“I’m not smart enough to tackle this project.”
“I must be overreacting to my colleague’s comments. I can be too sensitive.”
“This job is not that bad. It could be worse.”
If you’ve had any of the above thoughts, you could be gaslighting yourself in your career. Gaslighting has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. It refers to a type of psychological abuse in which the victim is manipulated into doubting his or her thoughts, feelings and sometimes even sanity. We hear the term used a lot in reference to personal relationships and even in the workplace, but it’s also possible to internalize gaslighting. When that happens, you become your own abuser.
Gaslighting is self-sabotage
We would have called this self-destructive behavior “self-sabotage” during my psychology studies many years ago. However you describe it, it’s a harmful habit. Gaslighting makes you question yourself as well as your dreams and desires. It hits your self-confidence hard because you start to believe you don’t deserve any better in your life. It also prevents you from enacting positive change. After all, if you don’t actually believe your situation is that bad, you won’t make moves to change it.
Are you self-gaslighting?
The problem with identifying self-gaslighting is that it may have already become part of your mindset. There are several signs that this is a problem:
- You minimize your own feelings.
- You constantly blame yourself.
- You doubt yourself.
- You are your own worst critic.
- You question yourself, including your memory.
When you gaslight yourself, you put a negative spin on your life but at the same time, you think things could always be worse or that it’s all in your head.
Recognize inaccurate assessments
We lie to ourselves when we convince ourselves something that is quite simply not true actually is. Over the span of my 20-plus years of coaching, I have had lots of clients tell me that they aren’t smart enough or don’t test well enough to get into two of the best universities in the city of Chicago. In some cases, that’s an accurate assessment. But with six different clients, it wasn’t. All six are very intelligent individuals who have the ability to analyze complex data, but when it comes to self-reflection, they lack the capacity to do that same rigorous analysis to themselves.
So, I start to poke holes in these assessments. In most cases, they had what appeared to be sound reasons for not applying such as not scoring high enough on the GMAT. But when I poked further, there were stories of no prep, going out the night before, etc. They truly believed that because they had made mistakes when they were younger, the same fate (bombing the test) would happen later in life. But I was tenacious and pushed them to apply to both schools despite their fear of failure. I was vindicated when five out of the six got into one or both schools!
I see this self-doubt believed to be truth happen with leaders often. People tell themselves something where there is no or very little evidence, yet they convince themselves these inaccurate assessments are true.
Release the self-sabotaging mindset
When I feel that someone is self-sabotaging or self-gaslighting, I simply ask them whether their assessment is really true. Of course, they’ll respond it is. I then ask for evidence for how they know it is true. Often, they cannot present a solid case of facts that can convince me that their assessment of themselves is true.
Another situation that happens frequently? The scale for how they are assessing the situation may be skewed. For example, if you come from a family where all of your siblings have Ph.D.s but you are an artist, you may feel as if you aren’t as smart as your brothers and sisters. But if you only consider your intelligence based on degrees or grades, you aren’t seeing the entire picture. You can be just as smart as your siblings, but your expression happens to be different.
We can certainly be blind to our personality faults, but we can be equally blind to our positive strengths. It often takes a coach, therapist or someone on the outside with discernment to help lead you out of this self-sabotaging mindset.
Extinguish the cycle
Self-gaslighting gets in the way of pursuing happiness and achieving your goals. To challenge this way of thinking, you must first acknowledge the problem and take steps to change your mindset.
1. Think about how this self-gaslighting manifested. If you have been a victim of chronic gaslighting from someone in your life such as a caregiver or significant other, you can be more susceptible to gaslighting yourself.
2. Affirm your emotions and experiences. Don’t push aside the importance of your feelings. Instead, understand that each one is valid, and it’s OK to feel them. A good tool to help you with this is a journal because writing down what you are thinking and feeling can help you process those emotions without any judgment.
3. Become self-aware. This is a huge part of being emotionally intelligent, which helps you achieve overall success. Someone who is self-aware recognizes their thoughts and emotions are leading them, and they are able to make necessary changes to their behavior to redirect the course of their life.
4. Recognize that self-care is not selfish. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t just say you wish you had time to take a yoga class, schedule it into your day. If reading a book is something that gives you pleasure, block out time to pick up that page-turner you’ve been neglecting. You can also ground yourself with mindfulness meditation.
When self-gaslighting thoughts start to flare up, stop and ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was talking this same way about themselves. Chances are you’d help them get in a better state of mind, and you can make that same progress with yourself.
If you find yourself becoming a victim of yourself, a coach can help identify these toxic behaviors and work through them with you.