Gaslighting is a term coined in 1944 from a film called ‘Gaslit’ about a husband who slowly works to convince his wife that she is insane. Basically, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that involves someone working to make another person doubt their own reality.
The thing about this is that sometimes, as parents, we do this without thinking. Maybe it’s just because our parents did it for us, or maybe it’s because we just don’t realize that is what we are doing. Of course, there are parents who do it and either don’t care or have more nefarious motives. But, I am assuming if you have found your way here, you are trying to make sure you aren’t doing that, so it’s not likely you are the latter.
With that being said, gaslighting is a tricky subject, and there are many ways in which gaslighting can happen. Here are some examples of what gaslighting your child might look like.
1. You exaggerate every conflict.
No matter what the problem is, you fly off the handle. There are no small problems because everything your child does cause you to react in a major way. In turn, it’s likely your child will keep you at a distance or hold back details because they don’t want to upset you. If this is you, it might be time to consider speaking with a therapist about emotional reactions or even try some mindfulness techniques to get a hold of your emotions.
2. You insist that you know your child better than they know themselves.
As parents, we may like to believe that we know our child better than anyone else, including themselves. However, when you correct your child about how they think or feel, you are telling them that they can’t trust themselves. And this can create major problems for them as far as self-esteem goes. Remember, your experiences are not your child’s, and allow them the freedom to feel however they believe they feel.
3. You don’t apologize.
Everyone makes mistakes including adults and parents. Really, especially adults and parents. While you may hesitate to admit fault with your kids, it’s really important not to. First, if you do wrong and don’t admit it, they are going to question the fact that they feel you did them wrong, which will make them doubt their own experiences. And secondly, it’s a good lesson to teach your kids to take responsibility for their actions.
4. You invalidate your child’s emotions.
A lot of parents do this with the best of intentions. For example, your child might be screaming and crying and your first instinct is to help them (AKA help them to stop crying.) So, instead of soothing them, you say, “Stop crying, it’s not that bad.” When you do though, you are sending the message that their emotions are invalid. Instead, acknowledge how they feel and let them know it’s okay to get upset.
5. You downplay your child’s success.
When your child accomplishes something, you downplay what they have done. For example, perhaps they won the spelling bee, but instead of being happy for them, you say, “But you only got second place.” If your child is excited and has accomplished something, don’t tear them down. Please.
6. You correct your child’s memories.
When your child brings up memories they have, as soon as you hear a minor detail out of place you say, “That’s not how that happened,” or, “Your imagination is so wild.” Be careful doing this, because you are causing your child to doubt their own perspective, which is damaging. Just let them tell the story how they want, as long as they aren’t flat-out lying.
7. You project your problems onto your child.
When a problem arises, you blame your child. An example of this might be if your child made a huge mess on accident and you yell, “Now I am going to be late and it’s all your fault,” when in reality you were already running behind. When you do this, your child internalizes the fault, which can be really confusing.