Co-Parent Gaslighting: How To Recognize It and Respond

If the term “narcissist” feels too extreme for your co-parent, you may still feel like they exhibit narcissistic behavior when they consistently cause problems and manipulate you.

Whether dealing with a narcissist or not, being gaslighted by your co-parent can become frustrating and disruptive for the entire family unit. 

Your co-parent can gaslight you in many different ways.

For example, perhaps you’ve been called crazy for unjustified reasons, or you distinctly remember conversing with your co-parent only to have them completely deny it ever happened.

However co-parent gaslighting is present in your life, it helps if you know how to recognize it and respond appropriately.

Co-parent gaslighting is when one parent shifts blame onto the other parent. It involves making the other parent feel ineffective, untrustworthy, and unreliable. It may involve denying conversations ever happened, placing blame, and manipulating others to view the other parent in a negative light.

If this sounds like your situation, you can benefit from better understanding the nature of gaslighting, why it’s used, and how you can handle it going forward so that it doesn’t have a negative impact on you and your children.

Learn everything you need to know about co-parent gaslighting below.

Co-Parent Gaslighting – What To Know

A co-parent who gaslights you intends to manipulate you. By gaslighting you, they may make you feel you’ve done something wrong or take responsibility for something they’ve done wrong.

Gaslighting is also a control mechanism that gets you to do and feel things you shouldn’t.

Gaslighting is not normal co-parenting behavior, and if you find you’re being gaslighted, it may be a sign that you’re co-parenting with a narcissist

Gaslighting Explained

Gaslighting is a manipulation type where the gaslighter tries to get someone else or even a group of people to question their reliability, memory, perceptions, and reality.

According to, gaslighting is covert emotional abuse where the gaslighter creates a false narrative that leaves the victim questioning reality, what they think they know, and if they’re even sane.

Why Narcissists Often Resort to Gaslighting

There are several reasons why narcissists gaslight. For starters, gaslighting someone is a way to gain control of them and make them dependent.

Gaslighting can also boost their ego, make themselves feel better, or mitigate their low self-esteem and insecurity.

Signs of Co-Parent Gaslighting

Some signs of co-parent gaslighting include:

  • One parent denies that conversations or events happened when they did.
  • One parent makes the other doubt themselves or feel bad about themselves.
  • One parent shifts blame onto the other parent when something goes wrong.
  • One parent tries to manipulate the other into doing and feeling things.
  • One parent tries to make the children view the other parent as unreliable or “silly.”

Is Gaslighting Manipulation?

Gaslighting is a type of manipulation whereby the abuser undermines the victim to get them to question their own reality.

Interestingly, the term comes from the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Gas Light based on a 1938 play, where a husband with a secret drives his wife insane.

Is Gaslighting Abuse?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, gaslighting can be categorized as abuse.

They state that gaslighting is “an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abuser a lot of power.”

Is Gaslighting Illegal?

Gaslighting is illegal in the UK as of 2022, according to Howells Solicitors.

According to the Los Angeles DUI Attorney blog, gaslighting can be difficult to prove, although some states, such as California, do recognize it as a type of psychological abuse, and victims can seek protection through the law.

It’s best to speak with a solicitor in your state if you wish to seek legal help with a gaslighting co-parent. 

Is Gaslighting Always Intentional?

While you might believe that every gaslighting instance is intentional, sometimes they’re not.

In some instances, it happens because an individual wants to deflect blame for something they have done wrong.

Unconscious gaslighting happens when the gaslighter causes emotional abuse but has no clear motive to exploit or harm the other person. 

Co-Parent Gaslighting Examples

Are you really a victim of gaslighting? These examples may help you decide:

Scenario A

You’ve talked with your co-parent about sleepovers during the week. As your co-parent shares custody, you are hoping to reach an agreement that sleepovers only happen on the weekends.

Your child’s grades seem to plummet since sleepovers have been happening during the week as homework isn’t being done and tests aren’t being studied for. 

You feel good after the discussion, only to find out that your child has had a sleepover for two weeks in a row following the conversation while on your co-parent’s “watch.”

You decide to call your co-parent to discuss the matter, only to be told that the conversation never happened.

In fact, you were directly asked, “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Did we have that conversation? Maybe you thought we had that conversation, but we didn’t.”

Scenario B

You approach your co-parent with a few issues you’re experiencing with your child. You’d like to be on the same page as your co-parent so that your child’s life is stable.

