Gaslighting is a special type of manipulation. Gaslighting is literally deceiving a child systematically. When a parent is unreliable, argumentative, self-absorbed, or neglectful, gaslighting is generally involved.
The relationship between children and parents is a powerful dynamic. One very disturbing aspect of this relationship is that equality does not exist. Parents are in control, and this control can be abused. This puts children in a very vulnerable and fragile position. They are in a position to be forced and manipulated.
A gaslit child grows up in a unstable, scary, confusing world. It is cringe-worthy. The sweet innocence a child is born with is slowly mangled out of existence and replaced with feelings of uncertainty and guilt. Having grown up in this environment, I can relate. I know how hard it can be when you are that little and walking on eggshells. I felt my body tense up and never truly release. I felt anger swimming through my blood.
Now, as an adult, I feel other feelings. I don’t think about my childhood often. I have been through therapy to work out my anger and to find my innocence again, but the aftermath of the manipulation is ever present. I struggle with decision-making because I made mistakes and “couldn’t do anything right.” I have trouble determining my emotions because I was made to believe that how I felt was inaccurate. Even worse, my relationships suffer. I am in a tug of war with myself, because I feel like I know that I am not at fault for everything that happens, but I feel the guilt so strongly. My reality is always questioned, because I was taught that I did not understand my reality and that I needed to question it.
It doesn’t take much effort to make a child question reality. Being told that you’re loved and the next day told you’re not wanted and that you can’t do anything right is gaslighting. Telling a child that you did not say something that you said is gaslighting. Calling a child a liar is being an irresponsible parent in the first place, but calling a child a liar without knowledge that the child did in fact lie is gaslighting.
It is very difficult to determine abuse when you are a child. You are little. Adults are big, and noises are loud. You lack the ability to determine and reason. Then one day, you’re 24 and realize that behavior as abnormal. It’s kind of funny, because I remember going to friends’ houses and being shocked to find out that some homes felt calm and enjoyable. I didn’t realize that life could be different.
The good thing for me and other adults who have experienced this kind of childhood is that we have the ability to recognize gaslighting for what it is and can recognize some of our behaviors as a side effect. Just the awareness alone gives us the tools that we need to move forward and expose our children to a more stable, encouraging, and supportive life.