Having grown up with an abusive mother who often gaslighted me, I wanted to learn more about signs and examples of gaslighting parents as well as the effects it has on their children and what can be done to heal.
I didn’t know I was experiencing abuse until maybe high school. That’s when everything hit me like a ton of bricks. I learned various abusive and manipulative tactics that my mother often used on me. It helped me start labeling her behavior and learning how to deal with them. One of these tactics that I learned about was, you guessed it, gaslighting.
You probably hear the word “gaslighting” a lot, especially if you often read about abuse. I know I do. And if you had an abusive parent, you likely experienced gaslighting many times before. And you likely gaslight yourself, too. But what exactly is gaslighting?
This post will discuss what gaslighting is, signs and examples of gaslighting parents, its effects on you, what self-gaslighting is, and what you can do to begin healing.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that uses manipulation, minimization, and lying to make someone question or doubt their thoughts, feelings, memories, experiences, perceptions, reality, and even sanity.
The term comes from a play, later a movie, called Gaslight. In the movie, the husband uses various tactics to convince the wife she’s going crazy. He turned the gaslights lower each night and hid things claiming she lost them. When she noticed, he’d find a way to negate it or claim it was all in her head.
Gaslighting can happen in any type of relationship and could be intentional or not. Nonetheless, it is still a form of manipulation.
Oftentimes, the purpose of gaslighting is to achieve power and control over someone by distorting and eroding their reality and sense of self.
Over time, gaslighting can damage the victim’s confidence to the point they no longer trust themselves. And when they’re constantly doubting themselves, they become more vulnerable. As a result, they’re easier to manipulate, control, and abuse.
When it comes to the parent-child relationship, abusive or toxic parents often resort to gaslighting as a way to control and maintain power over their children. Children are also often the easier target for abuse due to the authority and superiority the parent automatically has over the child.
Signs and Examples of Gaslighting Parents
Due to its subtle nature, gaslighting could be hard to detect. But here are some common signs and examples of gaslighting parents that could help you identify when gaslighting is happening.
Note that many signs of gaslighting parents might overlap with other kinds of gaslighters in other relationships such as romantic partners, spouses, bosses, or friends. So anyone – parent or not – showing these signs is still considered to be gaslighting.
They outright lie or deny what happened
One obvious way to know if you’re dealing with gaslighting is if your parent denies or lies about things you both know are true.
They’ll blatantly tell you that they didn’t do or say something, even if you were there. Or they’ll insist they’re not feeling a certain way when they actually are.
- I never said that.
- You must’ve imagined it.
- That never happened.
- I have no idea what you’re talking about.
- I’m not angry.
If your parent said or did things that they later denied or lied about having happened, that’s a sign of gaslighting. The purpose of this is to make you question your perception and memory of what really happened. It also keeps you feeling off-balance and confused.
They correct your memory
When you’re trying to recall a memory or event, your parent might’ve claimed that you’re wrong or remembering it wrong. They might also insist you were or weren’t somewhere.
Whether it regards them or not, they feel the need to correct your memory and perspectives of a situation, event, or experience.
- You weren’t there. I should know.
- You have a terrible memory.
- That’s not what happened.
- You are remembering it wrong.
- You’re making things up.
- You have quite the imagination.
It’s possible your parent had a different experience than you. Therefore, they may insist that their version is the correct one while denying yours.
Whether they’re doing this intentionally or not, this action still invalidates your experiences. You might start questioning whether what you believed happened was real or not. And as a parent, they should always take your perspective into account, even if they think it’s incorrect.
They call you crazy
If you approach your parent with something that happened – whether it’s about them or not – they might turn it around to suggest that there’s something wrong with you.
For example, if you approach them claiming you were bullied in school or were mistreated by a friend, they might claim it’s because you did something to cause that or that’s just how you are, always the source of trouble. Or they might criticize you for letting it bother you.
