Gaslighting Children: What Is It and How Does It Affect Them?

Gaslighting children causes them serious emotional consequences through control and manipulation. Learn more in today's article.
Gaslighting Children: What Is It and How Does It Affect Them?
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 04 April, 2023

Are you aware of the consequences of gaslighting children? This is a form of psychological abuse that greatly harms any child who experiences it. These are adults who do anything to control their children and don’t care about the harm they may cause them. This damages the children’s self-esteem and confidence while also causing them to grow up disoriented and confused. Many of the victims don’t realize that they’re suffering from it until they reach adulthood.

Parents who engage in this type of psychological abuse with their children, in general, also suffered it as children and now repeat the same pattern. It’s a form of manipulation in which the victim is totally disoriented. But, in order for you to have more information about gaslighting, we’ll tell you what it is and how it affects children.

What does it mean to gaslight children?

A mother downplaying her child's emotions.
Parents who gaslight their children tend to isolate them so that they don’t interact with anyone. In addition, they undervalue them and make them feel guilty about everything.

When we talk about this term, we’re referring to a form of abuse in which a person, in this case, a parent, tries to alter their child’s perception. In this way, they make them believe that what they see, what they hear, or what they feel isn’t true. This type of abuse attempts to intentionally wear the child down emotionally in order to gain total control over them.

For example, they make comments to them such as the following: “you hard wrong”, “you clearly don’t remember things correctly”, and “you’re confused about what you saw”, among others. These comments are intended to disorient the victims so that they come to believe that what they’re told is true and that what they remember isn’t real.

Gaslighting children causes significant psychological consequences and totally damages the child’s identity, self-esteem, and confidence. The victim may even suffer from major mental disorders.

What are parents who gaslight their children like?

Making children feel guilty is always the main resource used by parents who gaslight their children. Let’s see what parents who gaslight are like:

  • They make use of outright lying to hurt the child.
  • They involve children in situations they’re not responsible for. For example, when there are problems between partners, they make the child believe that it’s their fault.
  • They undervalue, belittle, and ignore any talent or ability their children have.
  • They may even socially isolate the children. Therefore, they prevent them from being independent in order to keep them under their control.
  • They constantly attack any interest or hobby their children have and belittle everything they like.
  • They go so far as to say “you’re crazy, I didn’t say that” or “you don’t know what you see”, among others.
  • They deny anything they’ve said or done despite having evidence against them. They try to make children doubt and feel confused because they know that this weakens them.
  • What they say and what they do doesn’t coincide most of the time.
  • All their efforts are directed at confusing their child.
A mother belittling her teen daughter's feelings.
A child who, as an adult, realizes everything that has happened, has a hard time trusting anyone. It can even lead to mental problems such as anxiety or depression.

How gaslighting children affects them

When a child has suffered from gaslighting, they’ve had to deal with excessive lies, manipulations, betrayals, and isolation. Therefore, the emotional consequences they suffer can include the following:

  • Moments of disconnection from self.
  • Self-doubt.
  • Feelings of dependence on the manipulative person in order to understand reality.
  • Distrust about whether what they know is true or not.
  • They feel weak and lost, without confidence in themselves to solve any difficulty or situation that may arise.
  • Feeling insecure about oneself and one’s surroundings.
  • Need for everything they do to be approved by the manipulative person.
  • Loss of the ability to identify what they want.

Seek psychological help

Parents who gaslight their children cause serious emotional damage to them. If you’ve ever suffered or are suffering from this type of abuse, it’s important that you establish certain limits to avoid giving them more power to exercise against you. If you’re a parent and you’ve realized that you use some of these behaviors, seek psychological help to improve. It’s key that your children don’t end up damaged by this toxic way of relating to them.

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.

  • Sweet, P. L. (2019). The sociology of gaslighting. American Sociological Review, 84(5), 851-875.
  • Jiménez, J. S. G., & Varel, M. D. R. F. (2017). Gaslighting. La invisible violencia psicológica. Uaricha, 14(32), 53-60.

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