Gaslighting is a widely used terminology that many people learned to understand. It’s worth going back to the origin of the word, in order to fully grasp the context and different meanings. The term itself originates from a 1938 play, called Gas Light, by Patrick Hamilton. The play, later adopted into a film, portrays the story of a murderous husband trying to hide his true identity from his wife.
He tries to confuse her and convince her she’s crazy. He steals jewelry and makes her believe she lost it. Then, each night the husband slightly lowers the gas-powered lights in the house. He then convinces his wife that she’s imagining the shift in light and shadows and that she’s going crazy.
This is exactly what gaslighting is: psychological manipulation to create doubt about one’s sanity, validity, reality, or feelings. And what I realized not only through myself but also the people around me, is that gaslighting can also be something that you do to yourself. This is what we call self-gaslighting.
Have you ever told yourself: “I’m being too sensitive”, “it’s not that big of a deal”, or “I just need to suck it up”? It’s as if we are programmed to ignore our feelings and straight away skip to the end. Something happens to you in point A, you are supposed to process your feelings in point B, to then come to the solution or healing in point C. But many of us, including myself, tend to skip over point B, and brush off our actual feelings.
To some this might not be a problem, and it won’t result in any long-term emotional damage. To others however, self-gaslighting can trigger many other mental health issues if not corrected. Over time, these subtle forms of self-gaslighting lower your self-confidence and can affect your emotional stability. Several psychologists suggest that it can also lead to anxiety, depression, confusion and shame.
Look out for any warning signals such as: dismissing your own experiences, apologizing for your emotions, comparing your feelings to others and be critical of yourself, or doubting your self worth.
Don’t worry if you just discovered that you yourself are guilty of self-gaslighting. I wish my younger self had figured this out way sooner as well. Unfortunately so, (self) gaslighting is an invisible enemy. It’s really hard to pick up on if you don’t always know when you are doing it.
In many ways, we self-gaslight to mask our traumas, pains, or unwanted emotions. We tell ourselves lies to brush over our actual feelings. “There are people who have it worse, my traumas can’t be that bad”, or “did that really hurt me or am I just being sensitive?”
Know that when you ask yourself such questions, and doubt your own pain, this automatically means you in fact do experience the feelings that you tell yourself are not or should not be there. When you wonder if you are right to feel a certain way about something that happened in your life, you are right. If you wonder whether or not your traumas are valid for the way you feel or act, they are valid.
However corny self-help that sounds, it’s true. You need to practice affirming your own self worth. Allow to feel your initial feelings, and do not push them away by telling yourself lies. Affirm to yourself that your feelings are valid, and that you will allow them to be processed.
Try it yourself.
A. Someone offends you at work
B. You feel hurt. You do not appreciate the action of your colleague.
C. You affirm that your feelings are valid, and that you will work to find a solution.
If you instead skip over point B, then point C will look something more like: “I am too dramatic, I just need to get over it”. This is self-gaslighting.
And guess what? Life is too short to talk yourself down and be stuck in emotional abuse. Take it from an avid self-gaslighter.
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