After facing a conflict, Brittany Beringer notices she does two things: dismiss her feelings, and convince herself she overreacted. When she feels vulnerable, this reaction intensifies.
“In the past, I’d tolerate hurtful behavior because I somehow allow myself to believe the situation or action wasn’t as bad as it was,” said Beringer, an astrology writer at Bustle who lives in San Diego. “And it happens when I’m most vulnerable, when I’m reflecting and doing inner work, because assessing your responses is important for growth.”
Beringer’s experience is common. Anushree Saxena, a freelance lifestyle content and copywriter and YouTuber, said she sees herself as a failure — in both her personal and professional life. She convinces herself no one likes her and that jobs she wants are above her capabilities.
“Self-rejection is a part of me,” she said. “I often feel like a greedy imposter wanting things I’m unworthy of.”
Both women are talking about their experiences with self-gaslighting. You’ve probably heard of gaslighting before, but in the context of someone doing it to another person. Self-gaslighting, or invalidating and doubting your emotions and reality, also exists.
Thinking about how you can relate? We’ve got a couple of therapists who have some helpful info for you. Nothing is “wrong” with you, of course, but you deserve to live life without these concerns.
How To Spot Self-Gaslighting
Two major signs to look out for are frequent minimization or self-invalidation and self-doubt about your feelings, perception and memories.
“Minimization and invalidation can show up like minimizing hurt or abuse you’ve experienced or are experiencing,” said Brit Barkholtz, a clinical therapist in Minnesota who specializes in trauma. She explained you might think things like, “I’m just too sensitive,” or “I’m being dramatic.”
As far as self-doubt, you may not be sure what actually happened or who was “at fault.” Barkholtz said you may think things like, “Did that even happen or am I just making it up or misremembering?” or “Maybe this was actually all my fault,” or “Was it really that bad?”
Katelyn Campbell, a licensed clinical psychologist in South Carolina, shared additional signs that fall under those umbrellas. Some items she listed were an overall lack of trust in your judgment, seeking excessive reassurance from others to affirm the validity of your reactions, making definitive self-assumptions and replaying interactions in your head.
People usually gaslight themselves because someone else did it first and got those thoughts in their head.
“If those types of thoughts are coming up frequently and instinctively for you, there’s a good chance you’ve internalized some gaslighting and are now gaslighting yourself out of habit,” Barkholtz said. You’re so used to doubting your reality, you don’t even need an abuser to ignite that questioning for you.
Family members, partners and bosses — anyone, really — can be a gaslighter. “Gaslighting is a tool used to discredit someone, most often for the benefit of the gaslighter,” Campbell said. “It protects [their] power.”
How To Stop Self-Gaslighting
Both Barkholtz and Campbell encouraged seeing a therapist if you struggle with this.
“As a psychologist, my top recommendation is for people to consider therapy to explore the messages they’ve internalized about themselves,” Campbell said. “Recovering from self-gaslighting is challenging to do alone because of the tendency to discredit yourself — it can feel like you’re fighting yourself every step of the way. A therapist can help you safely dig deep to heal your trust in yourself.”
To find a therapist, you can filter through the database on Psychology Today’s website or utilize a cheaper online alternative. If neither of those options is accessible to you, Barkholtz and Campbell recommended some useful skills you can try on your own, including:
Try to become more aware of self-gaslighting thoughts and resources.
To stop gaslighting yourself, you first have to know the signs and identify them when they pop up.
“This is the kind of thing that can be highly individualized and can show up differently for different people,” Barkholtz said. “The more aware of and familiar you are with your own patterns, the easier it is to adjust or reality-test when they happen, or even head them off at the pass when you know you’re in a situation that could be triggering.”
Journaling is a way to become more aware. Record your thoughts and see if they’re examples of self-gaslighting. Use this as an informational tool, not a reason to judge yourself or your progress.
Once you know your patterns, you’ll be able to identify resources you have at your disposal, such as loved ones who can validate your emotions and lovingly call out your self-gaslighting statements.
Commit to validating and not judging your thoughts.
Instead of questioning whether your emotions are the “right” ones to have, accept them and remind yourself you’re allowed to have them.
“This can be in the form of statements such as, ‘I’m feeling frustrated and helpless right now. It’s OK to feel this way. I’m allowed to feel this way,’” Campbell said. “Emotions want to be heard, and allowing ourselves to experience them is actually what helps us move through them.”
Beringer said this tip works well for her. She remembers the acronym RAIN, which stands for recognize, allow, investigate and natural awareness. “The RAIN technique has helped me surrender to my feelings and investigate them with kindness — aka without judging,” she said. “That way, I don’t have a chance to dismiss or belittle my emotions.”
Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend.
Be gentle with yourself throughout this process, knowing it takes time and hard work.
“The most basic technique is to imagine someone you deeply care about going through the same situation you’re facing. What would you tell them if they told you they feel the way you’re feeling?” Campbell said.
Saxena likes to challenge her unhelpful thoughts. “Asking why and how has made me see a wider picture,” she said. “How do I know if the job is above me? Why wouldn’t they like me?”
Beringer loves this tip, too. “Speaking my truth out loud helps me flip the script and take back control of my thoughts,” she said.
Give yourself some compassion. Repeat some positive affirmations in your head, such as “I trust myself. My feelings are valid. I’m a good person.”
Compassion exercises will probably be difficult, especially given what you’ve gone through, but you deserve love and understanding. Plus, self-compassion is more powerful than you might think: It can improve your relationships, increase your resiliency and make you happier overall.
“There isn’t something ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ with you if this is something you struggle with,” Barkholtz said. “Don’t be discouraged by ‘slow’ or up-and-down progress in this process. Gradual change is sustainable change.”
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