The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

I was in graduate school when I first heard the term “millennial.” It was at a conference. The session was about how to serve millennial students, because they have different characteristics than the Generation X students that went before them. It was here that I first started hearing things like “millennials need to be recognized for participation,” “millennials feel they are special,” “millennials are sheltered,” “millennials are likely to have helicopter parents,” and more. Society as a whole loves to hate on the millennial generation (those born between 1980-1999), calling us “special snowflakes” and sarcastically referring to us as “social justice warriors,” calling us out for “being offended by everything” and, everybody’s favorite, pointing out how very entitled we are.

Here’s the secret: We’re not.

millennial late for work.jpg

The negative opinions directed at millennials are a perfect example, on an enormous societal scale, of cultural gaslighting.

What’s Gaslighting?

Glad you asked. I learned about gaslighting within the last couple years as I explored topics surrounding emotional abuse and narcissism. Gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of making someone question their own sanity. It’s an emotional abuse tactic. It can also be described as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality” (as defined in this article from Everyday Feminism).

Have you ever gotten into an argument with a parent, boss, or romantic partner about something they’ve done that upset you, but by the end of the argument, YOU’RE the one apologizing for hurting their feelings? This is often a result of gaslighting. They flip it around and become the victim, and your original feelings never get resolved because the conversation always descends into the other person’s victimization.

As one example from my life, when I first faced up to the fact that my first marriage was in real trouble and I was considering divorce, I (very calmly) asked my ex-husband if he’d consider marriage counseling. His response? “I cannot believe you can even ask that of me.” He was so offended by the suggestion that something was wrong that I questioned the validity of my feelings. “Oh my god,” I thought, “I must be terrible. Is anything even wrong or are my expectations just crazy?” This is an example of gaslighting.

Now imagine a similar scenario where you are applying for a job, but the job requires a college degree, but you can’t pay for a college degree without a job so you end up taking out massive loans. Then when you graduate, you still can’t get a job without experience. So you end up in a minimum wage job (or three), making ends meet and barely making your loan payments. You say something like, “the minimum wage needs to be raised, people can’t live like this,” only to receive a barrage of old, crotchety white people yelling at you about how gosh-darn ENTITLED you are, and how THEY got a college education working part time and how it’s your fault for taking out the loans in the first place.

This is what I’m talking about. Generations before us completely drove the bus into a lake and it’s somehow our fault everybody’s drowning.


What are Millennials really like?

So if millennials aren’t a bunch of spoiled brats with an entitlement mentality who need a trophy just for putting on pants in the morning, what are they?

I am in a Facebook group of geeky women (mostly moms) from around the world, and our group is capped at 500 members. When it was discovered that two of our members were actively fighting to get out of physically and emotionally abusive marriages and needed money for legal help and deposits for moving, the group arranged a massive auction and hundreds of members donated their belongings and purchased in the auction to raise thousands of dollars.

When another member of that same group was faced with an unimaginable loss and an enormous bill, we had more auctions and helped her get through the worst moment of her life as best we could.

I have shipped pet supplies, groceries, books, clothing, and more to broke friends whose kids and cats were hungry, who have experienced loss and just couldn’t get up to “adult,” and to people who needed to receive a message to pull themselves out of a bad place.

I see us raising money for funeral expenses, medical bills, emergency surgeries for beloved pets, and more. I see us trading services or goods for other services or goods. I see us sending money via PayPal to make somebody’s day a little easier. I see us buying things from work-at-home-moms on Etsy or Facebook rather than support large corporate stores.

Once, I could feel a cold coming on but I was out of grocery budget, and a friend shipped me a box of tea from Amazon. I’ve sent her groceries and pet supplies when her budget was tapped. This is our generation.

We barter and trade, we lift each other up when we need it, and we empower each other. We have each other’s back.


But what are they reeeeally like?

Anecdotal evidence aside, here’s some science.

First of all, it’s important to note that there are some 80 million people in the millennial generation, making us the largest cohort in history. This makes us very fun and easy to study. I pulled some data from a 2012 report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Millennials are tech-savvy, having been raised in the most technologically advancing decades of recent human history. We are optimistic (41% report satisfaction with the way the country is performing, compared to 26% of people over 30). Please note that this data was from 2012 and if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that fewer millennials are pleased with how the country is doing at this particular moment in time. 2016 has been rough.

“Young people are more tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47% vs. 19%) with 45% agreeing with preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.” Not only are millennials the largest demographic, we’re also the most diverse. We are 60% non-Hispanic white (compared to 70% for older generations), 19% Hispanic, 14% black, 4% Asian, and 3% mixed race. Eleven percent of us are born to an immigrant parent. So the generation that hears “Why are you kids so offended by everything these days,” is offended because we’re sick and tired of seeing minorities vilified and punished by systemic racism within the system.

Millennials are multi-taskers. Multi-tasking is actually harmful to the brain and leads to a huge decrease in productivity. But, you know, we gotta work all these jobs and get everything done, lest we die penniless in the gutter.

