The Myth About Parents That Gaslights Abused Children


Many people will tell you that if you were abused as a kid and are now separated from your mother, father, or both, you should forgive and reconcile; that failing to reconnect with the people who reared you is a character fault. If an abusive parent dies, you may be required to give a eulogy at the funeral and pretend the dead was a nicer person than he or she actually was.

What causes certain people to behave in this manner? I believe there are several reasons for this, but the most important is that many people just refuse to accept that abusive parents exist. Instead, they opt to believe in what I’ll refer to as the “no terrible parent” myth. Parents are always excellent or at least not awful, whereas children are thought to be bad, ungrateful, rude, and so on. While moms and dads may have done some less than admirable things, there was always love at a deeper level, or so some of us believe. Badness and parenting are considered as mutually exclusive traits: one can be both terrible and a parent, but not both at the same time.

This myth is what I’m interested in here. I’d want to investigate its roots and explore its consequences.

Adopting a very low threshold of excellent parenting is one approach to propagate the illusion. Assume you believe that parents have the right to do whatever to their children that isn’t murder. Then any form of abuse will become acceptable. This isn’t a far-fetched situation either. More radical viewpoints have been espoused in the past. For example, in 1646, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the Stubborn Children Law, which allowed for execution punishment for recalcitrant sons. According to the law:

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