No, you aren’t being “too sensitive.”
“I’m probably just making a big deal out of it…”
By now, 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.
This is gaslighting: A form of emotional abuse and manipulation enacted on someone to make them question their own thoughts, feelings, reality, and even sanity.
While I work with many clients supporting their understanding and externalization of this psychological tactic, I’ve realized lately that overtime, the gaslighting can become deeply internalized.
It shifts into the mode of what I call self-gaslighting — often manifesting in one’s constant, daily, questioning of self and a breakdown of confidence.
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? It’s deceptively simple: We affirm our experiences and our emotions.
|“You are too dramatic, emotional, sensitive, or crazy!”||I am too dramatic, emotional, sensitive, and crazy.||My feelings and emotions are valid.|
|“I didn’t mean it like that; you’re exaggerating.”||I know they love me and didn’t mean it like that.||I understand the original tone and wording that they expressed, and I know how it made me feel.|
|“It’s all in your head.”||Maybe it’s all just in my head!?||My experiences are real and valid, even when others are trying to manipulate them or disbelieve them.|
|“If you were more/less _____, then this would be different.”||I am too much/not enough. There’s something wrong with me.||I will never be too much. I will always be enough!|
|“You started it! This is all your fault!”||It’s all my fault anyway.||Nothing is “all my fault.” Someone placing the blame on me doesn’t make it true.|
|“If you loved me then you would do this/you wouldn’t have done this.”||I love them so I should just do this. Why did I do that to them?||Nothing is wrong with me and how I express love, but there is something wrong with this toxic relationship dynamic.|
Does this sound familiar? If it does, I want to invite you to pause for a moment here.
Take a few deep breaths. Feel the ground beneath you.
Repeat after me: “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 — that’s okay, too!).
Next, I would invite you to take out a journal or blank piece of paper 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.
prompts for exploring self-gaslighting
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 honor this survival skill while still learning to release it from our present.
No matter how isolated or disoriented you’re made to feel, remember that you aren’t alone — and you’re not crazy!
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 IS NOT YOUR TRUTH!
You know your truth — and I see and honor that. Honoring it yourself is a practice, too, and a brave one at that.
You are brilliant and resilient AF, and I’m so proud of you for taking the time to explore this article and check in with yourself. Even when it feels scary.
Rachel Otis is a somatic therapist, queer intersectional feminist, body activist, Crohn’s disease survivor, and writer who graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco with her master’s degree in counseling psychology. Rachel believes in providing one the opportunity to continue shifting social paradigms, while celebrating the body in all of its glory. Sessions are available on a sliding scale and via tele-therapy. Reach out to her via Instagram.