Millennials are engaged and expressive: 75% have a social networking profile, 20% have posted a video of themselves online, 38% have 1-6 tattoos, 23% have non-earlobe piercings. The research indicates a trend toward “self-promoting,” which some skew to mean that millennials are self-confident (OH NO, THE HORROR) and self-absorbed. Others take this data to conclude that millennials are identifying their passions and making their own path instead of following others’ paths for them.

Millennials get their news from TV (65%) and online sources (59%).

Millennials may be the first generation in over 100 years to have a decrease of their average lifespan.

Millennials have a high graduation rate from high school (72% in 2012) and college enrollment rate (68% in 2012). Over half (58%) of millennials that enroll in a four-year college graduate within six years.

Millennials have an average of $25,000 in student loans. There is more student loan debt than credit card debt in the United States. Tuition rates are rising faster than inflation. However, enrollment continues to increase and there is a trend that jobs are paying more for more educated applicants.

On and on and on and on. Read the full report linked above for more statistics and research.


Millennials struggle with mental health

Most millennials I know struggle with mental illness to some degree. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. I wonder how much of that anxiety comes from being told that wanting a living wage, affordable college, or adequate healthcare means that you’re being a spoiled entitled brat. It really doesn’t. The generations before us HAD a living wage, affordable college, and adequate healthcare. But now, inflation has far surpassed the minimum wage, college tuition and loan interest rates are through the proverbial roof, and medical bills are the top cause of bankruptcy in America.

These things were not caused by millennials, but after being raised on a steady diet of “you’re entitled,” we don’t even need to hear it from other people.  We believe it about ourselves. As a society, we now romanticize struggle, busy-ness, and “the hustle.” If you’re not losing sleep and working two or three jobs, you must not want it enough.

What if we’re actually not crazy? What if wanting to work one full-time job and have the ends not only meet but actually overlap a little is NOT an entitled pipe dream?

The sheer stress of existing in today’s world is enough to give anybody an anxiety disorder. Add  the fact that we’re told over and over again how we need to just bootstrap it, because generations before us handled life just fine, and you have a recipe for disaster. The generations before us could afford college tuition on minimum wage and didn’t have bosses who expect us to be tied to our devices at all hours.

I often feel this way about our financial goals. I have a full-time job and bring in extra income from freelance marketing work and resume writing. I make “good money” by most standards. And I catch myself thinking I should be working a part time job in the evenings or on the weekends to make our financial goals happen faster. But at what cost? I know for a fact that my mental health would suffer if I did that. I can’t even imagine the psychological stress of people who have to work multiple jobs just to meet their basic needs. We’ve got people working two or three jobs to feed their families that they barely see. That’s not even getting into the cost of child care.


More reading on millennials and mental health:

Conclusions (for now)

The millennial generation has been tasked with fixing the broken system we inherited and chastised for not doing it right or for daring to suggest improvements.

If you think we’re doing a bad job, ask yourself how it got this way in the first place.

The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

477 thoughts on “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

  1. ifellfromthesky says:

    oliagarchs run this game , have been and wont relent…Gen Xers , millenials all irrelevant…
    enjoy your chai…

  2. charles says:

    Special snowflakes and SJW are clearly easy enough to see on places like Tumblr. Their ideology is irrational, they are crazy, and they are millennials. That being said only a small percentage of millennials are SJW. SJW are just a vocal minority.

    Secondly millennials are working 3 minimium wage jobs to pay off college debt because they chose to major in something useless. Turns out that art history degree wasn’t a wise investment. How many millennials that got degrees from the top 20 list on Forbes are working minimium wage (few if any). OR go into trades (welders can make 6 figures).

    “preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities” So 47% of millennials support racism.

    “Millennials may be the first generation in over 100 years to have a decrease of their average lifespan.” because they’re fat.

    I say all of this as a 24 year old with an engineering degree. I worked harder than almost all my peers from kindergarten to now (which really wasn’t that hard), I went to a state college, got a useful degree, paid for college COMPLETELY by myself working in a lab and at McDonalds, and am now renting while I save the money to buy a house outright with cash.

    The simple fact of the matter is I saw and see my peers blaming everyone but themselves. Yes Baby boomers are failures that never accomplished anything and didn’t need to; to achieve success given the growth of the economy at the time. That being said millennials aren’t working that hard and I say that as someone who easily worked harder than most of my peers and was still not working as hard as I could.

    Millennials need lose their entitlement. Baby boomers had it too but they had economic growth on their side. Millennials will have to earn what they want just like every generation before the boomers had to.

  3. arielpiche says:

    This article hits on so many points, a lot of which I am dealing with right now. I have always hated the idea that you require a college degree to be “successful,” and I still don’t believe it to be true for the most part. That said though I am a millennial who is trying to figure out how I am going to go university now and get a degree, because any job that’ll give you decent living requires one. And I guess I am entitled, because I don’t want to work 2 or more jobs and spend my entire life working for someone else and end up on the streets when I retire. I want to work a job that allows me a decent life as well be able to afford a hobby, maintain my health and see a couple corners of the world.

