Yes! Parents Can Gaslight Their Children

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had good parents. It’s hard to believe that parents cause harm to their children as it is believed that parents especially mother’s have this inbuilt nurture gene which just isn’t true.

Whilst the parent or parents may not use physical abuse the emotional abuse inflicted on children by parents lasts long into adulthood and for some, it impacts their entire life.

Some parents use gaslighting to control their children, and it could be this behavior is what they received as children themselves so have no understanding that it is wrong and has long term effects.

Gaslighting is psychological control and manipulation. Those who use gaslighting engage in guilt trips, lies, projection, and confusion to get the person to do what they want and to believe what they are saying is 100% true.

A good example of a parent gaslighting their child is to give permission for them to do something or go someone, and then get mad at them for doing what they believe they have been given permission to do. So the child becomes confused, even scared of their parent. In normal circumstances, a parent would explain why they have changed their mind and make it clear the reasons why a parent who gaslights just gets mad and blames the child for being disobedient.

Another example of being gaslighted by a parent is if they get angry and make the child feel guilty for having a special place in their heart for a grandparent. Instead of nurturing that key family relationship, the parent becomes jealous so inflicts gaslighting behavior to get what they want without a moment’s consideration for their child’s needs.

Psychology Today wrote as follows on gaslighting and how easy it is to do to a child:

The parent-child relationship isn’t one of equals—in fact, it’s terrifically lopsided. All of the power is vested in the parent and while it’s a thought that might make you cringe, where there’s power, there’s also the potential abuse of power.

A mother controls not just the little world a child lives in—she sets rules as well as the table, decides whether it is stable or chaotic, comforting or scary—but she also, as Deborah Tannen has observed, dictates how the experiences and events in that world are interpreted. That’s fertile ground for gaslighting, especially since a child is hardwired to look to her mother for an understanding of how the world works.

There’s a terrible and painful irony in even considering that the very person charged with helping you discover the reality of you—helping you master skills, manage emotions, become sure of your own worthiness and solidity—could be the one who actively undermines you and your reality. Yet that is precisely what an unloving and unattuned mother does.

It takes work to gaslight an adult. In the movie, the bad guy played by Charles Boyer has to manipulate the physical environment—footfalls in an empty attic, the flickering of the gaslights—to make his victim feel crazy. Gaslighting an intimate partner requires a consistent game plan. Boyer uses what he knows about his victim’s fears and insecurities to manipulate her, using her love as a cudgel or accusing her of being too sensitive or neurotic when she catches him in a bald-faced lie. Alas, gaslighting a child is, as the saying goes, like shooting goldfish in a barrel.

There’s not much work involved making a love-deprived and insecure child doubt his or her reality. Think big and little (tall parent and loud voice, a small child with a voice easy to silence) in the following scenarios:

Carrying a platter of food into the dining room and having it fall, break, and splatter all over the floor. The child registers that the plate is slippery and that’s why it happened. That’s not what her mother says: “You did that on purpose. Why do you always do stuff to make me angry?”

The child is bullied by her older brother. She cries and asks her mother to intervene. She answers, “Well when you stop bothering him, he’ll stop hitting you.”

It is important to note that an adult who was gaslighted as a child does not always use the same behavior towards their own children as they have memories from their own childhood and want to do better as a parent themselves. Learned behavior can be broken but only if the person is aware that the behavior is wrong.