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Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group covertly sows seeds of doubt in another person or group, making them question their own understanding, memory, perception, or judgment. The term originates from the 1938 play “Gas Light” and the subsequent movie adaptations, where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane by dimming the gas lights in their home, while insisting that she is imagining it. Gaslighting can be done through a variety of tactics.
Leadership development programs and initiatives consume over $60 billion a year globally; however, research shows that nearly 30% of bosses may still be mildly or highly toxic. It shows that toxicity in a person is hard to cure.
Gaslighting in the workplace occurs when a manager or coworker manipulates another employee into questioning their own abilities, judgment, or sanity. Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic used by individuals, including colleagues, supervisors, or managers, to gain power or control over others. It often involves undermining the target’s confidence. Gaslighting can create a toxic work environment and negatively impact the mental and emotional well-being of employees. It has also been seen that individually, managers or superiors are more likely to be involved in gaslighting. When colleagues and peer do it, they usually work in group against an individual.
Gaslighting is particularly dangerous because of the subtle and insidious way it is done. It is easy to spot visibly toxic leaders who shout, scream, threaten, and abuse publicly, but gaslighting bosses always remain calm outwardly. They are expert at attacking the self-esteem, confidence, and sense of reality of subordinates in sneaky, hard to prove ways.
Here are some examples of gaslighting in the workplace. All of these are found in workplaces and may not be prioritize in the order of occurrence. If you have been working for several years, you may have seen similar cases happening around you. I hope you have neither been a victim of it nor have been a victimizer.
- Denying Previous Agreements – A manager may deny ever making specific promises, agreements, or commitments that the employee clearly remembers. This is about face kind of thing, where the person simply refuses to accept a clearly remembered thing. They may either say they don’t remember, or worse still, say that they never said it.
- Misrepresentation of Facts – The boss or colleagues might distort facts or provide false information to create confusion or make the target doubt their knowledge.
- Withholding Information – It is quite common to deliberately withhold information that is essential for the target’s job responsibilities, making them feel incompetent.
- Blaming the Target – Accusing the target of mistakes or problems that are not their fault, causing them to doubt their expertise and competence.
- Inconsistent Feedback – Providing contradictory feedback, such as praising the employee one day and then criticizing them harshly the next, which leads to confusion and self-doubt.
- Invalidating Emotions – Dismissing or belittling an employee’s emotions or concerns, telling them they are overreacting or being too sensitive.
- Creating Hostile Work Environment – Encouraging or participating in workplace bullying, mobbing, or gossiping to isolate the target and making them feel ostracized.
- Actively Stalling Growth – Making active efforts to stall learning and development, discouraging learning, covertly working to stop their promotion into a senior role.
Some Causes of Gaslighting in the Workplace
- Power imbalance: Gaslighting is more likely to occur in situations where there is a power imbalance between the victim and the gaslighter. For example, a manager is more likely to gaslight their subordinates than a coworker is to gaslight another coworker.
- Insecure personality: Gaslighters often have insecure personalities and feel the need to control others in order to feel better about themselves.
- Narcissistic personality disorder: Gaslighting is a common tactic used by people with narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists often have a need to be seen as perfect and infallible, and they will use gaslighting to maintain this illusion.
- Machiavellianism: Machiavellians are people who are willing to use manipulation and deception to achieve their goals. They may use gaslighting to get ahead at work or to control others.
- Victim of gaslighting – Gaslighters may have had a difficult patch in their own career where they might have suffered at the hands of a toxic boss. They are avenging their past at the expense of others.
- Social background – People who had difficult lives due to their family. social, economic circumstances may become gaslighters, which is again a form of vindictiveness.
Effects of Gaslighting on the Victims
Several studies have shown the harmful emotional, psychological, and physical effects of working for a toxic boss. Such people are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and other life-threatening conditions. They are also more susceptible to chronic stress, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and obesity. They may be perpetually exhausted and get sick more often.
It may take about two years to recover physically and emotionally after leaving a toxic boss. As with any psychological trauma or stress, the longer and greater the exposure, the longer it takes to recover.
The ever-prevailing stress and anxiety affects personal life and relationships. The people who live with you may suffer due to your erratic behavior in social settings, or they may suffer as they see you suffering and cannot do anything to help.