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  • Parents can and do gaslight their children, or manipulate them to question their sanity and cause them to doubt their own judgment and memory.
  • Oftentimes, parents who engage in gaslighting have narcissistic personality traits and/or suffer with alcohol/drug abuse.
  • Parents may outright lie to their children, discredit their thoughts, cause them to feel self-conscious, anxious, weak, and confused.
  • If you suspect a parent is gaslighting you, you should bring these observations to a trusted individual’s attention, such as a counselor.
  • You should also explore the possibility of family therapy, to potentially fix this unhealthy family dynamic.

Camille and Amma couldn’t be more different. Camille is a 30-something journalist, who prefers to stay under the radar. Amma, on the other hand, is her more outgoing and rebellious kid sister. That said, there is one common thread between them: their mother Adora. Or more specifically, their mother’s abuse.

If you’ve seen (or read) Sharp Objects, you know just how crazy the dynamic is between Adora and her daughters. One significant element being Adora’s manipulative tendencies. It’s obvious from the start that Adora isn’t the best mother, as she talks down to Camille and inappropriately babies Amma. Viewers and readers alike quickly observe the manipulation—often, gaslighting—and grow cautious, even afraid of Adora as they root for the wellbeing of her daughters.

Gaslighting Parents: Warning Signs

Adora lies to her children, undermines them, and manipulates them in a way that causes them to question their very sanity. This is gaslighting in the flesh. And while Adora, Camille, and Amma are but fictional characters in a popular miniseries, gaslighting is seen in many parent-child dynamics. Lisa Larsen, PsyD, a psychologist and coach, delves into how this form of manipulation is employed by parents:

“I often see parents who have narcissistic personality traits or who abuse drugs or alcohol manipulate their children into questioning their sanity. They can outright lie to their children about what they did and happened, or they can say things to their children like, ‘Are you sure you saw that?’ Sometimes, if the child has a diagnosed mental illness, a parent will use that to discredit the child’s credibility. They can do this in a falsely sweet way like, ‘Are you sure you aren’t just having symptoms? Have you taken your medication today?’

Alternatively, parents can be harsher about it, by outright insulting the child, such as, ‘What do you know? You’re just crazy!’ The child can start to suffer from anxiety, confusion, low self-esteem, and question their own reality. They might be less assertive than other children in speaking truth to power and become socially passive. Unfortunately, being passive can lead to others manipulating and bullying them as well. Sometimes, the parent will make a show of loving their children to the public, but verbally lash out at them at home, heaping blame and inappropriate responsibility on the child at home.”

Put an End to the Manipulation

I’m going to leave it to you to find out how Camille and Amma deal with their mother’s manipulative ways. In the meantime, if you suspect that your mother or father (or both) is gaslighting you, consider Larsen’s advice:

  • Confide in a trusted individual about the manipulation.
  • Talking with a psychologist about your concerns is likely the best route.
  • Consider going to family therapy to potentially correct this unhealthy dynamic.
  • No matter what, put your wellbeing first.

Larsen explains that though it takes courage, it is important to come forward and discuss your parent’s manipulative behavior, preferably with a professional: “This is difficult, but if the child has enough courage, they can go to a trusted adult, perhaps in their place of worship or school, and describe some of the things that are going on that concern them. If the school has a school counselor or school psychologist, that would be best. Unfortunately, it can be hard for the child to even know that they are being gaslit and they might start to believe the lies that are being told to them.”

She goes on to say that counseling can be helpful to repairing the family if making these repairs is possible: “Hopefully, the child can enter psychotherapy or counseling, or the whole family can be seen to help change this unhealthy dynamic. If the parents see that it is hurting their child, hopefully they will have enough empathy to own what they are doing and stop it. However, that is less than likely. I would say that it is a form of abuse that is passed down from generation to generation and it might be hard to break because the perpetrators do not see it as problematic behavior.”

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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