Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and mental abuse. The goal is to make one have doubts about their reality and even question their own sanity1.
Parents generally gaslight for a purpose other than trying to make their kids lose their minds.
Some parents genuinely think that they are doing their children a favor, “You used to love vegetables. You just forget.”
However, many parents gaslight because they want to control their children or deny responsibility.
The common tactics gaslighting parents use include:
- Dismiss the child’s feelings
- Minimize a situation
- Present an alternative reality
- Blame or insult the child
When parents gaslight, it is hard for adult children who have experienced chronic gaslighting to stay calm.
These tactics of gaslighting may have become easy emotional triggers for you
You will be distracted and fight about what your parents say instead of staying with what’s important.
So the first step in dealing with gaslighting is to recognize it when that happens and don’t fall for the triggers. Bring back the original topic so the parents can’t get away with it.
How To Respond To Gaslighting
Here are some common gaslighting phrases from parents and how adult children can respond to them.
When they dismiss your feelings
- “You’re so emotional”
- “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”
- “Why are you always so defensive?”
When your parents dismiss your feelings, it hurts and angers you. But the moment you get into tense arguments over your feelings or their dismissal, you’ve already lost.
Be prepared for these gaslighting sentences and keep your focus on what’s causing your emotion, not your emotion itself.
“You’re being too sensitive”
This is by far the most common gaslighting tactic in a gaslighter’s arsenal. The accuser dismisses your feelings and shows no respect for your emotions. They try to manipulate you into believing that you are the problem.
How to respond
Do not fall for the emotions and argue whether you are or are not too sensitive.
Stay on the topic by saying:
“That’s not the point. The point is you did this.”
Or put the spotlight on them and their insensitivity.
“And you’re being too insensitive.”
“I would rather be too sensitive than be callous about others’ feelings.”
“That’s a gift and it allows me to be sensitive and care about others.”
Essentially, you are showing your sensitivity is appropriate in this situation while their callous lack of empathy and insensitive remarks are a reflection of their character.
When they minimize the situation
- “It’s not a big deal!”
- “Don’t make a fuss out of nothing”
- “Don’t cry over nothing”
By minimizing the situation, gaslighters again show a complete lack of concern. They dismiss your feelings and misrepresent your normal reaction as inappropriate.
This is another one of those common phrases gaslighters use.
When they call you names to minimize the situation, you will likely get angry and distracted by it. Try to stay focused on the topic as much as possible.
How to respond
“I’m not overreacting. You’re underreacting to what happened and that shows what kind of person you are.”
Know that the gaslighter has no power over you until you give it to them. So, don’t let that get to you.
Validate your own reaction and call them out on what they did.
When they create an alternative reality
- “You’re imagining things”
- “I never did that”
- “That’s not how it happened”
- ”I only said that to protect you”
Victims of gaslighting are often denied a sense of reality.
However, saying it doesn’t make it a fact.
Gaslighters only have the illusion of power. Their perception of reality stems from false statements and accusations.
“That never happened”
Gaslighters love changing your story to fit their narrative. They may insist you’re imagining things that never happened – even when you’re certain they did!
How to respond:
“It is unfortunate that you are trying to rewrite history. If that’s your reality, you can keep it and I’ll keep mine. Facts don’t change just because you say it.”
Don’t give up on your experience. Call them out on their alternative reality.
When they blame or insult you
- “You are always picking fights”
- “You always have to be right”
- “Why would you let this come between us?”
- “You want to ruin our relationship”
- “You’re doing this on purpose”
- “You never told me that”
- “You made me do that”
- “You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything”
- “You’re so ungrateful”
- “You’re crazy”
When gaslighters are out of ideas, they tend to resort to personal attacks or blame.
“You aren’t acting normal”
This gaslighting remark is similar to accusing you of overreacting. Gaslighters use hurtful comments to try to shift the blame to you.
How to respond:
“Of course I’m not acting normal after what happened. For what you did, that’s the normal reaction any normal person would have.”
Keep the focus on what caused your reaction and don’t let them off the hook.
“Why are you exaggerating?”
“Why” is an excellent way to get someone to question their own actions. So, if a gaslighter asks you why you’re exaggerating, you may be taken aback and doubt yourself.
How to respond:
“If you call describing the fact exaggerating, then I am.”
No matter what name they call you, do not get distracted. Instead, bring back the topic in question and stay with it.
How To Deal With Gaslighting
Even though you now know how to combat gaslighting parents, confronting their abusive behavior may not be a good idea.
Some parents who gaslight are narcissists. They may suffer from narcissistic personality disorder2.
Narcissistic parents have an inflated self-image. They feel a strong sense of power over others and believe they are always right.
Arguing with narcissistic gaslighters is pointless.
You may be better off keeping a distance from abusive parents and protecting your mental health.
- 1.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
- 2.Manzano J, Espasa FP, Zilkha N. THE NARCISSISTIC SCENARIOS OF PARENTHOOD. Int J Psychoanal. Published online May 1, 1999:465-476. doi:10.1516/0020757991598855