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Self-Gaslighting: The Harm of Being Gaslighted

A recipient of gaslighting develops negative beliefs that impact self-esteem.

Key points

  • Gaslighting is a form of psychological coercion that manipulates the targeted person to believing they are at fault for their mistreatment.
  • The recipient of gaslighting can internalize the false accusations into negative feelings and beliefs about themselves.
  • Identifying the coercive tactics and seeing the gaslighter as responsible for their abuse shifts the victim from self blame to self-confidence.
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"Gaslighting" has become a recognized term in our culture for psychological coercion and manipulation by one toward another. When someone is subjected over and over to being coerced by words or actions that target their thoughts, feelings, and perception, it’s almost impossible for "self-gaslighting" not to take hold as well.

By internalizing the false accusations of the gaslighter, you begin the painful process of doubting yourself—a process that negatively impacts your perception of the world, self-esteem, and personal identity. To dismantle self-gaslighting, you need to start by recognizing the coercive tactics of the gaslighter.

Defining Gaslighting

Gaslighting abuse can take place in work settings, within families, and in personal relationships—particularly with intimate partners. The gaslighter is almost always highly narcissistic and lacking in empathy.

The purpose of gaslighting is to achieve power and control over a victim by causing him or her to develop self-doubt and in doing so, become more complacent. In working with individuals who experience gaslighting in the realm of intimate partner abuse, it’s the most prevalent of coercive tactics to overpower the other.

Monopolization of perception is a term used by psychologist Albert Biderman in his chart of coercion that identified ways that American prisoners of war were brainwashed into complacency (Biderman, 1957). But actually, monopolization of perception is similar, if not the same, and a more useful description of what actually is taking place in gaslighting.

The gaslighter always draws attention to themselves and their reality. It’s necessary for them to get rid of any competing perception that would not be in the service of compliance. The gaslighter uses strategies to keep the victim off-balance—creating confusion and self-doubt. A targeted person can often feel crazy when they’re not. Some gaslighting strategies can include:

  • Being told, “You're crazy” or “You don’t make sense.”
  • Distorting the truth of what took place and accusing the other of distortion. “You’re wrong—you don’t remember.”
  • Outright lying and denying reality.
  • Twisting the victim's words to mean something negative and disregarding any attempts at clarification.
  • Discounting the feelings of the other with criticism such as, “You’re too sensitive.” “You’re over-reacting”—although, given the circumstances, they’re not.
  • Name-calling and putdowns that are meant to degrade, humiliate, and create shame.
  • Claiming to be a victim and accusing the victim of being abusive when confronting them about their behavior.


If you are a recipient of gaslighting, you can develop negative beliefs about yourself. Internalizing the negative attacking messages could result in, for example, believing “I’m not good enough,” “There’s something wrong with me,” or “I’m at fault.” These beliefs can include distorted beliefs about the cause of the hurtful psychological abuse that leads to blaming yourself and allowing in harmful feelings such as fear, shame, or guilt. These negative feelings can contribute to anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and suicidal thoughts. When these hurtful beliefs and feelings about yourself are left unattended, you continue to be vulnerable to self-gaslighting and the coercion of the gaslighter.

Unpacking your experience and identifying the gaslighter’s coercive tactics is the only way to move from self-blame to holding them accountable for their hurtful attacks. This shift includes a change in the belief of not being responsible and, on an emotional level, the authentic feelings that come with holding a partner accountable for their abuse. These feelings can include anger or disgust or perhaps, grief with tears and sadness. It’s critical to not only believe the truth of the gaslighter’s coercion but also emotionally feel that it’s true as well.

Recovery: Take Yourself Back

Self-gaslighting is about self-blame and internalized negative beliefs. To get back to trusting your perception and improving self-esteem, you must identify the coercive tactics employed by the gaslighter in your life and hold them responsible, if only in your heart—the critical first step in moving out of the pain of self-gaslighting.



Biderman, A. D. (1957). "Communist attempts to elicit false confessions from Air Force prisoners of war. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 33(9), 616-625

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