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gaslighted self forgiveness

Being on the other side of gaslighting is a painful place to be, and it’s very easy to doubt and judge yourself for not realizing the truth sooner. The question that remains is whether or not you need to practice self-forgiveness for being gaslighted.

Key Points

Gaslighting can cause considerable confusion: Have I acted wrongly? Should I repent?
A person needs to look clearly at the gaslighter's accusations, and, if they are an illusion, resisting self forgiveness is important.
Falling for the lies of gaslighting may best be handled by self-acceptance rather than by self forgiveness.

I recently was asked this question: “I have been a victim of gaslighting for over a year with constant accusations leveled against me by a now-former partner. Getting out of that toxic relationship took courage, but I did it. Now, as I pick up the pieces of my life, I wonder if I should forgive myself.

In other words, what if I really did act inappropriately, at least to a degree, as he has accused me? I should have recognized the gaslighting much sooner. Would self forgiveness ease my inner pain?”

Related: Why It’s So Hard To Trust Again After A Toxic Relationship

Defining Gaslighting

The theme of gaslighting has become popular in psychological literature. It now is well known that the word “gaslighting” comes from a 1938 play, Gas Light, in which a female character is continuously falsely accused of wrongdoing, causing her to doubt her own sanity.

Gaslighting is present when there are false denials by the other or false accusations toward you by the other. Two kinds of accusations against you include (1) insisting that you have committed an act or a series of acts you did not commit (e.g., “You skimmed funds from our checking account.”) and (2) accusing you of a serious character flaw (e.g., “You are so continuously angry that I can’t stand it anymore. I am out of here.”).

Both kinds of accusations, when they are untrue, are potentially serious injustices against you. Therefore, you have the right to stand up for what is fair and even to consider forgiving the person, if you choose to do so, for these distortions of who you are as a person.

Is self forgiveness appropriate in this context of being gaslighted by a partner?

self forgiveness gaslighting
When Gaslighted, How To Forgive Yourself?

Defining Self Forgiveness

To self forgive is to welcome yourself back into the human community when you have broken your own moral standards. When you self forgive, you work to reduce resentment toward yourself and to offer self-respect, generosity, and a reawakened love toward yourself.

If you have offended others from the broken standard, it is appropriate to seek forgiveness from those whom you offended. This seeking of forgiveness is not part of self-forgiving, but it is associated with it.

Self forgiveness can be controversial. Some say that we cannot be our own judge and jury at the same time, and, so, self forgiveness is not reasonable. Yet, as I point out in my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness when you self forgive, you are practicing the virtue of mercy toward yourself.

And this next point is very important: You continually extend virtues toward yourself, such as being fair to yourself (the virtue of justice), taking care of yourself (the virtues of kindness and wisdom), and being patient with yourself when you are learning new things in life.

If you can practice all of these virtues toward yourself, why would anyone want to bar you from one of the important moral virtues: loving yourself in the face of disappointment, disapproval, and in extreme cases, self-hatred after you have broken one of your moral standards?

Related: 15 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself (Especially When Feeling Down)

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Dr. Robert D. Enright, Ph.D.

Dr. Robert Enright is the unquestioned pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness. He has been called "the forgiveness trailblazer" by Time magazine and is often introduced as "the father of forgiveness research" because of his 25-year academic commitment to researching and implementing forgiveness programs. He is the co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge about forgiveness and community renewal through forgiveness. He is also a licensed psychologist. For his work in the peace movement, He now has been working in Forgiveness for 36 years. Dr. Enright was named a 2006 Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International. In 2007, he received UW-Madison's highest award--the Hilldale Award for "excellence in teaching, research, and service." He holds the Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also received the 2008-2009 Dick Ringler Distinguished Peace Educator Award from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.View Author posts