By: Jotham Lim
The term “gaslighting” may seem familiar to some but foreign to many. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that has been used by cults and pyramid schemes, whereby an influencer will attempt to distort the victim’s perception of what’s right and wrong. I use the term “victim” exclusively because gaslighting is, by all means, an abusive and predatory behaviour that takes advantage of the uninformed.
Entrepreneur Insight has met with medical psychologist, Joel Low, to learn more about this subject, and to shed some light on this issue in the hopes that a well-informed public would be much more resilient towards the dangers of gaslighting. Here is what we have learnt so far.
ORIGIN OF GASLIGHTING
Gaslighting isn’t something that we are seeing happening in recent years. People have been gaslighting each other since the dawn of mankind, and it is only recently that we have come up with a proper term to describe the phenomena.
The term “gaslight” comes from a play in 1938 with the same title, whereby an abusive husband leads his wife into believing that she has gone mad, that she has been stealing things subconsciously and been hearing voices that weren’t there.
Behind the scenes, was the husband that was up to mischief. He manages to convince his wife of her madness by simply altering the brightness of the lamp at random intervals. When asked “Did the brightness of the lamp changed?” the husband simply replied, “No, I think you are going mad.”
With that, the wife ceases to believe in her own judgement and sanity, leading her to put her own faith in the person whom she trusts the most other than herself – Her secretly manipulative husband.
The simple story illustrates the basics of how gaslighting works and operates. Instead of a lamp, we use words and subtle cues to misinform others. The reality you are living in is filtered through someone else’s point of view, and everything you say and do is being interpreted differently than you originally would. Your sense of right and wrong is at the whim of the person manipulating you.
WHY IS GASLIGHTING DANGEROUS?
Some of our readers might start to question themselves if they have been subjected to gaslighting before in the workplace. But detecting it is extremely difficult, as the entire idea behind gaslighting is to remain concealed and undetectable for as long as possible. Gaslighting is like an advanced form of lying, carefully worded in a way that is believable without any way of confirming it. Let’s say that you are late for a meeting with friends but you have overslept, and so your excuse would be that you are stuck in a jam. Such a cliched answer would introduce plenty of doubt and raise a few eyebrows.
However, it would be much more believable if you have said that you were rushing right after a meeting with a client. First off, it paints you in a good light as someone that is hardworking with a tight schedule. Second, it is easy to draft a fake story by using the real experience you had in the past.
Compared to gaslighting, lying is more blatant and in your face. Gaslighting is subtle, grounded in reality and believable. The possibility of it being true is always there, and that is why it is dangerous.
SIGNS OF BEING GASLIT
Despite being hard to detect, it is not entirely impossible to spot the symptoms of being gaslit. Influencers generally have the same traits and employ similar tactics. Here are some of the key characteristics that you should look out for:
- Conversate with you to collect information, but not authentically empathise with what you are saying.
- Compulsive liar. When called out, will shift the blame towards others.
- Have low to zero accountability, lack
responsibility for their actions.
- Use existing information and twist them to fit their narrative for their own benefit.
- Gossip, as a way to build communication against others.
- Appear confident up front, but immensely insecure deep down.
- Have a tough time self-regulating their own emotions and thoughts.
Your emotions are a vital indicator that something is wrong. If every decision you make feels uncomfortable, as if it is done not of your own will, then there is a possibility you are being gaslit.
These are by no means a sure-fire indicator to spot a gaslighter. But seeing these signs in real life should raise a few red flags, and you should proceed with more caution.
The effectiveness of gaslighting can be compounded across an extended period of time, and for a wide array of reasons. At best, the influencer is seeking out validation for personal satisfaction, but at worst, people may be driven to commit actions with permanent consequences.
Take Kellie Sutton for example, a once fun and bubbly person who ended her own life after being in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend of just five months. Police have reported that Kellie was under coercive control during the relationship, where the boyfriend used gaslighting tactics to manipulate Kellie into relying on him emotionally.
