Imagine giving someone the power to control every single thought that crosses your mind. That sounds utterly insane, doesn’t it?
Well, unfortunately, that’s exactly what gaslighting is. And what’s even more terrifying, it can lead to self-gaslighting.
Self-gaslighting happens when a victim of a gaslighter internalizes the abuse and enters a vicious cycle of lying to themselves.
They tell themselves things that soften the pain and present the abuser in a better light as if the emotional damage they caused wasn’t as hurtful as it felt. They force themselves to forget the pain and to act as if it never affected their life. Eventually, they begin following the toxic behavioral pattern of the person who hurt them.
Sometimes, after being under a gaslighter’s influence for far too long, your perception of reality breaks. You struggle with mental health complications like anxiety, depression, and uncertainty, but you cannot name the exact cause. Or, maybe, you vigorously deny it.
And instead of seeking help, you treat the symptoms that alert you of the presence of such a severe issue as a false alarm. You tell yourself that you are simply overreacting. Just like a gaslighter does when their victim begins to unravel their true intentions.
Clinical psychologist Ingrid Clayton shares:
“In my experience, this created a split within my psyche, as though I were two different people sandwiched together: The one who knew what happened—who knew it was wrong and that I wasn’t to blame—and the one who had to take responsibility just to survive it.”
What makes self-gaslighting so dangerous.
Just like Dr. Clayton, many victims of emotional abuse find it extremely difficult to explain the hell they are going through. There are no bruises on your skin, only wounds in your mind that are often invisible to others.
And when there is no physical evidence of the pain you are experiencing, it is easy to question the way you perceive it, especially after the one who caused it has managed to convince you it’s all in your head. That’s when self-gaslighting damages you the most because it makes you doubt your own instincts.
As a result, you become your own critic, your own bully, and your own abuser. You start thinking to yourself that you are to blame for allowing them to mistreat you. You may even reach a point where you tell yourself you don’t deserve to be happy. That’s perhaps one of the most mentally destructive forms of self-sabotage.
How can you unlearn to gaslight yourself?
Removing the self-sabotaging mindset from your system may not be easy, but it is definitely not impossible. Dr. Clayton explains:
“We may not be able to rewrite the past, but we can change how we respond to it.”
One of the paths the expert suggests taking while battling your own demons is writing. She says:
“I’ve learned that writing is a powerful way to see the truth of my self-gaslighting, to see its origins more clearly. And I can share these deeper truths with people I trust.”
Another important step you should take is affirming your emotions. What you feel is not a product of your imagination but a valid emotion you should acknowledge.
So, make sure you no longer hold yourself accountable for the damage your abuser caused you. Also, try to understand that your worth isn’t defined by other people’s opinions about you. You deserve to be happy, to experience joy, to be successful, to smile. And no one has the right to take that away from you. Not even yourself.