Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. A perpetrator uses manipulation and minimisations to make their victim question their reality or assume what they think is happening is not happening or did not happen at all. Although the majority of perpetrators are other people known and unknown to the victim, it is no longer strange for a victim to gaslight themselves. Dr. Ingrid Clayton, a psychologist and the author of Maybe It Wasn’t That Bad says this is a form of gaslighting known as self-gaslighting. “It involves the literal taking of the torch from the perpetrator. The victim internalises their abuse or lack of protection from the abuse and begins to gaslight themselves,” she says.
Key signs you’re experiencing self-gaslighting
Feeling an urge to constantly apologise: This goes hand in hand with the tendency to assume responsibility and blame when things don’t work out. Instead of acknowledging bad and toxic behaviour by your partner, friend, colleague, or even employer, you make excuses for them and take the blame. According to Nicole Bedford, an author and victim of self-gaslighting, this type of gaslighting works by deflecting the other person’s toxic behaviour and directing it inward.
Feeling you can’t do anything right: You will constantly feel below par. Even the things you have previously achieved will seem too difficult to try, leave alone accomplish. You will be afraid that if you attempt, you will have to keep on apologising and giving caveats that you might mess up. In the same breath, you will have a hard time trusting your judgment and intuition, and may regularly second guess yourself. “Unpleasant life experiences, abusive relationships, and childhood trauma dampen the trust we have in ourselves. This results in constant questioning of self and second-guessing each move you make,” says Bedford.
Extreme low confidence or total loss of confidence: Your confidence levels will hit rock bottom. You will suffer from heavy bouts of overwhelming feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and fear. In addition, you may have this nagging feeling or sense that something is wrong with you.
Feelings or a sense of hopelessness: This feeling will constantly hover around you without letting go. It will remind you about how helpless your life is, and the insurmountable feelings of frustrations ahead of you. You may end up with emotional numbness. In the case of adult movie performer Ron Jeremy who raped and sexually assaulted tens of women, one of the victims identified as Alexis Miller by the BBC came out to describe how she gaslighted herself after being assaulted by Jeremy. “I gaslighted myself. I denied that it was significant. I lied to myself. I told myself that there was no point in telling anybody because who would believe me when at that point I was just a 20-something adult actress?” she told the BBC.
Feelings of unworthiness: The subconscious sense that something is wrong with you will be accompanied by a sneaky feeling that you are undeserving and unworthy to receive care, sympathy, empathy, accolades, or good things in life. You will be under constant fear that you are too sensitive, disconnected from your sense of self-worth, and lack proper affiliation to your identity.
I should’ve done this or that: This telltale sign is common for people who have been abused. It involves a mixture of regret and self-blame. According to Bedford, it also involves phrases such as ‘I should have said that’ or ‘I should have done that’ or ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’. Bedford says when she was sexually assaulted by a man, she overwhelmed her mind with all the things she should have done to stop the assault using phrases such as ‘I should have fought him! I should have reported to the authorities! I should have screamed instead of staying there paralysed in fear!’