A version of this article was originally posted in the Empower Work blog.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a manipulation strategy that makes someone question their self-worth and sanity. The term is derived from the 1930s play Gas Light, in which a husband makes his wife doubt her perception by manipulating the gas light but claiming to see nothing out of the ordinary himself.
What’s an example of gaslighting?
- Someone gets blamed for unfinished tasks that were told to them, but they have no recollection or physical evidence of these asks.
- A project is suddenly changed in a way that makes the person working on it look unprepared or inept.
- Someone is not included in a meeting or given access to details that are necessary for them to complete their work.
- The boss makes fun of someone’s skill in a meeting and then later turns around to bestow compliments and promises responsibilities.
How does gaslighting affect people at work?
In a work environment, gaslighting can make someone feel incompetent or unimportant, like they can’t do anything right. They can feel like they don’t understand what’s going on around them or what’s expected of them. Gaslighting can come from a variety of people—a power-hungry manager, a competitive coworker, or a condescending client.
What can you do if you’ve experienced gaslighting at work?
Recognize manipulative behavior. If you feel like someone is making you doubt your own memory or perception, trust your gut. If you find yourself apologizing at work but not quite knowing why, take a moment. Write down the incidents or discuss them with a trusted peer. If you feel comfortable, you can escalate the issue to your company’s HR department. You can also reach out to a sounding board like Empower Work if you prefer to talk to a peer counselor immediately and anonymously.
A strategy to combat gaslighting is to document everything and have witnesses when possible. You can take notes during meetings and send them out to everyone on the team so there is no question of the information shared or tasks assigned. You can ask your manager to join meetings with your condescending coworker. Keeping a record of when and how someone made comments to undermine and discredit you can be useful as evidence both to yourself and others that your validity and perception are accurate and this person is manipulating you.
What can you do if you witness gaslighting?
Pay attention and be an ally. If you see someone get undermined in a meeting, speak up and recognize that they had something to say, or give credit to their work. If your coworker gets blamed for missing a deadline but can’t find in writing where the work was assigned to them, assist them by searching through your own notes or sharing your memory of meetings.
If you’ve experienced or seen gaslighting at work, you’re not alone. Check out Empower Work to get in touch with a trained peer counselor immediately and anonymously.
Gaslighting can lead to mental health concerns. It is stressful and can cause us to have a negative view of ourselves. This can contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Take a mental health test to see if you are at risk for a mental health condition.