Gaslighting at work

Many people will not have heard of the term gaslighting at all, or only in the context of personal relationships. Basically, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation technique that involves subtle but constant invalidation and/or marginalization of a person or group to alter their perception of self-worth, purpose, reality, and even identity. 

The term originated from the 1940 film “Gaslight” in which Anton Walbrook’s character starts making his wife, played by Diana Wynyard, question her sanity by denying that the gaslights in their house are dimming when in reality, they were. In pop culture, gaslighting is seen as a mode of one-to-one abuse but it can happen on a much larger scale too. 

Internalized self-hatred is a result of the collective gaslighting that the immediate or media-based society does on people. 

The xenophobia of any kind, including islamophobia, is a result of social groups gaslighting people to think different is dangerous.

Capitalists convincing common people that most of the carbon dioxide in the world comes from their homes when only 100 companies in the world are responsible for 71% of released CO2 is a form of gaslighting on a global scale.

So, you see, gaslighting is possible on any scale, from one-on-one to worldwide. Many people may miss it, but George Orwell’s “1984” can be interpreted as the gaslighting of unaware people by political factions.

In the same way, gaslighting is very real in the workplace too. You may not even realize you are being gaslighted. But at the end of the day, if you are finding yourself stressed and feeling worthless without being able to point out a single reason, chances are that you are.

Why Do People Gaslight

Most gaslighters are people who are, in some way, in a stronger position than you, be it social, financial, or professional. So, you might be wondering what they would get by putting you down. The answer is quite simple.

These are inherently insecure people. You may have heard the proverb, “Empty vessels make much sound.” It is kind of the same here, except, the noise is meant to drown you out rather than to make their own voice louder. 

Gaslighters are typically unsure about their own standing in the hierarchy. They try to secure it by pushing others down. They thrive on the fear, confusion, and eroding self-awareness of their victims.

How to Recognize Gaslighting at Work

Gaslighting anywhere can be hard to detect, especially if you yourself are the victim. But here are some cues that, if you identify with or notice in others, are sure signs of gaslighting and manipulation:

  • The gaslighter tries to build a narrative of incapability around the victim. It will make you question yourself, your work, and your abilities. Your credibility and competence will be questioned all the time, by them and consequently, by you yourself. 
  • They will try to play your self-doubt against you. If you ask them for feedback, you will never get any constructive criticism or validation; rather, they will try to undermine your work and your success. 
  • You will get a lot of backhanded compliments from them. Microaggressions are an especially powerful tool gaslighters use to make you feel like you are doing and being wrong. 
  • Another thing common to gaslighters is the use of gossip to make you feel bad. They will spread lies about you or just tell people about your weak moments, mistakes, or your private details to make you feel like a failure. 
  • In groups, they will make you feel isolated. This can be through off-hand jabs at you, jokes at your expense, passing you over for projects and promotions, talking over you, etc.

Gaslighting Can Harm You; Don’t Let It Happen

Gaslighting can and will degrade your productivity, confidence, ambitiousness, and motivation. It will even spill over into other facets of life and increase your risk of falling victim to other forms of abuse. It is important to not let it increase.

There are five golden rules to protect yourself against gaslighting. Reaffirm your worth and abilities to yourself daily so that the gaslighter loses their power over you. Surround yourself with true well-wishers who will remind you of your worth. Keep communications with the abuser in written form for documentation. For unavoidable face-to-face conversations, have someone accompany you. Reassert your boundaries and do not let them cross it.

Do this and you should be able to reclaim yourself once again!