Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How People Can Gaslight Themselves

The recipe: High self-blame, high self-doubt, and low trust.

Key points

  • Self-gaslighting is when a person denies their own reality or version of events.
  • High self-blame and a tendency to engage in self-doubt, create the perfect recipe for self-gaslighting.
  • Working on self compassion and increased self-understanding helps combat self-gaslighting.
Artsy Solomon/Pixabay
Source: Artsy Solomon/Pixabay

Self-gaslighting is common, yet many do not know they are engaging in this behavior.

Do you often find yourself saying things such as:

"Well, I don't know, maybe I'm wrong."

"Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the situation."

"Maybe it didn't happen like that. I know I have a tendency to be overly sensitive."

If you second-guess yourself often, you might be engaging in what mental health experts refer to as self-gaslighting. Gaslighting, or when someone denies your version of events to make you feel like you are going crazy, is often thought of as something that happens to us by another person. But we can do it to ourselves, too, especially if we have a history of self-doubt, as this compounds to make us second-guess our reality. When this happens, it is called self-gaslighting. However, unlike external methods of gaslighting, self-gaslighting comes from our own critical external voice that causes us to question our own reality.

Self-gaslighting is when you deny your own reality or version of events. It usually happens as a result of internalized self-doubt, coupled with a pattern of self-criticism that compounds to deny your reality. Self-gaslighting works to create the same self-doubt as when it happens from someone else, forcing you to deny or minimize your experiences. It can cause you to ignore or dismiss your emotions or opinions if it happens enough.

Why self-gaslighting happens

Self-gaslighting is common when someone’s reality is too uncomfortable to acknowledge. This is often the case for people in traumatic or abusive relationships or survivors of childhood trauma or dysfunction. For example, when a survivor of childhood family trauma is forced to look at their parent’s behavior, they might unintentionally gaslight themselves by saying, “maybe it wasn’t that bad,” or “other people had it worse,” because the alternative is to acknowledge the reality of their situation, which can be scary and uncomfortable.

Cognitive dissonance, when someone has one or more pieces of contradictory information, can contribute to self-gaslighting. For example, let’s say your partner is cruel to you at home, but then nice to you in public or around friends. This might contribute to you self-gaslighting yourself by thinking you might be misunderstanding their actions or remembering them wrong. A common example of this form of self-gaslighting is saying things such as, “well maybe I am too sensitive,” or “perhaps I am just remembering it wrong.

Breaking free

A few ways to break free of this pattern of self-gaslighting are:

  1. Recognize that this is a pattern for you. It’s not about shame or blame, but about recognizing something that you tend to do, so that way, you can take steps to change it. You cannot change something that you do not acknowledge.
  2. Take time to practice affirmations and improve self-awareness. When you find yourself saying things such as “well maybe I am too sensitive,” practice changing these words in your head. You might be sensitive, but that does not mean you are remembering things wrong.
  3. Work on improving self-confidence, which will help decrease the critical inner voice. Practice talking about your reality in every area of your life. If your sister snapped at you unfairly, repeat this in your head on your way home; “she snapped at me, this is the truth.” It might sound silly, but this will help you stand up to that inner voice that wants to swoop in and tell you that you must be imagining or exaggerating things. Over time, this practice will help you when you start to slip into self-gaslighting.

If you feel that your inability to trust yourself is impacting your relationships and your ability to recognize toxic or unhealthy situations, it might be beneficial to talk with a therapist who can help you become more comfortable trusting yourself and work on diminishing the critical inner voice.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Facebook image: Kateryna Onyshchuk/Shutterstock

More from Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS
More from Psychology Today