Dear Ask About BPD,
I have been in recovery for a few years now, but I still struggle to trust my own emotions. I often feel like I am gaslighting myself. Any tips on how I can learn to trust myself and my emotions?
One of the most difficult things in BPD recovery is learning how to trust ourselves and our emotions. For many of us we went from having extreme emotions, to no emotion, to confused emotion. Integrating our emotional selves means letting go of the fear and doubt we have.
What is gas-lighting:
The term gas-lighting comes from a movie of the same name where an abuser tries to convince his wife that she is crazy by manipulating their environment in little ways, especially with the gas lamps in their home. He attempted to alter her perception of reality for his benefit by making her question her own sanity and perceptions.
Today, the term is defined as a form of mental abuse in which information is distorted or selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Are you being self gas-lighted?
By its very nature, BPD gaslights us. It is an illness where our brain lies to and manipulates us into believing a distorted sense of reality. People who are in BPD crisis often feel like it is not them that is in control, but that another person and that person is often abusive and uses gas-lighting to weaken us internally.
Gas-lighting does not need to be severe in order to have severe consequences. Even small amounts of personal gas-lighting can cause us to doubt ourselves and our reality. This can lead us to look to others for what is real and how we should feel.
Here are some ways we gaslight ourselves:
- Frequently second-guessing ourselves by asking, “Am being I too sensitive?”
- Often feeling puzzled, anxious, and even crazy.
- Apologizing to others for no real reason, or for mistakes that are not our fault.
- When life is going well we find ourselves questioning if it is truly going well and if things are so good why aren’t we happier.
- We leave out details about how we are doing when talking with friends and family so we don’t have to explain or make excuses.
- We feel anxious or conflicted when making the “simple decisions” of life.
- We often tell ourselves that we can’t do anything right.
- We wonder if we are a “good enough” person.
How did we learn to gaslight ourselves?
Although the people in our lives were most likely not overtly trying to gaslight us, they did by invalidating us and our feelings. They taught us to doubt our inner feelings and question ourselves and our actions. Instead of trying to understand what was going on in the core of our being people told us we are too sensitive, not trying hard enough, seeking attention, etc. The long term effects of this invalidation leaves us with the inability to trust in our own judgment and sense of reality. With years of invalidation we most likely personalized their gas-lighting as our internal voice.
How do we stop gas-lighting ourselves?
– Acknowledge that you are gas-lighting yourself and combat your perceptions. When you find yourself second guessing yourself, asking if you are being too sensitive, or feeling like you are going crazy, acknowledge that there is always misunderstanding brewing in our lives and that brings about fear. Fear is our worst enemy and causes us to not want to act or mistrust the way we do act. When we are left feeling uncertain, acknowledge that all honest decisions involve a degree of uncertainty.
– Accept that although your thoughts are valid they are not real. We often question our emotions, our actions, and ourselves because we fear we are acting out from our BPD. When we employ gas-lighting, our beliefs and fears shake us to our foundation, tearing away everything we knew instantaneously by spinning thoughts through our mind and often times turning our own mind against us. We need to accept that these thoughts occur, but they are not real nor are they fact. When we fall into this pattern of thinking we need to step back and look at our cognitive distortions and how they are playing out in the situation. We need to combat each thought with its opposite. We need to find the middle ground.
– Remove expectations of how you should feel. Since we were not taught to accept our emotions and thoughts as valid we often look outwardly for how we are supposed to feel. We learn expected reactions and behaviors from our friends and the media. When we look to the external for our feelings we accept a skewed evaluation of life. These are all false expectations and interpretations of what is truly going on. If you find yourself feeling in an opposite manner of what you think you should feel evaluate the thought as valid and combat it with its opposite. Remove the external expectation and accept the internal feeling as valid. Act according to your intuition and wise mind.
– Lean to trust your wise mind. Our rational mind and emotional mind work together in milliseconds to call us into action. When we are faced with making a decision we must take the information we have, processes it through reflection and effective criticism then develop and trust our feelings. It takes time, but with time we can learn to trust our wise mind.
– Accept that you will never be 100% satisfied with your decisions. If we always knew the outcome of any given task we would not be as willing to try new things. Truth be told, we will always question why we do or say things. We need to accept the times we were wrong as well as the times we succeed. By being gentle with ourselves self-trust develops.
In BPD recovery we are left to re-learn how to feel emotions and react to situations. All experience in life is based on actions or lack of action. Uncertain or not, we always have a responsibility to act leaving us to reflect on those actions in the end. Only with time can we use our experiences as opportunities for learning and building self trust.