Naming A Thing
There is a feeling that I have that has been with me always. It is a constant feeling tug that happens when I think back on recent events in my life. That tug turns into a question, ‘did that happen the way I think it did?’ Much of the time, the question never forms completely. It is a statement that my perception was wrong. I was gaslighting myself by doubting my experiences.
I didn’t realize that I was gaslighting myself until very recently. I had one of those moments in my life that caused me to exclaim out loud. And you know, me making a noise like that is an infrequent occurrence. That moment was a text from my friend asking if I was following Dr. Nicole LePera on Instagram. My answer was nope.
My friend sent me a couple of screenshots from Dr. LePera’s Instagram account. It was how she defines gaslighting. In part, she wrote, “When we tell ourselves ‘I shouldn’t be so upset’ or ‘I should just get over it’ or ‘that didn’t happen that way I’m imagining or being dramatic’ we are gaslighting ourselves. We learn this pattern as children when our parents (out of the discomfort of their own emotions) deny our reality.”
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.1
The Beginnings of Gaslighting
Why do people have to deny the truths or minimize what others tell them? Is it because people are uncomfortable with the truth of others? Based on what I have read, yes. I get it; I do. Sitting with someone else’s pain is really hard to do. It makes us so uncomfortable that we don’t want to do it.
Then, we can’t undo what we have heard or seen. We have to make ourselves feel better. To somehow make ourselves feel better. And so we minimize and deny the experiences of others. Or we victim blame by saying that the person had to have been doing something wrong to be attacked or raped. It is our way of distancing ourselves from that which makes us uncomfortable.
I view gaslighting as the end of denying someone their truth. Gaslighting is an abusive means to a lot for the abuser. It is a way to establish and maintain control over another person. The abuser also wants to ensure that the victim can’t get help because they are unsure if they need help. Or that if the victim goes for help, their uncertainty will shed doubt on their truth.
The term gaslighting derives from the 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fueled lights and telling her she is hallucinating.1
Growing Up Gaslighting
Where does this gaslighting myself come from? I grew up in an emotionally abusive environment. It’s an environment in which the abuser breaks you down mentally through emotionally charged verbal assaults. Part of those verbal assaults was to tell me that I was a liar and that my reality was not what I thought it was.
On the rare occasion that I would threaten to tell someone about the abuse, my mother would smirk and say no one would believe me anyway. I could tell whomever I wanted. Unfortunately, she was correct. Well, she was sort of right. I had people that saw what she never wanted anyone to see.
I was gaslighted my entire childhood and then throughout my life by various people. Those people would not only deny my truth but would tell me that I was completely wrong. Then, within the prison I built with the tools of my abusers, I created the bars to that prison by continuing to gaslight myself.
Over time the abusive words and the gaslighting became part of my internal dialogue. At first, the voice inside of my head was my mother’s. But over time, that inner voice became my own. That is when I was starting to betray myself. At least, that is how I feel about it. Allowing myself to believe such horrible things and then carrying those with me.
It wasn’t only the abuse that I internalized. I internalized that what I was going through wasn’t that bad. That I was complaining or being difficult because I was a spoiled child who wasn’t getting my way. I had recently heard that I moved out when I was eighteen because I didn’t want to follow the rules. Gaslighting is alive and well.
You know what, though? I struggled with that for a really long time. Was it that I didn’t want to follow the rules? Was it that I was ungrateful? Was what I went through abusive? I would think about those opposing viewpoints, and I wondered which one was right. I doubted what I knew in my heart for so long because others had gotten in my head and told me otherwise.
When we tell ourselves ‘I shouldn’t be so upset’ or ‘I should just get over it’ or ‘that didn’t happen that way I’m imagining or being dramatic,’ we are gaslighting ourselves.
– Dr. Nicole LePera
Changing My Beliefs
I have spent my life second-guessing myself. Even when I know something is real, I will tell myself that maybe it wasn’t that way. I think that makes healing myself a challenging endeavor. If I deny my truth, then what abuse am I healing from? If none of that ever happened to me, then why do I feel so much distress? And how about my anxiety? And depression? Where did all of those come from?
I know that I want to be better. Or is it feeling different? I only know what I don’t want to be like this all of the time anymore. Does it matter where or how my anxiety and depression started? Some would say that it doesn’t. I think it does. We are all the result of genetics and the environment that we grew up within. So, yes, I do believe the origins of my anxiety and depression are important.
I have to start at the beginning and slowly look at the world that I grew up with. That includes every bit of my childhood. As painful and as much I do not want to revisit that time, I know now that I have to move through it with a new perspective. This new perspective is that it is my reality. I need to look at my past, knowing that it is true. And no one can take that away.
- Jennifer Huizen. (July 14, 2020). What is Gaslighting? com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting#:~:text=Gaslighting%20is%20a%20form%20of,and%20unable%20to%20trust%20themselves