Gaslighting — any sort of statement that makes someone doubt their own feelings or perceptions — is a common tactic used in abusive relationships. But it's also present in many kinds of relationships; not limited to romantic relationships, it may occur in parent-child ones, as well. Once you can spot the signs your parents are gaslighting you, you may come to realize that this type of behavior is practically normalized — although it definitely shouldn't be.
Specifically, gaslighting is "the use of deflection and distraction and blame by one person to hide some truth, or to benefit in some way, at the cost of another," according to Psychology Today. It's not always done with bad intentions, but even when it's done to educate someone or cheer them up, gaslighting someone can have harmful consequences.
Gaslighting by parents can extend way into adulthood, but it may have particularly harmed you during your childhood. Children need to learn to trust themselves, and when they're taught that what they see, hear, or feel isn't real, that can lead to a lifetime of self-doubt. They lose the ability to think for themselves, or at least don't give themselves permission to exercise that ability. And that's not OK.
Here are some signs that your parents may have gaslighted or are gaslighting you.
1. They Tell You What You Do & Don't Like
Parents do this to kids all the time: "What do you mean you don't like steak? You ate steak last week." "Our family loves the beach." Tastes and preferences are by nature subjective, so nobody else can tell you what yours are. When they do, they're taking away your power to give people the information they need to treat you right.
2. They Dismiss Your Unhappiness
It's one thing to try to solve a problem and another to tell someone that there's no problem in the first place. Parents do this when they tell kids, especially boys, not to cry. There is no "should" or "shouldn't" with feelings. People can feel however they feel; telling them they shouldn't invalidates the reasons why they're feeling bad.
3. They Act Like Your Ideas Are Silly
When there's a power dynamic between two people, which often happens in relationships with large age differences, it's common for the higher-status person to confuse disagreement with ignorance. If their kids don't agree with them, parents may think they need to educate them or that they're just being rebellious or naive. But we're all entitled to an opinion no matter our age.
4. They Like To Talk About Your Wild Imagination
Parents will sometimes call kids imaginative for pointing out things that turn out to actually exist — or things that are subjective, like spiritual experiences. Telling someone that something's their imagination is pretty much the definition of gaslighting. It makes someone think they don't know what's real and what's not.
5. They Insist They're Right & You're Wrong Without Any Evidence
When someone believes they're older and wiser than someone, they can dismiss good ideas about everything from directions to politics. This doesn't mean that if someone corrects something you say, you're being gaslighted. But if you habitually turn out to be right after they dismiss your suggestions, they're invalidating your valid perceptions.
6. They Expect You To Control How You Feel
All different people, including parents, often give advice like "nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent" (or, more generally, "nobody can make you feel anything") and "you can control your attitude." This is simply not true. We are not machines whose feelings can be turned on and off. And even if we could control our feelings, we'd get to decide how we feel based on what's best for us, not what's convenient for others.
7. They Deny Behaviors You Call Them Out On
If someone hurts you, the right thing to do is to apologize. Even if they didn't mean to hurt you, the important thing is what they did, not what they intended to do. If you say somebody harmed you and they respond that they actually didn't, that's the same as telling you how you're feeling. A supportive parent wants to help their child feel better, not debate whether they should feel bad in the first place.