How To Recognize and Handle Gaslighting At Work
Have You Ever Experienced Gaslighting in the Workplace?
“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others”
— Paramahansa Yogananda.
Have you ever felt like going insane at the workplace because somebody insisted that the two of you had engaged in a debate that you did not recall having? Did you previously state that you would finish a job despite you had demanded to leave by 4 PM to make it to your child’s sports competition? Perhaps, it was gaslighting.
Have you ever been called “crazy” or “too sensitive” by a coworker or a boss? Have your recollections of events been questioned, while you were confident that you were correct? If that is the case, you’re presumably the victim of this fast-spreading psychological manipulation in the workplace.
What Is “Gaslighting”?
You need to know and understand what “psychological manipulation” is to defend, tackle, avoid and stand against it. The term “GASLIGHT” comes from the play Gaslight written in 1938. In the play, a husband deceives his wife to the edge of insanity, up to the point when she begins to doubt her own stability.
Today, gaslighting is spoken about a lot, but mostly in the context of romantic relationships — while in fact, is the same prevalent and often more detrimental in the workplace, where you might be directly dependent on your gaslighter.
Many professionals confuse gaslighting with other types of intellectual abuse and violence, such as harassment and silent treatment. Psychologists explain gaslighting as a communication tactic in which someone makes you doubt your own account of reality. For instance, when you say, “Oh my God! look at that mesmerizing unheroic auto” a gaslighter could reply with, “No, it’s not, you know nothing about cars. You are bizarre.”
Whenever someone insists that you question your own reality, they are gaslighting you. This strategy is used overtime to make the victim less apprehensive of the falsehood. It makes you seriously doubt your own judgment, especially if you are insecure and don’t take care of your mental hygiene.
Is gaslighting a serious problem in the today’s job market? Absolutely! Gaslighting may lead to anxiety, depression, trauma, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, despair, hopelessness, and helplessness. In the worst case, it can even trigger a suicide.
“Gaslighting is a mind control to make victims doubt their reality.” — Tracy A. Malon.
How To Recognize Gaslighting In The Workplace?
The gaslighter is out to prevent your attempts to excel and succeed. There is a clear difference between an empathic person or someone who picks nits your work. A gaslighter will accuse you of being confounded or misinformed. Or, they will claim that you misinterpreted what they said just because you are insecure. They might even go as far as falsifying paper trails to “validate” their points.
Now, please take a look at these symptoms of gaslighting at the workplace:
1. You Hear Persistent Negative Narratives About Your Progress.
If you hear a repeated, unsupported negative narrative about your work performance, you most probably have a psychological abuser on your shoulders. Negative criticism, especially if it comes from your employer or someone in a place of authority, can be delicate to interpret. You must examine whether or not their examen is accurate. However, a persistent lack of applicable feedback is a crucial symptom of workplace gaslighting.
2. Your Point of View Is Always Questioned.
A licensed psychologist and influencer Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. says: “This is the most apparent sign of gaslighting.” A gaslighter can sabotage you at any time. Every time you express your perception about anything, they cross you and try to prove you wrong or even prove you to be crazy.
3. You Overhear the Gaslighter Loudly Abusing You.
Have you ever experienced or felt like your boss or colleague downgrading you in public, for instance by criticizing your work or making fun of you, and making others feel uncomfortable when this happens? It’s obviously not healthy for your mental health and inner peace and is a sign of poor management. This behavior could simply be bullying. However, if your colleague’s or boss’ comments put you in a situation where you’re about to start questioning your own reality, then you may be a victim of gaslighting.
4. They Claim They “Have Never Said Any of That,” But You Are Aware That They Did.
It’s a truly common psychological manipulation. When they feel you’re about to beat them on an argument by using their own words, they start to deny their gaslighted statements. They will stick to the attitude “This was never my intention!” so solidly that you’ll start to doubt yourself and begin to believe them.
5. You Get Cut Off From Professional Gatherings.
Are you getting refused from attending professional conferences or corporate gatherings? If your boss or upper management tries to repeatedly exclude you from corporate gatherings or professional meetings that might be vital for your professional success, it is a strong sign of gaslighting.
In such a situation, they usually come up with all kinds of arbitrary reasons. You have too many projects to finish. You need to take care of the projects while others are presenting at the conference. It is too early for you to represent the team. There is not enough budget for the whole team to go, so someone needs to stay. You have been to a similar eventless year. Any reason to say “no” is good.
But as a matter of fact, every professional meeting or gathering is one step forward on your way to achieving your long-term professional goals. If they’re trying to cut you off every time, then it may be time to get in touch with someone in Human Resources. Or, look for a better job somewhere else.
6. You Experience Micromanaging.
The gaslighter will try to block your professional development in any way possible. If they are in a position of power, this might include giving you lots of unnecessary, detailed tasks to get you distracted and leave with no time for the important projects. The gaslighter will find lots of imaginary obstacles in your projects, and try to push you in the wrong direction so that you get confused and run around in circles instead of going forward.
