I was listening to an episode of Unfollowing Mum by the wonderful Harriet Shearsmith when she mentioned self-gaslighting. This immediately resonated as something I do and that I want to consciously stop doing. But I also think this is really common. I see it a lot in the career conversations I have.
Yes, your career is a journey that takes you through challenges, and opportunities. It's a space where you learn, grow, and strive for success. But what if the biggest obstacle in your career isn't external, but rather something within yourself? Self-gaslighting in your career is a phenomenon that many people experience but may not even realise it. In this blog post, I'll explore what self-gaslighting is, how it can affect your professional life, and most importantly, how to break free from this self-sabotaging behaviour.
Before we dive deeper into the effects and solutions, it's crucial to understand what self-gaslighting is. Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation tactic where someone makes you doubt your own reality or perception. Self-gaslighting is often a trauma response and can manifest as self-blaming, self-shaming, or otherwise holding oneself responsible for painful or traumatic events experienced.
Everyone has second-guessed or doubted their own feelings or perceptions at some point in life. But when that self-doubt is related to painful or distressing experiences and you end up feeling responsible for the things that have happened to you, you may be dealing with something more serious: self-gaslighting.
In your career, this may have been bullying, harassment, abuse, toxic work environments, being made redundant or dismissed, a failed business venture or project, making a mistake, facing repeated rejections, micro-aggressions, unrealistic workload, burnout or lack of recognition - anything that you found painful or distressing.
Common Signs of Self-Gaslighting in Your Career
What I hear most is someone undermines their own self-confidence, abilities, and achievements. This is usually in the form of negative self-talk and it holds you back in your career.
Which of the following common signs resonate with you? Personally, I recognise myself in all of these! Do you:
- Feel like a fraud despite evidence of your competence and accomplishments
- Minimise your achievements, attributing them to luck or external factors, rather than acknowledging your own skills and efforts.
- Set unrealistically high standards for yourself, which can lead to procrastination, self-criticism, and burnout.
- Constantly say sorry, even when it's not necessary
- Brush off compliments and positive feedback, believing they can't be true or that others are just being polite.
- Be so afraid of making mistakes that you avoid taking risks or new opportunities that could advance your career.
It might sound like:
- "I only got that promotion because they felt sorry for me, not because I earned it."
- "I shouldn't have applied for that job; I'm not qualified, and I'm going to embarrass myself in the interview."
- "I should be over this by now, instead of letting it impact my whole life”
- "I'm just faking it, sooner or later, everyone will figure out I don't know what I'm doing."
- "Maybe my last job wasn’t so bad." (when it was a toxic environment)
The Impact of Self-Gaslighting on Your Career
Now you know what self-gaslighting is, you may have identified some areas where it comes up for you, but what’s the impact? When you self-gaslight you will most likely feel stuck. It could be because you don’t believe you’re capable of moving up the career ladder. Alternatively, you might underestimate your abilities and so pass up opportunities for growth and development.
Feeling burnt out is a common impact of self-gaslighting because you are constantly striving for the impossible standard of perfection. This will have an impact everywhere in your life.
Breaking Free from Self-Gaslighting
Here are some strategies to help you break free from this self-sabotaging behaviour:
Recognising the signs of self-gaslighting in your thoughts and behaviours is the first step. I would recommend journaling to help you document and confront these negative patterns.
Ask for constructive feedback from colleagues, mentors, or supervisors to gain a more objective perspective on your abilities and performance.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
Whenever you catch yourself doubting your capabilities, challenge those thoughts. Look for evidence to really back up the negative thoughts (bet you can't find any!) and consider the counterarguments. Is it possible that these thoughts could be incorrect?
Set Realistic Goals
Replace perfectionist tendencies with realistic, achievable goals (I aim for 80%). Celebrate your progress and successes along the way - you can do this privately or publicly.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend facing similar challenges.
Use positive affirmations to boost your self-esteem. Repeat phrases that reinforce your intentions and abilities. Think about who you want to BE.
Invest in continuous learning and skill development to increase your confidence and competence.
Whilst self-gaslighting in your career can hinder your growth and success, the power lies with you. Recognising the signs of self-gaslighting and taking (baby) steps to break free from this self-sabotaging behaviour is a crucial part of building a fulfilling professional life.