What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and abuse which can leave people doubting themselves, their memories, and their reality. It is used to undermine the victim’s confidence and their ability to recognize what is real and what is not. In this way, the deceiver or the ‘gaslighter’ gains control over the victim as they become dependent on their abuser. The term ‘gaslighting’ originated from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play Gas Light. In this play, a husband convinces his wife and those around them that she is delusional and insane. He achieves this by gradually dimming the gas lights in the home and pretending that they are the same when his wife notices the change. In doing so, the manipulative and mentally abusive husband makes her question her perception of reality.
Gaslighting is not limited to romantic relationships.
When we think of abuse and manipulation, most people think of romantic partners and toxic relationships. Very few acknowledge that their parents might be manipulative and abusive. This is because identifying a gaslighting parent is extremely difficult due to the parent-child dynamic. Taking this idea further, children look up to their parents, believe in their perception of the world, and trust that everything they say is true. For this reason, many children grow up not knowing that their parent is a gaslighter. So, how can you identify a gaslighting parent?
Abusive and manipulative parents rewrite history and lie.
Parents who gaslight their children may do so by undermining their recollection and insisting that their memories are wrong. They might pretend as though something did not happen as they claim that their children are making things up. Alternatively, they might make up a scenario or conversation and insist that it happened. When they do this, gaslighting parents often say things such as, “We spoke about this, don’t you remember?” or “You were not paying attention, were you?” Moreover, they often deny their own actions, refuse to apologize, and put the blame on others. Of course, their children are the ones who they most frequently blame.
They bully their children and undermine their accomplishments.
Gaslighting parents abuse their children by mocking and bullying them. When a child confides in their parent, they hope to receive love and understanding. Unfortunately, children of mentally abusive parents might hear some of the following things instead: “You are too sensitive”, “You are being irrational” and “You sound crazy”. In addition to this, they undermine the accomplishments of their children, crushing their confidence and destroying their self-esteem.
When parents offer abuse and gaslighting instead of love, they destroy their children.
Children do not realize the gravity of their parents’ behavior and they cannot understand the effect it can have on them. More importantly, they do not know that their parents are being abusive and manipulative. Therefore, they grow up believing everything that they are told: they believe that they deserve to be bullied, they believe that their accomplishments are meaningless, and they believe that their perception of reality is false. In other words, gaslighting parents have the power to destroy their children.
It is only once children become adults that they realize what has happened.
Initially, they will feel anger, disbelief, and shock as they ask themselves, “How can my own mother/father do this to me?” They will look back on everything in their life and they will try to see what role their upbringing played. Although this will be painful and difficult, it will be the beginning of a healing process. The child, now an adult, will be able to understand that they are not to blame. That is, they will see that their low self-esteem and lack of confidence stems from something else: their parents.
How can children of abusive parents heal?
According to Iskra Fileva Ph.D., the key to healing ‘is to fully accept that you were not at fault. A child should not have to win a parent’s love nor compete for it […] That your parents didn’t love you is simply not on you. It’s on them.’ Admittedly, this is easier said than done as realizing that your parents did not love you as they should have is heartbreaking and devastating. As adults, children of gaslighting parents can benefit greatly from seeking professional help as this will help them interpret their emotions and understand the events that happened in their childhood.
Ultimately, the journey to happiness and forgiveness will be long, challenging and painful; however, it will be worth it as you will undoubtedly become self-assured, strong, and confident.