Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that attempts to create doubt in the victim’s mind. Gaslighters lie, deny, isolate and control their targets, making them question the validity of their thoughts and feelings. Gaslighting is something that is done to you by other people. But did you know it is possible to gaslight yourself?
Before I examine signs of gaslighting yourself, I want to explain how it is possible.
What does gaslighting yourself mean?
Gaslighting yourself is the same as self-sabotaging.
Self-gaslighting takes many forms:
- Doubting yourself
- Suppressing your feelings
- Invalidating your feelings
- Blaming yourself
- Imposter syndrome
- Thinking that your emotions are not important
- Making excuses for others’ abusive behaviour
- Being self-critical
- Downplaying your achievements
- Having a negative inner voice
Reasons you are gaslighting yourself
Victims of gaslighting abuse are prone to self-gaslighting. Prolonged periods of gaslighting abuse lead to low self-confidence, feeling that you are not worthy, whilst chipping away at your self-esteem.
You are never good enough, everything is your fault, your emotions are not valid, and you are sensitive. You berate yourself when the slightest thing goes wrong, but don’t take the credit when things go right.
So, what does it mean to gaslight yourself?
Here are 7 signs you are gaslighting yourself:
1. You think you are too sensitive
A ‘friend’ once said to me that ‘I’d made a real mess of my face’. I had acne and had tried to use makeup to cover it. I told her she had upset me, but she dismissed me as being too sensitive and said she was only trying to help.
I wondered afterwards if she was right. Was I making a big deal out of the situation? On reflection, I know I had every reason to be upset, and she had no right to brush away my feelings.
Your feelings are valid if someone upsets you with words or actions. It is not down to you to smooth over the situation or suppress your feelings. Nor is it your job to make someone who has hurt you feel better. No one may tell you how to feel or how upset you may be.
2. You question yourself all the time
Rather than trusting your gut instinct or judgment, you question yourself. This is more than a lack of confidence and can stem from several reasons. Children raised in a critical environment learn to suppress their thoughts for fear of ridicule. Intolerant parents lead to feelings of failure and disappointment in children.
When parents support and encourage us, we become confident in our decision-making and thought processes. Or perhaps you have been in an abusive relationship, and your partner has gaslighted you in the past.
Even though you have managed to escape their toxic clutches, your self-esteem is at an all-time low. Now, instead of your partner gaslighting you, you are gaslighting yourself.
3. You accept abusive behaviour
If you think everything is your fault, you are more likely to accept abusive behaviour from a partner or a loved one. Perhaps you make excuses for them, saying that if you were a better person, they wouldn’t have to act the way they do. They don’t act like this with anyone else, so it must be your fault.
But no one deserves to be treated badly, ridiculed or mocked, and no one has the right to disrespect you. Ask yourself if you would treat a loved one or a colleague in the same manner. I’m guessing the answer is no. So why should you accept abusive behaviour?
4. You don’t think you are good enough
It doesn’t matter what you achieve, you will belittle or downplay your successes. You taking self-deprecating to a new level. I’m surprised you are not wearing a horsehair shirt and beating yourself with a stick. This is called Imposter Syndrome, and many successful people suffer from it.
You put your success down to luck, being in the right place at the right time, or knowing someone who gave you a helping hand. You never accredit yourself with your achievements. No one likes a showoff, but you are entitled to feel happy with the results of your hard work.
5. Your inner voice is overly critical
I’ve had problems with my inner voice for decades. It’s a nasty piece of work that undermines my confidence every chance it gets. It tells me I am lazy and to ‘pull myself together’ nearly every day. It has taken me a long time to shut it up.
Now I change how it speaks to me. I imagine I am a friend giving advice, not criticism. I can be encouraging and coaxing instead of brutal and dismissive. This is my real voice; it is the essence of me that is here to guide and help.
6. You downplay your feelings
Instead of being oversensitive, sometimes you downplay your feelings altogether. You minimise how you feel. You don’t feel strong enough to stand up and say,
‘Actually, my feelings are justified and I am not being dramatic or over-sensitive.’
Not saying anything when others mock you or put you down is a statement. You are saying to those people that you are not important. You have no rights. Your feelings don’t matter.
But you know how you feel. You know how the things they said made you feel at that moment. Your feelings are entirely valid and important.
You are not being overly sensitive or dramatic, and no one has the right to tell you how you should feel, particularly after something they have said. They need to take responsibility and own what they’ve said.
7. You need constant validation from others
People who self-gaslight don’t trust their feelings or emotions. As a result, they seek validation from others. But this lack of conviction can be exhausting for friends and family. Adults should not need constant reassurance; they should have the courage of their convictions.
You might even find that people start distancing themselves from you because your neediness is tiring.
How to stop gaslighting yourself?
Now you know what gaslighting yourself looks like, here’s how to stop self-gaslighting.
1. Recognise that you are gaslighting yourself
The whole point of gaslighting is its insidious and devious nature. It starts drip-feeding into your subconscious and takes hold of your self-esteem before you know what’s happening.
External gaslighters work in the same way. They don’t start with major criticisms or unbelievable lies because you would immediately spot their deceit.
Self-gaslighting is similar. It is a gradual process and you might not even know you are doing it. The next time you dismiss your feelings or accept abusive behaviour, stop and take time to identify whether you are gaslighting yourself.
2. Find the source of your self-gaslighting
It helps to understand the origin of your self-limiting beliefs. Did they start in childhood or are they baggage leftover from an abusive relationship?
I was in a coercive and controlling relationship for nearly ten years and after two decades, my ex’s comments have morphed into self-gaslighting.
3. Identify your inner voice
Does your inner voice champion and encourage you, or is it nasty and spiteful? The conversations we have with ourselves are so important. They can build us up or they can cut us down.
If you are having problems with a nasty inner voice, I recommend ‘Chatter’ by Ethan Kross.
“When we talk to ourselves, we often hope to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead. When we’re facing a tough task, our inner coach can buoy us up: Focus—you can do this. But, just as often, our inner critic sinks us entirely: I’m going to fail. They’ll all laugh at me. What’s the use?”
– Ethan Kross
‘Chatter’ uses behavourial research and real-life case studies to make your inner voice your biggest champion.
4. Change the way you speak to yourself
Once you are aware of your inner voice, you can change its tone. Make it a friendly ally instead of a vindictive foe. The way I do this is as soon as my nasty inner voice pops up, I silence it with a loving motherly tone. I say ‘enough of that’, and I talk to myself as an encouraging friend would.
It takes concentration and time but I’m so used to dismissing the nasty voice now it hardly ever speaks. If it’s still difficult interrupting your negative thoughts, write them down and imagine saying them to your best friend.
The next time you start gaslighting yourself, remember you are important, your emotions are valid, and you have every right to feel the way you do.
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