How To Handle Gaslighting At Work

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Aug. 17 2023, Published 8:05 a.m. ET

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Gaslighting is commonly talked about in the context of romantic relationships, but it can also happen at work. Workplace gaslighting involves a co-worker or superior undermining your self-assurance and causing you to doubt your thoughts, memories and judgments. 

For example, your boss might dismiss your concerns by labeling you as oversensitive when you report comments from a co-worker. They may even challenge your recollection of events, leaving you feeling like an imposter in your work environment.

Here’s how to recognize and deal with gaslighting at work:

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Source: Adobe Stock

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting, as defined by the American Sociological Association, refers to abuse in which the person inflicting it manipulates the victim’s perception of reality. This manipulation causes the victim to question their sanity and creates a confusing and distorted environment within their relationships. 

According to this theory, gaslighting becomes especially harmful when individuals use gender-based stereotypes and exploit existing institutional inequalities to control and manipulate the victim’s perception of the world.

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How To Handle Gaslighting At Work

Handling gaslighting at work may feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re not confrontational and avoid conflicts. However, following these steps is essential to help you stand up for yourself.

Trust Your Gut

You have an innate sense of what feels right and wrong. Don’t let gaslighting make you doubt your instincts. Trust your gut and stay true to your perceptions and experiences if something feels off or manipulative. Your feelings and intuition are valid.

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Be Assertive

Practice assertive communication when addressing the gaslighter. Clearly express your thoughts, feelings and concerns using “I” statements. For example, say, “I feel disrespected when you dismiss my ideas in meetings.” Being assertive lets you stand up for yourself while maintaining professionalism. It also helps convey the impact of someone’s gaslighting behavior on you, making it harder for them to dismiss your feelings.

Seek Professional Help

If the gaslighting affects your mental health and well-being or you’re experiencing anxiety attacks or depression, don’t hesitate to seek professional counseling or therapy. The World Health Organization has stated that there has been an approximate 25% increase in major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders worldwide since 2020, so you’re not alone. A therapist can provide guidance and support as you go through the emotional impact of gaslighting. They’ll be there for you as you regain your self-esteem and build stronger resilience.

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Set Boundaries

You must adopt a confident demeanor when addressing unacceptable behavior. Communicate that you deserve to be treated with respect and set boundaries accordingly. Ensuring your well-being and establishing expectations for workplace interactions are vital, and doing so affirms your self-worth and clarifies that gaslighting will not be tolerated. Remember, you have every right to a respectful work environment.

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Source: Pexels
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Document Everything

Keeping a record of gaslighting incidents is crucial for building a case if you need to address the issue formally. Document the location, date, time and details of each encounter. Include any witnesses or supporting evidence, like emails or text messages. This documentation provides a factual record and strengthens your position when confronting the gaslighter or reporting the behavior to higher authorities.

Speak Up

Report gaslighting to HR if it continues. You have every right to a safe, healthy and secure work environment. Approach the proper channels within your organization to report the gaslighting behavior. 

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Seek Support

Surround yourself with trusted colleagues, friends, mentors or other loved ones outside the work environment who can provide an objective perspective and support. Share your experiences with them and ask for insights. Sometimes, having someone validate your experiences can reinforce your confidence and provide valuable guidance on navigating the situation.

It’s Not Your Fault

The gaslighter might deny incidents, downplay your feelings or manipulate the situation to make you question your trustworthiness. This harmful behavior impacts your mental well-being and professional growth. Counter this by being assertive, setting boundaries, speaking up for yourself and documenting everything. Unfortunately, workplace gaslighting is not uncommon, but it shouldn’t be the norm or become acceptable.

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By: Mia Barnes

Mia Barnes is a health journalist with over 3+ years of experience specializing in workplace wellness. Mia believes knowledge is power. As the Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine, Mia's goal is to cover relevant topics to empower women through information.

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