Is My Mother Gaslighting Me? 9 Signs Of This Manipulation Tactic, According To Experts
It can be really tough to tell if you're being gaslighted by your mom. The very nature of gaslighting means it's often difficult to detect, as it leaves you feeling confused and disoriented. But if you know what the signs might look like, or how they could make you feel, it may be easier to tell if that's what's going on.
"Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and an extreme form of invalidation," Dr. Jamie Long, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle, adding that it is possible your mom doesn't realize she's doing it, or that she's gaslighting as a way to protect herself.
"For many moms, the idea of being a bad parent of any kind is their worst nightmare," Long says, "so the subconscious instinct is to deny, minimize, or deflect from the painful reality." The thing is, while that may benefit her, it doesn't make it OK, especially since it can leave you feeling upset, ignored, or worse.
"To prevent gaslighting from impacting you, try to give [your mom] the most generous assumptions possible while maintaining good boundaries," Long says. It may also help to talk to a therapist, where you can start to uncover all the ways your mom's gaslighting has been affecting you. If you recognize any of the signs listed below, it may help explain a lot, experts say, and may even help to improve your relationship.
1. She Makes You Question The Past
It's not always guaranteed you and your mom will remember things from the past in the exact same way. You were different people, after all, and saw things from different perspectives. But she might be gaslighting you if she discredits, invalidates, or minimizes your memories from the past, Long says.
"When you bring up a painful memory from childhood, [she] might say, 'Oh, you’re being so dramatic!' or some other statement that discounts your memory," Long says.
This can be especially toxic if you go to your mom to talk about something painful that happened, only for her to claim it didn't. When that's the case, it may be best to share the information with somebody else.
2. She Downplays Your Feelings
"Mothers gaslight when they make their children question their perception of their experience," Karen C.L. Anderson, an author and expert in difficult mother-daughter relationships, tells Bustle. If this is the case, you might hear her say things like "Don't be silly, you're over-reacting," or "Stop exaggerating, it wasn't that bad!"
"The impact, especially if done since childhood, is that a child questions themself and their perceptions of their experiences," Anderson says. "They doesn't trust themself, their emotions, instincts, and intuition. Over time, this can affect a child's ability to take true responsibility for themself as an adult."
Once you realize it, it may even be something you'll want to discuss with a therapist, so that you can begin working to undo some of these negative side effects.
3. Your Mom Tries To Compete With You
While it may sound strange, you might notice that your mom tries to compete with you, Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, author of the book Gaslighting, tells Bustle. It may even get to the point where she seems more like a sister or a friend, than a mom.
She may even try to live through you, Sarkis says, possibly by encouraging you to win at all costs and succeed, so that she can feel that success, too. Or by doing other bizarre things, like becoming friends with your friends.
"Gaslighters are master controllers and manipulators, and even parents can be gaslighters," Sarkis says. So if any of this sounds familiar, that may be what's going on.
4. She Compares You To Your Siblings
If your mom is gaslighting you, there's a good chance she'll treat one of your siblings as the "golden child," Sarkis says, and possibly you as the "scapegoat" for all the problems in the family. And again, this can all stem from her desire to maintain control.
It can do a number on your mental health, if you've been compared to siblings your entire life. It can also impact self-esteem, make you question yourself, and even impact your future relationships.
Again, this is something you may want to talk about with others, like a therapist, in order to fully understand what's happening.
5. She Isn't Excited For Your Success
On the flip side, you might notice that your mom gets upset whenever you find success, or that she discourages you from reaching certain goals.
"Gaslighters try to undermine achievements that signify their child’s independence of them, such as telling [you] going to college is a waste of time in situations where healthy relatives would encourage [you] to further [your] education," Sarkis says.
Your mom might even react dramatically as a way to control you and make you change your mind, Sarkis says, possibly by threatening to never speak to you again, throwing out your things, or "cutting you out of her will."
6. You Don't Feel Fulfilled
If your mom is gaslighting you, "you may find that you just don’t seem as happy or fulfilled as your peers," Sarkis says. This can take many forms, but the overall feeling might be that you don't feel quite right or settled in your life.
"If you were raised by a gaslighter, some of the characteristics you may have picked up include lying about things that you really have no need to lie about, manufacturing drama in your relationship for it to feel normal, finding it easier to manipulate people into doing what you need instead of directly asking them," Sarkis says. And so on.
It can be tough, but it is possible to find more balance. "Managing gaslighters as parents, breaking the cycle, and dealing with gaslighting siblings is very challenging," Sarkis says, "and begins with awareness of these actions as unhealthy."
7. You Constantly Second-Guess Yourself
Going off that, you might find that you constantly second-guess yourself. When it comes to making decisions, you aren't sure how to go about it. And when you try to assess your emotions, you aren't quite sure how you feel.
That's because you were likely taught that what you see, hear, and feel isn't necessarily real, Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage, and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle.
"Children who grow up with a gaslighting mother lose the ability to trust their own perceptions, to trust their own bodily cues, and to make clear decisions based on their own somatic experience," she says. "Maternal gaslighting robs [you] of [your] ability to trust [your] own gut."
8. Her Actions Don't Match Her Words
If your mom's actions rarely match her words, it may be another sign she's gaslighting you. "Gaslighters will deny they said something or did something that you know that they said or did," Scott-Hudson says. "They move through the world dishonestly." And it can have a big impact on you.
To spot it, it can help to pay more attention to what your mom does rather than what she says. As Scott-Hudson says, often with gaslighters, "their actions and words are incongruent and do not match," which can help you separate her reality from actual reality.
9. She Projects Her Problems Onto You
Another major red flag is if your mom projects her own feelings and problems onto you, leaving you feeling confused. For example, she might accuse you of behavior she's been engaging in, such as lying, Scott-Hudson says. So start to be aware of the moments that don't feel quite right, or the arguments that seem to come out of nowhere, and then take a closer look.
If you notice these signs, it might mean that your mom is gaslighting you, and that you need to establish firmer boundaries with her in order to prevent it from impacting you. It's also always OK to have less contact (or no contact) with your mom, if that feels like it would help. The choice is up to you.