Am I Gaslighting Myself? 

Words By Jillian Lombardo 

The clock ticks down. Stuffed animals gather around your desk, a silent audience for your upcoming class presentation. Just moments ago, affirmations like “I am a capable speaker” filled your head.  But now, doubt creeps in. Memories of your last presentation — the stutter, the blackout — cloud your mind.  Are you fooling yourself with these affirmations?  Is this gaslighting, or can you still pull it off?

After another creative conversation with my mother, she asked me this question, igniting my curiosity. Where is the line between affirmations and gaslighting? 

Affirmations go back thousands of years in religion, such as Buddhism, and in philosophewith Rene Descartes “I think, therefore I am.” in the 17th century.  An affirmation is an emotional support or encouragement. It is seen as a statement or sign that something is true, the action of affirming something. Affirmations promote a positive self-view when faced with challenges or obstacles and can increase specific neuropathways in the brain. However, some positive affirmations can feel false, as if you’re gaslighting yourself into minimizing what you’re going through. Inevitably, you are lying to yourself. 

The term gaslight was coined in 1938 after the British play “Gas Light.” The play is centered around a man’s deceit and trickery to drive the his wife insane and steal from her. The word came from the man in the play changing the intensity of the gas lights in the house while the wife was alone, leading to her going crazy. Gaslighting, as defined by Oxford Languages, is manipulation using psychological methods to question one’s sanity or power of reasoning. The act promotes confusion and doubt about one’s feelings. As Webster’s 2022 word of the year, its impact on society in recent years has been heavy. 

So where is the line? 

Affirmations, when used effectively, can be a powerful tool to challenge negativity and boost self-worth. They have the potential to empower and support individuals by fostering confidence and a growth mindset. By acknowledging reality and highlighting positive aspects or potential for improvement in the situation, affirmations can help you overcome your 5K for the Jaguars charity run jitters. For instance, you might say, “I may feel nervous about my 5K for the Jaguars charity run, but I am a capable runner who has prepared for this situation.”

Gaslighting is a psychological technique used to manipulate people into questioning their reality or perception. It focuses on creating a false reality by denying or twisting events. Gaslighting can erode self-esteem and create confusion. It makes the victim doubt their memory and sanity. For example, it can be seen as, “You’re imagining things; I never said that to you,” when in a previous conversation, the event did take place. Two things about it can be accurate simultaneously: It creates the belief that something is true when it isn’t and that something is false when it is true. 

In some cases, an affirmation can be used to deny clear evidence, problems or limitations that can cause them to be an unhelpful tool. Saying “I am a perfect replacement for the Jaguars” may not be helpful if you’ve never played football, turning it into a negative affirmation. It is not a magical tool to erase anxieties. Affirmations must be realistic. An effective affirmation focuses on acknowledging challenges but focuses on progress. 

Affirmations are a form of truth. Positive thinking can be a proper motivation to achieve something attainable, whereas gaslighting is a false belief that you can achieve something unattainable. For example, I am a 6-foot tall 200-pound male who believes he can be the world’s fastest horse jockey. The problem is that a horse jockey is a foot shooter and a hundred pounds lighter. An affirmation for this example would be that I am a 5-foot-tall man who has been around a horse his whole life, weighs 120 pounds and believes he can become the fastest horse jockey of his time. This is both achievable and attainable. Another factor to focus on is the action before or following the affirmations. Instead of just saying, “I am a good public speaker,” consider affirmations like “I will practice my presentation out loud three times before class” or “I will maintain eye contact with the audience and speak clearly.”

While the relationship between the two is like walking on a tightrope, gaslighting isn’t something to take lightly.  Affirmations are a tool for self-improvement, while gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. 

Always remember to be mindful of your inner voice. If affirmations are your chosen method, be careful not to set unrealistic expectations. Start small with affirmations like “I love myself” or “The world needs what I have to offer.” Be patient with yourself as you build this practice. If you suspect gaslighting, it’s crucial to identify the issue and permit yourself to feel your emotions. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Talk to a trusted friend or seek professional help from a therapist. 

By understanding the power of affirmations and the dangers of gaslighting, you can cultivate a positive inner voice that empowers you to reach your full potential.

 

About Jillian Lombardo

Jillian Lombardo is a senior at the University of North Florida majoring in multimedia journalism and minoring in psychology. She hopes her career will lead her to investigative reporting or war correspondence. Jillian’s ambition is to help people lead her to a career she sees as a fourth branch of government, a voice for the people and the inside scoop on current events they have a right to understand.