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My Gaslighting Mother

Rewriting history; it seems odd doesn’t it?  We know something happened because we experienced it, we heard it, we saw it, it is etched in our memories as if it happened just yesterday; yet someone in our lives is telling us that we are “crazy” and making us doubt ourselves and convincing us that our version of reality is incorrect.

My mother used the gaslighting technique on me throughout my entire childhood and in turn; I spent the majority of my childhood years feeling crazy and second-guessing myself, my feelings, and my own memories.  I spent years wondering what in the world was wrong with ME.

If some of you reading this have no idea what gaslighting is; to put it simply, it is an emotionally abusive technique used by abusers to say or make us think that we are the ones who are going insane.  The abusers will say and do things to make their victims question their own sanity, memories of events, values, and beliefs.  Some examples of things my mother would say included:

  • “I never said that!” When I knew fully well that she did say it and had just heard the words come out of her mouth not more than five minutes ago.
  • “You are ALWAYS overreacting!” When I would come upstairs to get an ice pack or ask for some Aspirin to help subside the pain of her most recent beating.
  • “You are imagining things!” When confronted with evidence of her abuse on my sister and me years after we had both moved out.
  • “What about all of the hell you have put me through and the crap you have done to me??” When I dared to beg her to stop beating me.
  • “Stop being so sensitive!” When I would cry after she got done with another round of her name-calling.

The list goes on and on; and after my mother’s comments I would be left questioning myself.  I would sit and wonder, “Maybe I am overreacting and the beating wasn’t that bad. Maybe she didn’t really say those mean things, or maybe I am too sensitive and I just need to ignore the awful things she says to me.”  In turn, I was filled with anxiety, apologizing for remembering things “incorrectly”, apologizing for having feelings, and left feeling depressed and confused.

Not only would my mother use this technique on me; but she would spread hateful propaganda to members of my own family and my own friends about how “crazy” I was and how underhanded my motives were.  Looking back, I can see now that Mom did this as almost a pre-emptive strike – just in case I talked and told family members or peers about my abuse; they would already have it in their minds that I was “nuts” or “crying out for attention” and my pleas for help would be written off as such.

Adults who are in relationships with gaslighting narcissists have the ability to leave, divorce the narcissist, or cut the narcissist out of their life to avoid any more of this emotional abuse.  But what choice do you have when you are too young to leave?  How does one survive in such a toxic atmosphere and come out the other side a healthy adult?

It’s difficult to say the least, but possible.  I stopped arguing with Mom’s perception of reality when I became a teenager and just accepted that her version of reality and my version were never going to match.  I stopped fighting with her about her lies and distorted facts because I realized it was a losing battle and a war that I was not interested in winning.  I knew the truth, I lived the truth and that’s all that mattered to me.  And I also knew that I wasn’t going to be a child forever; I knew that one day I would be able to walk out that door and never return and until then; I just learned to keep my mouth shut until I was able to remove myself from that harmful situation.

Believe in yourself; you aren’t crazy no matter how hard your abuser tries to make you believe that you are.

My Gaslighting Mother

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2015). My Gaslighting Mother. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Aug 2015
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