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Gaslighting is a term that has been around for a while now, but has only recently become used more often. Like many psychological terms, it is often taken much more lightly than the actual word implies.
Today, we are going to take a look at what gaslighting is and how we often self-gaslight. We will also cover the ways you can determine whether or not you are self-gaslighting and how you can stop this destructive behavior. Let's get started!
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that is used to make a person doubt their very reality and importance. It is manipulative and invalidating. The technique is most often used by those with narcissistic personalities, but is not exclusive to that disorder.
The abuser will have you questioning whether or not you actually remember things correctly. They will have you wondering if things weren't as bad as you think they were. A person who gaslights you will lie about events that happened. They will make excuses and blame the victim for being too sensitive.
At its worse, gaslighters will move items and make you think you didn't put them where you said you did. In the end, the victim feels that they may be losing their minds. Their self-esteem is totally stripped away and they end up second-guessing themselves so much that they become immobilized when facing a decision.
Why Would Someone Self-Gaslight?
If gaslighting is so bad, why would someone want to do it to themselves? The truth is that most people who self-gaslight do not realize they are doing it. The most frequent reason a person self-gaslights is that they were a victim of gaslighting, usually as a child but sometimes in an abusive relationship.
Other reasons include low self-esteem and over-dependence on social media, where we are bombarded with people bragging about all their wonderful lives. This makes us wonder what we are doing wrong or that we don't deserve the things we seek.
Another reason for self-gaslighting is that we live in a society that doesn't teach us how to validate the experiences of others. This causes us to not understand emotions and we end up minimizing or dismissing our own experiences.
Thus, the first step in trying to rid yourself of this self-sabotaging mindset is to recognize the signs.
9 Signs you are Self-Gaslighting
Are you self-gaslighting? You can first ask yourself some questions and then honestly see if you recognize the following behaviors in yourself. There are 9 common signs that you are a victim of self-gaslighting.
1. You make excuses for others' bad behavior.
Has someone you loved ever made a mean or nasty remark to you and you said to yourself “He/she's just having a bad day”? How many times have you used this excuse?
Always finding a “logical” reason for another's abuse of you is a sign of self-gaslighting. The more often you find yourself excusing their bad behavior, the more likely you are deceiving yourself.
2. You invalidate your feelings.
You have an argument with someone and as you think about it later. Some things were said that really hurt you and you've been crying off and on since. Yet, you tell yourself that you are too sensitive.
You shouldn't be so hurt over a simple statement. Yet, it does hurt and you need to believe that you didn't deserve the harsh remarks and you have every right to feel however you do.
3. You are stuck in the past.
How often do you go over things that have happened and tell yourself that you “should have” done this or that? How many times do you wonder if you “would have” responded differently or done something differently, the situation wouldn't have blown up?
When you find yourself constantly thinking about “would have, should have, or could have”. It is a sign.
4. You think you're too sensitive.
Something happens and you get angry, yet everyone around you seems to have blown off the event. You tell yourself that you are overreacting. It wasn't really something you should have gotten angry about. You are invalidating your own reaction.
5. You always second-guess yourself.
Self-gaslighting makes you feel like you can't trust your own decisions. Do you find yourself making up your mind about how to go about approaching someone and then you stop and wonder if maybe you should ignore the problem, or maybe try a different approach?
You question every interaction, especially with certain individuals who remind you of someone in the past that you had a shaky relationship with.
6. You doubt your memories.
This is often in regard to a troubling event. When you remember being abused or hurt in some way and everyone else either avoids the subject or tells you that it didn't happen, you start to wonder if you imagined it.
Eventually, your memory of other events comes into question. You start to believe you made everything up and stop talking about things. You question your grip on reality.
7. You convince yourself things aren't that bad.
This one ties in with memory doubting. Say you grew up in an abusive family but your parents and siblings all deny that certain things happened. You start to think that maybe the rules you faced were not excessive.
Maybe everyone else had to deal with the same situation. Maybe being beaten with a belt is just how parents discipline their kids. Maybe parents don't spend time comforting their kids when they are ill. You start to believe you were too sensitive and the situation only seemed scary or hurtful.
8. You have a strong inner critic.
They say we are our own worst critics and this is especially true of those who self-gaslight. You see any act that is less than perfect as a sign that you are incapable. You fail a test and determine you are stupid. You have one bad relationship and believe you are unlovable. You expect only perfection in everything you do and say or see it as a failure.
9. You always find a way to blame yourself.
If you hadn't been so needy, maybe your parents would have loved you more. If you had been a better housekeeper or cook, maybe your partner wouldn't have stayed out drinking so often.
If you hadn't spoken up so quickly to defend yourself, maybe you wouldn't have been beaten. You find yourself thinking that it was somehow your entire fault when others treated you badly.
How to Stop Self-Gaslighting
Now that we know what self-gaslighting looks like, let's explore the ways in which you can start to put this behavior behind you.
Step 1. Recognize what is happening.
The first step in solving any issue is recognizing that there is a problem. Take time to go through the list of questions and examine your thoughts on situations. Ask yourself if these thoughts are accurate.
Start to explore when you first started to believe these things. Whose voice do you hear when you hear these negative thoughts? Go as far back as you can to find out where these thoughts and feelings originated.
Step 2. Observe without judgment to understand the origins.
This is where practicing meditation can help. You need to learn to observe your thoughts without judgment. Acknowledge their existence without judging. See if you can trace their origin and then let them flow onward. Don't spend time beating yourself up or trying to label your thoughts as wrong.
Step 3. Practice affirmations to redirect.
When you recognize a thought as self-defeating, write it down. Then, reframe the thought into a positive form to create an affirmation. Repeat that affirmation every time the thought crosses your mind.
Eventually, you will be able to rewrite the negative script with a more positive one. For example, every time you feel you think “I am a failure”, tell yourself “I succeeded at____” or “I am good at ____.”
Step 4. Focus on self-awareness.
Journaling is one of the greatest ways you can get to know yourself deeply. Try finding question prompts or just free-write.
With freewriting, you allow yourself to write whatever thoughts come to mind. You don't direct the flow and don't worry about whether the thoughts seem connected or make sense. Just write. Go back later and try to see what you gained from the experience. You will find this easier over time.
The point is not to question your thoughts; just let them flow so your subconscious can be free to reveal itself. Another tool that helps you become self-aware is mindfulness. Allow yourself to be in the moment. Observe and feel, but don't judge.
Step 5. Ground yourself.
Grounding yourself is one of the best ways to help you realize what your reality is. It can allow you to recognize that what occurred in the past is in the past and you have the power to change what is occurring now. Look around you and see the things that bring you comfort and joy.
Look for things that validate your importance. Realize that you can't change what happened, but you can change how you let it shape your future. You have the power within you.
The Effects of Self-Gaslighting
Self-gaslighting can cause both emotional and physical problems. Feelings of anxiety and depression almost always accompany this. For many, there are feelings of confusion and shame as you tell yourself you shouldn't be feeling these feelings.
Physical feelings such as headaches, insomnia, and stomach issues will result over time. You may find yourself becoming more isolated from those around you as you start distrusting your judgment and self-worth.
Final Thoughts on Self-Gaslighting and How to Stop
Gaslighting yourself can be just as harmful as being gaslighted by someone else. It leaves you feeling beaten down, confused, and immobilized. The scars run deep. Once you recognize what is going on, however, it is possible to rewrite the internal scripts that have been a part of your life for so long.
Becoming self-aware is the best way to make a break and head into a future where you see your own self-worth. By doing so, you can and will quiet the negative voices in your head and learn to be the best friend you deserve.