- What is gaslighting
- Why do people gaslight
- How to respond to gaslighting
- How to deal with gaslighting
What Is Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a malicious form of emotional abuse that aims to erode a person’s confidence in their own memory, perception, or reality. A gaslighter instills doubts in the mind of the person causing them to question their own sanity1, usually by repeatedly denying a person’s reality.
It’s a subtle and insidious form of abuse that can seriously affect a person’s mental and emotional well-being.
If you are a victim of this form of emotional manipulation, it is important to recognize the signs of gaslighting by parents and know how to stand up for yourself.
Gaslighting can happen in different types of personal relationships – romantic relationships or parent-child relationships.
The common tactics gaslighting parents or abusive partners use include:
- Dismissing feelings
- Minimizing a situation
- Presenting an alternative reality
- Blaming or insulting the victim
Why Do People Gaslight
Some of the most common motivations for gaslighting others are:
Control and power
Some people use gaslighting to gain power and control over others.
By manipulating others’ perceptions and reality, the gaslighter tries to make the victim feel weaker and dependent on them.
Some people gaslight selectively to avoid responsibilities or accountability for their actions. They may manipulate certain situations to cast themselves in a positive light and to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes or wrongdoing.
It occurs most often when adult children question their parents’ parenting choices that have impacted their lives. A gaslighting mother or father may deny that an event occurred, shift blame onto someone else, or present false information to support their version of events. They shape the narrative to their advantage and avoid facing the consequences of their actions.
Insecurity and low self-esteem
Some people use gaslighting as a way to make themselves feel more powerful and to compensate for their own low self-esteem.
Their insecurities can lead them to seek validation and control over others through gaslighting.
These people twist the truth and manipulate others to create a positive image of themselves
Narcissistic individuals are self-absorbed and have an inflated sense of self.
Using a twisted way of remembering things in their favor, they try to make themselves appear positive and important. They may believe it will become true if they repeat it enough times.
Narcissists are good at denying facts and deflecting blame onto others to remain in power and importance.
Gaslighting can be used for emotional control and psychological abuse in an abusive relationship.
The abuser manipulates their partner by creating confusion and uncertainty in their mind, making them question their own reality.
Phrases to shut down gaslighting
Gaslighting victims or adult children of gaslighting parents have likely endured this toxic behavior for a long time.
Crazymaking conversations can easily trigger an emotional response in a victim of gaslighting.
So, the first step in dealing with parents gaslighting adult children is to recognize when that happens and don’t fall for it.
Here are some of the most common gaslighting phrases and how to respond.
Dismissing your feelings
Here are some gaslighting examples.
- “You’re so emotional.”
- “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
- “Why are you always so defensive?”
When your parent or partner dismisses your feelings, it hurts and upsets you.
But you’ve already lost the battle when you get into tense arguments over your feelings or their dismissal.
Be prepared for these gaslighting sentences and keep your focus on what’s causing your emotions, not the emotions themselves.
“You’re being too sensitive”
This is by far the most common manipulation tactic in a gaslighter’s arsenal. The accuser dismisses your feelings and shows no respect for your feelings. 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.
Minimizing the situation
- “It’s no big deal!”
- “Don’t make a fuss out of nothing.”
- “Don’t cry over nothing.”
Using this type of statement to minimize the situation is another example of gaslighting. The gaslighters again show a complete lack of concern. They portray the issue as unimportant, and therefore your concerns are unimportant, too.
“You’re overreacting. It’s not as bad as you make it sound like”
This is another one of those common manipulative phrases gaslighters use.
When they make it sound like you are the problem to minimize the situation, you will likely get angry and distracted.
Don’t fall for 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, which 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.
Creating an alternative reality
- “You’re imagining things”
- “I never did that”
- “That’s not how it happened”
Victims of gaslighting are often denied their own reality.
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 imagine 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 own experiences.
Call them out on their alternative reality.
Blaming or insulting 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 as a common tactic.
“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 focusing 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.
- Abusive Parents
- Things Narcissistic Fathers Say
- Things Narcissistic Mothers Say
- Things Controlling Parents Say
How To Deal With Gaslighting
Even though you now know how to combat a gaslighting parent or partner, confronting their abusive behavior may not be a good idea.
Some gaslighters may suffer from narcissistic personality disorder2.
Narcissistic parents or people 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.
There can be long-term health effects of gaslighting. You may be better off keeping a distance from abusive people and protecting your mental health.
The bottom line is gaslighting from parents is a form of psychological abuse. It has no place in a healthy relationship.
If you have an abusive partner, seek help immediately from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.
- 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