I love studying personality and behaviour, and a term I am come across regularly is gaslighting.
How do we define gaslighting?
There are lots of different descriptions of definitions of gaslighting, and a great one that I’ll share with you is from good old Wikipedia.:
“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.
Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”
I believe the term gaslight originates from the 1944 movie of the same name. Ingrid Bergman plays a woman (Paula) who is slowly but systematically being manipulated by her husband (Gregory) into thinking she is going insane. The husband would hide things from around the house and blame her for taking them, which she clearly has no recollection of, making her question her sanity. He makes her believe that her nerves are causing her to become a kleptomaniac and not realise it, when the items would strangely reappear in her handbag and other places.
Paula would witness the gas lights go dim and flicker, but Gregory would deny seeing it, making Paula think it was all in her head.
Gregory would do everything in his power to isolate Paula and make her feel as though she was going mad. As things escalate, Paula herself believes she shouldn’t be going out in public.
The purpose of his behaviour was to be able to continue his criminal behaviour (searching for jewels belonging to Paula’s aunty) without being hindered by Paula.
Gaslighters make the victim question their own judgement. They twist their own behaviours and actions by pointing the finger at the victim, leaving the victim feeling that they are overly sensitive, or being silly, paranoid, or possibly even mentally unstable.
Traditionally, people have associated gaslighting with romantic relationships, usually within the context of domestic abuse. However, gaslighting can also occur in friendships. and increasingly in the workplace.
What are the signs that you are being gaslighted in the workplace?
Usually, subtle behaviours are used to make it appear as though you are the one with the problem. This is psychological abuse, and is a type of bullying. It is often hard to prove, depending on the perpetrator.
Some common gaslighting behaviour includes:
Trivialising how you feel
This one gives the gaslighter a real sense of power. They minimise how you feel and what you think, and likely make comments along the lines “I’m just joking, how can take that so seriously?”; “You’re no fun, can’t you take a joke?”; “You’re touchy, no-one can say anything around here anymore”; “You’re very sensitive”; “You don’t need to get so upset over something so silly”; “You’ll need to toughen up if you’re going to make it here.”
The gaslighter will make comments, sometimes subtle but always persistent, to undermine you and make others believe you are incompetent, unable to make good decisions, and perhaps even mentally unstable.
Using denial and avoidance behaviour
In this scenario, the gaslighter doesn’t acknowledge your thoughts or feelings, and essentially buries them, leaving you feeling some doubt about what actually happened. They may change something you’ve written at work, and deny ever having done such a thing. They may make statements like “That isn’t what happened, and I doubt that anyone else remembers it that way either”; and they may pretend to be baffled by something you are saying even though they are well aware.
Reframing conversations and scenarios
Here, the gaslighter will reinterpret an entire situation to suit their needs, causing you to second guess what happened. It may be done in conjunction with fake compassion for you, as though they are actually trying to help you. “No, that isn’t what happened. If you remember correctly, I actually did X to help you.”
Gaslighters are great are trying to suck you in by making you feel like they are behaving in your best interests. It is one of the reasons why it can take a long time to really see a gaslighter for who they are, and why sometimes it can go so long unnoticed by you and by others. The fake compassion is used in a way that makes you feel you have it all wrong, you doubt yourself, and start to believe their version of events.
The way that you might experience gaslighting
A gaslighter may use a few different tactics to exercise their power over you, discredit you and put you in your place.
- You might be constantly second guessing yourself, and this is not your usual behaviour
- You are being told “it’s just a joke – you’re too sensitive”; “You’re being too emotional”, and “That isn’t what happened. I honestly don’t know why you’re saying that!”
- Files or other documents are going missing
- You are being watched for what you do and say very closely, and treatment of you is overly critical
- You might be excluded from activities, emails or meetings
- Lies and rumours may be spread about you
- Your ideas may be shot down as though you are incompetent, making you feel as they you shouldn’t speak up anymore
- You might be told your idea is worthless, only to find that someone else has taken credit for it and is receiving accolades for the great new idea
What gaslighting isn’t
Just because you don’t get along with somebody and you don’t like being in their presence doesn’t mean you are being gaslighted. Here are just a few examples of behaviours that might be unpleasant, but are not necessarily gaslighting behaviours:
- A conversation or argument where there are misunderstandings, possibly from both sides
- Instances of rudeness or incivility
- A conversation with disagreement that has become heated
- Work instructions that are incorrect and/or confusing
- Lies that have been said with the intention of protecting someone
- Explanations that are incoherent or don’t make sense
- Stubborn and obstinate behaviours
What to do if you are being gaslighted at work
A gaslighter doesn’t want to be found out. While they think they are manipulating you, they are happy. They do not want to be exposed, because then they can’t feel that power over you. Sometimes even just calling out the behaviour is enough to make it stop. Let them know that you know exactly what they are doing – that you are on to them.
It does depend on how entrenched the behaviour is in the workplace culture, and just how high up it goes.
Sometimes it is better to cut your losses and move on. If it’s your boss who’s gaslighting you and you can’t make a sideways move, that is rough. Depending on who it is, calling it out will either help the situation, or make it a whole lot worse.
You don’t get gaslighted at work when you have your own online business …
Having a career from home, whether that be an online business or otherwise, you just don’t experience the weird and wonderful workplace behaviours and cultures that can be soul destroying. You don’t work with psychopaths (I’ve written all about the here), and you don’t deal with bullies and small people who want to gaslight you.
If you need a change from the 9 to 5 corporate environment and all that goes with it, you may want to consider building yourself an online career from home.
Find out more about how to do that here:
Don’t put up with it for another day.
Have you ever been gaslighted at work? What tactics did you use to deal with it? Leave me a comment or a question. I’d love to hear from you.