What is internalized gaslighting?
(See video on YouTube) A longtime member of my narcissistic abuse recovery community used to tell me that he was really good at gaslighting himself. It amused me at first, but when I really started to think about it, I realized that he wasn’t off-base in his assessment of his situation.
What is gaslighting?
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique often used by narcissists to make you doubt your thoughts, your ideas, your own judgment, your ability to understand, and even your own perception of the world around you.
How can you gaslight yourSELF?
See, we really CAN gaslight ourselves – and it’s a phenomenon that isn’t just seen in people who have been in toxic relationships with narcissists. Of course, it’s probably most prominent among this particular population. But it doesn’t have to be the story of your life. There are ways to identify self-gaslighting and ways to overcome it. So, let’s talk about self-gaslighting.
What is self-gaslighting?
Self-gaslighting, sometimes referred to as “internalized gaslighting,” is what you’re doing when you’re suppressing your own thoughts and emotions, and when you’re actively telling yourself that your own thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perceptions are inaccurate or invalid.
So, it really is a sort of internalized version of the verbal and psychological abuse the narcissist has subjected you to over the years.
An easier way to understand self-gaslighting might be to see it as a sort of remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your own head, in which you sort of “do the dirty work” on the narcissist’s behalf. In other words, you minimize and invalidate yourself and your own thoughts, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. This is often a result of years or decades of conditioning by the narcissist.
Why is self-gaslighting a problem in narcissistic abuse recovery?
When you’re going through narcissistic abuse, you may have developed the self-gaslighting habit as an attempt to pre-screen your conversations with the narcissist in order to reduce stress on yourself and the relationship. It might have been safer for you to sort of censor yourself before speaking.
This mindset isn’t uncommon with survivors, but it’s problematic for you because it causes you to be overly cautious and not trust yourself and your decisions. This keeps you emotionally and psychologically stuck in the toxic relationship, even if you’ve physically left it. It makes moving forward and creating a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled nearly impossible.
It keeps you stuck in victim mode and never allows you to evolve beyond the role of “survivor,” even if you do manage to remove yourself from the direct influence of the narcissist. It makes you feel not good enough, not smart enough, not “enough” in general. You become a disconnected, fragmented shell of your former self.
What are the signs you’re self-gaslighting?
1. You don’t trust yourself.
Whenever you have to make a decision or a change in your life, you worry that you’ll make the wrong choice. This can be debilitating, especially if you don’t have anyone you can trust to discuss your choices with. In reality, you might even prefer that someone else just tells you what to do – otherwise, you worry you’ll ruin everything, and that you’ll only have yourself to blame.
2. You don’t know who you are these days.
You don’t know how to talk about yourself, and if someone asks you to do so, you’re quick to change the subject. You find yourself feeling numb, or lost, or like you aren’t even sure who you really are anymore. You might not know what you like or what you want, and even if someone directly asks you, you can’t explain who you are in any meaningful way. After spending years or decades focused on the narcissist’s needs, wants, and whims, you have lost the ability to talk about yourself. You’re far more comfortable letting other people talk about themselves, and will quickly change the subject if it turns to you.
3. You’re quick to assign blame…to yourself.
If you’re being honest, you don’t even really like yourself, and your self-confidence is practically non-existent. You’re comfortable in the role of scapegoat, it seems. No matter who’s really at fault, if things go wrong, you instantly assume that you’re wrong and that no one else is responsible. Even with the evidence of someone else being responsible laid out in front of you, you’ll figure out a way to make it your fault. You might imagine that you could have said or done something differently to affect the outcome, or that maybe if you’d just offered the right kind of support, it would never have happened.
4. You’re always apologizing.
You find yourself saying “I’m sorry” so much that healthier people in your life tell you to stop apologizing so much. You are sorry when someone bumps into you, or when you state an opinion or thought – even if no one around you objects. You can’t stop apologizing, and when someone calls you on it, you apologize for that too.
5. You feel like a fraud.
You often worry that people will discover you’re not “enough” or that you’re not even a whole person. Maybe you even have full-blown imposter syndrome. Everything you do leaves you feeling like you’re pretending. You assume everyone around you is more qualified or effective than you, and you are either terrified that people will find out, or you’re already assuming that everyone knows it.
How do you overcome self-gaslighting?
Once you’ve recognized that you’re using self-gaslighting, you’ve already taken the first step toward resolving it. But what comes next? How do you stop gaslighting yourself so you can continue to heal and move forward in your life?
Remember that these aren’t your own thoughts.
As I explained earlier, very often, self-gaslighting feels a lot like a remnant of the narcissist’s voice in your head. So, ask yourself: where do these thoughts really come from and why am I thinking them? Take some time and really think about it. Ask yourself:
- Are these thoughts accurate?
- When and where did I first think this way?
- Who taught me to think this way about myself?
- How does thinking this way affect me long-term?
Try this healing list exercise.
One exercise I do with my narcissistic abuse recovery clients to help them create some awareness around this kind of thing is to have them write a list of all of the negative self-perceptions they have picked up along the way. Then, during a session, we go down the list and first identify where they got these ideas from initially. When that’s done, the client will go down the list and cross off these negative self-perceptions and replace them with their truth (or what they want to be the truth). These truths then become new affirmations the clients can use to help them grow forward in their narcissistic abuse recovery.
Think about how you’d talk to your child or another person you love unconditionally.
Survivors often have a really difficult time figuring out how to appropriately treat and speak to themselves. Not only have their parents and other people in their lives not given them the skills they need to love themselves, but they’ve actually worked against the idea of independent thought and autonomy. In order to work through this and speak to yourself in a way that is appropriate and self-validating, think about how you’d speak to your child or someone else who you love unconditionally – and speak to yourself that way. I have found this to be an incredibly effective way to shift my own self-talk.
Use pattern interrupts.
Pattern interrupts are highly effective for so many different aspects of narcissistic abuse recovery, and this is one more way they can be used. When you have been self-gaslighting for so long, it almost becomes an automatic behavior – a pattern – that you fall into without thought. So, when you begin to work on letting go of self-gaslighting, you can use mindfulness to pay attention to your thoughts and ideas, and then you can choose to use a pattern-interrupt to change it.
Easy-to-Implement Pattern Interrupt Ideas
Pattern interrupts are part of NLP (Neurolinguistic programming). Sounds complicated, right? But it’s so simple. Here are some quick and easy-to-implement pattern interrupt ideas for you.
- Try a simple affirmation you repeat to yourself in the moment.
- Try standing up and moving into a different room of the house.
- Try taking a quick shower.
- You can brush your teeth or hair or wash your hands.
- Try to count all of the items in a room that are a certain color.
There are so many other options to interrupt these toxic patterns in your own mind. Here’s a quick video where I explain pattern interrupts in more detail.
5. Work on understanding yourself and your own emotions better.
We become so disconnected from ourselves when we’re involved with a narcissist that we can’t even remember who we are. So one of the best ways to push through self-gaslighting is to take a deep breath and dive into the emotions when we can.
So, if you’re feeling sad, allow yourself to cry if you need to. Then explore the tears: what do they mean? Why are you crying? What is making you sad?
Validate your own emotions and figure out how to resolve them. Take the time to find out what you really want and need, and work on developing more connection to your own intuition. Journaling can help a lot with this because it lets you process and understand your thoughts and emotions.
Ultimately, you can stop gaslighting yourself with a little self-compassion, intention, and mindful action.
Question of the Day – This brings me to the question of the day: Have you ever experienced self-gaslighting, or are you going through it now? Have you found ways to cope? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video – and let’s talk about it.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery, right now.
- The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
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