7. The Gaslighter Tries to Get Credit For Your Work.
When you solve problems in the workplace and try to inform upper management, your gaslighter will first tell you not to do it and neglect the situation. And after some time, they will approach the upper management behind your back to deliver your report and get all the credit. It’s also a type of gaslighting.
“Confuse, intimidate, and disempower people for the purpose of controlling other people, and promoting the abusers’ interests.” — Linda Hatch, PhD.
How To Counter Gaslighting At Workplace
First to say, there is one positive aspect to gaslighting. Namely, it origins from fear. Gaslighters feel insecure about their professional abilities, and they only target those who seem to be more gifted than them. Therefore, if you experience gaslighting, acknowledge your own talent and potential: your professional competencies are way above average.
Having that said, don’t hope for the just world. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the management and colleagues will do nothing to stop the gaslighter. And, the only way of solving the problem is leaving the workplace by the victim. This is, by the way, the main reason for why so much mediocrity happens in professional circles of today. Gaslighters usually stay, and their victims usually go.
However, there are ways to prevent the gaslighting behaviors in the early stages and put an end to psychological manipulation before you become a victim of gaslighting.
Here we go:
0. Strengthen Your Personal Boundaries.
You should spend some time thinking about your personal standards at work and “sign a contract with yourself.” The gaslighter will try to waste you and suck your life energy in many ways. That might include, for instance, telling you to stay over working hours without notice, or throwing additional portion of work at you knowing that you are in a hurry for your child’s birthday party.
Therefore, you need to set strict rules and stick to them. For instance, you might say, “I am sorry but I have a rule that I do not work after 6 pm. I don’t make any exceptions to this rule. So, sadly, this report must wait until tomorrow.” Of course, you can expect bitter comments from the gaslighter, who will try to picture you as demotivated or incompetent. Just ignore them.
1. Document Your Interactions With The Gaslighter.
Make sure that as much communication with the gaslighter as possible goes through email, WhatsApp, Slack, and other written forms of correspondence. It will make it easier for you to prove your points once it comes to a confrontation in front of the management at some point. It doesn’t need to end up this way… but you will have your safety button.
Just make sure that the documentation you collect, is legal. For instance, you can safely assume that documenting emails sent to your official business email account is allowed, while in most countries, recording video conversations (e.g., via Zoom) without consent is not legal and might put you in additional trouble. So, do your own research beforehand!
2. Don’t Provoke The Gaslighter By Sharing Your Successes At Work.
As mentioned before, gaslighting is a product of insecurity and jealousy. Any mention of personal success can provoke the gaslighter to target you as a potential danger, whether it is a personal award at work, successful completion of a marathon, or a profitable investment.
When we come to work, we wish to shine as accomplished professionals. But, counterintuitively, sometimes it is better to keep your success to yourself or share them solely with trusted coworkers and managers. It is essential that the people who can lift you up and are in your close network know about your every success. Others don’t need to know.
Gaslighters usually target one or a few people whom they find the biggest personal danger in the workplace. If others openly brag about their successes, and you only share with the people closest to you, the chances are that the gaslighter will overlook you and focus on torturing someone else — even if, objectively, you are the biggest threat.
3. Build An Online Presence.
Gaslighters are afraid of making public statements, as they would need to take responsibility for it. Therefore, they are rarely active on social media. And, they are afraid of those who are active. Building your own online audience is a bit like an implicit threat to the gaslighter. If many other people follow you daily and observe how nice, competent, and collaborative person you are, you take arguments away from them.
As humans, we still have that atavistic fear to avoid going public. In the old days, standing in front of the whole tribe was bad news. But now, the rules of game have changed. Publicity and following mean freedom and safety. The more organic following you have, the more people will trust your words and support you in need. that’s why it is worth to overcome your fears and start networking online daily. Please find more information about efficient networking in our articles “10 Good Reasons To Treat Networking as a Mindset” and “Make Networking a Part of Your Career Development Plan: The Depth vs The Width of Your Network.”
4. Get Support and Feedback From a Colleague You Can Count On.
We live in times of toxic positivity, especially at work . Your employers expect you to come to work with a smile on your face, and eagerly promote people who always come with good news. In such a climate, most employees decide to suffer in silence if they experience toxic behaviors at work. This can be especially harmful to men, who are affected by toxic positivity and toxic masculinity at work at a time.
But, don’t suffer in silence! If a coworker makes you feel insane, the chances are that more people notice the same behaviors but don’t say it out loud. Instead of going straight to management, you can start your anti-gaslighting crusade by talking to your closest and most trusted coworker.
Just make sure that these conversations are confidential and NOT in print. You can chat over a beer or in an empty corridor, but make sure that there is no paper track of your brainstorming session. Who knows, maybe your gaslighter changes departments tomorrow and the whole problem disappears — why leave evidence of talking about coworkers behind their back floating around.
5. Try To Separate Yourself From The Gaslighter: Avoid Them, Ignore Their Comments, Focus On Self-care, and Try to Be Happy at the Workplace.
If you feel that your self-confidence and overall work satisfaction are falling down, try to physically separate yourself from the gaslighter. Choose a desk as far from them as possible, don’t join the same circles at social events, and don’t share any personal information as they might use it against you.
Also, focus on self-care and your professional development. There are multiple techniques that you can employ to build your sense of well-being at work, from mindfulness practices to friendlier and more relaxing environment around your workstation. The message is: don’t focus on your gaslighter. Focus on yourself and your professional development.
6. If Nothing Else Works, Be Open and Direct With the Gaslighter to Sort Out the Situation. If This Approach Fails, Report The Issue.
As a matter of fact, many gaslighters are not aware of their own toxic behaviors before someone points them out. Their gaslighting behaviors are often driven by insecurities and jealousy that they are not even conscious about. Gaslighting is extremely hard to notice in the mirror! So, if you politely explain to them how you feel and point out which situations make you feel bad and why, the chances are that they will reflect on their toxic behaviors and improve.
And as a matter of fact, there will be two possible outcomes. One possibility is that, they will improve on their behaviors, and become more conscious of their actions and their impact on others. And, they might even feel grateful that you told them about the problem directly instead of going to management with it behind their back.
The second possibility is that the problem will only escalate. They will feel attacked, so they’ll become aggressive and immediately fall back into the gaslighting mode saying that your perception is wrong. In that case, you should proceed to report the issue to the management.
7. If It Comes To That, Don’t Hesitate To Share Evidence and Documentation With Your Boss or HR.
If despite your best efforts, your gaslighter doesn’t give up and doesn’t miss any opportunity to make your life at work hard for a prolonged period, you will eventually have no other choice than pass the problem to the management.
Make sure that you come to the meeting well prepared. Write down the whole story of interactions with the gaslighter in bullet points so that you talk about events chronologically. Create one folder with documentation and, as mentioned before, make sure that the documentation is legal.
It is also very important that you show dry facts and documentation, and talk about situations that you experienced in an emotionless way. Many professionals falsely believe that explicitly showing how bad they feel about the situation, e.g., by crying, makes their story more believable and prompts the employer to respond faster.
But, this is unfortunately not true. It will put you in a bad light, especially if your gaslighter will restrain their emotions and focus on facts in the same situation. Being dramatic will only prompt the employer to believe that you are not professional and that you might be overly neurotic or unstable — especially if they don’t work closely with you and your gaslighter.
Therefore, focus on facts. Explain what happened point by point and review the solutions that you already tried to implement before coming to your employer’s office. Show yourself as a problem-solver and a rational person who cares about the team’s success, and picture the gaslighter as the troublemaker who doesn’t cooperate. If that helps, practice this conversation at home with a friend to make sure that you can speak factually and without emotions.
8. If Your Whole Workplace Is Toxic, Change The Job.
As a matter of fact, some managers are competent and understand the idea that gaslighting is a sin, while others are not. In healthy working environments, gaslighters are quickly spotted as perished apples in the basket, and separated or eliminated. In toxic working environments, teams are full of gaslighters and the management still pretends that all is fine… or even believes that all is fine for as long as the revenue is there. So, if you notice that sort of sentiment in your work environment, namely that gaslighting is accepted, just look for another job. Remember: always put your mental health first.
More In-depth Advice For Victims and Witnesses of Gaslighting at Work.
If you are looking for more in-depth, effective self-navigation strategies for tacking gaslighting at work, please find this education video material on the nature of gaslighting and on 10 strategies to tackle gaslighting at work by prof. Tara Brabazon. Tara works a Professor of Cultural Studies and serves as the Dean of Graduate Research at Flinders University. She is an acknowledged educator with 30 years of experience serving academics and helping them flourish in academia and in life. We highly recommend following her content, especially if you work in academic environment and you are guarding your career path.
Conclusion: Gaslighting at Work Is Something You Shouldn’t Tolerate
As a summary, gaslighting at work is a serious problem in the job market of today. Gaslighting is tricky as it often appears innocent at first: just a little inconvenience you probably should not complain about… like a little drop of water falling down on your head. But, when experienced for a long time, it becomes a deadly torture and has a negative impact on your career path.
You should not tolerate this problem in your workplace. If you notice that your co-worker or a friend is struggling with gaslighting, educate them, and suggest effective solutions. Have you experienced gaslighting in your own career? Share with us — either via comments below or confidentially via our contact form. We will be happy to support you!
Originally published at https://ontologyofvalue.com on May 16, 2022.