And if you confront them about their toxic behavior, they find a way to make it seem like you’re the crazy one, implying that what they’re doing is completely normal. It’s you that’s taking it the wrong way. It’s your problem for being affected by it.
- You’re crazy.
- You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
- The same thing happened to me and you don’t see me complaining about it.
- You’re delusional.
- It could be worse.
- You don’t get along with anyone.
- You don’t make any sense.
- You’re always the problem.
- This is why no one likes you.
- You need help.
The purpose of this is to make you question your judgment and reactions to your negative experiences and their toxic behavior. It’s to shift blame or to send you the message that they don’t want to hear about your problems.
They make false accusations and shift blame
Your parent might make false accusations against you to shift blame or project for things you didn’t do or know anything about.
Gaslighting parents rarely take responsibility for their actions. They often refuse their role in a problem and act like the victim. Even if they do apologize, it’s often not genuine and might even be used to make a snide remark at you.
- It’s your fault.
- You made this happen.
- You’re the reason we’re in this mess.
- I’m sorry you got upset.
- I’m sorry you feel the need to make me feel bad.
- Sorry if you think I did something wrong.
Accusations shift the focus on their mistreatment onto how you responded. Just their one comment puts you in the wrong. They want to make you believe that you’re the one screwing up all the time.
Due to this, you might internalize all their accusations into negative feelings and beliefs about yourself.
They turn things around on you
If you ever confront your gaslighting parent about their toxic behavior, they’ll turn it around on you. They’ll either claim that you made them act that way or somehow make you feel like you’re the one who’s abusing them.
- You’re the one abusing me.
- You made me angry.
- I said that to motivate you. You misunderstood me.
- You are so ungrateful.
- Wow, you cannot take a joke.
- I only did those things because I love you.
- No good kid would treat their mother like this.
- I’m not the problem; you are.
The purpose of this is to make you regret pointing out their toxic behavior while also making you question and doubt yourself. They do this so you won’t get the chance to acknowledge that they are, indeed, being toxic and abusive. They want you to keep wondering whether you’re the one in the wrong.
They put words in your mouth
Your parent might claim you said or did something. When in reality, you haven’t. Or they might’ve purposely taken it out of context to make it sound bad.
They could twist your words to mean something negative and ignore or dismiss your attempts to clarify or explain yourself.
- Are you losing it? You told me that yesterday.
- You said that to me earlier. Why are you changing your mind now?
- We already talked about this.
- You agreed to this. I remember.
- You think I’m a terrible parent.
This causes you to second-guess yourself, making you wonder whether you did say or do those things. Or they do it as a way to make you look bad to others, also known as a smear.
They trivialize, discount, or criticize how you feel
Trivializing, discounting, or criticizing how you feel not only denies your feelings. But it sends you the message that you need to pretend to be fine so you can feel less guilty or ashamed of your feelings.
- You’re so sensitive.
- You are overreacting.
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
- You are being too emotional.
- Stop being dramatic.
- You’re just faking it for attention.
- It isn’t that bad.
- You’re not sick; you’re being lazy.
This causes you to question your own emotions. You might even question if you’re faking it. Maybe I’m not justified in what I’m feeling. Maybe it’s all in my head.
They tell you what you feel
On top of trivializing, discounting, and criticizing your feelings, your parent might even tell you what you feel.
Whenever you tried to express your feelings to them, they might claim you’re not really feeling that way or you don’t know how you feel. Or they might claim you’re feeling this or that.
- You’re not cold.
- You are hungry.
- You’re tired, go to sleep.
- What are you talking about? You love this.
- You’re not upset because of me. You’re just in a bad mood.
- You love mommy so much.
- You’re fine, stop exaggerating.
Basically, you’re just a child that doesn’t know what you’re feeling. They’re the adult so they must know better than you.
This treatment will likely continue even when you’re an adult: “I’m your parent. I know you better than you know yourself” or “I’m older, thus smarter”.
