How to Spot It and What to Do About It
I recently read about the popularity of online searches about “gaslighting.” Merriam-Webster chose gaslighting as its word of the year. Searches on its website for the word spiked by 1,740% in 2022, most likely driven by people who were questioning if they were being gaslit in the workplace.
Gaslighting seems to come more naturally to some people than others. In fact, not all gaslighters are aware of what they are doing. However, the term is used primarily when someone is consciously manipulating a friend, family member, or coworker. For many, it’s injurious behavior that has developed over time and across various interpersonal relationships.
Merriam-Webster’s top definition for gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time, that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.” It’s also a top workplace bullying tactic.
Dealing with Gaslighting at Work
WorkLife online provides useful advice about dealing with gaslighting at work. Some of their points are discussed below.
Jami Shanes, licensed therapist at LifeStance Health, says that gaslighting in the workplace is a form of emotional abuse that can occur between co-workers, both on the same level or from their bosses. However, one of the top questions when it comes to gaslighting is if it’s actually happening or not.
Gaslighters tend to share common characteristics including:
- A highly-manipulative personality
- Low sense of self-worth or self-esteem
- Insecurities, covered up by constantly pointing out other peoples’ flaws
- Controlling to a point where they don’t respond well when they don’t have power
- Narcissistic tendencies (sometimes seen at work as toxic leadership)
Signs of Gaslighting in the Workplace
How do you know for sure that you’re a victim of gaslighting in the workplace? Shanes suggests watching out for these 6 signs of gaslighting:
- You hear persistent negative accounts of your performance
- You hear the suspected gaslighter publicly say negative things about you
- You hear negative, untrue gossip about yourself
- You find yourself questioning your perception of reality at work
- The suspected gaslighter belittles your emotions, efforts, or perceptions
- You’re excluded from meetings or events relevant or required for your job
Gaslighters will make you feel inferior by excluding you from professional activities such as regular meetings. If you’re being excluded regularly by the same person, and you know that you definitely should have been included, then it could be gaslighting.
A common way that gaslighters make you doubt yourself is by belittling the effort you put into your work. Other examples of gaslighting could be a coworker belittling your emotions and perceptions.
You might be feeling proud of a project you’ve just completed. A gaslighter will find a way to make you feel like you should have completed it better or faster. They'll leave you questioning whether you should be proud of your efforts at all.
In addition, if you feel excited about something new or upset about an initiative gone wrong, a gaslighter will almost always belittle your feelings. They will use manipulative tactics to make you feel like you can’t trust your own emotions.
Here are behavioral factors to be aware of according to BetterUp online.
Behavioral Effects and Responses to Gaslighting at Work
Workers need to be attuned to the effects of gaslighting and how to respond to it. The following are examples of this dimension of the problem.
- It can feel like your feelings are minimized.
- It’s a repeated behavior
- It might be hard to avoid at times.
- Find an ally to validate you
- Consider journaling.
- Confirm that it truly is gaslighting
- Document the gaslighter’s behavior
- Get support and focus on self-care
- Meet with your gaslighter
- If all else fails, escalate the issue
Gaslighting threatens the calm at work and can create inter-personal problems. It can also be an extension of cyberbullying and create tension in the workplace. Taken to an extreme, it can create a toxic workplace environment.
Instances of gaslighting should be dealt with as soon as possible. Discussing it openly with key people in the organization is necessary. Organizations should provide workplace training that deals with the ills of gaslighting in the workplace.
Ethics is about how we treat others. Are we kind, compassionate, empathetic and understanding of people of different races, nationalities, with different sexual orientations, from diverse cultures and so on. Do we value their opinions? Gaslighting is an affront to these core ethical values that have stood the test of time.
The key to healthy relationships in one’s professional as well as person life is to treat others the same way we wish to be treated. Gaslighting is clearly a practice that for most people in most situations is the opposite of what we know as The Golden Rule.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on December 15, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter