Is My Boss Gaslighting Me?: How To Recognize Gaslighting In The Workplace

By Samantha Goddiess
Oct. 10, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Everyone wants to believe that their workplace is a safe, inviting environment. It is where you spend the majority of your time, after all. Why wouldn’t you want to work in an environment that nurtures your talents?

Unfortunately, the truth for many is that the office can often be a toxic environment filled with toxic people. Sometimes that person can end up being your boss.

If your boss is gaslighting you, it can be quite difficult to determine what the actual problem is, and it can be even harder to prove.

Even if it is a more subtle form of bullying and abuse, it is still toxic behavior. Gaslighting can have a significant impact on your mental health and your work performance.

Key Takeaways:

  • Some signs of gaslighting in the workplace include:

    • Making last minute changes often

    • Employ different rules for different employees

    • Taking credit for your ideas

  • Gaslighting can lead the victim to suffer from low self-esteem, chronic stress and anxiety.

  • If you think your boss is gaslighting you, you should document everything, limit direct contact, and talk to HR.

Is My Boss Gaslighting Me?

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a subtle form of psychological or emotional manipulation, or mental deception, that often leaves the victim questioning their sanity. Due to the subtlety of this emotional abuse, it is very difficult to prove. It is, however, a form of workplace harassment.

  • Those in positions of power, like managers or supervisors, are more easily able to wield their manipulation due to the authority their position provides.

  • This is a subtle form of manipulation that begins slowly, making the victim unsure of their own memory. Eventually, they will begin to doubt their own instincts, making the gaslighting behavior even easier for the manipulator to continue.

  • The goal is usually to bend the victim to their will. They want to discredit them, force them into a position of inferiority. They may be setting the employee up to be more easily terminated or trying to bully them into quitting on their own.<

  • Regardless of the goal, in the end, the victim may be left questioning their own sanity. Like any form of manipulation or emotional abuse, there are long-term consequences for the victim as well as short-term.

13 Signs of Gaslighting in the Workplace

Remember that this is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse. As such, it is a very subtle process. Gaslighting can be difficult to recognize and identify. Not just by others but by the victim themselves.

And, if the victim is able to recognize that their superior is gaslighting them, it can be even more difficult for them to prove it.

Gaslighters are bullies, plain and simple. But, this isn’t always an outwardly obvious form of bullying. The manipulator may be charming and friendly while they are really passive-aggressively manipulating you and bending you to their will.

  1. Withhold important information. They may “forget” to warn you about a deadline or upcoming meeting. Or, they could “forget” to assign you a task.

  2. Share your private information. As your superior, they will have access to some of your private information. They may share this information conversationally with others.

  3. Manipulate and deny. Gaslighters will tell you something or give you a task and then deny it later on.

  4. Employ different rules for different employees.They may hold their victim to a different, more stringent standard than their coworkers. This would make it harder for the victim to do their job.

  5. Make last-minute changes. If you deal with constantly changing deadlines, sudden urgent tasks, or other last minutes (and typically urgent) changes to your workload, you may be a victim of gaslighting. They tell you one thing today and the exact opposite tomorrow. It makes it difficult to know which information is correct and which instruction you should follow.

    The bully is essentially set up for your failure.

  6. Gossip. Gossip is not out of the ordinary in the workplace. We never really leave high school in this sense. But, if your superior is actively spreading rumors, gossip, or lies in order to damage your reputation and credibility, then you are likely being gaslighted.

  7. Take credit for your ideas. Sure, any of your accomplishments are technically your boss’ accomplishments. But, if your superior is consistently taking credit for all of your work, this is a form of gaslighting.

  8. Making false promises. They promise you a raise, a vacation, or some other incentive if you complete a certain task and then claim that they made no such promises. That’s gaslighting.

  9. Dismiss and challenge. Oftentimes confronting your bully or addressing the issue in some way can alleviate some of the problems. This is not always the case for gaslighters. They are often dismissive or will openly challenge you if you question them.

  10. Disrespect. Gaslighters will often show you a lack of respect or openly disrespect you in front of coworkers.

  11. Make comparisons. Think about sibling rivalries. Your boss is constantly comparing you to other employees to make you feel lessen and pit you against each other.

  12. Call out mistakes. They call you out in front of your coworker over any perceived mistake. These are conversations that should be had privately. By calling you out publicly, they are opening you up to criticism and damaging your reputation.

  13. Exclude you. They may exclude you in the workplace, whether professionally or socially. The gaslighter themselves may not be the one excluding you, but they may encourage it or not address it if it is already happening.

Common Phrases to Look Out For

When someone is gaslighting you, they will often use certain vocabulary to make you feel invalidated and make you feel small. Some of these phrases include:

  • “I never said that.”

  • “That’s not what happened.”

  • “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  • “You’re reading too much into this.”

  • “You’re being paranoid.”

  • “It’s your fault.”

  • “Everyone agrees with me.”

  • “It was just a joke, can’t you take a joke.”

  • “You’re being crazy.”

  • You’re just overreacting.”

  • “How dare you accuse me of doing that.”

  • “Stop exaggerating.”

  • “Lets forgive and forget.”

  • “You think you’re so smart.”

  • “You always have to be right.”

  • “We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”

Effects of Gaslighting on Victims

There are, of course, the short-term effects and the long-term effects that gaslighting has on the victim’s reputation. But, the effects that gaslighting has on the victim themselves is important to note as well.

This is emotional abuse at its core. So, it can have a detrimental effect on the victim’s mental health. Gaslighting victims often suffer from:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Poor concentration

  • Chronic stress

  • Physical ailments brought on by stress, such as high cortisone levels

  • Difficulty trusting others

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Isolation from others

  • Depression

  • Suicidal behavior

What to Do if Your Boss is Gaslighting You

Because it is often subtle or difficult to prove, it can be a challenge to deal with a boss that is gaslighting you. But, there are some steps you can take to handle the situation properly.

  1. You should document everything. Keep notes on your interactions with your boss to track their behavior and try to have witnesses to your conversations so that it is not simply your word against theirs.

    If you can keep communication electronic so that there is a paper trail of your conversations, this can make this process even easier. Keep a file of your notes so that you have something you can take to HR.

  2. Try to limit your direct contact. This can be difficult as they are your boss. But, if you can avoid casual conversations and do your best to keep communication via email or chat systems like Slack, you can remove yourself from a lot of the situations where gaslighting can occur.

    This can also help you to document their gaslighting behavior if they continue the behavior electronically.

  3. Lean on your family and friends. This type of emotional abuse can lead to mental health problems. You may begin to doubt your self-worth, which can lead to depression and low self-esteem.

    The constant apprehension during your workday can add to your stress levels which can cause other issues like insomnia or health problems. Having people around you can trust and lean on, whether at work or at home (or both), can go a long way in helping you cope with a toxic situation.

  4. Speak to HR. If you are sure that you are being gaslighted, escalate the issue to Human Resources. Speak to your HR representative or someone you can trust within the Human Resources department. Be sure to have all of that documentation you’ve been gathering of your interactions with your boss.

    If you have been keeping witnesses to your encounters, be sure that they are aware that you are raising a complaint and ask them if they are willing to come forward with you or back up your claim if HR were to reach out.

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Samantha Goddiess

Samantha is a lifelong writer who has been writing professionally for the last six years. After graduating with honors from Greensboro College with a degree in English & Communications, she went on to find work as an in-house copywriter for several companies including Costume Supercenter, and Blueprint Education.

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