They make generalizations about you
Your parent might describe you in the most generalized way they could to make you feel bad about yourself or to keep you from embracing your individuality. They might say it so much that you fail to notice all the other things that make you unique.
- You’re a bad person.
- You are so selfish.
- You’re bad at school.
- You are always overreacting.
- You are never satisfied.
All the ways they use to describe you end up becoming your identity. Therefore, you might not have a sense of who you are. Or you might end up believing or accepting their blanket statements about who you are. I am selfish. I am a bad person.
They hide objects from you, then deny or blame it on you
This action itself is one of the more intentional forms of gaslighting. In this case, the gaslighter knows exactly what they’re doing because they went out of their way to hide something from you.
Your parent might’ve taken or thrown away something that belonged to you. But when you ask about it, they’ll act ignorant or turn it around on you.
- You can’t find it again? You keep losing things.
- I don’t know what you’re talking about.
- I didn’t see it.
- You need to be more organized.
- Are you kidding me? You’re always misplacing things.
- You need to stop coming to me whenever you lose something.
Even if you found the object that you know wasn’t where you left it or you have proof that they had something to do with it, they’ll just outright deny it or blame it on you. And once again, they’ll claim that you’re just being crazy or paranoid.
They dismiss, ignore, or criticize your needs
When you voice a concern or ask for something, your parent might dismiss, ignore, or even criticize it.
They might block you out, pretend you’re invisible, give you the silent treatment, shut you down by claiming there’s nothing to discuss, or once again, make it your fault and your problem.
- I don’t have time for this.
- You don’t need that.
- Stop asking already.
- You are always so needy.
- You are such a burden.
These phrases send you the message that your needs and feelings aren’t important. And worse, that your needs are a burden and a bother.
This might cause you to worry that you’re wrong for bringing up something in the first place. You might be reluctant or scared to voice your needs or concerns anymore.
And that’s what the gaslighter wanted. They want you to stay quiet about your needs. They want to divert your attention from your needs to focus on questioning yourself and whether you handled the situation correctly instead.
Their compliments invalidate your experiences or feelings
Although most gaslighting examples come across as negative and insulting, it’s also important to note that compliments can also be a form of gaslighting.
- You’re the smartest, just like me.
- You’re a good kid. You always do what daddy says.
- You are better than all the other kids.
- You’re so beautiful, just like mommy.
Compliments can be a form of gaslighting when it invalidates your experience or who you are. They can be used as manipulation just like criticisms.
Your parent might use compliments as a way to get you to do what they want or be who they want you to be. Compliments that generalize you also cause you to question your identity and lack a sense of self.
Blanket compliments ignore flaws you have and mistakes you’re bound to make – things that make you human. They put pressure on you to be a perfectionist and overachieve. Anything short of what your parent said you are might make you feel like you’re disappointing them or that you’re not good enough.
Effects of Gaslighting Parents
While some of the gaslighting phrases or behaviors might seem harmless, repeated treatment of a child can leave long-lasting consequences.
The child may often feel overwhelmed, lonely, misunderstood, unheard, ignored, lost, disconnected, confused, doubtful, angry, and/or depressed. Some other effects of gaslighting include:
- Lack of a sense of self
- Lack of confidence
- Negative self-talk
- Constant self-doubt
- Low-value perception of self
- Often wondering if you’re being too sensitive
- Feeling like everything you do is wrong
- Always thinking it’s your fault when things go wrong
- Often apologizing, even when it’s not your fault
- Often sensing something’s wrong, but don’t know what it is
- Making excuses for your parent’s behavior
- Trouble making decisions
- Depression and hopelessness
How to Deal with Gaslighting Parents & Begin Healing
Accept that it’s not your fault
You might blame yourself. “If only I was different” or “Maybe things would be better if I handled it differently”. But that’s the point of gaslighting – to make you doubt and question yourself.
So you need to realize that how your parents treat you is NOT your fault.
