Are You Gaslighting Yourself? Here’s How to Tell.

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DO YOU REGULARLY find yourself justifying the behavior of toxic people in your life? Do you criticize yourself for being too sensitive or question your perception of something someone said or did?

If so, you could be gaslighting yourself, or self-gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a term that everyone knows. It refers to a manipulation tactic where someone (like a romantic partner or problematic family member) intentionally distorts the truth to make you doubt or question your reality. Self-gaslighting is basically the same, except that you’re doing it to yourself by questioning your own judgment, decision-making, or perception of reality.

“The main difference between the two is that knowingly gaslighting someone else is usually driven by malicious intentions, while self-gaslighting is more likely to be driven by anxiety or self-doubt,” says Hailey Shafir, L.C.M.H.C.S., L.P.C.S., L.C.A.S., C.C.S., a therapist with Choosing Therapy.

Self-gaslighting might involve negative self-talk, minimizing your accomplishments, second-guessing your decisions, and not allowing yourself to enjoy achieving your goals, says Reshawna Chapple, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., a licensed Talkspace therapist.

You might instead create “new unattainable goals and convince yourself that you’ll never be good enough,” she adds.

Experiencing gaslighting is bad enough, as it’s usually inflicted by people we care about. In some ways, self-gaslighting can be worse, Chapple says. “We know all of our weaknesses. And, it’s internal. If we don’t share our negative thoughts with others, then there’s no one to help us to get past them, so we continue to believe them.”

Over time, self-gaslighting can contribute to issues including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

What Is Self-Gaslighting?

Self-gaslighting involves denying your own reality or version of events. It stems from your own critical voice, and it’s self-inflicted, says Kaytee Gillis, L.C.S.W.-B.A.C.S.

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You might doubt or question your own thoughts, decisions, and abilities, beat yourself up internally for how you handle situations, or assume that others hold negative feelings about you.

“Individuals arrive at a state of such significant, internalized self-doubt that they readily question their own reality while dismissing their emotions,” explains Matt Glowiak, Ph.D., L.C.P.C., a therapist with Choosing Therapy. “Even with factual, objective evidence to the contrary, their internalized doubt perseveres.”

It’s conflicting and can lead to cognitive dissonance, where you experience contradictory thought processes. Glowiak says self-gaslighting is detrimental to your self-concept, confidence, interpersonal relationships, and overall mental health.

Why Do You Self-Gaslight?

Many factors can lead you to self-gaslight, including:

  • Fear of failure
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative self-worth
  • Lack of self-trust
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Excessive anxiety

If you’ve been on the receiving end of gaslighting, experienced bullying, or been in a toxic or abusive relationship, you might be more likely to self-gaslight, Glowiak says.

“Individuals who self-gaslight may be in a state of learned helplessness or hopelessness, which stymies any effort to change,” he says. You might feel like “there’s no point” in making changes, so you continue the behaviors.

Signs of Self-Gaslighting Behavior

Self-gaslighting can manifest in many different ways. Common behaviors might include:

  • Second-guessing yourself and any decision you make
  • Questioning whether what you remember is accurate. Constantly telling yourself that you’re wrong, crazy, or that you’ve made a mistake
  • Believing your situation isn’t that bad compared to others (or “downward comparing,” Glowiak says)
  • Dismissing your emotions as too sensitive
  • Making excuses or dismissing the bad behavior of others
  • Putting off your own interests because of self-doubt, even when you’re highly skilled or competent in the task
  • Blaming yourself for someone else’s bad behavior
  • Overly criticizing yourself
  • Staying in a toxic relationship or environment because you don’t believe you deserve better
  • Stewing on negative thoughts and feelings about yourself
  • Feeling internal shame
  • Assuming other people’s judgments are more accurate than your own
  • Doubting yourself when someone else questions or criticizes you

How It Affects Your Health

Over time, self-gaslighting can contribute to low self-esteem or self-worth and cause a diagnosable mental health condition, like anxiety or depression, Gillis says. If you struggle to trust yourself or feel like you’re unworthy, it could have an impact on your relationship or interfere with your ability to recognize toxic or unhealthy relationships.

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You might struggle to make decisions without input or advice from others or obsess about past choices, Shafir adds.

In some cases, self-gaslighting might lead you into high-risk behaviors or substance abuse, Glowiak says.

How to Stop Self-Gaslighting

Surrounding yourself with positive people and learning to practice positive self-talk is a good place to start to break free of self-gaslighting, Chapple says.

Consider where the thoughts and feelings are coming from and consider that it’s a pattern, Gillis says. “It’s not about shame or blame, but about recognizing something that you tend to do so that you can take steps to change it.”

Another thing is to work on rebuilding trust with yourself by believing in yourself, interrupting negative self-talk and self-doubt, and making decisions on your own, Shafir says.

“Some people also find it helpful to write important things down or begin keeping a journal that they can look back on during times when they’re questioning or doubting themselves,” she adds.

When you can’t move past your negative thoughts or find yourself struggling with excessive self-doubt, anxiety, insecurity, or self-criticism, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional—especially when it’s affecting your quality of life or ability to function, Shafir emphasizes.

“Working with a counselor can help people overcome personal insecurities, break bad habits, and develop more confidence and self-esteem,” she says.

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Erica Sweeney is a writer who mostly covers health, wellness and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.

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