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When Parents Offer Gaslighting Instead of Love: Surviving Your Own Mother and Father

When Parents Offer Gaslighting Instead of Love

But something can be done. The key, I believe, is to fully accept that you were not at fault. A child should not have to win a parent’s love nor compete for it as one might compete with a coworker for a promotion. That your parents didn’t love you is simply not on you. It’s on them.

How much were they at fault? It could be difficult to say. While as the adults in the situation, they should have known better, they may have been enacting a psychological pattern that they did not invent or fully control.

It may also help to remember that if your relationship with your parents was ambivalent, they likely had some affection for you, albeit not the kind of pure well-wishing and love one might hope for. Indeed, a bad parent’s love for a child — which frequently exists alongside bad parenting — is often more personal than that same parent’s toxicity.

The gaslighting may have psychological triggers that have nothing to do with you; you are just the victim. Your mother or father became abusers to fulfill a dark psychological need, and there you were a perfect target. Whatever love they may have felt alongside this, by contrast, was for you.

I am by no means suggesting that grown children ought to forgive their parents. While true forgiveness is therapeutic, and we do sometimes, upon reflecting on abusive parents’ circumstances, discover reasons to take pity on them and to forgive, adult sons and daughters may or may not have it in them to forgive. Neither is forgiveness ever owed by victims to abusers, whatever the abusers’ circumstances.

Related: 5 Signs You Should Break Up With Your Toxic Parents For Good

In her novel The Judge, Rebecca West writes, “Every mother is a judge who sentences her children for the sins of the father.” Perhaps we can add that, eventually, every child becomes a judge too, one who sentences his or her parents for their own sins.

For more essays by Iskra Fileva, check out her column at Psychology Today: 


[1] Burroughs, A. (2008). A Wolf at the Table. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Yalom, I. (2012). Love’s Executioner & Other Takes of Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Written By Iskra Fileva
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
When Parents Offer Gaslighting Instead of Love pin
When Parents Offer Gaslighting Instead of Love: Surviving Your Own Mother and Father
When Parents Offer Gaslightingpin
When Parents Offer Gaslighting Instead of Love: Surviving Your Own Mother and Father
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Iskra Fileva Ph.D.

Iskra Fileva, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In her academic work, she specializes in moral psychology and issues at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry. The focus of her current research is on the connections and tensions between conscious and unconscious motivation, the nature of moral emotions, and the boundary between bad character and personality disorders. She is, however, interested in all things human: how and what we remember, how we achieve intimacy, what makes some people good at relating to others, why we misunderstand each other, why we fear death, whether adults understand a child's mind, and many others. She enjoys writing for a non-academic audience and has previously written for The New York Times.View Author posts