Gaslighting yourself is a hidden type of emotional abuse you inflict on yourself, on auto-pilot. Gaslighting on its own refers to a situation in which someone makes you question the validity of your emotions, reactions, thoughts, memory, or even reality. It is when someone makes you feel like feeling a certain way was wrong – or crazy.
For example, someone may deny receiving a text, mail, or phone call, which then makes you wonder if the text, mail, or call went through. Sometimes it can be much more deceptive. For example, the abuser could go ahead and delete the text, mail, or call history from your phone, so that you appear crazy if you insist you did any of those.
Gaslighting is essentially an indirect attempt by others to suppress your emotions and opinion. It is when someone makes you feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t valid – that maybe you’re just overreacting or being silly. It is an indirect technique for dominating and manipulating someone, which has the sinister effect of making the person feel less and less certain about themselves.
The insidious effect of gaslighting isn’t just that it is external and makes you feel terrible about yourself once you’re around the abusers, but that it can infect your mind and turn you into your own abuser. It becomes a seed that germinates and springs forth its own fruits – an ever-perpetuating circle.
It becomes a voice in your head that constantly tells you that you shouldn’t be feeling a certain way, that you might have the wrong perception of something, that your opinion isn’t rational, and that you should bend to whatever someone else says – it essentially makes you spineless and easy to manipulate. It makes you gaslight yourself and makes you feel terrible.
The result is that once you get into the midst of manipulators, they no longer have to try to manipulate you since the program that is running in your mind already does the job (of warping your decisions in favor of others – even if it is to your detriment).
This is how it happens:
It usually starts small and innocently. In fact, the whole process could be unconscious to both the abuser and the abused.
By nature, this self-gaslighting often gets embedded in us by those we are vulnerable to – like our family (especially caregivers or romantic partners). This is because they are the people whose opinion we pay greater attention to, and try to validate.
A classic example would be a parent telling a crying kid to “stop being such a drama queen” whilst the kid was legitimately in pain, or upset. Most times, when this sort of response is repeated over and over again, the kid begins to consider it to be true: that maybe they shouldn’t cry when something dear to them is lost or taken away.
Kids like these could grow up always telling themselves that whatever they were feeling (no matter how strongly) was an overreaction; that they can be cheated and insulted and don’t have to be a “drama queen” about it.
They think, “Oh jeez! he cheated on me, but I’m not the only one whose partner cheats, besides he loves me…he said that to me”, “Maybe it’s not so bad if they reduced my salary…the economy is unstable”, “I shouldn’t share my pain with others, because I’m always too emotional, and no one likes that…I’m such a crybaby”.
- You neglect your experience: You dismiss and minimize how you feel to the point where you ignore them entirely – where you try to place logic over how you feel, or just rationalize it away – suppressing the severity of your emotions in the process. You may even compare yourself to others who are suffering more than you are, and use that as a reason to further drum down yours.
- You place other people’s needs and feelings above yours: In all your indifference to your own emotions, you still justify the other person’s – you make excuses for them, and try to see reasons why they should hurt you the way they did.
- You can’t say “stop”: You can’t stand your ground and call out the other person's bad behavior because you’re already questioning yourself if they were really wrong in the first place.
- And all these lead you to doubt your worth: Which, unfortunately, fuels the need to neglect your opinions, and emotions – bringing us back to where we started. Let’s call this the “gaslighting loop”
It is like a subtle version of the Stockholm syndrome – where hostages try to protect, justify, and even defend their captors. The Stockholm syndrome is initiated when the abuser offers some form of kindness during the abuse – such as a gift or assistance.
The result is that the victims begin to humanize the wrong actions of the abuser – they feel like the abuser isn’t that bad, and maybe they are the ones who are wrong and acting up. “We should just let them rob the bank, because life is just too hard for them, and look, they gave me a cup of water when I was thirsty and tied up”…as though they weren’t the ones who tied you up.
It is getting love-bombed by an abusive romantic partner – who takes you out on expensive dates, but hits you when you accidentally spill coffee on the floor. But rather than getting upset and ending the relationship, you listen to him tell you that you are too clumpy and that no one would love you if you keep spilling coffee – so that he is hitting you to correct you, and look, you should be grateful for that. You shouldn’t worry about the slap to the cheek.
That is perhaps one of the darkest places self-gaslighting can bring someone.
Having been hammered deep into the psyche, it gets increasingly hard not to constantly feel like the other person is right, and that your feelings and experiences are the wrong ones. So, you make excuses for them.
Thankfully, there is a way out of this mental trap
Indeed, it takes a lot of effort to break such mental traps. However, if you find it impossible to break such patterns in your life, then you might want to consider talking to a professional.
It is your life anyway, and you have a right to decide how you feel. So, decide.