It's Time to Stop Gaslighting Yourself

Dr. Alison Cook

by Dr. Alison Cook


You're conflicted. Trapped in a tangled up knot of emotions. Maybe your parents weren't there for you in the ways you needed, but now, they need your care. You want to be there for them, but you also resent the care you didn’t get from them. Or maybe it's a friend who constantly leans on you, sharing every problem, every crisis, expecting you to be her rock. You want to support her, but you also dread seeing her name pop up on your phone.

Your inner dialogue sounds something like this: “I'm exhausted. Overwhelmed. I can't keep doing this." But then, almost immediately, you counter your own feelings: "You don't really feel that way. You're fine. There’s nothing to feel that way about."

You’re gaslighting yourself and you don’t even realize it. It doesn’t work.

We tend to think of gaslighting as one person manipulating another person to make them doubt themselves or their perception of reality. But we overlook how often we do it to ourselves! Self-gaslighting occurs when you tell yourself you don’t feel what you really feel. You try to minimize your own feelings, second-guess your experience, or invalidate your own perceptions. It's that inner voice that tells you that you're overreacting, that what you're feeling isn't valid, or that you're being too sensitive. You end up dismissing legitimate feelings and prevent yourself from addressing root issues. It's a form of emotional self-sabotage that erodes your confidence, clouds your judgment, and keeps you from making wise decisions.

The good news is that you can learn to stop gaslighting yourself.

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Breaking the Cycle

The first step to breaking the cycle of self-gaslighting is to recognize the pattern. Look for the signs: Do you constantly second-guess yourself? Feel guilty for your emotions? Try to rationalize your feelings away? These are signs that you might be trapped in a cycle of self-gaslighting. Naming this pattern without shaming yourself is a huge step toward change. When you notice that you’re trying to talk yourself out of a feeling, name it: “Oh! I’m trying to gaslight myself.”

Next, practice getting curious about what you feel with compassion. Am I scared? Angry? Upset? I wonder what that’s about. Getting curious is a profound act of noticing, acknowledging, and validating the truth of what you’re thinking and feeling at any given moment. You’re not acting on those feelings. You’re also not trying to make them go away. You’re simply becoming aware of what you feel, without shame. You’re engaged in a scientifically backed practice I call “minding your mind.” You might think of this work as equivalent to what the apostle Paul wrote: “Take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) God knows and sees the deep truths within us, and he invites us to notice and be honest with him—and with ourselves— about what’s in us, too.

Imagine you’re back in that scenario with a parent or with a friend and you begin to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or tempted to lash out. What if, instead of gaslighting yourself by telling yourself that you don’t really feel the way you do, you simply noticed your feelings with compassion.

You’re upset. That’s hard.
You’re going through something.
It is really frustrating. I get it.
You’re also frightened. That makes sense.
You don’t like feeling this way.
That’s true too.

You can begin to work with, instead of against, the grain of your God-made design. You start by telling yourself the truth: something happened that is hard. You might wish you didn’t care so much, that it didn’t affect you so deeply. But you do. And it does. And naming that reality is exactly what your heart, your mind, your soul, your body—and this world—need you to do. You align yourself with God’s Spirit as you spread out the truth-pieces in front of you. You access the power of all that’s kind and good and wise and true.

You stop fighting with yourself. Instead, you start to calm yourself. You slow yourself down. You attune to your mind, your heart, your body. You notice what you think and what you feel with a holy, tender curiosity. You start to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), inviting God into all that you’re experiencing. When you name what’s hard, you paradoxically find peace inside. You become the kind of person who brings real care to yourself and to other people. And you become an oasis of clarity and honesty for a world in desperate need of it.



Dr. Alison Cook is a psychologist, host of The Best of You Podcast, and author of the brand new book, I Shouldn’t Feel This Way: Name What’s Hard, Tame Your Guilt, and Transform Self-Sabotage Into Brave Action.