‘Gaslighting’ Is the Word of the Year. Learn What It Is, How You Might Be a Victim, and How to Protect Yourself
What exactly does gaslighting look like? Let’s break it down, and see how you can improve your emotional alarm system.
Illustration: Getty Images
Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announced its word of the year this week, inspired by the current age of misinformation and manipulation.
The word: gaslighting.
“A driver of disorientation and mistrust, gaslighting is the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage,” says Merriam-Webster on its website. “2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year.”
I applaud Merriam-Webster’s choice for 2022’s word of the year. As a mental health advocate, a student of emotional intelligence, and a small-business owner, I’ve seen firsthand how this manipulative practice has become rampant in both the personal and professional setting.
But what exactly does gaslighting look like? How can you recognize if you’re a victim? And, most important, how can you protect yourself from it? Let’s break it down. (If you find value in this article, you might be interested in my free seven-day course, which delivers a single lesson in emotional intelligence to your inbox each day for a week.)
What is gaslighting?
First, a brief explainer on the origins of the word. The term gaslighting springs from the title of a 1938 play (and later, a movie). The plot centers on a man who attempts to make his wife believe she is going out of her mind. Out of sight from his wife, the husband repeatedly dims the house’s gas lights. When this disturbs his wife, he insists the lights are not dimming and there’s something wrong with her.
Merriam-Webster officially defines gaslighting as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
However, the dictionary publisher says that in recent years it has seen the meaning of gaslighting take on a simpler, broader meaning: “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.”
So, how might someone gaslight you as a small-business owner or freelancer?
Here are a few examples.
They make promises they don’t keep.
One client I worked for said they had to reduce their pay by almost 25 percent because of losses suffered when the pandemic began. But once their financial situation improved, they promised, they would return to the previous rate.
Only one problem. They didn’t do it. They were happy to share with employees and others that profitability had gone back up, but whenever I brought it up, they used another tactic, namely …
They divert attention or change the subject.
When attempting to call someone out on a broken promise, gaslighters will often change the subject or try to focus on other issues.
They might try to highlight other problems that prevent them from keeping their word, or other ways they’ve rewarded you so that you don’t feel the broken promise is so important anymore.
In the film Gaslight, when the main character voices her concern over the dimming gaslights to her husband, he tells her she’s imagining it all.
Similarly, gaslighters have no problem manipulating circumstances and hiding what they’ve done. When confronted, they’ll cover their tracks and attempt to make you think you’ve imagined the whole thing.
They distort reality.
Other times, a gaslighter may not lie directly, but instead present a situation as different from reality.
For example, many businesses today try to hire with extreme payment terms, like Net-60 or Net-90. If you object, they’ll claim that this is the state of business today, and “everyone does it”–when in reality there are countless companies who pay on much better terms.
They force you to make quick decisions.
In negotiations, gaslighters will often present you with an ultimatum or a requirement to decide within the next day, hour, or even minute; otherwise, the deal is off the table.
But this is a tactic designed to force you into a decision that you may later regret. Anyone who tries to force you to make a serious decision in an extremely short amount of time is trying to take advantage of you.
These are just a few ways that people may gaslight you in the business world; there are many others. For example, gaslighters may try to shift blame, guilt trip you, deny they’ve said things, trivialize your feelings, or use several other tactics in an attempt to manipulate the way you think and feel.
How do you outsmart a gaslighter?
How to protect yourself from gaslighting
Gaslighting is part of what is known as the “dark side” of emotional intelligence–when people use knowledge and understanding of emotions to manipulate others.
But remember, knowledge is power. As you learn to perceive when and how others are attempting to gaslight and manipulate, you develop a self-defense mechanism, an “emotional alarm system.” When your alarm goes off, you know to be cautious, and possibly to avoid future dealings with said person. Or, if that’s not possible or practical, you can limit your dealings with them and devise a plan that doesn’t put you at risk.
So, the next time you have a feeling someone is gaslighting you, buy yourself time. Once your feelings have settled down, try to analyze the situation from an objective viewpoint. You can even ask a trusted friend or mentor to weigh in.
And remember, the best way to protect yourself from sinister uses of emotional intelligence is to work to increase your own.
Protecting your reputation
One of the most commons ways to Gaslight a person or business is via the internet, where gaslighters can easily hide behind a fake name or business. Protecting your online reputation is extremally important because that is typically where new customers are first introduced to your business. With our Online Reputation Management tool all your social media platforms are available on one page where you can easily reply, promote great reviews and quickly squelch bad or gaslighted reviews.
Ready to learn more, give us a call.
BY JUSTIN BARISO AND CARL PHILLIPS