Gaslighting is a subtle but dangerous form of psychological manipulation where the abuser causes the recipient to question or doubt their reality, memories, and sanity. In relationships, signs of gaslighting can manifest in casual situations, making the actions seem less harmful than they are, and may indicate a toxic relationship. They might dismiss your emotions by insisting you're too sensitive or blatantly lie in an attempt to defend themselves, leaving you to question your perception of reality. A sinister consequence of this manipulation is that the doubt can linger in the form of self-gaslighting, even long after the abuser is out of the picture. Self-gaslighting can look like belittling your own experiences and can result in low self-esteem and doubt in your own perceptions.
What Is Self-Gaslighting?
"Gaslighting is the tendency to minimize or dismiss someone's experience, leading the other person to question their perception of reality," Grace Dowd, LCSW, a licenced psychotherapist and owner of Grace Dowd Psychotherapy located in Austin, TX, told POPSUGAR. Likewise, self-gaslighting happens when we internalize this behaviour — you minimize your own experiences or dismiss your emotions until you're constantly questioning your own perceptions and doubt yourself. This can manifest in a number of ways that aren't always obvious to us.
What Makes Someone Prone to Self-Gaslighting?
Often, our environment has an influence on the way we view ourselves and the world, so being in a negative environment can cause serious damage to our self-esteem. "We are more susceptible to gaslighting ourselves when we have experienced prolonged gaslighting by another person in the past, particularly if this person is a caregiver or significant other," Dowd explained. "In other words, the external becomes internal. If you have experienced chronic gaslighting by another person, you are significantly more likely to self-gaslight."
Experiencing gaslighting from a partner or family member isn't the only way you can fall victim to self-gaslighting. Dowd says self-gaslighting can also be influenced by the nature of the society we live in. "We self-gaslight because we live in a society where we are not taught how to validate someone else's experience, making it difficult to know how to validate our own experiences. As a result, we often minimize or dismiss our own internal experiences," she said.
What Are Some Ways to Tell If You're Self-Gaslighting?
- You dismiss or minimize your experiences. Dismissing your own experiences can seem subtle, but the ultimate harm is minimizing them to the point where you no longer acknowledge the severity of your emotions. You might tell yourself you're overreacting or wrong in how you feel. "Self-gaslighting takes place when we overly respond to our emotions with logic, telling ourselves we should not feel the way we do because logically we understand X, Y, or Z," Dowd told POPSUGAR. "For example, if someone hurts our feelings, we might dismiss our hurt feelings by saying that the other person had a hard day and we are being 'too sensitive.'" Because we were convinced our feelings were no big deal to others, people internalize that in the form of self-gaslighting.
- You cater to others. Instead of acknowledging your emotions for what they are, you create explanations for what is and what is not a correct way to respond to something emotionally. You might convince yourself and others that you should react or behave a certain way that might not necessarily align with your intentions or morals.
- You have a strong inner critic. "We also self-gaslight when we fall into comparison traps and tell ourselves that we have no reason to feel the way that we do because other people have it so much worse," Dowd continued. This can awaken a lively inner critic, causing you to criticize your every move. You might compare yourself, your experiences, and even your accomplishments to others and constantly criticize the way you react to situations.
- You have trouble sorting out what's true. Prolonged exposure to gaslighting will keep you in a constant state of questioning your own perceptions. When you're lied to or misled into believing something is just in your head, you start to doubt things even if you have proof they happened or were there to witness it. Dowd says one of the ways to tell you're self-gaslighting is if you're struggling to sort out the truth based on your experiences.
- You doubt your worth. Your self-worth is the ultimate sacrifice to self-gaslighting. Living in a constant state of dismissal and overcritical self-talk can cost you your self-worth. "Our self-talk is often formed by the way that other people speak and respond to us and our 'inner world' — our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions," Dowd said. When you form self-gaslighting habits, your self-talk is hindered, and you start to question whether you're deserving of your accomplishments. You might not be vocal about an achievement or minimize its importance to you. This might make you hesitant to pursue certain opportunities because you don't believe you're good enough for them or you deserve it.
How Can I Overcome Self-Gaslighting Habits?
Luckily, there are different ways to combat self-gaslighting. POPSUGAR spoke with licenced clinical social worker Sonia Martin and African Shaman Makhosi Nejeser to chat about useful tools and techniques to unlearn self-gaslighting.
- Identify your issue with self-gaslighting, and acknowledge the behaviour. Martin, who has over seven years of experience and specialises in trauma, told POPSUGAR that in order to combat self-gaslighting, you need to acknowledge there is a problem in the first place: "Recognise the problem and accept that you may be invalidating your experiences and emotions. Understand where the problem comes from, [and ask yourself] why did you start to gaslight yourself?" From there, you can make peace with the root cause and begin to heal.
- Create positive self-talk affirmations and repeat them. Validating yourself becomes incredibly important to combat self-gaslighting. "The main tool to use with self-gaslighting is to actively affirm your experiences and emotions," Martin said. "Repetition is key when it comes to challenging a self-gaslighting narrative. Repeat after me: 'my emotions are valid and I have a right to express them.' This may not feel comfortable or true at first, but the more you tell yourself this, the more you will begin to believe how you really feel."
- Journal your emotions without judgement. "Another tool that we can use is to write down everything we are thinking and feeling, without judgement, when we begin the self-gaslighting narrative," Martin explained. Journaling is a powerful way to both validate your experience and affirm your self-worth. It can also help you process your emotions to better understand them. "This can memorialize in a real way our true emotions and give a space to honour them," she said.
- Focus on self-awareness. Bringing awareness to yourself is especially valuable when combating self-gaslighting. Nejeser, who is also known as The Royal Shaman and specialises in personal development and energetic alignment, told POPSUGAR that placing emphasis on your self-awareness can help bring clarity and affirm positive self-talk. "Let go of judgement, not only of others but of yourself! Ask yourself if you would say the things that you say to yourself to a friend," she explained. Nejeser helps individuals create powerful transformations that amplify success and fuel extraordinary growth through her groundbreaking Energetics of Euphoria modality. "Take a few minutes to write out what you believe about yourself, how that may have served or protected you from being hurt in the past, and a few examples that you have seen of this pattern." This can make your intentions more obvious to you, helping you to validate yourself and your experiences, she said.
- Ground yourself. Nejeser says one of the most foundational ways to unlearn self-gaslighting is to get grounded. Like self-awareness, grounding yourself can help you sort your emotions and truth instead of doubting yourself. "Our society has put such an emphasis on being 'in the head' that it's important to invite yourself back into your body so that you can actually FEEL your emotions, fully and completely," she stressed. This can be done with mindfulness meditation, journaling, and simply taking a walk in nature. Nejeser's go-to exercise for staying grounded? "If you can, put your bare feet on the Earth regularly, or (my personal favourite) put on some music and dance with your full body! Even just a few minutes of shaking your body will bring clarity in."
If you feel you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE.