Gaslighting at the workplace: how to spot it and stand up for yourself

Rudolfs Millins 7.08.2023
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Person gaslighting another person

Have you been a victim of gaslighting at the workplace?

Have you ever had someone constantly trying to persuade you at work that your perception of something you did or felt is incorrect, even though you strongly believe you are right? This manipulation tactic, known as gaslighting, can occur when power dynamics or personal issues come into play. 

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In this blog post, we’ll cover gaslighting at the workplace – what it is, the different forms it can take, and practical strategies to handle it effectively.

What is gaslighting? 

Gaslighting is a harmful psychological manipulation that makes victims doubt themselves and their knowledge. The goal of the gaslighter is to create self-doubt and confusion, gaining control over the other person. In gaslighting, the perpetrator continuously denies the other person’s perspective, insists they are wrong or labels their emotional reactions as irrational or overblown.

If you find yourself feeling confused about your job, losing self-esteem or confidence, or questioning your mental health, you might be experiencing gaslighting at the workplace. This may also involve doubting your memories and perception of reality. If your boss or colleague consistently does these things and fosters dependency, you could be the victim of such psychological manipulation.

However, it’s important to distinguish gaslighting from genuine disagreements, which are normal and can happen. What makes gaslighting stand out is the repeated intent behind it. One instance of bad behavior can be excused as a bad day or a slip-up, but if it happens repeatedly, it’s definitely a pattern. 

And let’s not forget the motive – gaslighting is a deliberate act aimed at undermining someone’s sense of reality and denying their experiences, all to serve the gaslighter’s agenda.

A woman experiencing gaslighting at the workplace

Why do people gaslight?

The motives behind gaslighting can be quite complex. Experts say that gaslighters aren’t born that way like introverts or extroverts. They become gaslighters through social learning. They observe it, experience its impact, and realize its power. It becomes a tactic for controlling themselves and others.

So, more specifically, what is gaslighting at work? In a competitive environment, some may view gaslighting at the workplace as a viable strategy to damage others’ reputations while making themselves look better, aiming to get ahead by any means. Unfortunately, certain individuals don’t mind creating a toxic work atmosphere as long as it benefits them.

In some situations, the gaslighter might not even realize they’re being manipulative – they might think they’re just being straightforward or brutally honest. 

Whatever the underlying reason, gaslighting creates a challenging situation for the victim. In the workplace, it fosters an unpleasant environment that can seriously impact the well-being of employees.

Examples of gaslighting at work

Let’s take a look at some examples of how people might encounter gaslighting in the workplace to make it more relatable.

Lying

Picture this: you and your coworker had a deal before a meeting – you were supposed to share vital information with them. But during the meeting, when the relevant point comes up, your coworker claims they can’t answer because you didn’t give them the info. 

Now you’re in an awkward spot, feeling terrible. Deep down, you know you did your part, and your colleague is lying. It’s so frustrating that you start questioning yourself – did you somehow forget to share the info and imagine it all?

A woman gesturing towards items on a screen for a man

Downplaying genuine concerns

Ever felt like your colleague or boss just brushes off your concerns, saying you’re too sensitive and making a fuss over nothing? Well, that’s also a classic sign of gaslighting.

Let’s imagine you have decided to approach your boss about a genuine problem in the workplace – a coworker constantly cracking offensive jokes that make everyone uncomfortable. Instead of taking it seriously, your boss responds with a dismissive attitude. They tell you to chill out and not be so uptight, asking if you’re really that delicate that you can’t handle a few jokes.

Before this chat, you knew for sure it was a legitimate issue. But now, thanks to your boss’s reaction, you start second-guessing yourself. Did you blow things out of proportion? Maybe you’re just being overly sensitive? It’s so frustrating and confusing, and you’re left wondering if you can trust your own judgment.

Being two-faced

Gaslighters also often use a tricky tactic of being two-faced – saying one thing and doing another – it’s like they switch their attitude depending on the situation. This leaves their victims feeling unsure about what’s real.

Picture this: you’ve got this colleague you have to work with regularly. When you’re around other people, they’re all smiles and sweetness, talking about what an awesome team you two make.

But when it’s just the two of you, it’s a whole different story. They become distant, hardly responding to your emails and always finding excuses to avoid helping or answering your questions. It’s super confusing, and you start wondering which version of them is for real – the friendly face they show in public or the distant one-on-one demeanor. It’s like dealing with Jekyll and Hyde!

Two men engaged in lively discussion

How to deal with gaslighting at work

When you’re dealing with gaslighting, the key is to trust yourself and hold onto your grip on reality. Don’t let anyone mess with your head – most of the time, you’ve got no reason to doubt what actually happened. In other words, the best remedy is to not engage in the gaslighter’s mind games.

However, when you face constant gaslighting in the workplace, it’s not always easy to stay strong. Even the toughest people can start to question themselves after dealing with this kind of behavior repeatedly. So, here are some tips on how to respond to gaslighting at work:

  • Write it down: If you feel like you’re being gaslighted at work, start documenting everything – dates, times, people involved. Save all the relevant emails or messages. Having a record can help you feel more grounded and might even serve as evidence if you ever need it.
  • Seek a trusted opinion: Find someone you can trust, someone who’s not on the gaslighter’s side. Talk to a colleague or manager you trust, and share the facts of the situation. If they’re not in league with the gaslighter, they’ll reassure you that there is nothing wrong with you. Then you can take further steps by, for example, reaching out to HR about this matter.
  • Keep your distance: Dealing with gaslighting at the workplace can be mentally draining. So, if possible, distance yourself from the gaslighter. If you’re working with a colleague who’s the culprit, try to avoid collaborating with them whenever feasible. In the case of a gaslighting boss, consider requesting a transfer to another department or team within the organization. 

However, in extreme situations where the gaslighting at the workplace becomes unbearable and adversely affects your mental health, it might be time to contemplate seeking new job opportunities. Remember – no job is worth compromising your well-being for.

Conclusion: don’t play into the hands of the gaslighter

No one wants to go through manipulation, especially at work, where fairness and decent behavior should be the norm among colleagues and managers. When it comes to gaslighting at the workplace, victims can find themselves questioning their actions, sense of judgment, and even sanity.

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Psychologists emphasize that gaslighters can only succeed with the victim’s cooperation. It means you shouldn’t give an inch to those attempting to gaslight you – try to identify, document, and report their behavior. The biggest mistake you can make is playing their game and actually starting to doubt yourself.

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