Gaslighting has become a common term lately, and this can happen in any type of relationships; romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, work relationships, you name it.
As someone who grew up with a narcissist, I never realized how bad my mother gaslighted me until I was an adult.
Sometimes, the more time and space we get away from our own parents, the more we realize their unhealthy patterns. Growing up, our families may have been dysfunctional in ways that we thought were normal.
Were you the "black sheep" of your family? Did you have a sibling that could do no wrong? This fits the pattern of treatment common with narcissistic parents.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a behavior that is pretty common to narcissists, although it can be an unhealthy communication style used by anyone.
According to Psycom, "If you’re not sure what it is, simply put, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which someone makes another person doubt his or her perceptions, experiences, memories, or understanding of events. Gaslighting can really mess with a person’s mind and it is especially harmful when it comes from your own family—your parents in particular."
My mother, and the extended family on her side, gaslighted me for years. Anytime someone did something hurtful, yelled at me, talked down to me, or made horrible comments, she would just tell me it was my fault for being bad.
According to Psycom,
In the family environment, there are three primary types of gaslighting, according to Malkin:
Narrative gaslighting, in which a child might remember things a certain way and the parent changes the story and tries to convince the child it happened their way.
Emotional gaslighting, in which a parent reacts to a child as though his or her feelings are wrong or don’t make sense when they actually do—which is problematic because “our feelings are very close to our sense of self,” Malkin notes.
Personal gaslighting, whereby a parent undermines a child’s sense of his or her own capacity or trust in him- or herself. “This is often the most insidious form because it manipulates you to think that what you know about yourself is not true,” Malkin says. “It also undermines your self-esteem and trust in yourself.”
Keep in mind: “Gaslighters are not born—they learn it somewhere,” Stern says. So, a parent who gaslights his or her children may have experienced it or witnessed it in their own life.
My mother used all of these forms of gaslighting with me over the years, but mostly emotional gaslighting. Any time I felt sad about something, she would just tell me not to be sad. If something bad happened to me, she would tell me it was my fault.
Scraped knee? My fault. Bad grades? My fault. My dad hit me? My fault. Starving orphans in Africa? My fault. You get the picture.
She would never take my side in anything. She never stood up for me. She just liked to tell me that things were my fault. It absolved her of any responsibility for helping me.
Another gaslighting tactic is to make you feel like you are crazy. The person gaslighting you will tell you that your reaction is wrong for the situation. They tell you that you are crazy for reacting the way you have.
Let me break it down for you. Pretend that mom yells at you for not taking out the trash. Your brother was supposed to take out the trash. You start to cry for being yelled at. Mom will probably tell you to stop crying, and that it was never your brother's chore, it was yours all along.
According to Medical News Today, here are some other examples of gaslighting:
Countering: This tactic involves an abusive person questioning someone’s memory of events, even though they have remembered them correctly.
Withholding: This describes someone who pretends not to understand something, or who refuses to listen.
Forgetting: This involves an abusive person pretending they have forgotten something, or denying that something happened.
Trivializing: This refers to an abusive person making someone’s concerns or feelings seem unimportant or irrational.
Diverting: This technique occurs when an abusive person changes the subject, or focuses on the credibility of what someone is saying rather than the content. Some people also call it “blocking.”
Years later, if you bring up something traumatizing from childhood, they will either tell you they don't remember, or that it never happened.
Effects of Gaslighting
Since gaslighting, especially long-term, can make you feel crazy, this can lead to trauma more often than you may think.
According to Medical News Today, "Gaslighting is a form of abuse that involves a person deliberately causing someone to doubt their sanity. This may cause feelings of confusion or powerlessness. The long-term effects of gaslighting include trauma, anxiety, and depression."
Yes, you read that right.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse.
Sometimes, the person gaslighting you will purposely say something to cause a reaction in you in front of other people. They do this to provoke a response, and to get other people to think you are crazy. This will make you further doubt yourself.
When you are being gaslighted by your parents, it is important to seek help from a therapist. You may also consider reducing contact with them.
Personally, I don't talk to my narcissistic mother anymore, due to advice from multiple mental health professionals. When people have intentionally abused you for years, they are very unlikely to change.
Becoming aware of the abusive patterns is the first step, then you need to decide what you are going to do.
Some people will tell you that you need to forgive your parents and maintain the relationship. However, in the long term this may be harmful. You may want to forgive your parents and try to move past this, though this is difficult, but it is alright if you don't want to!
According to Psychology Today, "I am by no means suggesting that grown children ought to forgive their parents. While true forgiveness is therapeutic, and we do sometimes, upon reflecting on abusive parents' circumstances, discover reasons to take pity on them and to forgive, adult sons and daughters may or may not have it in them to forgive. Neither is forgiveness ever owed by victims to abusers, whatever the abusers' circumstances."
If you want to maintain a relationship with your parents, you will probably need to have some very difficult conversations with them and set firm boundaries.
For example, a boundary could be that if they become emotionally abusive during a visit or a call, you will immediately leave or hang up the phone. If you set a boundary like this, it is important to follow through. Otherwise, your parents will continue to violate your boundaries in the future.
I know it may sound drastic to cut off or reduce contact with your parents, that is why I recommend talking to a therapist about this decision. You can also write out a pros and cons list, to figure out what you are actually getting out of the relationship with your parents. The results may surprise you.
For help with finding a therapist, you can read:
Gaslighting is an abusive behavior that causes you to question yourself, your feelings, and events that have taken place in the past.
When your parents have been gaslighting you, it can lead to anxiety, depression and PTSD, for which it is helpful to seek therapy. You may also want to think about setting boundaries, limiting contact, or going no contact.
Have you experienced gaslighting with your parents? What did you do? Let me know in the comments.