Unfortunately, straight from the onset of the conversation, your co-parent starts using the following types of sentences/terms even though you are calm and civil:

  • “You’re always nagging and complaining.”
  • “You’re overreacting again, just like you always do.”
  • “Geez! I was only joking. Why do you have to be so rigid!”
  • “No one else believes what you’re saying, so why should I?”

How To Deal With Co-Parent Gaslighting

Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re a victim of gaslighting, it’s time to take back control of your situation and how you feel about yourself. You can do the following:

Stop Doubting Your Memory

Gaslighting can make you feel like you can’t trust what you think you remember.

If you’re worried about this, send follow-up emails and messages directly after every conversation stating the points of what’s been discussed. It’s hard to argue with evidence.

Stand Up for Yourself

Don’t let the gaslighter push you around. Use firm statements, like “I clearly remember that you said that” or similar.

It’s hard to start standing up for yourself suddenly, but practice!

If you struggle with this, speak to a professional to get additional help with standing your ground and developing better self-trust and confidence.

Don’t React to Everything a Gaslighter Says

It doesn’t make it true just because someone says it. If there’s no point in arguing the point, ignore it.

This doesn’t always happen, but you may find a gaslighter says things to you and about you for a reaction.

Model Good Behavior

Model good behavior, especially if your co-parent is using your children in the situation — your children are watching you and can pick up on how you’re handling difficult situations.

Show children the opposite of gaslighting and that you’re living a healthy and happy lifestyle while treating others with respect.

With time, children will be able to determine which parent is doing the gaslighting and can make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions/opinions.

A mother yelling at a father who is sitting on the bed comforting their daughter.

Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics

Narcissists frequently use manipulation tactics to control and influence others. You can find healthy ways to deal with these tactics by understanding and recognizing them.

Some of the most common narcissistic manipulation tactics are below:


Narcissistic individuals often feel that they cannot do anything wrong.

When they make a mistake and are confronted, they may deny your understanding/reality of the events or even get defensive and lie. They may say, “It wasn’t that bad,” or “Why do you always exaggerate?”


Projection is when someone accuses another person of doing the very same thing they are doing. This is because they cannot handle their negative feelings and bad behavior.

A real-life example of this would be someone (the narcissist) being convinced that someone else is lying about something when they themselves are lying.

Playing the Victim

Narcissists are very convincing at playing the victim. They may claim that they are the true victim when they have victimized someone else. This can cause confusion for others listening to their stories.


If you’ve ever found yourself doing something for someone else because they made you feel bad/sorry for them but not because you want to do that thing, you’ve been guilt-tripped.

Guilt-tripping is an effective form of manipulation to gain control over the situation.

Smear Campaigning

Smear campaigning is common in co-parenting relationships where the partners have had a bad breakup.

The narcissist will start spreading a web of lies and rumors to turn other people’s opinions against their co-parent. This is an effective way to discredit someone. 

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a form of showering someone with adoration, love, and attention to gain control over them.

For example, in a co-parenting situation, your usually disagreeable ex-partner may suddenly be charming and kind and shower you with praise to disarm you or get you to do something.


This is very similar to love bombing, except it is done to win someone back.

For example, a narcissist may practice hoovering tactics to win back a person after a breakup or even in a relationship where they feel they are losing control and need to get the person “back on their side.”


Triangulation in a co-parenting situation is when one parent brings an outside party in on the conflict to help them “win” the argument.

For instance, your co-parent might call in one of your parents or siblings and state a strong case against you in hopes of discrediting you.

Related Questions:

Am I Being Manipulated by a Narcissist?

Narcissists are very good at hiding their manipulation, but there are some telltale signs you’re being manipulated by a narcissist that you can look out for.

If you often apologize for getting something wrong and doubt if their version of what happened is correct, these are red flags.

If your feelings are dismissed and the other person plays the victim, that’s another big red flag. 

Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder Inherited?

According to News Medical, a narcissistic personality disorder is an inheritable trait. You may then worry that your child can inherit the same behavior from your co-parent.

By arming your children with the correct tools and modeling good behavior, you can help to lessen the likeliness of your child developing narcissistic behavior.

It would help if you focused on teaching them to learn and grow from mistakes. You should also help your child develop healthy self-esteem and to use criticism as a mechanism for growth instead of reacting badly to it.

Final Thoughts

Co-parent gaslighting, a direct side-effect of co-parenting with a narcissist, is not an easy challenge to surmount.

However, by understanding gaslighting better and knowing how to handle it, you can minimize the negative impact on your life.

Following the above advice will set you in the right direction to effectively co-parenting with someone prone to gaslighting.