  4. DUSTIN says:

    Man gaslighting is a really popular trend right now….But cultural gaslighting isn’t a thing. I think the author is trying to describe discrimination….of course there would be millenials that feel like our discrimination is special *eye roll*

  5. Carolyn Garner says:

    Older generations always criticize younger generations, and they always have. “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise,” said Socrates in about 400 B.C.

    I’m a late baby-boomer who raised two millennials and taught thousands of them in public schools for over 30 years, and I think millennials might just be the greatest generation.

    What I can’t understand is how one generation can excuse itself from its responsibility for the next. I mean, who raised the young people and created the world they live in? Who put higher education out of reach and refused to raise wages accordingly? A previous commenter called Caitlin out as s bigot for the “old, crochety white people” characterization, but I assert that there’s a difference between being a bigot and being observant and aware.

  6. Les_C says:

    It seems as though the original blogger and most of the following commenters think that they have it worse than the previous generation, that they are more underappreciated, toil harder, have less resources, and are always left with the burdens caused by the previous generation(s). However, they also assume they are more intelligent, more empathetic, more socially aware, and always ready to assume the role of rescuers of the world’s plighted. I say, let’s just give them all a trophy and be done with it !!!

  7. Chris says:

    I think there are a lot of good points made in this article, and would further claim that a lot of the gas lighting is a play by entrenched political players to maintain power. The younger generation is, in general, more progressive and yet very significant in size. So it would be convenient to diminish the perspectives of millenials in order to maintain the status quo.

    On the other hand, I have noticed that sometimes millenials can be more resistant to critique in learning environments and perhaps sometimes over-sensitive to their detriment. I think, however, this is at least in part to the currently popular idea that learning should be completely run like a free market, a way of thinking promoted by school administrators which unfortunately seeps into the way people think generally.

    That said, millenials are far more fun to hang out with than old curmudgeons.

  8. APaige Photography says:

    Great article. Felt like it completely relates to me. I work 3 jobs (one is professor at a college), one is full time (self employed), and I go to school full time (graduate school) where I am to get two master degrees.. and still am not sure Ill get anything or any job really out of it. Really just a risk.

    Those who are saying suck it up, or that the great depression had harder times.. clearly don’t get it.. nor do they want to. The 1920s was a complete different time. What people don’t see is there was a lack of standards, educations, expectations and on and on than there is now. Now we have less college enrollment because our generation is finally saying ‘forget it.’ These kids (myself included) are expected to have 7 years of experience for an entry level job and multiple degrees.. but no one is willing to take on that risk to let these people gain experience.

    Loved this.

  9. Caitlyn says:

    I liked this article, and as a millenial I feel like finally this is the life I live. When the older generation rags on my friends and I it absolutely disgusts me. If they want to try living my life then they are free to step on in and see how easy it is. No, really. I dare them.

    If there’s one thing I was disappointed about it was that only 47% are on board with being tolerant with people who are different from us. 47% might be an improvement from 19% but that’s still nothing to be proud of. I expected better of my generation.

  10. maryintx says:

    The generations before us could afford college tuition on minimum wage??
    Um, nope.
    We worked hard and we struggled and we sacrificed. We made difficult choices, like one spouse sacrificing so the other could attend college. Staying in an unfulfilling job to maintain health insurance coverage for our young family.

  11. Clayton says:

    Another millenial here. For the most part I think this is a fantastic article, and really articulates the problem well. I do have one fairly major criticism though, which is that the example and definition of gaslighting you give kind of undercuts the argument. I don’t know the full situation about you and your (ex?)husband, maybe there’s more to it than what you write here but taken at face value it seems ridiculous to cite the incident you mention as ‘gaslighting’ and ‘a form of emotional abuse’ when it’s simply one person having an emotional reaction to something another person says. Humans have to interact with each other, sometimes we say the wrong thing, sometimes we have strong reactions to other people’s opinions, sometime we rub each other the wrong way but IMO to label things like that to be emotional abuse is going way, way over the top.

    You also quote the definition as attempting to ‘overwrite another person’s reality’ but when you reduce that to simple disagreements or debates it becomes problematic, because it goes with the assumption that YOUR reality is empirically more correct than the other person’s… which is impossible to ascertain without debating it. So, isn’t it actually kind of narcissistic to never question your own version of events/reality/opinions? Anxiety is horrible but IMO a certain amount of self-criticism or the ability to question oneself every once in a while is healthy. Like, have you ever met someone who never doubts their own opinions/beliefs about things? They tend to be obnoxious as hell.

    Anyway – sorry for going on, that just bugged me a little. I agree with literally everything else in the article though, you’re absolutely right about the problems we’re facing. My two cents – every generation feels this way about the younger generation, but for us the problem is particularly pointed because, as a generation, we have all comforts and no stability. No ability to save, no chance of buying a house, years before we can pay off student debts etc, but we’ve got iPhones and Wi-Fi and Uber etc, and, yeah, at least we’re not fighting a World War or living in the Great Depression (although, give Trump a couple more years…). So while we look okay on the surface, our lives are all about the hustle.

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