Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation that can leave you questioning yourself, your work, and your very reality. It’s bad enough when a romantic partner or friend is gaslighting you, but when it’s your boss, there are some very real implications at hand. Gaslighting shouldn’t be accepted in any form or severity by anyone, and even your boss is wrong for doing it.
Being gaslighted by your boss can be confusing and even scary, so we’ve put together this short guide on what you can do if you find that your boss is gaslighting you. Keep reading to learn how to get out from under this behavior and move on with your career.
The first step is to know what gaslighting looks like. Gaslighters are great at pointing fingers with guilt trips, twisting information, distorting memories, and more. They’ll make you feel like you’re to blame for all of the problems, and when it comes from your boss, you’ll automatically want to think he or she is right.
Work is important to each of us, so when someone constantly tells you that you’re messing up, how can you ignore it? It’s one thing to point out a mistake and offer helpful guidance so you can avoid the same one in the future, but when a boss constantly points the finger at you, it’s something else.
Here are few behaviors gaslighters use against their victims:
- Constant blame
- Distorting your memories to make previous events your fault or make you recall them differently
- Constant lying
- Denial of fault
- All talk, no action. Doesn’t keep promises or commitments.
- You feel confused/disoriented when they’re around
- Making you feel like you’re “crazy” or losing your mind
These behaviors by themsevles can be damaging, but a typical gaslighter will engage in several or all of these behaviors. Does this sound like your boss? If so, you may be under the influence of a gaslighter. Now, it’s time to take some action and protect yourself.
You’re probably confused, shocked, and maybe a bit afraid now that you realize what your boss is actually doing to you. These are all perfectly reasonable and normal responses, but it’s time to pull yourself together so you can take action to stop this behavior before it causes more damage. Remember, you’re being emotionally manipulated.
First thing’s first; you need to create a paper trail. Accurate documentation can help you prove that you’re being gaslighted, and helps you remember things accurately when your gaslighter would have you believe your recollection is wrong. This tactic is what usually makes you start to question your reality, so get your pen and paper ready!
Here’s a scenario: Your boss walks in after lunch, and asks you if you’ve completed The Brooks Account project yet that he assigned you last week. You respond “You said that wasn’t due until three weeks from now.” He responds with “No, that’s wrong. You obviously don’t remember what I said. I said it was due today. I need it now.”
You could swear that he said three weeks, right? Are you losing it, or is he gaslighting? Document the entire conversation, the day of the week, and the time you had the conversation. Be sure to do this every time you have a negative interaction with your boss where you feel he or she might be gaslighting you.
Another important component of handling gaslighting is to set healthy boundaries. If your boss, or anyone for that matter, is making you uncomfortable with the way they talk to, address, or interact with you, let it be known. Tell them their behavior makes you uncomfortable.
This isn’t going to stop the problem; in fact, with a gaslighter, they’ll likely find a way to twist it on you somehow, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’re setting a firm boundary so you can document and prove that it’s been repeatedly violated.
Once a boundary is repeatedly violated in the workplace, it becomes harassment, which is something you can definitely act on. The problem with gaslighting is can be difficult to prove, but as long as you’re documenting things and setting boundaries, you should have a good case to work with.
That “Am I losing it?” question that your gaslighter planted in your brain can be answered by including your co-workers in your documentation. It’s always a good idea to have someone else watch for the behavior you expect is gaslighting. This person can help you realign yourself and realize that you’re not crazy, and your boss is gaslighting you.
Your boss might even be doing the same thing to other employees. The more people you have to back up your claim(s), the more power you’ll have to make real change in your work setting.
You probably don’t want to go to HR with this problem, but there’s no way around it. Emotional manipulation in the form of gaslighting is nothing less than abuse, and no one should be abused in their workplace, or anywhere, for that matter.
Be sure you’ve got your documentation and that your co-workers are willing to testify on the matter. Explain carefully what’s been going on to your HR rep, and make it clear that you do not appreciate your boss’s behavior.