If psychology has taught us anything in the last hundred or so years it’s been around, it’s that our parents play a pivotal role in shaping who we are as people, how we feel about ourselves, and what kind of lives we will lead in the future. And while a happy, healthy, and loving family would certainly be the most ideal, the sad truth is only a rare few of us can say our childhoods left little room for improvement.
Parents are people, too, and they make mistakes. But unlike other people who don’t have children, their careless mistakes can often lead to a lot of emotional baggage their children will be left to unpack even well into their adulthood. And one of the most harmful yet often unintentional ways parents hurt their children is by gaslighting them, which is defined as “a form of psychological and emotional manipulation that leaves its victims doubting themselves and their own perceptions of reality.”
With that said, here are 7 signs your parents may be gaslighting you:
1. They don’t listen to you.
How does a conversation between you and your parents usually go? Are they open to listening to your ideas and hearing what you have to say? Or do they simply expect you to do as you’re told just because “they said so” or “they’re the parent here”? Having parents who don’t listen to you can be frustrating to say the least, and constantly being patronized and treated like a child is surely going to do a number to anyone’s self-esteem. When we don’t feel heard, especially in our own home, by our own parents, it plants the seeds of insecurity and self-doubt in us that become harder and harder to uproot the older we get.
2. They decide things for you.
Do your parents pick your clothes out for you or tell you who you can and can’t be friends with? Do they forbid you from seeing certain people or going to certain places just because they don’t like it? Do they make your decisions for you without even asking you what you want? While it’s not uncommon for parents to tell us what we should like or how we should act, especially when we’re still young, it becomes toxic and problematic when they don’t allow us the freedom to decide things for ourselves and establish our own sense of identity, free from their influence and control.
3. They tend to dismiss your problems.
Whether it’s a fight with your best friend, a broken heart after a break up, or the pressure of getting good grades and doing well on your finals, your parents just don’t understand that, while it might not seem like much to them, the struggles you are facing feel very heavy and very real to you. They don’t even make an effort to try to empathize with you, and instead, simply tell you to move on or forget all about it because it “won’t matter in a few weeks” and “there’s no use crying over spilled milk.” But invalidating your feelings is a common example of gaslighting (Hightower, 2017), which brings us to our next point…
4. They tell you you’re overreacting.
You don’t really like to open up to your parents about how you’re feeling because most of the time, they just roll their eyes and tell you you’re overreacting. But don’t be so quick to believe them! Telling someone they’re “just being dramatic” or “being too sensitive” is a telltale sign that they are gaslighting you. And if your parents do it so often that it starts to make you feel guilty or ashamed for feeling a certain way, that’s as clear a sign as any that something is very wrong in the way your parents treat you.
5. They deny their shortcomings.
Another warning sign your parents might be gaslighting you is if you feel like you can never have an honest and mature conversation with them about the flaws in your relationship. If you don’t like what they said or how they treated you, you should just keep it to yourself because they’re not going to want to hear it. They deny all their shortcomings and justify their bad behaviors by saying things like, “Well, that’s not how I see it” or “You should be grateful, I’m only doing this for your own good” (Portknow, 1997).
6. They shift the blame towards you.
Similar to the last point, instead of owning up to their mistakes and taking responsibility for it, they simply shift the blame towards you, often by playing the victim (Sarkis, 2018). Nothing is ever their fault because their fingers are always pointed at somebody else, ready to shift the blame the moment something goes wrong — and most of the time it’s you! Self-righteous and sanctimonious, your parents gaslight you by becoming defensive and turning every valid criticism you have, no matter how gently you give it, into a full-on screaming match and pointing out all your flaws instead.
7. They never just take your word for it.
Last but certainly not the least, this is perhaps one of the most common (and most often unintentional) ways parents gaslight their children. If you come to them with a problem (say for example, you’re being bullied at school), they never just take your word for it. They have to hear it from someone else before they believe it, and say things like “Are you sure? Maybe you provoked them in some way and this is all just a misunderstanding. Did they hurt you? I wouldn’t consider it bullying if they didn’t physically hurt you.” Get the idea? Your word isn’t good enough for them, and it won’t be long before it stops being good enough for you, too.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Have you ever been gaslighted by your parents? If you suspect you might be in a mentally or emotionally abusive relationship, with your parents or otherwise, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and talk to them about it.
- Hightower, E. (2017). An exploratory study of personality factors related to psychological abuse and gaslighting (Doctoral dissertation, William James College).
- Portnow, K. E. (1997). Dialogues of doubt: The psychology of self-doubt and emotional gaslighting in adult women and men.
- Sarkis, S. M. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free. Da Capo Lifelong Books.