Your parent is responsible for their actions, NOT you. No one can make them feel, do, or say anything.
Recognize gaslighting signs
Know the signs of gaslighting and how it affects you. It can be tough, especially when it’s coming from your parents that have authority over you. And in a way, they also conditioned you to gaslight yourself after years of doing it to you.
But try to notice common gaslighting phrases and behaviors your parents use. Try to also be more aware of your own thoughts.
A gaslighter might use all kinds of combinations of words and tones to make you question yourself. So it might be hard to notice when they’re trying to gaslight you. In that case, notice how you react to their words and actions.
Are you doubting yourself? Questioning your reality? Regretting your choices?
Whenever you’re feeling doubtful or confused about yourself, your feelings, or your experiences after interacting with your parents, pause and retrace what happened.
- What did they say?
- How did they say it?
- Did they turn the situation around on you?
- Did they manipulate you to make you question yourself?
Once you start understanding how their gaslighting works, you’ll be better able to guard yourself against it. So when they gaslight you, remind yourself that your feelings and experiences are valid.
Learn to set boundaries
Identify your own needs – whether it’s setting limits or cutting off contact with manipulative parents.
When dealing with gaslighters and manipulators, try to be firm with your boundaries even if you’re unsure. The point is to show them that their gaslighting doesn’t work and won’t work.
For more about setting boundaries with abusive and manipulative parents, check out this post.
Try not to react
When you notice your parents trying to gaslight you, you might be tempted to talk back or confront them about it. You might also be upset, angry, or afraid and want to let them know how they’ve hurt you. However, that might make things worse.
Gaslighters rarely back down. On the contrary, they’ll double down on their manipulative behavior if you try to respond or retaliate. They’ll shift the blame and somehow make it your fault. Or they’ll further try to gaslight you by calling you sensitive, crazy, or delusional.
When you retaliate or give them any reaction, it sends them the message that they got to you. So as hard as it is, try your best not to outwardly react or respond to their gaslighting.
Keep track of what happened
You can write things down as it happens or keep a journal so that you have a record to turn to once you start doubting your memories or experiences. This can give you a reality check. You can look back at the facts and remind yourself what is real.
Establish a support network
Gaslighting makes you feel lost and isolated. And a lot of the time, gaslighting parents also strive to isolate their children from friends and family.
However, if you’re able to, try to establish a support network. Talking to someone trustworthy about what happened can validate and reassure you about your feelings and experiences.
If you can’t do it physically, you can reach out to online communities.
Learn more about how to deal with toxic parents.
If you’re struggling with gaslighting parents, therapy may be beneficial. A professional can help you identify signs of gaslighting you may be experiencing from your parents or others and provide tools to help you deal with them. They can also help you learn healthy coping skills to manage the effects your gaslighting parent might’ve had on you.
You can connect with a certified therapist here.
It’s normal to second-guess your memory or experiences from time to time. Our memory isn’t perfect and there are often inconsistencies in what we remember versus reality.
However, when you’re constantly doubting yourself and questioning your experiences, then you likely have been and still are being gaslighted by a toxic or abusive parent.
If your parent checks off almost every gaslighting sign on this list, they might be narcissistic. Many narcissists use gaslighting as an abusive and manipulative tactic to control their victims so they can feel powerful and superior.
To determine whether you have a narcissistic parent, refer to Signs of Narcissistic Parents.
In the end, it’s hard to come away from gaslighting parents without being affected. You likely struggle with self-doubt, a lack of confidence, negative self-talk, and other issues. But with time, effort, and hope, healing is possible.
Feel free to check out the resources below and other posts on this site to begin your healing journey.
Books on Gaslighting
Here are some books to learn more about gaslighting and/or how to recover from it.
You can sign up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited to read some of these titles for free or at a discount. If you prefer audiobooks, you can sign up for a free trial with Audible and claim a title for free. It’s yours to keep even when you cancel.
Hi there, I’m Estee.
Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.
In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.
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