Gaslighting and Self-Trust

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Trusting yourself comes with understanding how you feel (emotionally, physically and spiritually) in situations and responding and listening to your intuition. It’s understanding what you will and won’t tolerate in situations that you’re involved in and making decisions based on that information.

For the above reason I want to talk about why we stop trusting ourselves in life and how we can start trusting ourselves again.

Why do we stop trusting ourselves in the first place? One word to sum this up is, gaslighting - A form of psychological abuse, conscious or unconsciously manipulating your sense of reality.

This can happen to us at varying levels. Something as simple as seeing an angry person on the streets and your parents want to protect you, so they say, no he wasn't angry he was just playing around.

Another example of gaslighting is when you feel unsafe or sad about a situation and you're told that you are sensitive or overacting. It's when someone doesn't, see you, hear you and acknowledge what you're saying as valid. They want you to feel differently so they reject what you're saying and make you feel like you're crazy, sensitive, unwell, drama queen, depressed and whatever else people decide you are during these times. We also interpret what they're saying as true and choose to believe it. This is why we find it so difficult to voice how we feel.

A lot of people who gaslight don’t even know that they’re trying to manipulate your reality. It’s dangerous to your sense of self because it causes you to distrust your intuition, the way you feel and your instincts. This is part of the reason we look for answers outside of ourselves. There's nothing wrong with this in the short term, while you're learning how to trust yourself again. The important part is to learn to trust yourself through the guidance of someone that validates how you feel, then getting to place where you don't need anyone outside of you to validate how you feel, because you trust yourself.

Also note that gaslighting at a conscious level is dangerous as this is what abusive relationships are built on. In this blog I will not be covering this and I will mainly be covering people who gaslight at an unconscious level.

People who gaslight want to maintain power and control. They are always right. They want to make you think they are correct; it’s coming from an insecure place. They think they’re smarter than you and they can’t be seen as vulnerable or flawed. They’re good at identifying where your soft spot is, because for them, it’s not comfortable to have two different sets of opinions.

This is something we have all experienced and have also done to others.

Building my self-trust has not come easy when I grew up in a family where emotions and how we feel was not really a topic we discussed. We just got things done regardless of how we felt and what we thought. I have a lot of compassion for my parents and know that they did their absolute best to raise us kids with the knowledge and resources they had at hand. With this awareness I don't blame, I choose to understand why I found it hard to set boundaries as an adult and why I always looked for answers through others.

Fast-forward to now where I feel more empowered more than ever to speak my truth, and live it too. My mission is to help others tap into their power. Trusting yourself is a work in progress for me and every successful person I have met in the personal development world. It's a practice and muscle you build over time.

How do we rebuild our self-trust?

It's all in the self-discovering process. It's understanding your thinking process, how you're feeling and why you feel that way. As a result increasing your self-awareness and self-trust.

Think about how you build trust with a friend. We support them when they're feeling down and we listen without judging them and where possible, we help them take action. This is the same way we need to support ourselves so we can build self-trust.

When we remove judgment, negative self-talk and tap into the real reason something upsets us, we can understand what drives us to do the things we do. Which means, if you want to achieve a goal you can become clear on what personality traits are helping you achieve that goal and what traits are blocking you from achieving it.

1. Write down your values and what you will and won’t tolerate in relationships, at work or in life.

Reflect on times you felt uncomfortable and did not voice your opinion or you did but felt shame about it. Once you become consciously aware of these things you will be more proactive in future situation. When I experienced this in my life the most empowering part for me was that I have worked and continue to work on knowing myself. I know what I will tolerate and what I will not tolerate in situations. I have also tapped into trusting how I feel and not overriding it so I am liked.

Understand the responsibility, power and control/lack of control we have in situations is priceless. This is what I am truly passionate about because once you know yourself more and more, you can set clear boundaries with people, so you’re not caught in the gaslighting cycle.

2. Write down how you feel when you're not heard. How do you react. If this is difficult do this with someone you trust.

This is the life changing work I recommend for everyone to do. When we understand what triggers us we can approach those situations with more awareness and less from a reactive place.

