Before I start talking about identifying gaslighting and tackling it, I would like to narrate a small incident to you. A few years ago, before I started my journey as a Career Coach, I was working as an HR Manager with a major corporate organization. While my typical day at work included a range of tasks, the most important of them was talking to employees who have grievances or complaints against other employees. Nowadays, with companies forming grievance cells for employees, the HR Manager is probably not expected to perform this function but back in the day, it formed a part of my role.
On one such typical working day as I returned to my desk after lunch, I was greeted by Rhea (name changed), an Assistant Manager in the IT Department. She looked stressed and harassed. After talking to her for over an hour, I realized that she was being gaslighted without realizing what was happening to her. While I took the necessary measures to ensure that things improve for her, I also realized that employees needed to know about gaslighting and ways to tackle it.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a powerful psychological tactic where a person makes the victim believe that he/she is crazy or can’t be trusted. This gives the perpetrator a lot of control and power over the victim. When someone gaslights you, he/she convinces you that the problem is not them but YOU. This makes it less likely for you to seek assistance. It usually involves a series of events resulting in psychological abuse that ensures that the victim keeps the perpetrator’s behavior to himself/herself out of shame. It can even grow to the extent that the victim feels that his/her behavior is causing the perpetrator to behave this way towards them.
Warning signs of Gaslighting
Here are some warning signs that could indicate that you are being gaslighted at work by a colleague or a group of colleagues:
- Unexplained logins – While all computers have passwords, the IT department usually has access to the database. Based on the security protocols of your organization, someone from the IT team might be able to get the password to your terminal and log in. If you are noticing some unexplained logins to your work computer, then you must consider that to be a red flag.
- Disappearing items – Have you noticed that items from your desk suddenly disappear and reappear? If yes, then you might want to keep a closer watch.
- Disappearing projects – Let’s say that your boss asks you to submit a project. You work through the month and submit it to him on time. However, he claims that he hasn’t received it and there is no trace of it in your mailbox either!
- Isolation – Do you feel like your boss or your colleagues are trying to isolate you? Does it feel like a deliberate attempt? This might be one of the initial signs of gaslighting.
- Upfront denial – Let’s say that your senior asks you to meet them for a discussion on a project alone and offers certain suggestions to change the way you are approaching it. You follow instructions but he denies ever having said it if you fail. Another sign of gaslighting.
- The ‘Crazy’ One – Has your boss or colleague told you that the entire office thinks that you are crazy and that nobody will believe you even if you reported anything? If yes, then you are almost certainly being gaslighted at work.
- Always in the wrong – Let’s say that you work late one day and your boss says that it is okay for you to come to work an hour late the next day. However, when you walk in late the next day, your boss reprimands you for not being punctual. In fact, there are instances where you have seen company policies being modified to fit your boss’s statements.
Here is a classic example of gaslighting that I have come across during my career.
Let’s say that you complete working on a project and want to submit a hard copy of the report to your boss. Your colleague has finished her assignment too and volunteers to submit both your reports together. Eventually, you find out that your colleague has submitted his/her report but not yours. When your boss reprimands you for missing the deadline and you tell him about your colleague volunteering to submit it on your behalf, the colleague denies any such promise.
Sounds familiar? Some people take competitiveness to the next level and turn saboteurs. They feel that if they make you fail, then they will look better to the management. Such people often adopt gaslighting techniques to make their co-workers look bad in front of the management.
Tips to tackle being Gaslighted at work
Here are some handy tips to combat being gaslighted at work:
Hold on to self-belief
The success of gaslighting lies in the fact that the victim loses his/her self-confidence. They start feeling that the perpetrator is telling the truth and the way they remember things might be wrong. Hence, once you think that you are being gaslighted, it is important to hold on to your belief in your thoughts and actions and not let the perpetrator take advantage.
Document every meeting with the gaslighter
Usually, gaslighters try to meet their victims alone so that they can turn back on everything they said when the time comes. Hence, you should always ensure that you document all your meetings with such people. Try to not meet them alone and have a colleague accompany you. Also, if the meeting is about process changes or anything affecting your work, then send an email (like minutes of the meeting) marking the perpetrator and seniors in the organization.
Stop being a victim
This should have been point number 1. The moment you start feeling like a victim, you will start acting like one too. That implies accepting your situation instead of fighting against it. Hence, even if you are feeling harassed, get a grip over yourself, and report it to the Human Resource team or the head of the organization if needed. Under any circumstance, don’t be the victim!
Remember, gaslighting can destroy your confidence and have a huge impact on your professional and personal life. Nobody has the right to do this to someone. If you think you can relate to one or more points mentioned in the warning signs of gaslighting above, then its time you put it right before it worsens. At Change Ur Story, we know that a professional life has more obstacles than what most of us realize or want to talk about. If you are feeling cornered and want to talk to a professional, then drop us a line and we will be glad to help you re-discover your self-confidence. God Bless!
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