Business psychology

Are you a victim of ‘gaslighting’? Here’s how to stop it happening

- August 29, 2018 3 MIN READ

Many of us are victims of this perpetrator-victim dynamic and it can have a serious impact on your business. What is gaslighting and are you being impacted.

Gaslighting is a term derived from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton called Gaslight. In the story, a husband manipulates small elements of his wife’s environment in order to lead her to believe she is losing her sanity when she notices these things. The title relates to the dimming of the gas lights in the house when the husband was searching for the jewels belonging to a woman he had murdered. When the wife raises this with her husband he insists (and leads her to believe) she’s imagining it!

It was re-worked into a couple of movies in the forties and has gone on to become part of Psychology’s lexicon where gaslighting refers to a perpetrator’s desire to fool a victim into thinking that they are making it all up in their head; or to question their own sanity when it comes to a situation that is disadvantaging them or causing them harm.

While it’s normally used to describe the actions of an aggressor to a victim, it also applies to relationships including employer/employee relationships, romantic relationships and even parents and children.

This term, I discovered recently, can be equally as valid when examining the way we treat ourselves.

There’s many quotes and axioms about ‘if we spoke to others the way we speak to ourselves then we would often be labelled as bullies’ and sadly it’s very true in many cases. I find this is particularly prevalent with trade business owners, both men and women, and causes a lot of suffering for the victim, being yourself!

The challenge is when you’re also the perpetrator

While I’m sure you may have experienced ‘gaslighting’ from others, how do you recognise when you’re gaslighting yourself? When your ‘bad self’ fools your ‘good self’ into thinking that maybe you’re not worthy, not capable, not good enough, not valued, or that you’re simply just not cut out for business? And if you do recognise it taking place, how do you stop it?

I’ve come up with a little acronym that might help you to recognise and interrupt these cycles and change the dynamic between your perpetrator and your victim.

The acronym is S.T.A.R.T.

START making a change, START treating yourself better, START having different conversations with yourself, START valuing yourself more. Here’s how…


Take a breath.

Ask yourself is what you’re telling yourself actually true?

Reframe the conversation you’re having with yourself, and

Take a different path.

One of the hardest things to do when we have these damaging conversations with ourselves and negative self-talk erupts, is to stop.

Stop and take a breath (the first two letters of the acronym.)

Building that awareness is key to making change and while some of us are vaguely aware that we might be a little negative about certain things, you really need to tune in to the words that echo inside your head. When encountering situations that trigger the perpetrator and victim scenario within you it’s easy to slip into this type of exchange. Once you develop that awareness muscle, stopping and taking a breath can be such an empowering thing to do as it creates a pause long enough for you to ask…

Ask yourself “is what you’re saying actually true?” Is it evidenced by anything in your life around you? Have you tested the facts? Often truth-testing the things we say to ourselves and the way we beat up on our inner self shows us that it’s not well founded and can allow us to change that conversation.

Reframing is the next step

The aim is to re-work or reframe the negative and hurtful things we say to ourselves about ourselves when we’re by ourselves. Instead of, “I’m no good with numbers,” reframe to, “I’ve got some learning to do when it comes to my finances.”

This then leads to problem solving and a pathway to growth and development rather than spiralling down into invalidation and paralysis. Once the reframing has taken place we can…

Take a different path

Now that you’ve short-circuited your negative loop, it’s time to choose a different trajectory and (hopefully!) move towards more positive speech, focus and outcomes. Using the finances example, by reframing and choosing a different path you might feel more inclined to sign up to a ‘finance for dummies’ course or ask your bookkeeper for help. The alternative is to simply throw the hands in the air and remain where you are.

So next time you question your sanity or experience the pangs of imposter syndrome, START believing yourself and trusting your judgement. You’re probably not as crazy as your inner voice would have you believe!