Have you ever questioned a person’s behaviour and been labelled “too sensitive” or accused of
“seeing things”? Has your recollection of events been challenged even though you’re certain you’re
right?

If yes, then you may be being gaslit.

This form of psychological manipulation, which can set off such an unsettling internal tug of war that
a person even questions their own sanity, can hugely impact a person’s self-esteem and mental
health and, ultimately, their ability to do their job.

Here’s a rundown of how you can identify if you’re being gaslit and what you can do about it.

So, what exactly do we mean by gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse and bullying used to gain control over a person, which
can involve people being undermined, misled and told things that are later denied.

The term comes from a 1938 play called Gas Light which was adapted for the screen in 1944. In the
movie, a husband convinces his wife that she is going crazy by repeatedly denying that her
experiences are real. For example, he steals objects from the house and accuses her of hiding them,
and tells her she’s imagining hearing footsteps in the night.

A gaslighter typically feels insecure and threatened by others and looks to maintain or enhance their
own position with lies and distortions. They refuse to take responsibility for their actions and
displace their own issues onto others in a bid to avoid being vulnerable or revealing a wrongdoing.

What does gaslighting look like in the workplace?

Gaslighting can take many forms but it normally involves distorting reality in some way. Here are
some common examples:

  • The gaslighter lies about events – A colleague claims you never emailed them an important
    document when you did, or your boss denies allowing you to take a day’s annual leave when you
    know you asked permission. If you challenge them, they will deny or minimise your
    understanding of what happened.
  • The gaslighter labels you as overly emotional or “tone polices” you – They may question or
    criticise the tone of your voice or the language you use, claiming that you’re exaggerating or
    getting more emotional than what a situation calls for. This questions the validity of what you’re
    saying and feeling.
  • They act hot and cold – A gaslighter may leave you never knowing where you stand by
    alternating between praising you and criticising you. Or, they might praise you in public but
    criticise you in private, making it harder for other people to believe you when you try to share
    what’s going on.
  • They accuse you of mistakes you didn’t make – Gaslighters may insist you did something you
    didn’t do, like forget to invite that VIP to the launch party or calculate those report figures
    incorrectly.
  • You’re left out of important discussions or decisions – You may find yourself excluded from
    meetings or left out of important emails. The gaslighter might even compound the gaslighting by
    denying these even took place!
  • The gaslighter sabotages and manipulates – This could involve them finding ways to take credit for your work or setting up situations to embarrass you, such as putting you on the spot in meetings on topics you’ve not been briefed on.

Language is also a clear indicator of a gaslighter. Look out for certain repeated phrases, such as:

“You need to calm down.”

“You’re being too sensitive about this.”

“Don’t take it so personally.”

“I didn’t say that, you must be misremembering.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I was only kidding.”

As well as identifying red flags in the gaslighter, if you’re a victim of gaslighting you may also spot
some warning signs in yourself. These include:

  • You’re constantly second-guessing yourself.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You question your own sanity – not just at work but also at home.
  • You know something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on it.
  • You’re always apologising.
  • You feel socially isolated.
  • You can’t remember when you last felt motivated.
  • You feel burnt out from your interactions with the gaslighter.

What is the impact of gaslighting?

Gaslighting can have a real detrimental impact on your mental health. It can cause lowered self-
esteem, anxiety, depression, an increased state of alertness (hypervigilance) and even post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The subtle and gradual nature of gaslighting means these effects can creep up on you and, sadly, you
may even think that you deserve the abuse. Ultimately, your performance at work will likely suffer
and you may even decide it’s best to leave your job.

How do I deal with a gaslighter?

If you think you’re being gaslit, here’s the steps to take:

1. Identify the behaviour

Firstly, try to pinpoint what’s happening. Look for patterns in behaviour of the gaslighter, see if you
can identify what triggers their unacceptable actions and document it. Writing down conversations
after they happen will help you sort out truth from distortion.

2. Avoid confronting the gaslighter

Confronting a gaslighter is rarely effective. Instead of owning their behaviour, they will typically
become angry or retaliate in some manner.

3. Find a support network

Support is crucial; be it others at work, friends outside of work or your family. They will help you gain
objective feedback on what you’re experiencing and not dismiss your feelings.

4. Beat them at their own game

If you have a gaslighter who likes to rewrite history or exclude you from important discussions, insist
on scheduling and confirming all meetings by email, create agendas, take notes and circulate
summaries after every meeting. Get this protocol agreed by the whole team so the gaslighter can’t
back out or pretend they weren’t aware.

5. Practise healthy boundaries and self care

If you find yourself in a gaslighting situation, it’s perfectly fine to walk away or opt out of a
conversation. Taking a break or going for a cup of coffee will help you digest what’s happened, and
stop you immediately apologising or questioning yourself. Outside of work, taking good care of
yourself is important when it comes to bolstering your mental health – whether it’s leaning on your
support network, eating well or exercising.

How can I prevent gaslighting in the workplace?

1. Lead from the top

Invest in gaslighting prevention by starting with training your leadership team on different forms of
bullying and emotional abuse and the effect this has on a workplace. Then demonstrate your
organisation’s commitment to eradicating such behaviour by naming gaslighting in your policies and
the sanctions applied to perpetrators at work.

2. Educate all

All colleagues should be educated on how to identify and respond to gaslighting at work. Also, your
people should have safe and reliable ways to report incidents of gaslighting so you can keep track of
the conduct within your teams and act upon it. Reporting lines could include line managers, HR
colleagues or an anonymous employee hotline.

3. Act on reports of gaslighting

When you receive reports of gaslighting, you must act upon them to show that such behaviour will
not be tolerated and to encourage further victims and witnesses to speak up. If suitable, you may
wish to speak to the alleged gaslighter one-on-one, you could offer mediation or, if a complaint is of
a particularly serious nature, you could instigate a workplace investigation.

4. Perform psychological safety check-ins

Only a small percentage of workplace misconduct gets reported, so instead of expecting employees
to report issues, like gaslighting, ensure line managers perform regular check-ins with their team
members. This creates an environment of psychological safety where people feel comfortable to air
any issues.

5. Hire smart

One way to avoid a toxic working environment is to hire smart! When it comes to welcoming new
people to your organisation, don’t just look for those who are experienced and qualified for a role,
but find those who reflect your workplace values.

Tell Jane offers anti-bullying and harassment training to equip leaders and employees with the
knowledge, skills and confidence to identify and challenge toxic workplace behaviour. Get started
today by emailing hello@telljane.co.uk.

How to deal with bullying at work: A guide for employees

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