6 signs you suffered from chronic gaslighting as a child, according to a psychotherapist

By | April 15, 2024

The back of an angry, lonely child

Gaslighting is a hallmark sign of narcissistic abuse, and it is beyond toxic. That’s not TikTok talk, it’s real talk.

“Gaslighting makes you question your reality, and it is a form of manipulation or abuse. A major role reversal involves victimizing the perpetrator and turning the victim into the perpetrator,” explains Dr. Elisabeth Crain, PsyD., a doctor of psychology and a certified psychotherapist.

This abuse is terrible no matter when it happens. However, the consequences can be especially devastating when a parent does this to a child.

“For children who have gaslit, it’s actually worse than gaslit as an adult,” says Dr. Crain. “Children depend on adults. They find themselves in a situation where they have to align themselves with a narcissistic or otherwise manipulative parent. They have no way out, so they will blame and shame themselves as a way to cope. “

Knowing exactly what happened to you (chronic gaslighting) can be difficult. Dr. However, Crain says it’s an important step toward healing and learning to build healthy relationships with others and yourself as an adult.

“People who grew up with constant gaslighting carry a lot of shame and think things like ‘I must have done something wrong,’ when in reality someone just made them believe that about themselves,” explains Dr. Crain out. “This understanding of what gaslighting actually is [is] lets you take back power over your own life and gives victims the peace of mind knowing that the things that happened to them were not actually their fault.

It’s time to take your power back. Dr. Crain shares six signs you suffered from chronic gaslighting as a child and tips for moving forward.

Related: 8 Signs You Have a Toxic Mom and How to Heal – According to Psychologists

Risks of chronic gaslighting during childhood

Children have no choice. They need to make sure their relationships work with their parents, on whom they depend for food, shelter, money, rides to medical appointments and school, among other things.

Furthermore, children are still developing and learning to identify emotions and inappropriate behavior (something parents should help them with).

“Children do not have the agency to free themselves from toxic behavior,” explains Dr. Crain out. “They may lack the coping skills for these situations.”

As a result, Dr. says. Crain that children who chronically suffer from gaslit should resort to:

“They will think, ‘I must be the problem,’ because their parents made them feel this way,” says Dr. Crain.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Crain explains below, these thoughts persist into adulthood. It makes it difficult for victims of gaslighting to build healthy relationships or see themselves in a positive light.

Related: 10 Warning Signs According to Therapists, Your Parent is a Narcissist

6 telltale signs you suffered from chronic gaslighting as a child, according to a psychotherapist

1. You doubt your own reality

Distorting a victim’s sense of reality is a typical gaslighting strategy.

“If your parents make you doubt your own reality, making you feel like you’re the crazy one, that’s a sign of gaslighting,” says Dr. Crain.

For example, you may have become visibly upset when a parent commented on your weight and then brought it up later. Your parents may have told you that they never said it or that you were overreacting. As an adult, you may lack confidence in yourself or constantly doubt your feelings because you’re not sure whether to calm down.

Related: 13 red flags of gaslighting at work and how to respond, according to psychologists

2. Self-blame

Another big tactic used in gaslighting, says Dr. Crain, is that parents often blame children for things they have or have not done. A broken lamp that you’ve never touched? Completely your fault. Didn’t you hug Grandma and make her leave in a sob? You ruined the night.

As an adult, you may engage in people-pleasing behavior to protect yourself, find yourself constantly apologizing even when you’ve done nothing wrong, or thinking that every argument in a relationship is your fault.

3. Revisionist history

This gaslighting sign is a major reason why people question their own reality (see #1).

“This is when you say something happened or remember a scenario that played out, and the gaslighter says something like, ‘That never happened,’” explains Dr. Crain out. “They revise history, causing the victim to question their reality or sanity.”

In similar situations as an adult, you may question your version of things even if you have a paper (or text/social media message trail). For example, a romantic partner and co-parent swears that you never asked them to be home at 8 p.m. to help wash the kids, and continues the story even when you show them a text reminder. Victims of childhood gaslighting may side with their partner because of their history of abuse.

Related: 14 Genius Phrases to Shut Down Gaslighting, According to Psychologists

4. Role reversal

This is especially toxic in relationships between parents and children, when the adult is expected to advocate for the child.

“When roles are reversed, the gaslighter becomes the victim and the victim becomes the perpetrator,” says Dr. Crain. “The gaslighter blames or shames. It is a form of narcissistic abuse.”

For example, you may have tried to stand up for yourself and let a parent know that their comment about your shirt or performance at a recital hurt your feelings. They responded by telling you that your tone was rude or that you were embarrassing them. You may be hesitant to stand up for yourself later in life.

5. Manipulation

“Victims of chronic gaslighting will have been manipulated in various ways as children through methods such as guilt or triangulation,” says Dr. Crain.

For example, a parent may give you the silent treatment or withhold affection because you didn’t follow his/her wishes to a T. As an adult, you may find yourself jumping into relationships too quickly (or being so guarded that you can’t seem to commit to a long-term romantic partnership or even a career).

Related: 8 genius comebacks for dealing with a manipulator, according to psychologists

6. Coercion

All of the above leads us here.

“Victims of chronic gaslighting will have been coerced and put under almost constant pressure,” says Dr. Crain.

As an adult, you may find yourself chronically stressed and anxious as you wait for the other shoe to drop. If walking on eggshells is your norm, you may have suffered from gaslit as a child.

Related: 7 Useful Phrases for Politely Expressing a Different Opinion, According to a Psychologist

How to Heal from Chronic Gaslighting as a Child

1. Understand what happened to you

Gaslighting is a commonly used word, but it is misunderstood. Moreover, not everyone has heard of it. However, you need to understand what gaslighting is in order to move forward and heal.

“Having a mastery and deep understanding of what it means to be gaslit can help you heal,” says Dr. Crain. “Until we have that psychoeducation, we are susceptible and susceptible to this happening to us again.”

Dr. Crain recommends seeking therapy to explain your experiences with gaslit and how they have affected you as an adult.

“Gaslighting can leave you with shaken self-confidence, feelings of shame, guilt and confusion,” says Dr. Crain. “Reclaim your power by understanding the truth of the situation.”

Related: The One Thing Millennials Always Bring Up in Therapy, According to Licensed Therapists

2. Implement what you have learned

Even if you once felt powerless against your parent(s) who come to the fore, implementing what you learn in therapy is empowering.

“Once you understand what happened, you can begin to process the feelings around shame, guilt and confusion and come out the other side taking your power back,” says Dr. Crain.

3. Set boundaries

Boundaries protect you.

“If you’ve been injured or suffered a gas fire, you don’t want it to happen to yourself again,” says Dr. Crain. “You want to be smart enough not to fall victim to this behavior again. If you are empowered and in a place of knowledge and understanding and can sense the warning signs, you can avoid being further offended or hurt and that you become a victim of this again. You can live a more peaceful life.”

Next: 35 phrases to set firm and fair boundaries, according to mental health professionals


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