1-30.
- 3.Riggs DW, Bartholomaeus C. Gaslighting in the context of clinical interactions with parents of transgender children. Sexual and Relationship Therapy. Published online February 28, 2018:382-394. doi:10.1080/14681994.2018.1444274
- 4.Johnson VE, Nadal KL, Sissoko DRG, King R. “It’s Not in Your Head”: Gaslighting, ‘Splaining, Victim Blaming, and Other Harmful Reactions to Microaggressions. Perspect Psychol Sci. Published online September 2021:1024-1036. doi:10.1177/17456916211011963
- 5.Stern R. The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulations Other People Use to Control Your Life. Morgan Road Books; 2007.