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  • Kara Kohnen

Teen Gaslighting- What it is and how you can help!

You may have heard the term “gaslighting” among teens and young adults lately. In general, at times teens tend to use mental health vocabulary in ways that aren’t completely accurate. This is often not with negative intentions but using serious terms and diagnosis casually could perpetuate stigma and misunderstanding. If a teen is actually being gaslit, it can have a significant negative impact on their mental health. It is important for parents and teens to understand what gaslighting really means and learn how to identify signs. Gaslighting is associated with various types of emotional and physical abuse, including bullying. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to doubt their own perception of reality. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control. They do this by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition. Teens are struggling with low self confidence and a lack of trust in their relationships. Teen gaslighting also takes place in one-on-one relationships, particularly when it involves older teens in serious relationships.

Here are some examples:


Teen Cancel Culture

Canceling refers to boycotting and publicly shaming them in response to a transgression. In some cases, peers may gaslight a victim by insisting they said or did something terrible and deserve to be cancelled. Even if the victim did make a mistake, they aren’t given a chance to learn or express remorse.

Mean Girls Behavior include exclusion, backstabbing, and manipulation, used to gain control and status within a peer group. Gaslighting can be part of these behaviors. For example, a teen may intentionally exclude someone from an event, and then insist that they were invited and just didn’t want to come.

Bullying

IRL (in real life) or online Most of the teen gaslighting examples below be perpetrated on social media, in text messages, or in person.

The Behaviors:

  • Insisting that an event or behavior never happened and that the other person is remembering it wrong

  • Spreading rumors and gossip, or telling the victim that other people are gossiping about them

  • Changing the subject or refusing to listen when confronted about a lie or other gaslighting behavior

  • Telling the other person that their goals and the things that matter to them are “stupid”

  • Trying to smooth things over with nice words that don’t match their actions

  • Twisting the truth so they are always right and the other person is always wrong

  • Minimizing their hurtful behaviors or words by saying something like, “It was just a joke” or “You’re way too sensitive”

  • Acting jealous and blaming the other person for flirting with someone else, even when it isn’t true

  • Separating victims from friends and other peers who might recognize their gaslighting abuse symptoms


Being consistently told that you are wrong, confused, or even “crazy” can have devastating effects on mental health. Along with questioning their own reality and beliefs, teen gaslighting victims often feel isolated and powerless. Gaslighting abuse symptoms also include low self-esteem, disorientation, self-doubt, and difficulty functioning in school or in social situations. Gaslighting may not be the only factor leading to mental illness, but the same factors that leave a person vulnerable to gaslighting may result in lower self-esteem, uncertainty about their own reality, anxiety, and ultimately depression.”


The most damaging gaslighting abuse symptoms are the ones that take root in a victim’s mind and begin to wear away at their self-worth and trust in themselves. Here are some of the mental health consequences of teen gaslighting.

  • Having trouble making even simple decisions

  • Constantly second-guessing and doubting themselves

  • Blaming themselves for the way they’re being treated

  • Walking on eggshells around the other person

  • Believing that they are too sensitive

  • Questioning their own feelings, judgments, and observations

  • Staying silent rather than speaking up about what they think or believe

  • Feelings of loneliness or being trapped

  • Being on edge and feeling threatened all the time

  • Starting to believe what the gaslighter tells them, that they are “crazy” or “stupid”

  • Thinking they can’t do anything right

  • Spending a lot of time apologizing for their actions.

What Parents Can Do To Help:


If you’re noticing these symptoms in your teen, dig deeper into what’s going on. Is this the typical awkwardness or uncertainty that can accompany adolescence? Or is there an underlying cause, such as gaslighting, another form of bullying, or a mental health condition?


Talk to your teen’s teachers and the school guidance counselor. Because most in-person gaslighting happens in the school environment, teachers and other school professionals need to know what’s going on. Chances are, your teen is not the only one being victimized. Schools need to offer students and parents information and education about gaslighting and other forms of bullying. Stepping up supervision and establishing zero-tolerance policies can also help in limiting teen gaslighting behaviors on the school grounds.

Keep a close eye on your teen’s social media activity. Remind your teen that they are not the reason for a gaslighter’s abuse. There is nothing your teen could or should have done differently to avoid being gaslit. The abusive behavior was not their fault. It was about the gaslighter’s attempts to control and manipulate them. You may need to repeat this message a number of times as your teen heals from the gaslighting abuse.


Teach them to walk away from gaslighting.

Gaslighting is not a rational behavior and hence gaslighters will not respond to logic or admit their true motivation. In fact, most teens are not able to articulate their motivation or explain why they are driven to bully others in this way. The best thing your teen can do is to step away from the interaction—and from the relationship.

Get support from a mental health professional.

After being in a relationship, friendship, or peer group with someone who was gaslighting them, adolescents may need additional support to deal with teen gaslighting abuse symptoms. Treatment and support groups can help teens who have been gaslit to heal the self-doubt, self-esteem issues, lack of trust, depression, and/or PTSD resulting from this painful experience.

Treatment for the Mental Health Consequences of Teen Gaslighting

Outpatient care with compassionate mental health professionals, within a caring community of peers, can make all the difference. Through participating in clinical and experiential therapeutic modalities, teens can safely process the trauma of gaslighting abuse and address other underlying issues contributing to their symptoms. With the right care, adolescents are able to move forward with greater trust in themselves and in others. They learn to find their voice again and to feel confident in who they are. By learning and practicing communication and relationship skills they can have lifelong tools. At Grow Through Life Counseling, we specialize in adolescents needs.


5 Key Takeaways

  • Teen gaslighting is associated with various types of emotional and physical abuse, including bullying, cyberbullying, cancelling, and mean girl behaviors.

  • Teens who have been gaslit often struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD. As they grow up, they may have difficulty trusting peers as well as trusting themselves.

  • Additional mental health consequences of teen gaslighting include self-blame, self-doubt, and having trouble making even simple decisions.

  • Parents can take steps to help teens avoid gaslighting and find more supportive relationships.

  • Treatment and support groups can help teens heal the mental health issues resulting from the experience of being gaslit.

Contact us today to start care 619-549-0329 ext 0 or info@growthroughlifecounseling.com

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