I’m of the conviction that a little bit of self-doubt is healthy, like a little bit of coffee or a little bit of wine. But there comes a point where self-doubt transforms from a check-in to keep your expectations realistic to just gaslighting yourself, wherein you baselessly let yourself believe you’re wrong or that you’ve missed something.
As a reminder, gaslighting is a psychological term that refers to manipulating or undermining someone in a way that questions how they’re reacting. It can happen at work, in romantic relationships, or really anywhere. The idea is to make you feel like your reactions are invalid, your emotions are unimportant, your talents aren’t real, or that certain situations literally did or didn’t happen. With self-gaslighting, it’s kind of like your inner voice is your own tormentor.
Derailing and destructing that tormentor can require a lot of work, and the first step in that process is to be especially discerning about where your thoughts are originating. From there, here’s what to consider:
5 steps to stop gaslighting yourself and start loving yourself
1. Ask yourself whose opinion this really is
Very often, these contradictory thoughts don’t just manifest out of the ether. You’ve heard them before, and they’re ingrained in your psyche. Take it from someone who’s been told “You are not your mother” from two psychologists and three astrologers this year: We absorb the beliefs of others even if they counteract the truth we hear inside ourselves.
“There’s usually someone who convinced you to think this way about yourself,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “It could have been a boss, sibling, ex, friend, or parent. Separate yourself from these thoughts by identifying the origin of them, even if the person meant well at the time.”
2. Consider whether your friend would ever talk to you that way
It’s possible that you can’t identify a true source to your thoughts; sometimes it’s a person, and sometimes it’s the ongoing inner monologue of your self-deprecation. So in this instance, use other people as a mechanism to center you, but in a more positive way. Think of someone who truly loves you and wants the best for you. Now consider: Would this person ever say that you’re overreacting, that your feelings don’t matter, that you’re making a big deal out of nothing?
“When you’re invalidating yourself, ask yourself what you’d think if a friend was talking this way about themselves. What would you tell them?” —Aimee Daramus, PsyD
“When you’re invalidating yourself, ask yourself what you’d think if a friend was talking this way about themselves,” Dr. Daramus says. “What would you tell them?”
3. Imagine that the thought itself is a person
Imagine this voice as a person, real or imagined, and try to talk it out. “Talk to them,” Dr. Daramus says. “Ask why they’re treating you like this, and set some boundaries with them. Then imagine banishing the person in some way.”
Once you’ve identified where these thoughts may be coming from and that they’re even happening in the first place, the next action is to redirect or rebrand them.
4. See other points of view
To examine yourself and your abilities rationally, first recognize your personal gray area. Because usually there’s an entire middle ground between “I’m a good person” and “I am a useless troll monster who’s universally despised by everyone with whom I come into contact.”
“When you’re convincing yourself that you’re just not that talented, consider some other realistic possibilities,” says Dr. Daramus. For instance, “‘I’m good, I’m just not perfect,’ ‘I was tired and sick the day I made that mistake. It’s not the usual me.'”
5. Turn away from your thoughts
“You can also use mindful awareness to identify thoughts and not respond to them,” Dr. Daramus says. “This takes practice, but you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again,’ and turn your attention to something more important.”
Or you can try a version of thought-stopping techniques that keep you from falling down the spiral. If your self-gaslighting has you in a whirlpool of negative thoughts, then verbally command yourself to stop. Go an extra step and replace it with a positive or reassuring thought.
“Just remind yourself that you wouldn’t take this kind of talk from anyone else, so there’s no reason you should take it from yourself,” Dr. Daramus says.
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