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Gaslighting at Work: Tips for Coping and Thriving

a puppeteer with strings on his fingers and people he's manipulating representing narcissistic abuse at work
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Gaslighting at work is a type of emotional abuse where the gaslighter tries to make the victim doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. It’s a manipulative tactic that undermines a person’s self-confidence and can lead to feelings of confusion, frustration, and anxiety. Gaslighting at work can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, age, or position in the company.

Understanding Gaslighting at Work

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A study conducted by psychologist Paul Babiak and industrial psychologist Robert Hare found that approximately 1 in 5 CEOs exhibit psychopathic traits. Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and an inclination to manipulate and exploit others. The study’s findings suggest that psychopathic traits are more common among corporate leaders than previously thought, and that this could have serious implications for the companies they lead.

This statistic is alarming and highlights the need for individuals to be aware of the signs of gaslighting at work and the strategies for coping with it. The researchers note that it is important for companies to screen potential executives for psychopathic traits and to create a culture that discourages unethical behavior. They also suggest that companies should provide training and support for executives to help them develop more ethical and empathetic leadership styles.

Signs of Gaslighting at Work

Gaslighting can take many forms, and it’s important to be aware of the signs in order to recognize when it’s happening. Some of the most common signs of gaslighting at work include:

  • Denying or dismissing your experiences: Gaslighters will often deny or dismiss your experiences and feelings, telling you that you’re overreacting or that your perception of events is incorrect.
  • Blaming you for things that aren’t your fault: Gaslighters may try to shift blame onto you for things that are not your fault, making you feel guilty or responsible for their mistakes.
  • Doubting your abilities or intelligence: Gaslighters may make you doubt your abilities or intelligence, telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’re making mistakes.
  • Isolating you from others: Gaslighters may try to isolate you from your colleagues or friends, making you feel alone and vulnerable.
  • Creating a culture of fear: Gaslighters may create a culture of fear in the workplace, where people are afraid to speak up or voice their opinions.
  • Triangulating: Narcissists use triangulation to control and manipulate others. It involves creating conflict or competition between two or more individuals to assert dominance and maintain power over them. The narcissist plays the role of the puppeteer by positioning themself as the center of attention and control. This divide and conquer strategy is done to destabilize others, foster dependency on the narcissist, and undermine the self-esteem and trust of those involved.

Impact of Gaslighting at Work

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Gaslighting can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being. The constant doubt, confusion, and anxiety that gaslighting creates can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including:

Low self-esteem:

Gaslighting can make individuals doubt their own abilities and worth, leading to a loss of self-esteem and confidence.

Anxiety and depression:

Gaslighting can cause individuals to feel anxious and depressed, as they struggle to cope with the constant manipulation and control.

Burnout:

Gaslighting can lead to burnout, as individuals may feel overwhelmed and stressed by the constant demands and pressures.

Physical health problems:

Gaslighting can also lead to physical health problems, such as headaches, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.

Paranoia:

Gaslighting can instill a sense of paranoia in individuals who experience it. Constant manipulation and denial of one’s reality can make individuals doubt their own perceptions, thoughts, and judgments. They may become hyper-vigilant, constantly questioning themselves and their surroundings. This heightened state of paranoia can significantly impact their ability to trust others, leading to a breakdown in relationships and a constant state of anxiety and fear.

Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome:

Individuals who experience gaslighting at work may develop narcissistic abuse syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by a range of symptoms, including low self-esteem, self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and a distorted sense of reality. Individuals may become emotionally dependent on the gaslighter, seeking validation and approval while feeling trapped in an unhealthy dynamic.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Gaslighting can have such a profound impact on individuals that it can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a psychological disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Gaslighting, with its constant manipulation, psychological abuse, and erosion of one’s sense of self, can be traumatic in nature. Individuals may exhibit symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, emotional detachment, and avoidance behaviors. The effects of gaslighting can linger long after the abusive situation has ended, significantly impacting an individual’s quality of life and functioning.

Coping with Gaslighting at Work

Gaslighting and bullying at work is a serious issue that can have long-lasting effects on our mental health and work performance. It can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and powerless. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that involves the manipulation of facts and information to make the victim question their own perception of reality. But don’t worry; there are ways to cope with gaslighting at work. There are a number of behavioral strategies that you can use to defend against gaslighting and empower yourself. These tools can help you regain control, maintain your self-confidence, and protect yourself from the harmful effects of gaslighting. These techniques will help you stay present, emotionally stable, and assertive in the face of gaslighting. Some of the most effective behavioral strategies for coping with gaslighting and bullying at work include:

Gray Rocking

gray rock representing gray rocking as a coping with narcissistic abuse and gaslighting

The goal of this strategy is to make yourself appear uninteresting and boring to the gaslighter. This will help you avoid becoming a target of their manipulative behavior. You can do this by staying emotionally neutral and not reacting to the gaslighter’s comments. Don’t engage in emotional discussions or arguments with the gaslighter. Don’t show any emotional reaction, don’t defend or over explain yourself. Stay neutral and montone.

