Family | 02.17.2022

How to Talk to Your Daughter About “Gaslighting”

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By Franki Hanke

The Starting Place for Counteracting this form of Emotional Abuse 

Whether you already know what you’re dealing with or not, the first step to talk to your daughter about gaslighting is checking your own understanding.

What is “Gaslighting?”

“Gaslighting,” a term that refers to a type of psychological manipulation by which the “gaslighter” triggers self-doubt in a target, is a familiar term in conversations surrounding mental health lately. Often used within the context of romantic relationships, “gaslighting” can occur in any relationship whether a partner, family member, colleague, or friend. 

The term stems from a clear-cut example in fiction. Gas Light is first a play, but later a movie starring Ingrid Bergman as a victim of gaslighting. In the film, the husband dims the lights of their gas-powered home to create flickers that he then uses to question his wife’s own reality. This form of manipulation is only one example for a film ripe with domestic violence and psychological abuse, but this example may oversimplify the abuse tactic. 

How do I Spot Gaslighting?

Instead, in actuality, gaslighting may be subtle. At its core, it’s manipulation for power and control. Psychology Today notes, the manipulator is often a narcissist or someone with a personality disorder who frames themselves as the better in comparison with their target. 

Gaslighting may look like…
-Disproportionate emotions to a calm, fair discussion of a problem
-Belittling comments about one’s ability to perform their job or role 
-Lying while putting the blame for the deception on the target
-Creating doubt about other relationships or ‘givens’ in the target’s life 
-Withholding information to create confusion or control
-Discounting the target or the information from their own memory
-Verbal abuse as jokes or quips

For a fictional context, The Girl on the Train is a pop-culture example of a character being gaslighted within the main character’s marriage. 

However, as the cultural conversation around mental health and power dynamics widens, many people are identifying subtle examples of trivializing gaslighting for the first time. Often someone being gaslit might view the behaviors as something minor rather than warning signs of ongoing emotional abuse. 

 At work, colleagues and bosses might undermine self-esteem for their own ego or gain. 
→ Between friends, emotional abuse may hide within jokes at someone’s expense. 
→ In a romantic relationship, an abuser might claim “overreacting” each time there’s a genuine concern. 

 What do I Say? 

For these small, yet insidious occurrences of emotional abuse on a small scale, a conversation is a great starting point to improving well-being. 

Affirm Her. 

As gaslighting is built on undermining the target, provide the counterpoint. 

Title the behavior as “gaslighting.”

The instinct is sometimes to make excuses for abusers. Don’t. Identify where fault lies and don’t encourage any self-blame. 

Remind her of who she is. 

Gaslighting causes doubt, provide encouragement. For example, if the abuser has undermined her confidence for her skillset, remind her of accomplishments that prove otherwise. 

Listen. 

Let your daughter share how she feels. Create a space for her to share her own feelings without interruption, advice, or counterpoints. Sometimes that’s what’s most needed. 

How to talk to your daughter about gaslighting includes talking to her about her response.

Strategize Next Steps.

As gaslighting is built on undermining the target, provide the counterpoint. 

Collect any existing evidence together of the abusive interactions.

-Save screenshots of communications. 
-Summarize conversations that happened verbally (aim for dates, times, and direct quotes if possible). 
-Continue to catalogue future interactions.

At this stage, the best course of action may be to cut them out. Ask your daughter why she wants this person in her life. 

Don’t make demands, but invite sharing to keep a two-way conversation happening. 

Help Her Speak up. 

It’s hard, but you can’t have these conversations alongside your daughter. Instead, help prepare with a plan to share what’s happening. 

In the workplace, managing power, human resources, and/or friendly peers can be alerted to the situation.

Provide Support. 

Likely, your daughter will need to make the adjustments to remove or limit this person’s interference. However, you can provide support. 

Be available for check-ins. 

It can be stressful to reach out even if it seems a little thing, so instead, take the first step. Schedule calls or visits with your daughter so she feels welcomed to connect.

Take action to help. 

It’s much harder to say, “Mom, can you come help?” than it is to say, “Yes, thank you.” Offer help with specific actions or, if it’s a part of your parent-child relationship, just act. Stop by with a hot dinner, prep a freezer meal, or visit to help with a cleaning day, as ways to augment her self-care. 

In the instance of more abusive behavior or forms of emotional abuse, mental health professionals will be better equipped to help. Find immediate support through the Crisis Text Line

Unlike a scraped knee, there’s no easy bandage for psychological abuse, but with emotional support, your daughter will face-down gaslighting without questioning whose hand is on the light switch. This article was not written by a mental health professional. If you suspect domestic violence, please act accordingly. For non-isolated incidents of abuse, more action is likely necessary.

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