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When Your Own Mind Gaslights You Into Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When we think of gaslighting, we usually think of the tactic an individual uses to gain power over a victim by making them question their own reality. This tactic can even be employed by a government to manipulate its citizens into submitting to a political agenda. Either way, it’s done slowly and subtly, so the victim doesn’t know it’s happening until it’s too late, sometimes to the point where they lose their mind. But what if the most powerful gaslighter wasn’t something as obvious as a person or entity? What if the most skilled and effective gaslighter was actually your own mind?

As someone who has overcome depression and suicidal ideation, I am incredibly familiar with the tricks my mind uses to try to bring me down. However, I only recently read about the tactics gaslighters use to get what they want. I immediately recognized them as the same tricks the mind can use to distort our perception of our own life. The following are the “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting” Stephanie Moulton Sarkis Ph.D. published in Psychology Today, and how they directly mirror the manipulative lies our mind tells us to ensure we fall into unending depression.

1. They tell blatant lies.

Our mind loves lying to us, consistently and without reservation. It tells us things like, “You’re no good, you can’t do it, nobody likes you, you’re unattractive, once you’re depressed, you’re always depressed and you’re never going to make it, so don’t even try.” In the beginning, we knew these were lies. But just like marketing campaigns trying to convince us happiness can be found in their product, when we hear them enough times, we begin to believe them.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.

One of the mind’s favorite activities is presenting contradictory ideas and then convincing us it’s our fault. How often does our mind tells us things like, “Stay in bed, eat junk food, hurt yourself,” or tell us to indulge in some vice. But as soon as we do, it tells us how terrible we are for doing it. Or, the exact opposite. It will tell us to not go to the social event, not to apply for the job and not to go to the gym. Then, when we don’t, it yells at us for screwing things up again. Our mind has a consistent track record of turning any situation and outcome against us. We have enough evidence of this to fill a book, and yet, we keep coming back for more advice on what to do in life.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.

If we don’t care about something, like our choice in interior design, what kind of toothpaste we use, or our weight on the moon, the mind will not attack us there because these things contain no pressure points for us. But, if there’s something we are insecure about, such as our weight on earth, we’ll never hear the end of it. The mind knows exactly what’s important to us and how to turn it around to inflict the most pain. If we’re single, the mind first convinces us we should be unhappy about it, and then tunnel-visions our attention onto all the happy couples we see in the world. If we’re in a relationship, the mind tries to convince us how much better life would be if we were single. If we’re happy with something we’ve done, our mind loves to tell us we’ve ruined everything anyway.

4. They wear you down over time.

Back in my suicidal days, as soon as I woke up, my mind wished it were tomorrow. The tactic of presenting this thought ensured my day started as miserable as possible. Then, all day long, everything would be used against me. Anger, frustration, jealousy, lust, greed and many more emotions bombarded me all day long, convincing me I was no good. How often are we doing something effortless, like sitting and watching a show, but inside we’re exhausted, turmoiling over the repetitive and nonsensical chaos exploding in our head? The mind wears us down, enraging us because we, and the world, are the way we are. We fixate, without yielding, all we know onto pain. After years of this, there is often no strength left, and the mind can wield us like putty.

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5. Their actions do not match their words.

The mind is like a thief who has been hired by a town to be a police officer to catch the thief. The thief will put on the police uniform, pretend to look for clues and say he is so close to catching the thief. The town’s people will see his efforts and be happy with his accomplishments, thinking the burglaries are almost finished. But will the thief ever do it? Our mind will always tell us it’s on our side and it is there to help us. However, when it comes to thought activity, the very thing that is pretending to help us, can be the thing defeating us.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.

Our mind has been with us since the beginning and helped us with so many things. This positive reinforcement has established such an intimate relationship between us that we believe we can trust it. This is a trap. All this time, our mind has been conditioning us to believe it’s on our side so that once we do, we will believe all the terrible thoughts it throws at us all day long for absolutely no reason. Then, it will tell us we did a good job at something, ensuring we remain friends.

7. They know confusion weakens people.

Your mind loves to give you mixed information and alternative facts. At one moment we may think everything’s fine, and the next, the world is crashing on top of us. It might give us motivation to do something and then say everything we touch is destroyed. No matter what we do, it’s never good enough. It will even take memories and twist them into a horrific outcome, and make us imagine terrible “what-if” scenarios that we know didn’t happen since they are in the past. But, we struggle anyway. All this chaos is designed to weaken our resolve, so we submit to its will. Then, it will comfort us by allowing us to indulge in vices that have short-term value, but only make things worse.

8. They project.

One of the mind’s favorite hobbies is finding something to project its negativity onto. Nothing is out of bounds for the mind to flip around against us and use to crush our spirit. Even when everything is just fine, it will twist the truth, reveal a forgotten memory or make something up entirely that has no basis in reality. Then, once it’s effectively triggered us, it blames us for being so negative all the time. It does this so consistently that we end up believing it is us who are negative or broken, rather than just our mind projecting negativity onto things for us to listen to.

9. They try to align people against you.

If eating junk food is our vice, our mind will likely never let us be friends with a health instructor. It will ensure we surround ourself with like-minded people who will support our habits. It’s not a coincidence alcoholics drink together, drug addicts use together and depressed people complain together. When we’re depressed and around happy people, the contrast can be so overwhelming, that our mind might convince us they are actually “bad” people and we should stay away. The mind will even convince us our friends and family are better off without us. Accepting this idea isolates us from any chance of recovery and only causes more pain.

10. They tell you or others you’re “crazy.”

Your mind gets energy in self-defeat and can feed off of it. The smaller the thing it can get us upset over, the easier it is to convince us we are “crazy.” Things can get as small as being obsessed about grammar, where the mind tricks people into hunting for petty mistakes all day, and when they find something, they rage. The more things it can trigger us with, the easier it is to defeat us into believing we are “crazy” in a world we don’t belong in.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

If people are positive, your mind might turn them into unintelligent, false preachers or liars, so you push them away. It might tell you those who are trying to help are wrong or “bad” people. Take right now for example. What is your mind saying about me and this article? Am I some liar who only overcame depression because it must have been a mild version, and I probably just got lucky? Is it telling you that you are too smart to be gaslighted by it? Maybe it’s saying your misery is permanent and can’t possibly be an effect of manipulation.

These 11 tactics are just some of the examples that show how your mind can gaslight you into depression. Its job is to test you, create doubt in you and dissolve your inner strength. It wants you to believe it is on your side, and you can’t go on without it. Fortunately, once you’ve had enough of your mind’s manipulative nonsense, you can honor yourself as the one who no longer has to listen to its lies and begin to set yourself free.

To do this, start by focusing your attention to the awareness you are listening to a negative voice in your head. As soon as you do, a separation emerges, and its power begins to fade. This shift in perspective exposes the fact you are not your mind. Your mind and you are two, and it has no power other than that which you give it. Be clear about where all the trouble is coming from and remember you are under no obligation to take care of it. Don’t fight it, don’t argue with it, don’t try to prove it wrong and don’t engage with it. From my experience, all these things will only empower it.

This will seem challenging at first, and your mind will fight back harder than ever before. It might even know that it’s in danger of being ignored and bring you chocolates and roses and tell you how wonderful you are. Fortunately, you’re too smart for that. When you have been gaslighted, the obviousness of what’s happening is not seen until its methods are exposed. Then, once it is seen, it can never be unseen because no amount of darkness can overpower candlelight. So, what about now? Is it obvious your mind has gaslighted you? Or do you still think you are as broken and helpless as it wants you to believe?

Getty image by Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: January 24, 2021
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