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Gaslighting and Children

There are so many important conversations to have with our children. One I feel is overlooked is the topic of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that is common in our society and I have seen it shockingly prevalent in children and their interactions. I would guess that most children don't know the term gaslighting, or that it is a form of abuse. As an adult, I have only become aware of it over the last few years. I don’t believe children intentionally try to harm others via gaslighting; but rather are uneducated on what they are doing or are modeling behavior they have experienced. I've even witnessed gaslighting between my own children. The approach I have taken has been to educate my children to not use this malicious tactic and to try to teach them to spot when others are using it on them. If your child is experiencing gaslighting, you may need to consult a professional therapist for advice. I am not a therapist, but I believe it is an important topic so I have put together some talking points I have found useful.

  • Gaslighting is when someone tells you you’re wrong or events didn’t happen the way you think they did. It makes you question yourself. An example would be someone called you a name and later they say they never called you a name, you don’t remember that right.

  • Someone using gaslighting is often trying to stop the truth from coming out or wants to have control over you.

  • What you think and feel is ok. You should be respectful of what others think and feel.

  • You do not have control over other people’s thoughts, decisions, and behavior, only your own.

  • It is not ok for you to tell someone how they perceive or remember events, just as it is not ok for anyone, even adults, to tell you how you remember or perceive events. Of course, there will be different perceptions of how things happened. You should be respectful of how others perceived events, and in return, they should be respectful of your interpretation. In a healthy relationship, you talk about these differences and have empathy for others. You do not try to change or manipulate how someone thinks and feels.

  • If someone tries to change the way you remember events, tells you that’s not how it happened, or says you are lying, you can say something like:

  • “We disagree, and this is how I see it.”

  • “You can’t tell me how to feel. My feelings are mine.”

  • “I feel like you are not listening to, or hearing me.”

  • “I understand that may be your perspective, but it’s not mine.”

  • “It’s not healthy to tell me how to feel; I need space.”

  • If you feel like you are being manipulated, you need to talk to a trusted adult to help determine if that is a safe person and a relationship worth continuing.

  • Relationships should build us up and make us feel good. They should not make us question ourselves or our sanity.

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