No, you’re not being “too crazy” or “hypersensitive”; you’re being gaslit. Gaslighting at work can make you question your self-worth.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation used by bullies and emotionally-abusive individuals to make their victims doubt their version of reality. While you might have only seen this term popping up on social media recently, it actually first came about in the 1940s with the release of the film Gaslight. In the film, a husband tries to convince his wife that she is gradually going insane and uses that as grounds to isolate her from others.
While the term has its origins in domestic abuse, gaslighting as a phenomenon isn’t limited to the household setting. You can even be gaslit at work, particularly by those in positions of power or those who have good relationships with the ones in power. If you have ever felt like you were being manipulated but weren’t sure what to watch out for, here are some common signs of gaslighting and tips on dealing with it.
Denial, denial, denial
The most common thing a typical gaslighter does is deny any comments that they made in the past. For instance, they might be exceptionally mean, racist or sexist towards you in private; but in public, they’ll act like your best friend. If you try to complain about their comments to human resources (HR), they’ll claim it never happened because no one else had heard it. In fact, they might even condemn others at the workplace for doing the same thing, making you feel like you aren’t in a position to report them to HR.
Attempts to confuse you
The gaslighter will tell you that they want a task done a certain way, and when you get back to them with said task, they’ll act like you got everything wrong, making you doubt yourself. No matter how good you are at your job and how much evidence there is to show that, the gaslighter will try to convince you that you are making mistakes. This might lower your confidence and make you appear incompetent in front of company higher-ups.
Using exclusionary tactics
Just like in the film Gaslight, a real-life gaslighter also tries to isolate you. They do so by excluding you from important meetings, discussions and projects without a specific reason. In some cases, they’ll even tell you that it’s completely okay to skip a meeting and then later question why you didn’t show up. In doing so, they are not only making you appear less involved in the company’s projects but also reducing your chances of networking and career advancement. If you ever try to ask why you were excluded from a meeting, you’ll be told that you’re overreacting.
Sprinkling in encouragement
When all their gaslighting tricks start to break you down to the point that you start to contemplate quitting, they’ll pull you back in with some positive comments. Their overall intent is to control you, so your resignation would defeat the purpose of everything they’ve been doing so far. However, once you are back on the hook and are no longer thinking of quitting, they’ll go back to how they used to behave.
Finally, if their gaslighting tactics are called out, they will become incredibly defensive and use common gaslighting phrases, like “You’re being too sensitive” or “You’re being so irrational!”, to invalidate your emotions and make you think that expressing how you feel is the wrong thing to do. Their defensive behavior is a way to deflect any responsibility and make you think twice before you raise concerns again.
How to prove that you are a victim of gaslighting
The first and most important thing you must do to protect yourself from a gaslighter is to document everything. Since the gaslighter is trying to make you doubt yourself, having concrete evidence of the way they act will help you stand your ground. To do so, try to have all your communication with this person in writing, be it over email or the company Slack channel (or any other chat platform used). You can even document verbal communication over emails by sending recap emails that list the work you are supposed to accomplish and by when.
Another thing you could try is talking to a few of your colleagues to see whether they have had similar experiences with the gaslighter. Make sure to feel the colleague out by asking questions, like “how do you like working with X (the gaslighter)?”, before you share your experience with them. If the colleague feels the same way as you, you can get together and consider reaching out to HR.
Finally, if you feel like a complaint might not make a difference, you should consider leaving that work environment. This could mean moving to a different department internally or switching companies altogether. Staying around a gaslighter for an extended period will only cause you emotional trauma and can even lead to nervous breakdowns.
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