by Ella Hou, Aden Tom and Grace Sousa, Opinions writers
graphic by Dongyuan Fu
In 1944, American film director George Cukor released a riveting psychological thriller titled “Gaslight,” in which a man gradually lowers the gaslights each night to make his wife think she is going crazy. This portrayal established an important concept known as “gaslighting,” a form of emotional abuse where someone is manipulated into questioning their sanity. Even today, this concept remains prevalent, especially after its popularization on social media.
As with all things “trending,” the term’s gravity has been lost. Just the other day, one of my friends jokingly said, “You’re gaslighting me” in a completely random situation, to which another joked back, “You’re gaslighting me for trying to gaslight me!” Because gaslighting can be as subtle as “You can’t take a joke” and “You’re overreacting,” it is easy to see why it is overlooked and dismissed as a joking matter. Yet, its severe effects on one’s mental health is not to be understated.
A similar term, “self-gaslighting,” is when one internalizes this abuse by undermining their own emotions and judgment. It begins with a comment or event, and you slowly manipulate yourself into feeling incompetent or unimportant. Self-gaslighting can be even more subtle than gaslighting, as it is internalized and can be chalked up to being “humble.”
This, along with the damage it can do to one’s mental health, makes it incredibly important to recognize when it happens. Recently, I have learned to recognize self-gaslighting in different aspects of my life, including my social interactions, academic achievement and levels of self-esteem.
Once I became aware of what self-gaslighting was, I realized that I am susceptible to it in my social life. For example, a while ago, a friend said something hurtful to me. Instead of confronting them about it, I shrugged it off and told myself that I was being too sensitive. I tried to convince myself that my friend was simply having a bad day and that they did not mean it like that. Looking back now, I realize that self-gaslighting manifested itself in this situation, as I invalidated my feelings and excused my friend’s actions by shifting the blame onto myself.
Self-gaslighting can also come in the form of questioning your own judgment, leading to self-doubt. Before my biology test, I spent hours stressing and doubting myself, even though I knew I had studied profusely. Despite my tiresome efforts and hard work, I felt hopeless and underprepared during the test. When my teacher asked the class to rate how the test went, I immediately gave a thumbs down. Even though I ended up scoring well, my self-esteem was nonexistent due to my habit of self-gaslighting.
South’s competitive academic environment is partly to blame for this as it causes many students to fall into a vicious cycle of comparing grades. I feel pressured to strive for perfection, so I feel upset if others get higher grades than me, even if my score was good. At the same time, when I compare my grades, I convince myself that because others did worse than I did, I should not feel bad about my own score.
Often, I find myself disregarding the hard work I spent studying because of the grade I received on a test, again doubting myself and my abilities. Through these situations, I have learned that it is easier to invalidate our accomplishments and focus on the negative circumstances when self-gaslighting.
Seeing how detrimental self-gaslighting was to my mental health, I decided to make the effort to unlearn it. It seemed like a challenging task, but by acknowledging that I was self-gaslighting, I had already taken an important first step. Understanding the reason behind my self-gaslighting was my next goal.
I recognized that my own actions were coming from repeating the words of those who had previously gaslit me, and realizing that those phrases were only intended to hurt and manipulate helped me accept that they were in no way true.
This strategy of taking a step back to reassess the situation and change mentalities became my go-to whenever I found myself self-gaslighting.
Finally, I found that having a strong support system can be incredibly helpful when overcoming these self-gaslighting habits because they can remind you of this very important fact: your feelings are valid, and no matter what, you are worthy and loved.