Gaslighting as a concept is actually quite widely known, but its origins can help us define it more clearly. It was born from an old movie in which a husband would turn the gaslights down slightly lower each night to disorient his wife. He would negate his wife’s noticing of the shifts in light and shadows by saying that it was all in her head. He’d do other things, too, to make her think she was “losing it,” such as hiding items and insisting she lost them.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation enacted on someone to make them question their own thoughts, feelings, reality, and even sanity. Gaslighting can become deeply internalized and manifesting in one’s constant, daily, questioning of self and a breakdown of confidence.

What is it self-gaslighting
Self-gaslighting often looks like the suppression of thought and emotion. For example, let’s say that someone says something insensitive or hurtful. You might notice that your feelings were hurt, but then — almost instantly and impulsively — you think: “I am probably just making too big a deal out of it and being too sensitive.” The problem? You leapt from point A to point C without pausing to understand the B in-between — your own very valid emotions that you have the right to feel and express. So how do we work to challenge this form of gaslighting? By affirming our experiences and our emotions.

Pause for a moment
Take a few deep breaths. Feel the ground beneath you.
Repeat “My emotions are valid and I have the right to express them.”
Notice that this may feel false at first. Allow yourself to be curious about this sensation and repeat this affirmation until it begins to feel more true (this may be a process that happens over time rather than right in this very moment).
Next, take out a journal and begin to write down every single thing that’s coming up for you in this moment — without judgment or the need to attach meaning to it.

You can also explore these feelings by responding to the following prompts (whether it be through words, drawing/art, or even movement):
How has self-gaslighting served my survival in the past? How did it help me cope?
How does self-gaslighting no longer serve me in this moment (or in the future)? How am I being harmed?
What’s one thing I can do right now to practice self-compassion?
How do I feel in my body as I explore this?

While gaslighting ourselves may have helped us in the past to adapt to toxic situations or relationships, we can honour this survival skill while still learning to release it from our present. Gaslighting is a very real psychological abuse tactic that can become so deeply internalized. And while you may begin to believe it as your own truth, it’s not.