Gaslighting is a term that has been increasingly used at a public level for some time now. Many of us are familiar with it at some level, and I’d assume loads of folks now understand that it is a universally bad thing. But when we talk about gaslighting, we often look at how people inflict this treatment onto others – today, I want to discuss the cases in which we may be self gaslighting.
I first learnt about this phenomenon from Dr Mariel Buqué, a US-based psychologist.
Dr Buqué shared a mind-blowing introduction to self gaslighting on her Instagram account and explained that it’s not only possible – loads of people do it.
In the caption, she wrote that self gaslighting “…is the internalization (sic) of the ways in which you’ve been chronically invalidated by others. You start doing the job for them. And you continue to hurt yourself because you have now subscribed to the idea that you can’t trust your own reality”.
Powerful stuff, no?
Throughout the video, Dr Buqué explained that most often this begins as “an external process, meaning that somebody else is gaslighting you”. After that experience, you may then “learn, through that modelling, how to gaslight yourself”.
The video continues to explain what self gaslighting looks like, and offers examples of the types of mistruths you may tell yourself in this situation. You can find the full video below – it’s well worth a watch.
To dig a little deeper into this kind of invalidation, I chatted with Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno, and Patrick Dixon, a registered psychologist with The Indigo Project, over email. Here’s what they shared.
First of all, what is gaslighting?
If you’re not aware of this term, you can read about it at length here. But in a nutshell, “gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person manipulates another to the point where they may doubt their own emotions, perceptions, and general sense of reality,” Dixon explained.
Often seen in toxic relationships (romantic, platonic, professional or otherwise) gaslighting is a power play, used to manipulate. Sokarno added that this kind of treatment is “a tactic which people use (either consciously or unconsciously) to gain power or control over a person”.
In many cases, the victim does not realise they are being gaslit, but “over time, gaslighting can lead victims to question their sanity and significantly reduce their confidence and self-esteem,” said Dixon.
What are the signs you may be self gaslighting?
As with any health condition, self gaslighting may present in different ways for different people. There are some common signals to look out for, however.
Sokarno gave three key signs that often suggest self gaslighting. Those are:
Disproportionately challenging your own thoughts and perceptions:
“Second-guessing ourselves or asking ourselves questions like ‘did I turn the hair straighten off?’ or ‘is my reaction appropriate?’ are normal thoughts and healthy things to question,” Sokarno explained.
“However, things can quickly take a turn when the questions to oneself become invalidating.”
Minimising the self:
“Minimising the self is a type of deception which involves denial partnered with rationalisation in situations where complete denial is implausible. It involves constantly doubting our recollections or downplaying our emotions, rather than approaching the self with a little bit of acceptance,” Sokarno said.
It often involves telling yourself things aren’t as bad as you’re making them out to be, or that you should let things that have hurt you go.
Externalising your self-gaslighting:
In this case, you may find that you vocalise some of the thoughts you’re having about yourself or your opinions.
Sokarno shared that “An example of this is so starting a conversation with ‘I’m probably wrong about this…’ or ‘I’m not sure, but’ because you’ve internally questioned your own understanding of things (even if somewhere inside you know you’re right)!”
She also highlighted that this externalisation may play out in a way that sees you remain silent in social settings because you’ve convinced yourself your thoughts or feelings aren’t needed.
In addition to all the above, Dixon simply shared that “People who self-gaslight might have difficulty asserting themselves, setting healthy boundaries, and have a loud inner critic”.
“Some signs of self-gaslighting can be questioning your worth as a person ‘Maybe I don’t deserve to be loved’, the legitimacy of your emotions ‘I’m probably just being sensitive’, or your sense of reality ‘I could have made it all up in my head.'”
Anyone else feeling incredible seen right now?
How can you best stop this kind of behaviour?
Every mental health journey needs to work for the person living through it. So, naturally, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these things.
In saying that, there are tools you can use and steps you can take that are likely to help in many cases.
Dixon explained that something as simple as identifying when it happens can make a difference to your wellbeing. Also, reaching out to support people, practising self-compassion and “understanding and processing past significant contributing life events in a safe and supportive environment are all things that you can do to minimise self-gaslighting”.
Sokarno agreed, sharing that recognising inaccurate assessments, working on your inner and outer dialogue and using positive affirmations are all great starting points.
“This can take a bit of self-regulating or self-reflection to understand when things that we’re telling ourselves are simply not true,” she said.
“Learn to notice when you might be lying to yourself or convincing yourself of something that isn’t accurate.”
The last, but certainly not least significant piece of advice both Sokarno and Dixon offered is that you can always reach out to a mental health professional for support.
“…creating a support team can make the process of reducing self-gaslighting easier and more effective,” Dixon said.
And, of course, “Lifeline [13 11 14] and Beyond Blue [1300 22 4636] are services that provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts who can help you to understand your feelings,” highlighted Sokarno.
If you’ve ever caught yourself in one (or a few) of the behaviours listed above, hopefully, this guide is of some comfort. You’re absolutely not alone in this, and there are loads of ways to work through it.
Be kind to yourselves, friends.