Gaslighting at work
Posted on 25th January 2018 at 18:19
How to turn out the gaslight
You might not have heard of ‘gaslighting’ but you could have seen it happening to someone or experienced it yourself.
Gaslighting is a power game that you don’t know you’re playing. Its purpose is to manipulate you by making you question yourself and lose confidence. When the gaslighter is in a position of power, such as a supervisor or manager at work, it must be taken very seriously.
To counteract the effects of gaslighting you need to know what to look for and have confidence to put yourself beyond the reach of the gaslighter. That’s not easy to do when their sole purpose is to undermine you, to lower your self esteem, to bully you.
What is gaslighting?
The term ‘gaslighting’ is based on the title of the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’ starring Ingrid Bergman. After a whirlwind romance Bergman’s character marries and moves into her old home with her new husband. Mysterious things start to happen, but her husband convinces her that she is imagining and forgetting things – in short, losing her grip on reality. Of course, this is all a scheme by her husband to achieve his criminal aims.
Psychologists use the term to describe a subtle but very unhealthy, manipulative type of behaviour.
Because gaslighting is very slow and confusing you might not realise what’s happening. Here are some things to look out for:
Ten signs of gaslighting.
Relentless - negative behaviour is low-key in the beginning but builds up over time
Destabilising - you might trust the person, but feel they repeatedly put you in situations that make you question your ability
Undermining - you might find your personal decisions and characteristics are constantly questioned
Inconsistent - following endless criticism, you might suddenly receive praise
Lying – obvious lying seems to be pointless, but it will confuse you by making you doubt whether anything the gaslighter says is true
Denying – the gaslighter will often promise to do something and then simply deny that they made the promise
Unreliable - gaslighters often say one thing and do something very different, causing you to doubt your judgement or understanding
Accusing - you find yourself accused of having characteristics that are actually typical of the gaslighter (like dishonesty or unreliability)
Isolating - the gaslighter turns others against you, creating mistrust by suggesting that you are unstable or unreliable
Doubting – you might also be told that everyone you trust is lying or misleading you.
If you have seen or experienced any of this behaviour at work, you might be in the presence of a gaslighter. The first important step is to make a record of their behaviour. Keep a note the dates, times and context of events that have made you feel uneasy. If you can, write down the actual words used. After a few days re-read what you have written. In all likelihood you will realise that the behaviour is very inappropriate. The reason you were uncertain is because the gaslighter has been subtly undermining you and your colleagues for some time.
You have taken the first step towards taking back control by confirming your suspicions. Unfortunately, even though the gaslighter is the person with the problem, not you, it’s unlikely their behaviour will change.
If the gaslighting is taking place at work, you probably don’t have the option of walking away although you can try to minimise contact with that person. Trying to reason with them is unlikely to work and they might even try to use your arguments against you.
Your alternative is to find strategies to recognise and resist this manipulative behaviour so that you can maintain your confidence.
Gaslighting is likely to make you feel confused, uncomfortable or anxious. Learning to recognise situations that give rise to these feelings can help you to prepare yourself emotionally and build up your resilience.
You can point out that a specific behaviour makes you uncomfortable and ask the gaslighter to stop. If you can do this when other supportive colleagues are around, even better. You can also refuse to give the gaslighter the emotional responses they are looking for (regardless of how you actually feel), which will defeat their purpose.
Continue to keep your journal and congratulate yourself when things go well. Add encounters with people who you trust and who give you confidence so that you always have positive support.
Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can be useful too, helping you to reduce stress and manage negative feelings when they arise.
If you have concerns about gaslighting at work you are very welcome to get in touch.
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