Gaslighting Yourself? Here’s How To Overcome It

By Reniel

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Last Updated: June 1, 2021

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:

How Self Gaslighting Happens – And Perpetuates

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”.  

In essence

-      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

How To Stop Gaslighting Yourself

  • First, realize that you are self-gaslighting: disillusion yourself and admit that you are always trying to numb your feelings. That you are always afraid that your opinions are wrong.
  • Create positive self-talk affirmations: You would then have to re-write your mental script. Tell yourself that you are lovable and that you deserve to be treated with care and attention. Tell yourself that your emotions are valid and should not be relegated to the backbench. This may be hard at first, or even feel like a lie, but you must continue nonetheless. Create a positive self-talk affirmation routine and stick to it – repeat it daily, and as often as you can. 
  • Journal your emotions: take out time to write how you felt during another incident. Don’t judge yourself, or beat yourself up if you realize you did it again. Just focus on noting all you felt. This would help you better process the emotions, and even understand them.
  • Develop your self-awareness: Self-awareness happens in stages, and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Self-awareness would help you catch yourself in the act. It is being able to constantly monitor how you’re feeling as the feelings come and go.
  • Practice mindfulness: Allow your emotions to settle. Don’t allow yourself to be lost in the event – in the emotions of others or yours. Try to remain calm, and observe.
  • Find the source: like the example stated earlier, self-gaslighting can be a result of past experiences like childhood abuse. Whatever it is, you need to ask yourself whose opinion was it that I should put myself second. Once you identify this source you would be able to disconnect yourself from it – hence, it begins to sound more and more like an external voice, rather than your opinion. You don’t have to hate the person who convinced you to feel this way either, it is better to forgive them but to remain watchful.   
  • Question the thoughts: Having identified its source, you can go ahead to question it. A simple approach to spot and dissolve this thought is to ask yourself if a friend would suggest such a thing to you – would your friend ask you to endure pain so that you don’t offend someone else? Always ask yourself what someone who cares about you would want you to do – what they would say to you. If it is contrary to that, then you know it’s the “gaslight” again
  • Stop the thoughts: once you see that you’re falling into the slippery slope of self-gaslighting again, instantly employ thought-stopping techniques to disrupt the pattern. This could be simply verbally commanding yourself to stop. From this point, you proceed to state positive self-talk affirmations, exercise mindfulness, identify the source of the thought, then banish it. Consider this the loop that cancels out the “gaslight loop”   

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.

 

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