Gaslighting is also quite common in a work environment. It has been used to undermine people of different genders and races, cloud an employer’s sense of judgement, forcing staff members to see things from a singular perspective, etc. Gaslighting in the workplace is not as simple as saying “I am right and you are wrong”, but to nudge the victim into doubting their own thought processes, taking away their ability for independent thoughts and agreeing with the influencers.
You do not need to be a cult leader to gaslight people. Speaking with Joel, we have learned that ordinary people like us employ similar techniques in our everyday lives, be it consciously or subconsciously. We probed further, and to our surprise, gaslighting might be more common than you may think.
How Does Gaslighting Affect My Business?
I have seen plenty of cases throughout my career, whether its secondhand stories o r wit h my very own eyes. I’m sorry to say, but many young and new entrepreneurs have not been in the industry for long, so they are naive in the sense that they rely on the advice and expertise of others to run their business.
There is nothing wrong with obtaining a second opinion, but what you can see is that the company directives are slowly moulded to fit the advisor’s narrative, and sooner or later, the entire company is run by a puppet of another. These entrepreneurs have no choice but to rely on that one person solely and are unable to seek help elsewhere. It is quite common to see an advisor or assistant wielding more power than the employer in the workplace.
Not to mention that gaslighting will introduce toxicity into the working environment. Work efficiency would drop, corporate visions muddled and clouded, and the company leadership would appear weak. Left unattended, this issue may be able to bring down small businesses in just a short period of time.
If used in a racial or gender context, this issue would spill over into becoming an even larger issue. Gender and racial rights activists are aware of gaslighting in the workplace and are fighting to restore the balance of power in the workplace. It is definitely an issue that the Human Resources department should be very much aware of.
Has Gaslighting Been Used For Good Before?
Asian parents are notorious for using gaslighting tactics on their children. “Don’t go out at night unless you want to be kidnapped by a dirty foreigner” “Don’t stare at the television, or else you’ll go blind” “Grandmother is fine… she is just going to sleep for a very, very Long time.”
Such tactics may be used with good intentions, but deception is deception nonetheless, and I do not condone using such tactics at all if possible. Deception and gaslighting could be used to solve a temporary solution, but it may bite you back when you least expected it.
I do understand that total honesty may not be applicable in every given scenario, especially for business-related matters. However, gaslighting other people for selfish gains is just plain unethical and shouldn’t be used at all if all possible.
What Actions Can I Take?
When you suspect that you are being gaslit, find people that you can fully trust and confide in. Bounceboards are what we call them, and it can be your spouse, best friend, or family members that you know for a fact that they deeply care about you.
Gaslighting, like any other manipulative tactics, will generally involve isolating victims from groups of people, reducing their exposure towards other point of views. The more isolated a victim is, the easier it is to compel the victim to believe in a certain way. Thus, in order to break this cycle, it is essential to keep in touch with reality by reading, talking and connecting with other social groups in order to see the world as it is.
If making a decision feels off-putting, take a step back and view the situation from an outsider’s perspective. Why am I doing this? Who is the one benefiting from this? Is this a smart move to make? Try to gather your own independent thoughts, and see things using your own lens instead.
Finally, if you find out that someone is trying to gaslight you, the simplest way to handle it is just to call them out on their unethical behaviours. Once the spell they have over you is broken, they will no longer have influence over you. When found out, they will try their best to justify their actions and attempt to appeal to your emotional and mental weakness. So, it is wise to bring a friend if you are afraid that you might fall into their honey trap again.
It is yet unclear how often such matters happen in the workplace, as it is not exactly a statistic that is easily measurable. However, having awareness and shedding light on this issue may help reduce the damage caused by gaslighting in both our personal and professional life. We should be vigilant in our approach and be careful with who we place our trust in, and not be tempted to employ such tactics for personal gains as well.