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Are you “gaslighting” yourself?

What is it and how to unlearn it.

Gaslighting—perhaps a lesser-known term for the general public on this side of Asia—is something we have experienced or witnessed (in varying ranges) in others, even if we are unfamiliar with the term. Those who do know what this is, they know this as a form of emotional abuse that uses manipulation and minimization to make someone question their reality. 

So, while gaslighting is something that others do to someone, it is entirely possible to gaslight yourself as well! But, before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s understand gaslighting first.

What is Gaslighting?

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1940s film Gaslight, in which a man manipulates his wife’s reality. Each night, the husband would lower the gaslights slightly to confuse his wife. He would dismiss his wife’s observation of changes in light and shadow by claiming that it was all in her head. He would also hide objects and claim that she was hallucinating and going insane. Essentially, he was subjecting her to extensive emotional abuse, which caused her to question her sanity.

Taking the gist of that concept, the term Gaslighting has come to define a type of emotional abuse and manipulation inflicted on someone in order to cause them to doubt their own thoughts, feelings, reality, and even sanity. 

People who gaslight others might do things like dismissing your feelings and underplaying the severity of your situation in a way so that you start questioning your own intuition, perception and understanding of reality. They would make comments like– 

“You are overreacting.”

“Don’t make a big deal.”

“You’re being overdramatic…”

What is Self-Gaslighting?

Now, when someone is subjected to gaslighting for an extended period of time, they may begin to internalize it. They start subjecting the same thing to themselves. That is, they minimize their own experiences or dismiss your emotions until they are constantly doubting themselves and questioning their own perceptions. This can manifest in a variety of ways that are not always noticeable to us.

For example, when you’ve been hurt, you might think, “I’m probably overreacting,” or “She has it worse than me, so I shouldn’t be upset.”

OR,

Assume, for example, that someone says something insensitive or hurtful. You may notice that your feelings have been hurt, but you immediately and impulsively think, “I’m probably overreacting and being overly sensitive. It really isn’t a big deal.”

…and stuff like that. 

If you have no history of gaslighting but still exhibit these behaviors, please be aware that self-gaslighting can be a direct symptom of an invisible illness such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or a variety of other mental illnesses. Lack of self-worth or self-esteem are common symptoms of these mental illnesses, which may be reinforced by self-gaslighting behaviors.

Self-gaslighting also occurs when people confuse self-gaslighting with humility or humbleness. You can be humble and confident while also being able to defend yourself when mocked or manipulated. Self-gaslighting can completely destroy your sense of worth as a person.

How to Unlearn Self-gaslighting habits?

As dangerous and ominous as self-gaslighting sounds, there are various ways to unlearn these habits and establish new ones that will combat your internal need to sabotage yourself. Here are a few ways how: 

  1. Identify and Accept that you’re gaslighting yourself: You can’t move forward if you’re still in denial. Accepting and admitting, “Yes, I do this harmful thing to myself, and I choose to take responsibility to heal from it,” is one of the first and most difficult steps toward healing from these tendencies. 
  2. Practice Positive Self-Affirmation and Validate your feelings: The main tool for dealing with self-gaslighting is to actively affirm your experiences and emotions rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it. You must consistently practice and repeat it in order to counter and invalidate your negative thoughts in your mind. Examples might include:

Self-gaslighting: “I am dramatic, emotional and too sensitive.”

Self-Affirmation: “My feelings are valid.”

Self-gaslighting: “I know they love me and didn’t mean it that way.”

Self-Affirmation: “I recognize the original tone and wording they used, and I know how it made me feel.”

  1. Practice Self-Awareness:  Bringing awareness to yourself is especially important when dealing with self-gaslighting. It can be extremely helpful in terms of bringing clarity and affirming positive self-talk. Take a few moments to write down what you believe about yourself, how that has served or protected you from being hurt in the past.  This can help you validate yourself and your experiences by making your intentions more visible to you.
  1. Get Counseling: You may not always be able to handle things on your own, and it is perfectly fine to seek professional help to help you gain a better understanding of your emotions and experiences. It is entirely possible that you can become so lost in his or her mind and the negative narratives it feeds you that you lose your ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This is where a third-person viewpoint comes in handy. A professional counselor can be that person for you, providing you with tools and techniques to help you manage these habits and tendencies without making you feel as if your perception is flawed or invalid.

If you have come this far and feel that this is something you are going through as well, I offer one-to-one counseling services which also deal with this issue. Feel free to reach out to us and I will be happy to offer my services  to help you make a positive and empowering change in your life.

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