Although generally associated with romantic relationships, researchers have discovered the troubling psychological phenomenon known as gaslighting occurring in the workplace as well. According to a recent study by MHR, 58% of respondents reported that they experience or have experienced gaslighting at work.
Although the conversation around the concept of gaslighting grew in recent years, particularly in tandem with the #MeToo Movement, the term “gaslighting” actually originated from the 1938 British play, Gaslight in which a husband tried to convince his wife that she was going insane in order to cover up his misdeeds. The term specifically comes from how he explained away the fact that the gaslight in the house was growing dimmer by saying that his wife imagined the whole thing.
This concept of deception that hinges on the deceiver convincing their prey that they experience insanity is being used in the home, in the workplace, and in media.
So how do we begin to tackle this issue?
What is gaslighting?
Britannica defines gaslighting as “an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period.”
This process undermines an individual in their confidence to know the difference between the truth and the lies the abuser chooses to fill their heads with. The abuser intentionally uses these techniques to make others doubt themselves and their abilities.
As we mentioned, this most commonly associated with domestic partnerships, however, it also occurs in the workplace as a form of harassment. Typically, someone with higher power will gaslight someone in a lower position who does not possess much power to refute the abuser’s claims. This narcissistic behavior leaves the victim questioning their sense of reality. Of course, this leads a victim to feel a sense of self-doubt, lack of confidence, and feeling as though they have no choice but to leave the company.
How can you identify gaslighting?
Gaslighting can happen in every profession and in any type of workplace. Here are some telltale signs that you are experiencing gaslighting in your workplace.
- You feel neglected and overlooked, so you overwork in order to prove yourself. Still, it feels like nothing you do is ever noticed or enough.
- Your boss does not give clear directions about the expectations of your work. Because of this, it is impossible to succeed due to a lack of clear objectives.
- You feel incompetent, even though you are fully qualified for the job and possess the same skills all your co-workers have.
- You avoid opportunities to avoid uncomfortable situations with a specific co-worker who always puts you down or deliberately undervalues you and your work.
- Your boss or your co-worker say things you know are false and when corrected, completely contradict you and manage to make you feel that you are the one in the wrong.
- Another employee completely denies ever saying something that they said to you in private.
- Other examples include derogatory comments, an employee’s words completely contradicting their actions, or someone taking credit for your work or ideas.
Although some of these instances do not seem like a big deal on their own, they add up and can attack your inner confidence and make you question your sanity. Oftentimes, gaslighting in the workplace bleeds into your personal life and can affect your mental health.
If you are experiencing any of these situations, know that this abuse is not your fault. Gaslighting can happen to anyone and it is not your fault.
How to escape gaslighting in the workplace
The first step is recognizing the signs of gaslighting behavior that are listed. If you have any feelings of self-doubt or negativity, pay close attention to how those around you treat you and your work.
The next step is to document these instances. Documentation is key to combat the abuser because if you have proof of their instances of abuse, they cannot simply deny their actions like they usually do. If possible, make most of your communication in writing: emails, in-office messaging, and notes. When your boss promises a deadline, confirm that deadline via email. If they try to change that deadline, you possess written proof that they changed the deadline from the previously agreed upon date. When writing emails, copy in other employees, making previous conversations even more difficult to deny.
What You Can Do
Check your workplace’s terms on harassment and report these instances. Since every workplace is different, there may be different steps to take, but all reputable workplaces should possess proper protections against bullying. You can also report to HR or your boss’s boss. Creating a paper-trail early on is another important step of documentation. If a more serious incident occurs in the future, you have proof that this was not a one-time occurrence. And you can show it’s a symptom of a larger, long-standing problem.
Talking to the employees around you is another good step because they might just be experiencing the same abuse. When interacting with the abuser, try to have another employee with you to confirm your side of the story if the abuser tries to deny the conversation in the future.
Remind yourself of your self-worth
Last, but certainly not least, give yourself moral support. Constantly remind yourself of your self-worth, your great ideas, and the accomplishments you’ve made. Reaffirm to yourself the power and value you bring to the workplace.
Abusers feed off of self-doubt and an absence of confidence in trying to rewire the way you see their actions. Stand up for yourself and make sure your abuser knows that you will not accept this sort of treatment. If this person is in a position of power, make sure you have the documentation and support of the company through the HR department in case they try to take action against you.
Know that at the end of the day, your self-worth and dignity take precedence over allowing an abuser to win. Be vocal about your experience and don’t let the company silence you. We live in an imperfect world and you will face backlash for standing up for yourself. Don’t let that sway your confidence in the fact that you deserve better from your workplace.