Are You Unintentionally Gaslighting Yourself? An Expert Tells Us What to Look Out For


Often, we can feel like we’re in a toxic situation, without having the language to describe and understand what’s really going on. One word, though, getting thrown around more and more when talking about toxic situations is gaslighting.

But while gaslighting is a term that most commonly explains a toxic dynamic between two people, what about the relationship with yourself? Could we be gaslighting ourselves without realising it? Is that even possible?

Anna Swoboda, certified relationship coach and Principal Matchmaker and founder of Heart Match, thinks so.

“The concept of gaslighting could be applied to how we treat ourselves,” says Swoboda.

“We each have an inner critic, that’s the voice that’s often telling you off, that you’re not good enough, slim enough, unloveable, lazy. Some of us have a harsh critic whose inner dialogue resembles that of a gaslighter, constantly putting you down.”

By talking down to ourselves, we’re essentially gaslighting ourselves, warping our sense of reality and opinion of ourselves to something different than what it really is, explains Swoboda.

I feel like all of us must do this sometimes; I know I do. We can make ourselves believe that things are worse than they really are, and that the world is against us, when, in reality, that’s not the case. We can also act super defensive in moments of conflict, going into full protection-mode. Tather than really listening to another person and accepting their truth, we make up a truth that suits us.

While there are other words and phrases to define these experiences, like ‘overthinking’, ‘over-analysing’, ‘deflecting’, feeling ‘anxious’, ‘stressed’ or ‘insecure’, it’s that inner voice is what we’re really referring to, and it’s gaslighting us.

So where does this behaviour come from?

“Gaslighting is a technique to deflect responsibility, avoid conflict and get the upper hand and stay in control in a relationship. It builds up the ego,” Swoboda says.

“We all do some of the behaviours occasionally. It becomes gaslighting only when it becomes systemic and constant. It’s a learned behaviour. If it is seen to work , someone may keep doing it. Often perpetrators have less empathy, so are by nature more sociopathic or narcissistic. Equally, if the victim doesn’t stand up to the behaviour early, it’s often repeated, because it’s worked in the past.”

While Swoboda is referring mainly to relationships, we can see the relationship with ourselves as a valid one. If we find comfort in deflecting responsibility within ourselves, constantly blaming our misfortunes on an outside source or something internal that is blocking us — such as mental health — it can make it really hard to us to move past those hurdles, and learn to grow and help ourselves. But then again, it’s pretty normal to do this sometimes.

I know that personally, I tend to use my anxiety as a reason for my stress levels and lack of motivation, at time. While it’s important to acknowledge our struggles, we shouldn’t let them define us. Because ultimately, I don’t want my anxiety to impede my life more than it has to. With the help of medication, a therapist, mindful practises and establishing positive self talk, I can get through my anxious moments without gaslighting myself into feeling like a victim.

It’s important to know the full definition of ‘gaslighting’, whether it’s in relation to you gaslighting yourself, being gaslit by someone else, or recognising it as a third party, perhaps in a friendship or family member’s relationship.

“Gaslighting is not a one-off thing, it’s a pattern of behaviour,” Swoboda says. “It can lead to a greater sense of anxiety, depression, helplessness and dependency in the victim.”

“Some of the most common things you’ll hear again and again if you are being gaslighted are:

  1. Denial. You are told “that never happened…” until you doubt yourself . It wasn’t like that at all.
  2. You have a terrible memory. “I never said that.” They constantly challenge your memory of things until you doubt your own assessments.
  3. “You’re crazy and other people think so too.” A gaslighter might try to convince your family and friends that you are mentally unstable, decreasing the likelihood you will be believed and disconnecting you from resources that would help you leave an abusive  relationship.
  4. I’m sorry you think that I hurt you.” Wrapped up in an apology but followed up with admonition that you are overreacting, too sensitive , it’s your reaction that’s at fault not the gaslighter’s action. 
  5. “You should have known how I would react.” The devil made me do it and you are the devil. Words like look  at how you made me behave, no one ever made me angry like this.  Twisting the facts to avoid personal ownership for their behaviours. Their bad behaviour, such as violence or cheating, is your fault. 
  6. “How can you be so stupid?” Making you think you don’t know what you are doing, you are dumb.  

“Overall, one person is consistently negating the other’s perception , insisting they are wrong, or telling them that their emotional reaction is irrational or dysfunctional, twisting their sense of reality. The other partner over time comes to believe it, and it can be extremely hard to recognise and break free from.”

The same applies when gaslighting yourself. It takes a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness to accept what might be holding you back from taking responsibility for your own life, behaviour and decisions.

No one deserves to be gaslit, and if you can avoid it, you’ll find that things become easier. Although gaslighting isn’t good behaviour, it is something that is learnt overtime and can be impacted by our upbringing and behaviours we see growing up. So don’t be too hard on yourself. But if you recognise these behaviours within yourself or your relationship, take this article as a sign that it’s time to break the cycle.

Related Posts
Latest Living
The End.

The next story, coming up!