Gaslighting is seriously damaging behavior that qualifies as emotional abuse. Such abuse has no place in a personal relationship, let alone in a professional environment. We’ve likely all seen gaslighting at some point, whether we recognized it as such or not. Gaslighting has many implications, and if you spot it in the workplace, you might feel confused as to what you should do about it.
Whether you’re in a supervisor or other leadership position, or you’re just an associate, it’s important to recognize and handle gaslighting to create a better work environment. No one can reach their maximum potential while they’re being lied to, misled, and victimized by the other behaviors that accompany gaslighting.
Here’s what to do if you recognize gaslighting in your workplace.
Be Certain Of What You’re Seeing
Do you know what gaslighting looks like? Do you know the signs, gaslighting phrases, and behaviors that accompany it? The first step to addressing gaslighting in the workplace is to recognize it for what it is. Since gaslighting is such a serious behavior, we often write off its symptoms as something less sinister. After all, Jane from accounting would never do that, right? Mark the supervisor is a kind-hearted person, he wouldn’t possibly engage in gaslighting.
Let’s look at some common signs of gaslighting. If these sound familiar, you might be dealing with something more serious than you thought. Remember that just one of these behaviors by itself isn’t necessarily indicative of gaslighting, but a combination of them could very well be.
- Lying, especially to make your point of view seem invalid or stupid
- Distorting facts to make you question your memory of an event or conversation
- Shifting the blame all the time to you—you’ll pretty much always be at fault
- Breaking down your confidence and self-esteem
- You start questioning yourself, who you are, and your value to your workplace
- Degrading questions or comments that make you feel bad about yourself
- A sudden increase in workplace anxiety
- You start questioning the validity of your own emotions
- You’ve start apologizing for everything you do
- You make excuses for the gaslighter
These are some of the most common signs of gaslighting. Many of them are easy to slip into a conversation. Let’s say you remember a conversation you had with your supervisor a week ago quite well. Or, at least, you thought you did—until he made you question what you heard. He’s certain you said one thing and you think you said another. He seems to do this often, changing details and making you question your own recollection of what happened.
Gaslighters are often charming, so as the behavior continues, they’ll make it seem like you’re going crazy. You’ll start questioning your own sanity without even realizing you’re being gaslighted. That’s a scary thought!
Start Documenting Things
The problem with gaslighters, aside from the fact that they’re mentally abusive, is that they’re not always easy to spot, and confronting them will often lead to a more toxic work environment. When you confront a gaslighter, you may get a negative reaction, and they’ll usually go out of their way to ensure your workplace is miserable henceforth. This is why it’s so important to start a paper trail as soon as possible.
The more you document the behavior, the better. To avoid any hang-ups should you need to go to human resources, make sure you’re telling your gaslighter you don’t appreciate their behavior. It’s always a good idea to have it documented that you’ve told someone no at least once.
Start documenting your interactions with the gaslighter. You can use your phone to record things, write things down, or keep a calendar of your conversations/interactions. Be as detailed as possible regarding what you feel is gaslighting. The more detail there is, the more likely it will stick. After all, the gaslighter will likely just deny any wrongdoing if you don’t have evidence to back it up.
When you feel you’re being gaslighted at work, you need to start setting firm boundaries with your gaslighter. This might mean only having conversations with them in front of other people, no personal office visits, or only having email conversations. It’s important to protect yourself and take a stand against their behavior. If they’re gaslighting you, there’s a good chance someone else is being gaslighted, too. You’re setting an example by standing up to the behavior.
If you report a gaslighter or stand up for yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with backlash. A supervisor who’s gaslighting you might threaten you with your job or some other serious threat. Document everything! Even if your job is at risk, it’s always better to stand up for yourself than to let yourself be abused. Mental abuse can leave scars that stick around for years.