A few weeks ago, I thought of something during a walk. Like all good ideas, it came to me when I wasn't searching for it.
"When parents manipulate children to have them under control," I thought, "it's a form of gaslighting."
Simply put, gaslighting is to systematically convince someone that they are not rational.
Gaslighting became a popular term during the Trump administration when Trump was said to be gaslighting America. His manipulation, though, did not qualify as gaslighting in theoretical terms, because gaslighting occurs only in intimate relationships.
Gaslighting is most widely executed in adult male-female relationships but by definition, any power-laden intimate relationship involving social inequality is suitable soil for gaslighting.
When I first thought about how the parent-child relationship was the perfect habitat for gaslighting, I hadn't done any research on it. But when I did, I sadly found out that "gaslighting children" was a thing. A lot had been already written on it.
Researching about "gaslighting children" today and omg, there is just too much to talk about.— Basak (@basakbuilds) February 19, 2021
It's mindblowing how many common things parents say are actually 🕯️gaslighting🕯️☹️
For gaslighting to be distinct from other types of manipulation, it has to:
- Be systematic
- Turn the victim against themselves
When the idea first occurred to me, I was thinking of stereotypical parent-child dialogues:
- "There's nothing to cry about, you're fine."
- Parent hides the toy. "Toy? What toy? There's no toy here."
- "Look, there's a bird." Parent hides the snack.
- "Stop being dramatic. You are making a big deal out of nothing."
- "You're just trying to make me feel bad."
- "You're a bad kid. Go to your room now and don't come back until you're good."
When I dug deeper, I found out a lot more. I compiled all of my research in this week's extensive article: Are you gaslighting your children?
Gaslighting can become very effective in the parent-child relationship.
Why? When children are manipulated by their parents, they take it as a fact. Imagine it: the one person you love and depend on the most, points that you're not competent. Who would you believe – yourself or that authority figure you love more than life itself?
Most kids don't want to feel like a monster so they avoid that terrible feeling by acting out, being silly, laughing at you, or being physical.
This doesn't change the fact that they internalize the idea: "I'm terrible."
Here's an example of gaslighting in a parent-child relationship:
Outside the playground a path meandered. A four- or five-year-old boy who had been walking next to his father ran exuberantly down the path ahead for a moment, then tripped on some gravel and fell hard. He was clearly hurt and struggling not to cry. His father’s face tightened: “What have you done to yourself now?” he snapped, pulling the boy roughly to his feet by one arm. “You are so clumsy I can’t even believe it. I tell you to be more careful all the time.”
It was an awful moment. We, the adults, were flinching at the failure of empathy shown by the father. We wondered if we should say something. But what was even more painful was watching the child try to recompose himself and try to make sense of what his father had said. He seemed visibly trying to interpret his father’s words to make them somehow not be cruel. You could almost hear him thinking, “I am clumsy. I am hurt not because my father has just wounded my feelings but because I did not listen to my father better. It is my fault.”
Excerpt From: Dr. Robin Stern. “The Gaslight Effect.”
Realizing the power abuse in the parent-child relationship made me think of adultism.
Although slow, societies are seeking ways to establish equality between genders, races, and income groups.
But no such attention is being paid to establishing equality between children and adults.
"Except for prisoners and a few other institutionalized groups, young people’s lives are more controlled than those of any other group in society. In addition, adults reserve the right to punish, threaten, hit, take away "privileges," and ostracize young people when they consider it beneficial in controlling them or "disciplining" them.
If this were a description of the way a group of adults were treated, society would quickly recognize it as a form of oppression. Adults, however, generally do not consider adultism to be oppressive, because this is the way they themselves were treated as youth; the process has been internalized.
The essence of adultism is that young people are not respected. Instead, they are less important and, in a sense, inferior to adults. They cannot be trusted to develop correctly, so they must be taught, disciplined, harnessed, punished, and guided into the adult world."
Excerpt from Adults as Allies by Barry Checkoway
Power, control, fear... These are all normal characteristics of a "regular" parent-child relationship. That's why they become unremarkable. They become the norm. Nobody fights the norm.
If only children had the tools to organize among themselves to ignite a social change... They don't. But we can do it for them. We can do it through mindful parenting.
Where to start? By creating more compassion for ourselves. Compassion for our experiences, our beliefs, our wounds.
Only then, we can achieve radical compassion for all.
In the meantime, when we communicate with our children we can ask ourselves:
"Would I say that to an adult?"
How do you find this perspective? Hit reply and let me know!
🥄 Nurturing my favorite moms and dads
This week's theme is gaslighting, adultism, and communication. Here are this week's articles from the blog:
Are you gaslighting your children?: Gaslighting is about showing a child that their own judgment can't be trusted. Are wondering if you are unintentionally gaslighting your children? Here is all you need to know.
15 surprising things not to say to our children: "Good job, I'm proud of you, you didn't mean to hurt your brother..." Do these sentences sound familiar to you? It might be wise to not use these anymore. Here's why.
That's it for this week! ❤️
If you've enjoyed this letter, please send it to another parent!
Send me your thoughts! I'm on Twitter and love seeing a DM in my inbox. You can also hit reply or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next Saturday!
Love, Basak (founder of Apparent)