Reverse DARVO

DARVO stands for: Distance, Assert, Validate, and Observe. It involves distancing yourself from the gaslighter’s story, asserting yourself using Nonviolent Communication, validating your own experience, and mindfully observing the gaslighter’s response. The gaslighter’s comments are meant to provoke an emotional reaction, so it’s essential to stay curious and unemotional. Use mindfulness to notice their reactions and whether your words have an impact on them or not. By staying curious and maintaining emotional detachment, individuals can minimize the impact of the gaslighter’s manipulation attempts.

Less is more

Don’t engage with them or respond to their manipulative behavior. Use as few words as possible when interacting with the gaslighter. This may require some practice, but it’s essential to avoid becoming a target of their manipulation. Keep your communication short and to the point. Gaslighters will distort your words, manipulate them, and turn them against you. Using fewer words will help minimize the chances of this happening.

Flattery

Distract them with compliments. Use flattery to distract the gaslighter from their manipulative behavior. Gaslighters often love compliments, so using flattery may help diffuse the situation. They are also easily distractible so you can gently redirect the conversation.

Keep written evidence of everything

Maintaining written evidence of all interactions with the gaslighter is crucial. Engaging in conversations over email or text provides a record that can serve as a reference and protection against distortions or denials. Summarizing important discussions in follow-up emails helps establish a paper trail, ensuring that crucial details are documented. Whenever you have a conversation with the gaslighter, make sure you have it over email or text. If you have a conversation that is not on record, send them an email that summarizes the discussion you had. This will help you keep a paper trail of every single discussion you have with the gaslighter.

Never share information in private

Never share new information with the gaslighter when you’re alone with them. The gaslighter may steal your ideas or use them against you in public. To protect ideas and contributions from being stolen or used against you, you should avoid sharing new or sensitive information with the gaslighter in private. Instead, opt for public settings where others can witness the exchange. This reduces the gaslighter’s ability to manipulate or distort the information shared. Therefore, it’s essential to only share information with the gaslighter in a public setting.

Evaluate Your Options

It’s important to assess your options and consider whether staying in the current work environment is the best choice for your long-term well-being. If the gaslighting and toxic environment persist despite your efforts, it may be necessary to explore other job opportunities or consult with an employment lawyer to understand your legal rights and options.

Set Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is essential when dealing with gaslighting at work. Clearly communicate your expectations and limits to the gaslighter, firmly asserting your right to be treated with respect. Enforce consequences if they continue to cross those boundaries. Remember, setting boundaries is not about changing the gaslighter’s behavior but about protecting yourself from further harm.

Develop Emotional Resilience

Building emotional resilience can help individuals withstand the effects of gaslighting. This involves cultivating a positive mindset, practicing self-compassion, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. Engage in activities that promote emotional well-being, such as journaling, mindfulness, and seeking emotional support from trusted individuals.

Foster a Supportive Network

Surround yourself with a supportive network of colleagues, friends, and mentors who can provide a compassionate space to share experiences. Having people who validate your feelings and experiences can help you maintain perspective and resilience. Seeking support from trusted colleagues, friends, or mentors can be invaluable when coping with gaslighting at work. Sharing experiences and gaining perspective from others can validate one’s reality and provide a supportive network to rely on. Additionally, consider seeking professional help, such as support groups or group therapy, to navigate the emotional challenges resulting from gaslighting.

Seek Professional Help

If gaslighting persists and significantly affects your well-being and work performance, consider seeking professional help. A therapist or counselor experienced in workplace dynamics can provide guidance, support, and coping strategies tailored to your situation. They can also help you navigate any necessary steps to address the gaslighting within your workplace.

Insecure Overachievers and Vulnerability to Gaslighting at Work

a woman looking insecure at work

A study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that companies often prefer hiring insecure overachievers. Insecure overachievers are individuals who are highly motivated, driven, and ambitious, but they’re also insecure and lack self-worth. This makes them more susceptible to being manipulated or controlled.  Employers tend to favor individuals who exhibit a deep-seated need for validation and approval alongside their ambition and competitiveness. These individuals may be more likely to tolerate abusive behavior from bosses or colleagues due to fear of job loss or harm to their career prospects. It’s imperative for insecure overachievers to learn effective coping strategies to protect themselves from the harmful effects of gaslighting.

Conclusion 

Gaslighting at work is a pervasive issue that can have negative effects on one’s mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Recognizing the signs of gaslighting and implementing effective coping strategies are essential for protecting oneself from this form of emotional abuse. By employing behavioral strategies such as Gray Rocking, Reverse DARVO, and setting boundaries, individuals can regain control, maintain their self-confidence, and mitigate the negative impact of gaslighting. Seeking support from trusted individuals and considering professional help can also be instrumental in navigating the challenges posed by gaslighting at work.

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