Parents Who Gaslight Their Children: What Are The Consequences?

Parents who "gaslight" generate guilt and lead their children to not trust themselves. We'll tell you how growing up with this type of manipulation affects them.
Parents Who Gaslight Their Children: What Are The Consequences?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 16 September, 2022

When we’re children, we need our parents to help us build a positive self-concept to believe that we’re valuable, that we can trust our judgment, and that we’re worthy of love. However, all of this is denied to any child who grows up in an environment where there’s manipulation. Among the many different ways that manipulation can occur within the family, today we want to talk to you about parents who gaslight their children.

This term is common in the context of relationships. Gaslighting is a subtle and well-camouflaged manipulation technique that leads the person who suffers it not to trust their own perceptions, emotions, or memories.

Whoever exercises this type of abuse makes the victim doubt themselves, their intuitions, and their nstincts to such a degree that they’re at the mercy of the other person.

How do parents gaslight their children?

This form of control and manipulation isn’t always easy to perceive, and when it affects us during childhood, it’s even more complicated. A child naturally trusts his or her parents and seeks to please them; he or she doesn’t think that something like this could be happening.

It’s possible that it isn’t until you reach adulthood that you realize that you suffered from gaslighting as a child and realize the consequences that you still carry. To recognize if there was gaslighting being done by your parents while you were growing up. On the other hand, if you’re gaslighting your children and are not aware of it, here are some of the behaviors to look out for.

parents who gaslight
Parents can manipulate their children with subtle techniques that leave negative messages about who they are and what they can do.

They blame their children

Blame is one of the most effective means of manipulation. These parents are experts at generating this feeling in their children for all sorts of reasons in order to exert control over them.

They usually hold them responsible for issues that really have nothing to do with them. If the parents’ relationship is going badly, for example, they may blame the child.

It’s also very common for them to hold the child responsible for the adults’ feelings. For example: “I am angry and stressed because you’ve been bothering me all afternoon.”

They minimize and invalidate feelings

Parents who gaslight their children constantly invalidate their feelings. Any emotion they express is labeled as exaggerated, an overreaction, or overly sensitive. They never seem to have the right to feel the way they feel.

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They deny the reality of what their children feel and experience

They also deny reality and evidence to get rid of their responsibility. For example, if there’s clear favoritism towards one child and the other perceives and claims it, he/she will be told that he/she is crazy, that he/she imagines it and that this is not so at all.

It’s also very common for the manipulative parent to play the role of victim: “you criticize and reproach me all day long; I’m the worst parent in the world according to you.” This is, in reality, a projection mechanism that helps to divert attention from their mistakes and put the blame on the child.

They undervalue and criticize

These parents constantly criticize everything the child does, says, or chooses. Their likes, talents, hobbies and interests are criticized and undervalued. They may even be labeled as inappropriate.

Instead of encouraging the development of the child’s personality and identity, they suppress and limit it.

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They isolate and control their children

On the other hand, these parents seek to control their children and make their children conform to their preferences. It’s common for them to isolate them socially and limit their relationships with other people.

parents who gaslight their children
Children can become isolated from their environment when parents gaslight them.

The consequences of gaslighting parents

Growing up in this type of dynamic has significant consequences on a person. These not only affect childhood, but can continue into adulthood.

Some of the most common are the following:

  • Children grow up with low self-esteem, insecurity, and a poor self-concept.
  • They don’t trust their judgment and have become disconnected from their emotions and intuition. Therefore, it’s difficult for them to know what they really want and what they really need; it’s even difficult for them to make decisions and look out for their own good.
  • Emotional dependency and a tendency to be complacent are common. If a person cannot trust his or her perceptions, instincts and opinions, that person may cling to someone else to decide for them. This pattern can be repeated apart from with their parents, their partners, friends, and others.
  • They find it difficult to express their emotions, since that child learned that what he/she felt was not valid and would not find understanding or empathy. This inability to manage emotions can lead to psychosomatic conditions.

Overcoming the effects of parents gaslighting their children

Have you identified with the above? If so, you probably grew up with parents who gaslighted. They may even continue to gaslight you as an adult. Becoming aware of what happened and realizing how we were manipulated is fundamental to begin healing.

It’s very important to seek professional help during this process and that you take the reins of your transformation. Don’t expect your parents to take responsibility for what happened or even to be aware of their behavior.

As an adult, allow yourself to reconnect with yourself and trust yourself. It will improve your quality of life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Betancourt, D., & Andrade, P. (2011). Control parental y problemas emocionales y de conducta en adolescentes. Revista colombiana de psicología20(1), 27-41.
  • Garciandía, J. & Ibarra, A. (2012). Enfermedad psicosomática y patrones familiares en niños con asma. Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatría, 41(1), 111-138.
  • Sarkis, S. M. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People–and Break Free. Hachette UK.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.