Gaslighting is a psychological term that refers to a very specific pattern of behavior where one person manipulates or attempts to manipulate another’s perception of reality. While it’s often applied to individual or romantic relationships, it can occur in a variety of settings—including the workplace.
When I first saw the term, Gaslighting, I was doing research on relationship abuse. I had never seen the term before but I certainly recognized the description. Usually I think people relate the term to a personal or romantic relationship but in reality it applies to any relationship between two people. I had not thought about it being used in a business setting, but it certainly is.
Have you ever heard the term “Gaslight Tango” ? I had not. I first saw the reference in this article written by Leslie Glass:
As in any tango it takes two to do the dance and one is the leader or controller. That is exactly the case with gaslighting. In a work relationship there will be one person who has more authority, quite often the boss or your direct supervisor. It can also be a co-worker that wants to manipulate you in such a way that they perceive themselves as the winner.
Gaslighting is done to decrease someone else’s self esteem and self confidence. It is a tactic used by someone to gain more power for themselves. It is done to demean another person, to make them feel powerless and worthless.
.If you are a victim of gaslighting you may start to wonder if you are wrong or maybe you are being too sensitive. You may automatically start to apologize when you really have not done anything wrong.
In the business world it is much more common than we think. The individuals who practice gaslighting are either psychopaths or narcissists. As a article published in INC. by Jessica Stillman explains:
“They walk among us in offices everyday, appearing at first like normal colleagues. One study found that a small but significant portion of business -3 to 4 – percent meet the clinical definition of a psychopath.”
Hers was a very good article which I recommend reading; you can find it at the web address below.
Psychopathy is defined as a mental (antisocial) disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, shows a lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, expresses extreme egocentricity, and demonstrates a failure to learn from experience and other behaviors associated with the condition. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/psychopathy
When you are in a work environment you may find someone who will at first present themselves in a very positive way. They are cordial, they exude confidence, they may be funny and they may appear to want the best for you and for the company. It is a disguise.
Over time you will find that their actions will change. They will be covert; you will not easily recognize what is happening. Then after working with them for an indeterminate time period you may start to question if you are misinterpreting their actions.
You may experience some of the following:
- You may be given a project to do and then find there have been changes made to the requirements on what to include, what needs to be done, or the completion time, but you were not informed of the changes. When you finish you turn it in and are told that you did not complete it correctly, that you left something out or that you did not complete it on time.
- You are sure you did everything as told and when you defend your self you are told you wrote it down wrong, you did not listen, you are incompetent.
- There may be a meeting scheduled but when you arrive the meeting has already started because you were told a different starting time. Then you are reprimanded in front of everyone or the boss makes a joke that you can never get anything right.
- It could be the same scenario as above but it was a co-worker that is trying to manipulate you, not the boss, and they tell you the meeting time has changed and afterward they deny it and say you are imagining things.
After awhile you will begin to wonder what is wrong with you. You feel like you cannot do anything right and begin to feel incompetent. You may feel uncertain and start to question everything you do. You may become withdrawn and not participate in meetings. You will not volunteer your opinion or ask to be included in any projects. You may even begin to suffer anxiety.
If you, or a co-worker, start to suspect that you are being set up, or gaslighted, there are some things that you can do to protect your self.
- Start to keep all emails, all written assignments, and make notes.
- Verify the information given you with others who are involved in the same project.
- Ask them to notify you if there are any changes made so that you are aware of all changes.
- If you question any portion of any project ask for clarification in front of someone else. Put in writing what you understand the project plan to be and then ask your boss to initial it, preferably in front of someone else for back up.
If the gaslighting continues, confide in another co-worker that you trust and verify all information with them. If they are present when any of the manipulating occurs ask them to document what happened. If possible, ask them if they are willing to go with you to Human Resources regarding the problem you are having.
When you have all your documentation of the manipulative behavior , make an appointment to file a complaint against the person who has been manipulating you. If you are not satisfied with the results then I would consider looking for another job. When you work under those conditions it is not worth it to continue working there. Your well being is what is important.
“Gaslighting is a manipulation strategy that makes someone question their self-worth and sanity. ”
Now that you are aware of this type of manipulative behavior guard against it, not only for your self, but also for others. If think you are being victimized address their actions and your response to it right away. Do not wait, take action to protect your self now.
As always, Thank You for reading my blog.