Are you gaslighting your kids?
Chances are… you are. Not because you’re a bad mom and not because you don’t care about your kids. It’s because that’s how you were treated. It’s how we were taught.
But today we’re going to talk about why it’s not helpful, how it’s actually harmful, and how to break the cycle.
What is gaslighting?
In short, gaslighting is when someone convinces you and makes you believe that your thoughts, feelings and emotions are wrong.
They make you believe that the reality that you’re experiencing is wrong, and therefore you are inherently wrong. You are crazy, you cannot be trusted with your own experiences.
We hear a lot about gaslighting when it comes to abusive relationships. The reason I bring this up now is because we have a really bad habit of also doing it to our kids.
Just to be clear: this is not because you’re a bad mom.
This is because what’s taught to us is our current normal. It’s up to us as moms to break this cycle so it doesn’t continue.
So now that we understand what gaslighting is, what does it look like? How is it harmful?
A way that we may gaslight our kids is when they’re having a big emotion and we say, “It’s no big deal, settle down. You’re overreacting.”
Bringing this awareness doesn’t always feel comfortable, but it is important.
By telling our kids that their emotions are invalid and that their feelings are wrong, we’re teaching them that they can’t be trusted with their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. This means that as they get older, they’re going to believe that can’t be trusted so they’ll turn to someone who can, and often those people take advantage of that.
As survivors, we’ve experienced a lot of gaslighting. Dealing with our abusive partners, being gaslit by those who didn’t believe us when we asked for help.
It’s a huge problem and needs to be dealt with as a societal issue (because it is). But the quickest way to bring change in our lives is by starting with us and our kids. By owning our mistakes and being willing to change, we’re going to be changing the future of every generation after us.
But really – why is this harmful?
When you’re in an abusive relationship, the reason why we’re gaslit is to manipulate us into trusting the abuser, making us believe that they are better than us and therefore we should blindly follow them.
We can take that exact same concept and apply it to our families as parents.
Recently, I had a moment where I was struggling to hold it together. I was so done listening to my child and I snapped at him. “You can’t change it – just get over it already. I’m sick of hearing about it.”
In this moment, I told my kid that his emotions and experience didn’t matter to me. I straight up said that I didn’t care.
Do things get annoying? Yes. Do we view things as overreacting? Yes. But how we approach and handle the situation affects how they’re going to see themselves and the world.
But we have to differentiate between “oh my gosh just get over it” and “man, this is hard. It must suck for you.”
It’s hard because gaslighting has become habitual. It’s synonymous with typical parenting. There are times it happens when we don’t even realize it.
It’s important to have the awareness because how we communicate with our kids determines how they react to the world.
Something else to keep in mind is that we, as adults, have an understanding of what life is like. We’ve experienced loss, financial struggle, stressful family situations. We’ve experienced really heavy, hard things. That’s how we see life. Anything less than that, we expect others to just get over it and move on. But our children don’t have that context or experience. For kids, getting into a fight with a friend, losing a video game or even a broken crayon is a big deal. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened in their life. They don’t know that they’re going to experience greater heartache as adults.
So we can’t come at them with the expectation that they have the understanding of what it’s like to be an adult. They’re not adults, so how would they have that understanding at all?
Plus, how many times have you been told to settle down and get over it when you’re upset? And how did it make you feel? Did it help the situation or did it make it worse?
We hate being told that stuff as adults, yet we expect kids to take it and run with it.
We’ve got to take a step back and understand that our kids are brand new humans.
The other part of gaslighting that happens as parents is that we don’t take responsibility for our actions. This comes up a lot when we’re triggered and react to a situation. We say, “well that wouldn’t have happened if YOU would have listened.” “I wouldn’t have yelled if you didn’t make me so angry.”
We are putting all of our personal responsibility on the child and saying that it’s our child’s job to manage our emotions.
Think about it this way: you’re in the abusive relationship and your abuser is hurting you. They’re screaming at you, throwing things, threatening you. They say “If you just wouldn’t have made me so angry I wouldn’t have done that.”
Now that we’re no longer in the relationship, we know that that’s a red flag because their reaction is not our responsibility. We can’t make anyone do or react in any certain way. It was their lack of emotional maturity that caused them to lash out.
But we end up mirroring that to our kids then we’re surprised when that doesn’t work. Then we’re surprised when our kids have low self esteem, don’t come to us when they need something or have any desire to take responsibility for their own emotions.
It’s time for us, as the grown adults, to take responsibility for our own actions.
There of course will be times when you’re tired or triggered and you snap at your kids. That doesn’t make you a bad mom, but it also doesn’t make it your child’s fault that you snapped. There are other things at play, like not enough rest, working too much, etc. Unfortunately, your child was on the receiving end of the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It’s important that we take responsibility for the harm we’ve caused and begin to repair it. But how?
First – give yourself grace. This stuff is really hard. It’s ingrained in us so deep. So you’re going to mess up. Be willing to call yourself out and keep growing.
Second – Learn to apologize. But here’s a caveat: Don’t just say sorry and then repeat the same behavior. This teaches our kids that ‘sorry’ means nothing and it’s only a bandaid to move past the situation. If we want our kids to take apologies seriously and change their behavior, we have to model that. When we apologize, we have to mean it. We need to take responsibility and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry I did that. That wasn’t ok. I was triggered and upset and took it out on you. That’s not fair and I shouldn’t have done that. I’m going to work to do better.”
And then actually work to do better.
We’re all learning, but we have to be willing to take that constructive criticism and grow from it.
I’d suggest is to get a journal and process through this. Feel the feelings, however you feel, then allow yourself to get up and feel better.
Finally, get comfortable apologizing. The moment you catch yourself doing it, call yourself out. Tell your kids what you’re doing is wrong and that you’re working to be better.
The last step is to find what triggered the gaslighting in the first place.
This is such a huge part of healing from abuse in general, but especially for mamas.
When we think of triggers, we tend to think of a firework going off and setting off a veteran with PTSD.
That’s absolutely a triggered moment, but it’s not all triggers are.
Sometimes the trigger is whining and arguing. Sometimes they’re crying and upset about something and they just keep saying it over and over.
Sometimes it’s a lot of little things that just add up.You’re doing just fine throughout the day but suddenly you just snap.
You have to learn how to find, manage and cope with your triggers. I know it’s hard and takes work, but I promise you it’s worth it. In fact, I wrote an ebook that teaches you exactly how to do it. And it’s completely free. Click here to grab yours.
You’re doing a great job, mama. You’ve got this.