I had an experience where I felt shame, confused and powerless, after I had set boundaries and they were ignored. Through some awareness work, I was able to identify what I was feeling, including the triggers, my weaknesses and the part I played in the situation. This did not excuse the other persons behaviour it enabled me to understand what was happening and have a proactive approach to setting future boundaries with this person.

My initial response to someone over stepping my boundaries was reactive and I retaliated by treating them the same way they treated me. That does not work and that is what war is built upon. Also, I believe that we can not hurt others without hurting ourselves too.

When it happened for the second time I had reflected on the situation and was able to be proactive with my response. I voiced clear boundaries to that person. This does not mean I didn't get triggered, what it meant was that I was honouring myself by speaking my truth and telling them what I needed and if they ignored that, I could choose to distance myself from them. When I stated clearly what I don’t like and for them to stop, their defenses went up and they gaslighted me by staying that I was overacting.

When you tell someone how you feel, and they tell you that:

1) You shouldn’t feel that way. 2) You’re the problem or 3) You’re just over reacting, it wasn’t that bad. They are gaslighting you. You feel the way you feel for a valid reason and it's not because theirs something wrong with you. When we're not listened to, and boundaries are violated, it can make us feel powerless. Feelings of powerlessness can make us feel unsafe and insecure. With this awareness, we can take direct action towards creating a safer environment for ourselves.

If we listen to the person who is manipulating us and ignore our own reality we are disconnecting from our truth. This is what self trust is built on, whether you listen to yourself or ignore how you feel in order to be liked. As social creatures being rejected, or disliked by people can feel terrible which is what we're avoiding when we don't speak up and listen to our instincts.

How can we change this?

What if we have set these boundaries at work or in relationships and someone continues to breech them. As we know, we cannot control other humans.

1. When you become triggered at work, write it down in a journal. You will find patterns and you can then ask questions and become curious about why that person or feedback you received made you feel triggered.

How did it make you feel?

What image pops up when you think about it? What past experience reminds you of this experience?

How would you have liked the situation to have unfolded, instead of the way it did? Why?

What was your reaction in that situation?

2. VOICE your boundaries, clearly.

Rather than acting as though they didn’t bother you, voice your opinion. This is a self-loving practice, to listen to how you feel and voice it. This helps build self-trust, because you're listening to how the situation makes you feel, which is something as simple as, I didn’t like it when you .... it makes me feel.... can you please stop..... If they continue to gaslight you, walk away and distance yourself from them.

People who gaslight are not always aware that they are doing it and it can be at an unconscious level. They may not know why they are treating you in that way. However, when you voice your boundaries and they don’t listen and continue to treat you poorly, they are pushing you and using your weaknesses to do so. It’s very manipulative and this is where you can take the power back. Set firm boundaries and if they continue to gaslight you for it, distance yourself from them. Removing ourselves from a situation can sometimes be the only way, especially if the other person has little self-awareness or care for how they are making you feel. We can not control how others treat us. We can learn from the situation, through learning we can decide what we will and won't tolerate and how to approach situations like that in future.

What if you work with them?

3. Talk to someone you trust

Talk to people you trust. If it’s happening at work tell the manager and if they're gaslighting or bullying you too, you may need to consider leaving that environment. Unless you want to fight back and keep going up the ranks. This can be an emotionally traumatic process and would only be worth doing if you’re in a healthy state and you have support around you to stand up against an organisation.

Seek comfort from a trusted friend that can help you process what happened. Sometimes you just need a compassionate person to talk to. Someone that will listen and not fix the situation for you.

In conclusion

Setting boundaries after many years of putting up with things, not voicing your opinion or reacting to situations without reflecting on why they triggered you, can be challenging. Talking to a friend, psychotherapist, therapist, psychologist, life coach or mentor to help you feel validated with how you feel, helps you understand that what you feel is real and matters. This builds your confidence so that in future you can set boundaries on your own. You can trust that what you’re feeling is real. From there you can make decisions and take action without needing validation, because the only validation you will need is how you feel in that situation.

Helpful resource

Kristin Snowden is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. This resource contains helpful YouTube videos and a list of things you can start doing to break the cycle of gaslighting.

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