Gaslighting has become a popular term for abusive, manipulative behaviours, usually associated with a romantic partner. Unfortunately, gaslighters can affect any relationship, including work-related ones. If you think your boss or your coworker is gaslighting you, check out the following sections to find out what exactly it is and how you can stop it.
What Is Gaslighting?
The term gaslighting refers to a play from 1938, entitled “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton, in which the husband convinces his wife that she is losing her mind. In a nutshell, a “gaslighter” is a person who manipulates you so that you end up questioning your own mental health. Gaslighting behaviours include telling lies, denying obvious things, or belittling your feelings and emotions in an attempt to control you.
Gaslighting can be found in any relationship, and it is as serious at work as it is when you are gaslighted by your spouse or friend. This form of mental manipulation forces the gaslighted person to question their own sanity as the gaslighter attempts to use insecurities to control them.
A gaslighter at work often exhibits specific features:
- Tends to be narcissistic (may practice toxic leadership)
- Is insecure, so they point out other’s weaknesses
- Low self-esteem or self-worth
- Highly manipulative
How to Know If You’re Dealing with Gaslighting at Work
Most gaslighters tend to be charming and charismatic, which is why they are common in the workplace (especially in leading positions), and the gaslighted person is sometimes unaware (at least initially) that they are consciously manipulated. Some gaslighters are not as obvious as others, which also makes it confusing.
You are being gaslighted at work if you:
- Are you constantly questioning your memories or recollection of events
- Are questioning your perception of reality or sanity
- Are excluded from work events, like meetings, which are relevant to you
Also, your boss or your coworker gaslighting you is highly likely to use sentences such as:
- “Don’t take it personally” or “You’re too sensitive”– are often used in cases when you receive negative feedback; usually, gaslighters provide persistent negative feedback without real reasons.
- “What are you talking about?” or “I didn’t say that” or “It didn’t happen like that” – this is a common attempts to make you question your sanity; for instance, if they have just made an inappropriate remark, then you confront them, they may use one of those sentences to make you think maybe you overreacted or misunderstood.
- “You’re unstable” – usually if you respond to their actions or words such as “That’s not true!”; the gaslighter tries to make you feel even more insecure, so you actually do become unstable and are more and more vulnerable.
Overall, gaslighting at work could take several forms. For instance, if it is your coworker, they may keep invalidating all your efforts or statements, sabotaging your work and denying it, and pointing out supposed flaws.
Bosses could also be gaslighters. You may have just sent your report, but they claim they haven’t received it, so you start to doubt yourself if you actually sent it or you forgot. Sometimes, you are left out of important meetings or projects with no explanation, and they say you are overreacting if you want to confront them, or they say that you forgot about the memo that you know you haven’t received.
Gaslighting at work is very dangerous. It is a continuous second-guessing experience; you are constantly wondering what truly happened. You know it is gaslighting when these experiences keep repeating – not just once or twice.
How to Stop Gaslighting at Work
1. Keep Evidence
If you suspect your coworker or boss gaslights you, the first step is to try to limit all your encounters to ways that can be documented and used as evidence. For example, instead of giving the reports on paper which can be “lost”, send them an email.
When dealing with gaslighters at work, the easiest way is to communicate digitally only, so you can go back and check if they deny something. Also, you could potentially use this as evidence when they deny or even send proof to the human resources department.
Finally, this method will help you stop doubting and second-guessing yourself since you can verify the truth.
2. Avoid Direct Confrontation
There are two possible good reasons for confronting your gaslighter. First, you are convinced gaslighting was not intentional – in this case, you could have a one-to-one conversation with the gaslighter and offer them the chance to apologize and fix their behaviour in the future.
Secondly, you have irrefutable evidence that something happened (such as emails or digital conversation), although this could result in aggression, job loss, or worsened experiences, especially if the gaslighter is a person in a place of power. Instead, you could consult the human resources department.
Unfortunately, the best way to deal with gaslighters is to back off and disconnect and avoid them altogether. Gaslighters will always find a way to belittle others’ feelings and experiences, deny them – or even accuse you of gaslighting them.
If the gaslighter is a coworker, you could talk to management to find a solution – such as not working on the same project together and to make sure you are never alone with them, since no matter what they do or say during the alone time; it’ll always be your word against theirs.
3. Seek External Advice
If you feel emotionally or psychologically unsafe or drained at work, you may want to opt for professional help. For instance, a video therapist is a popular option for counselling as the sessions can be conducted online from the comfort and safety of your home. This way, you can obtain advice and discover coping mechanisms tailored to your specific work situation to help you stop gaslighting.
4. Be Ready to Change Jobs
Sometimes, gaslighting at work is a red flag as it indicates there is a problem with the corporate culture. Your mental health and well-being are more important, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fix a toxic culture by yourself.
Gaslighting can be very dangerous for anyone; sometimes, the best solution is to leave this type of environment and be part of a culture that values you and your mental well-being – you’re worth it!
Gaslighting at work can be maddening and makes us feel powerless. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to take control of your professional life. If unsure, it’s always a good idea to seek external advice and find the best solutions for your work situation.