Are you gaslighting yourself?

How to recognize and heal from your emotional abuse.


Kathryn Lichlyter

3 years ago | 4 min read

Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash

The origin of the term gaslighting comes from a 1940’s movie titled Gaslight, where a man manipulated his wife’s reality, denying he was hiding objects, turning down the gaslights every night, stating she was imagining things and going crazy. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation which makes the victim question their thoughts, emotional validation, sanity, and self-worth (Healthline).

Self-gaslighting is real

Although gaslighting is most commonly associated with abusive relationships with other people, you are also capable of gaslighting yourself.

Self-gaslighting commonly involves suppressing and invalidating your thoughts and emotions. For instance, in situations where you’ve been hurt, you typically think, “I am probably overreacting,” or “[insert another person’s name here] has it worse-off than me, so I shouldn’t feel this upset.” Other common thoughts include: “I am not sick enough to be diagnosed with [insert mental illness here],” “Am I making everything up?” and “I’m to blame for all of my loved ones’ issues.”

If you are self-gaslighting, it may be because you have been a victim of gaslighting from another person. However, you do not have to have a history with others gaslighting you to gaslight yourself. It could be a direct symptom of an invisible illness, such as an eating disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many other mental illnesses. The lack of self-worth or self-esteem are common symptoms of these mental illnesses, which could be reinforced by routine behaviors of self-gaslighting.

There is a difference between self-gaslighting and humility

Humility, or being humble, does not diminish your internal self-worth or confidence. You can be humble and confident and have the capacity to stand up for yourself when being ridiculed or manipulated. Self-gaslighting can completely obliterate your perception of value as a person (or a friend, a lover, a family member).

We value humility because someone humble recognizes their shortcomings and weaknesses. Someone humble does not fixate on their weaknesses and let them override their strengths or uniqueness as a person. Self-gaslighting, on the other hand, obliterates the right to acknowledge your strengths or accomplishments and stops you from self-improvement in lessening your shortcomings or weaknesses.

How to heal from self-gaslighting

Similar to how you would heal from being gaslit by another person, seek support from a professional counselor and friends, start telling yourself self-affirmations, practice mindfulness, and start validating your emotions through feelings charts or journaling (Kati Morton). By generating support from a professional counselor and friends, you will have the ability to receive more serious and clinical support from your counselor, but also the consistent and informal support from your friends.

Start noticing whenever you have self-gaslighting moments, such as when you invalidate the emotions you are feeling through negative thoughts or repression. Instead, acknowledge the emotion and affirm to yourself you are valid in feeling this certain way. It may feel uncomfortable to practice self-affirmation at first, especially if you have self-gaslit for a long time.

Typically, if you start thinking that you may not be “sick enough” for help, you are. Stop comparing your mental or physical health, or your financial or career situations to anyone else. This will allow you to be more open to self-improvement and you will better acknowledge the emotional abuse you’ve undergone. Emotional abuse is, like other mental illnesses, hard to see and hard to accept.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and gaslighting

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s (CBT) primary objective is to restructure the way a person may think or remember certain aspects of their life or their emotions. It involves manipulating the individual’s thinking patterns in hopes of lessening reality distortions or the distortion of one’s self-image or self-worth (APA). CBT is commonly used in treating those “invisible” illnesses, which may be linked to your self-gaslighting tendencies.

When a therapist challenges the way an individual thinks about themselves or tries to reorder memories that may have been altered or manipulated due to emotional trauma, if CBT is not practiced correctly, this could err on the side of gaslighting.

A therapist cognisant of the dangers of gaslighting should be able to help an individual rearrange their memories in the correct order without making the client feel as if their perception is faulty or as if they’re insane.

The purpose of therapy is to help the client strengthen their self-confidence, self-worth, and help them feel better about themselves. CBT is an effective form of therapy if practiced correctly. However, depending on the therapist’s use of CBT and how the individual perceives the therapist’s use of CBT, this form of counseling could be more harmful than good.

Would you talk to a friend the same way you talk to yourself?

Would you gaslight your friend by telling them their memory is faulty, they’re overreacting, or they’re making up their mental illnesses? Would you find it strange if your friend had to pass every decision they made by you?

We must understand that any form of gaslighting is harmful, abusive, and must be treated carefully. If you are subject to self-gaslighting behaviors, recognize where those behaviors may have originated, reach out for support from professionals and friends, tell yourself your emotions and thoughts are accepted, and you deserve to feel confident, valid, and valued.

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Kathryn Lichlyter

Kathryn is a user experience designer in Denver, CO. They uncover practical, inclusive, and accessible digital solutions with great attention to detail and precision. Since graduating from a UX/UI boot camp in 2020, Kathryn has worked as a UX designer for two tech startups and a B2G software company. They're currently enrolled in the undergrad Emergent Digital Practices program at the University of Denver.







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