4 Signs Your Parent Is Gaslighting You, Therapist Says

It's more common than you might think in parent-child dynamics.

Most of the time, when we talk about gaslighting, it's in the context of romantic relationships. That's because it takes a certain amount of intimacy and trust for one person to exert such a high level of emotional control or manipulation over another. However, gaslighting can occur in any relationship where trust or dependence exists, making the parent-child relationship another common place for the problem to crop up.

Audrey Jaynes, LMSW, a New York-based therapist, says there are several ways that parents sow the seeds of self-doubt or confusion in their relationships with their children. In many cases, this helps the parent preserve a feeling of disproportionate power as those dynamics naturally shift toward something more equitable. Wondering if your own relationship with your parent contains this toxic trait? These are the four most common signs that your parent is gaslighting you.

RELATED: 5 Times You're Mistakenly Accusing Someone of Gaslighting.

1
They've re-written aspects of your childhood.

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When you look back on your childhood, it's normal for memories of certain events to feel hazy. After all, it was a long time ago, your brain was still developing, and you lacked context for much of what you experienced. However, Jaynes says that if you notice a trend in which a parent consistently re-writes key aspects of your history that you do remember clearly, this could be a red flag that they're gaslighting you.

"When a parent disregards the child's memories, this can become a form of gaslighting—it overrides their experience and can undermine trust," explains Jaynes.

She adds that parents have a certain responsibility to try to see the past from their child's perspective, in addition to their own. "Both parties can try saying, 'That's not how I remember it. I'd love to understand how you remember it,'" she suggests.

The therapist adds that people can have different experiences of the same reality, so it's best to avoid jumping to conclusions about your parent's intent.

"I had two clients who were siblings—they grew up in the same household but one deemed their parents to be emotionally abusive and neglecting, while the other felt like it wasn't so bad. It can be hard to reconcile two perspectives, and it doesn't always indicate intentional manipulation," she says.

2
They invalidate your feelings.

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If your parent often invalidates your feelings or purports to understand your feelings better than you do, this could be another sign of gaslighting, Jaynes says. One common example of this is when a parent says "I'm sorry you feel that way" instead of taking responsibility for their actions.

"Trying to understand the kernel of truth in someone else's perspective or the validity of their emotions can be incredibly powerful," Jaynes says. "The alternative is getting defensive, which only deepens distrust."

However, she notes that this doesn't mean sweeping your differences in perspective under the rug. "You can say, 'I'm sorry I don't see it that way but I want to understand where you're coming from. Tell me more,'" she says. Another way to approach this is to say, "My intention wasn't to hurt you, but I'm sorry that I did."

RELATED: 5 Red Flags Your Parent Is a Narcissist, According to Therapists.

3
They shut down your very real fears.

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Parents are tasked with protecting their children from danger as they grow up. However, Jaynes notes that some parents take their role as protector too far, essentially gaslighting their kids about challenges in their lives by denying their existence.

"In an effort to protect kids from harsh realities, many parents deny or dismiss when kids express their fears about the state of the world," she says. "You want them to feel safe so badly, but it invalidates their very real experiences and perspectives."

When parents instead validate their children's fears about adult topics—for instance, global violence or climate change—this can build trust and connection, making them feel less alone with their concerns.

4
They take your boundaries as a personal offense.

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Boundaries are important in all relationships, yet many parents struggle to acknowledge them within the parent-child relationship. However, failing to respect a boundary is not, in and of itself, gaslighting. It only becomes gaslighting when the parent interprets a boundary as a personal offense, essentially making it seem as though the child having a boundary has crossed a boundary of their own.

Jaynes says this can become increasingly difficult to set right once the child is an adult. "If an adult child sets a boundary because something doesn't feel right to them, it's important to acknowledge it and do your best not to take it personally," she notes.

The therapist says that getting curious about why the boundary feels so important to the child can help repair past ruptures in the bond between you. Embrace the ever-evolving power dynamics in the relationship, bearing in mind that both parent and child are entitled to their own perspectives and feelings.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more