Self-gaslighting happens as a result of internalized doubt and a critical external voice so far-reaching that you begin to question your own reality and dismiss your emotions. Some common self-gaslighting phrases are "maybe it wasn't that bad," "maybe she didn't mean to hurt me," or “I am being overly emotional.” So, why is it that we do this?
Below, learn the causes of self-gaslighting, along with a three-step process to stop it and instead build self-trust.
Why we fall into self-gaslighting
The external “voice” that may guide your self-gaslighting habit could originate from a person you heard over and over again, for example a caregiver or authority figure who was invested in maintaining power over you. As children, we depend on our caregivers and authority figures for survival, so questioning them is not in our best survival interest. We do not have the skill or the motivation to call them out or blame them. And when anger cannot go out, it must go in.
Self-gaslighting happens as a result of internalized doubt, and a critical external voice so far-reaching that you begin to question your own reality and dismiss your emotions.
To this end, we may develop a self-critical voice, redirecting negative emotions toward ourselves in order to remain dependent on our caregivers. For the developing brain, if the problem isn't located in the world or people around us, we tell ourselves “the problem must be me.” This makes us question what we know.
The doubting voice also may not be from one person, but instead from societal sources. This can be known as “collective gaslighting.” For example, a legacy of white supremacy in this country has upheld messaging, actions, and legislation that puts forth the notion of white people being of more importance and value than people of color. And as a result, a person of color might grow up to believe that there is something lacking and unworthy within them.
For another example, the patriarchy has ensured that male-presenting folks maintain positions of power in our mainstream society, so female-presenting people may internalize that they are somehow inherently less powerful. The point here is that the root of the doubt does not come from within. You've simply internalized that voice as a way of surviving in a system that is not invested in your safety, health, or wellness in order to avoid the depths of pain and anger for which there are not sufficient outlets.
But, no matter your identity or situation on internal narrative, you can reclaim your power and stop any self-gaslighting behavior in play.
3 ways to build trust in your truth and stop self-gaslighting
1. Build awareness of when you’re engaging in self-gaslighting
The tricky thing about emotional wounds is that they are easy to question. Many times, there is no evidence, like a physical cut or bruise, and so we must listen to what is underneath the surface to find the truth. We have to understand the reality of something we don’t like before we can change it. Acknowledging that a doubting voice is inside of you but does not belong to you allows you to externalize it.
To do this, you must get acquainted with the doubting part of you and the confident part of you. Ask yourself the following questions to understand each side of yourself.
- What does this part of you say?
- Does it use particular words and phrases?
- What tone of voice does this part have? Is it punitive, harsh or mean?
- Does it have any identity traits–gender, race, age?
- Does it sound like anyone you know or once knew?
- How do you feel in your body as you listen to this voice? Do you tense up or get fidgety?
When we question what we know, it's a sign that our mind is arguing with our bodily intuition. In this case, you might notice you feel more stressed or anxious in your body.
- What does this part believe?
- What is the tone and volume of this part’s voice?
- What does this part want you to know?
- How do you feel in your body when you listen to this part of you?
Sometimes our intuitive or confident parts are slower and more gentle; they don’t feel a sense of urgency and they are not abrupt. It is important to listen to the quieter parts of ourselves because they are significant and have important messages to impart, but they just haven’t been given enough air time.
So, when you start to notice the ping-ponging in your head of “is it true or not true?” it can be helpful to ask yourself: “What does my body know that my brain is helping to distract from?” This allows us to embark on a path of uncovering the truth rather than questioning it.
2. Honor that self-gaslighting is a survival strategy, and respond to it with permission and curiosity
If you are invalidating your feelings or making excuses for those who have harmed you, it's an indicator that you are in survival mode rather than thriving mode, the place where you can feel into your authentic truth. Being in a state of internal questioning is a strategy of pain avoidance.
Survival strategies are always helpful until they become harmful. It is important to acknowledge, welcome in, and build respect for the self-gaslighting part that developed an adaptive ability to survive a painful reality. If you are wondering if something you’re experiencing is true, this is an indicator that it is worth investigating. Emotions need to be acknowledged and accepted—and remember, accepting them doesn’t mean liking them. The part of you that others doubted needs to be acknowledge in order for it to loosen its grip on your life.
3. Create new habits and surround yourself with positive people
New experiences help to mold our brain and our habits. Though this takes time, having new relational experiences that are built on support, transparency, and compassion enables us to develop new grooves in our brain that, over time, quiet the self-gaslighting voice and build up the confident voice. Consider people who make you feel seen, soothed and secure, and invite their voices into the choir to support you in relying on their sturdy trustworthiness as you develop more trust in yourself.
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