Most people are at least familiar with the term “gaslighting.” The term was originally formed from an old movie where a husband deliberately turned down the gaslights each evening to disorient his wife, then negate her observations of the change. He also began doing other things, like hiding items and accusing her of losing them to make her feel she was going crazy.
Today, the term is used to describe a form of emotional abuse and manipulation that causes someone to question their own thoughts, feelings, and sanity — much like the wife from the movie.
Many of us understand what it means and what gaslighting may look like coming from other people, but what if that gaslighting perpetrator is coming from within?
This is called self-gaslighting, and it is what happens when gaslighting becomes internalized. In other words, when someone begins to truly believe what others have said (how others have gaslighted them), it becomes part of their internal dialogue. This does more than simply make us question our actions and emotions; it can cause our self-confidence to completely deteriorate over time if left unaddressed.
Why Does Self-Gaslighting Happen?
Generally, self-gaslighting occurs when someone’s reality is too scary or uncomfortable to think about. For example, survivors of childhood trauma or people who are in abusive or traumatic relationships are often the most likely to self-gaslight. Typically, this behavior arises unintentionally and simply because it is easier to dismiss, ignore, or belittle an experience we have had rather than acknowledge it fully — which can be extremely painful or scary.
Another common perpetuating factor when it comes to self-gaslighting is when we are exposed to pieces of contradicting information (cognitive dissonance). An example of this would be if your partner is nice to you when you are out in public or with friends and family but incredibly distant, aggressive, or cruel when you are in private. In a situation like this, you may self-gaslight by thinking things like “I’m just too sensitive” or “Maybe I am just misunderstanding their words/actions.”
What Can Self-Gaslighting Look Like
We touched on a few examples earlier, but if you are unsure what self-gaslighting looks like, we’ll include some common examples below. Keep in mind that the ways that people self-gaslight will depend on their situations. This said, there are a few commonalities between all of the following examples and instances of self-gaslighting.
In general, self-gaslighting is displayed as a form of feeling or emotion suppression. Instead of allowing yourself to react emotionally to something that has hurt you, you instinctively brush off your feelings and think something along the lines of “I’m just being too sensitive” or “I’m being too dramatic.”
Some common examples of self-gaslighting include:
- Maybe I’m misremembering.
- It’s probably my fault.
- I’m a lot to deal with/I’m not good enough. There is something wrong with me.
- I know they love me; they probably didn’t mean it like that.
- I’m just being too emotional or sensitive.
How to Stop Gaslighting Yourself
If you have been self-gaslighting yourself, you likely want to know how to end this vicious cycle of continual manipulation. Here, we’ll explore some ways that you can work on validating your emotions and allowing yourself to be confident in your own thoughts.
Keep in mind that you may feel incredibly isolated or disoriented if you have been self-gaslighting, and it may be difficult to break this internalized manipulative voice. However, there are ways to heal and end the pattern of self-gaslighting.
Recognize the Pattern
The first thing you need to do to stop the pattern is to recognize it. It is important that you simply acknowledge that this is a pattern for you — something you find yourself doing unconsciously or unintentionally.
Do not blame yourself or feel ashamed that you have these thoughts; simply recognize that they exist. Without this step, you cannot take action to change. After all, if you don’t recognize it as a pattern, how are you going to change it?
Alright, now that you have recognized the pattern of self-gaslighting, you can begin noticing it at the moment. Anytime you find yourself saying something that belittles or dismisses your emotions and causes you to feel like you are the issue, notice it. Think about the words you are saying to yourself. For example, if you were hurt by something that your partner said to you, but your inner dialogue simply says, “I’m just being too sensitive,” pause for a moment and try to change these words in your head.
Instead of saying, “I’m too sensitive,” say, “I may be sensitive, but what my partner said to me hurt my feelings. And these feelings are valid.” Allowing yourself to feel the emotions you would normally push aside with the self-gaslighting comment is a great way to help break the pattern of self-gaslighting.
Work on Self-Confidence
One of the best ways to regain self-confidence is to focus on the facts. Think about the things around you that you know for certain. These can be as simple as the sky being blue or the concrete feeling cool under my feet. Starting off with smaller, more obvious things can be a great way to get into the habit of reaffirming your reality.
After building this habit, of course, you’ll want to move on to affirm the reality of situations where you may be inclined to self-gaslight yourself. In the last tip, you practiced becoming aware of these instances, and now you are going to practice stating the facts when they arise. For example, if your partner yells at you for something that was not your fault, you can begin by simply stating, “My partner snapped at me. This is reality.” The goal of this practice is to prevent that inner self-gaslighting voice from telling you that you have misunderstood or imagined something. With enough practice, this type of thinking will help you push away self-gaslighting thoughts.
Get a Second Opinion
Sometimes it can be hard to figure out how to change a particular comment in our heads. If you have been self-gaslighting for a long time, you may even feel that your inability to rely on your own thoughts is impacting your relationships with others. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to get external help from a professional therapist. A therapist can be that unbiased second opinion that can help you learn how to reframe thoughts, improve your self-confidence, and learn how to trust yourself.
So, if you are struggling with self-gaslighting and you are looking for additional guidance on how to quiet that vicious inner voice, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with one of our therapists.