“You don’t have any problems, it’s me, your dad that has all the worry”. “It’s your fault that mom’s in a bad mood, you’re so naughty”. “There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just a whinger”. These are just a few small examples of how parents can override their child’s will, identity, and emotions. It’s a cruel phenomenon, but sadly common.
We often link the practice of gaslighting to romantic relationships. However, there’s a hidden and silent reality that occurs on a daily basis. It involves the parents who deploy sophisticated manipulation techniques on their children, instilling in them many fears and insecurities. It’s an obvious form of craftsmanship of psychological abuse that has serious consequences.
In fact, there are many people who reach adulthood dragging problems along with them that they don’t know how to identify or deal with. Indeed, as shocking as it may seem, the victims of parental gaslighting often take many years to become aware of this type of abuse. They usually lack self-esteem and are emotionally vulnerable. That’s because their dysfunctional families act like sects, vetoing and annulling their personalities.
There are different ways of gaslighting, but those in which a parent applies it to their own children, have a more lasting effect. It affects the development of their identity and their psycho-emotional well-being.
How to tell if you’ve been a victim of parental gaslighting
Parental gaslighting is defined as the practice in which one or both caregivers of a child exercise a specific form of emotional abuse. It’s the kind that makes the child doubt what they feel, who they are, and even what they need. In effect, adults question and manipulate everything regarding their children in order to gain power over them.
Although this term might appear to be a recent addition to psychological vocabulary, it should be noted that it’s been well-researched by the American Psychological Association. There’s also a great deal of extensive research literature regarding the mechanisms of this devious manipulation technique.
For example, works such as those carried out by Dr. Domina Petric explain that gaslighters apply what is known as the knot theory of mind. In these cases, the abuser obstructs the psychological and emotional functioning of their victims. In effect, they boycott them to the point of making them doubt themselves, thus blurring their identities, values, strengths, and even needs.
So, how can you tell if you suffered (or are still suffering) from parental gaslighting? We’ll give you some clues.
Behind the gaslighter lies a dysfunctional family ruled by one or two narcissistic parents.
1. They invalidated you in every possible way
The gaslighter’s weapon of choice is nullification in any form. It’s a simple and effective strategy with which they control their victims. Understandably, it’s particularly shocking when it’s exercised by parents on their children.
Psychological invalidation makes the child believe that what they feel and think is irrelevant. They believe that their emotions and thoughts are wrong, lacking in logic, and unimportant. If you have or had gaslighting parents, you’ll probably have heard the following kinds of phrases at some time or another:
- You’re exaggerating.
- You’re too sensitive.
- You have no idea about anything, you’re far too naive.
- I’m saying it because you’ve absolutely no idea… you just haven’t got a clue about life.
- What you’re feeling is ridiculous.
- You make no sense.
- You get upset about everything, it’s impossible to talk to you.
- Stop overreacting.
2. Your parents defined how you were and how you felt
An efficient way to nullify an individual is to speak for them, thus robbing them of their voice and the opportunity to express themselves. With parental gaslighting, caregivers speak for their children and declare how they are, how they feel, and what they need. In fact, they turn them into mere puppets that they manipulate at will. They do it in front of others and also in the home environment.
This translates into phrases like:
- You’re a responsible child which is why you must stay at home.
- You’re a good and obedient girl.
- You like science and math, that’s why you’re going to stop reading comics and drawing.
- There’s nothing wrong with you, just get on with your homework and forget about all this nonsense.
- You’re just tired. Go to bed right now.
- You’re upset because of what I said, you’re just a whinger.
3. Instability and contradiction are a constant
Confusion, lies, and frustration. In this type of dysfunctional environment, instability is a constant element, along with contradictory behavior. One common practice is to say one thing today and affirm the opposite tomorrow. For instance, if you were allowed to go to the park one day, if you then asked to go the next, you were scolded for asking for something that you knew was forbidden.
This kind of inconsistency creates a chaotic substrate in which children don’t know what to hold on to. They live in constant uncertainty, not knowing whether they’ll be praised or punished from one day to the next.
Being aware of the problem experienced with our caregivers and accepting that we were never responsible for it is the first step to healing.
Can you ever recover from your parents’ gaslighting?
You’ll probably be aware, as an adult, whether or not you had gaslighting parents. You might even still have to deal with them now. So, what can you do about it?
- Victims of gaslighting often suffer psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. This can undermine your self-esteem and even the foundations of your own identity.
- You need to recognize the damage that’s been done to you. In fact, you must understand that it’s a form of psychological abuse.
- The only way to heal, rebuild, and regain control of your life is through psychological therapy. Also, by establishing a healthy distance from the gaslighter.
- Naturally, it’s often not easy to distance yourself or cut yourself off from a parent who’s been manipulating you for decades. They’ll probably resort to victimhood and threats. In fact, you must be prepared for them to adopt the most skillful of strategies. It’ll help to be clear about what kind of relationship you want to maintain with them. For example, whether you just want to maintain contact by phone, see them less often, or distance yourself permanently.
Finally, make sure you seek the support of your friends, partner, and others to help you cauterize the wounds of yesterday, those that are still conditioning your present.
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