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Your boss promised to give you a bonus at the end of the year if you helped them with that important project. But the end of the year came and went, and with all those extra hours you worked, you never got that bonus.

When you confront them about it, they make it seem like you’ve remembered wrong: “You’re crazy! What are you talking about?”

Then they might turn it around to guilt-trip you: “Can’t you see we’ve been struggling this year?”

Situations like this are called gaslighting. It might seem trivial, but when these little instances happen repeatedly, they can do a number on your self-esteem and make you begin to doubt your sanity.

You may have heard of gaslighting when it comes to relationships, but it can happen at your workplace too. Let’s take a look at gaslighting in the workplace and how to prevent it.

How do you spot gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that involves creating a false reality for the target, or victim. The gaslighter subtly manipulates the target into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.

When you’re gaslighted at work, the gaslighter is trying to make you feel “less-than.” Though this can be hard to identify if you don’t know what to watch for.

Gaslighting is often subtle, and it can seem unintentional. However, with time, you’ll find yourself thinking more and more that you are a forgetful person or that maybe you’re going insane. And while it’s common for people to forget things sometimes, it’s another thing to begin to doubt your sanity.

While it’s true that we all remember things a little bit differently since we experience things from different perspectives, it’s unlikely that you’re simply making things up.

Gaslighting techniques

Some techniques a gaslighter might use include:

Countering - Questioning the victim's memory. 
  • “You never remember the deadlines I tell you. You just have a bad memory.”
  • “Are you sure I said that? I never promised to give you a salary review.”
Denial - Pretending that an event didn't happen and accusing the victim of fabricating stories.
  • “I didn’t tell you to schedule that meeting. You must be imagining things again. What are you talking about?”
  • “You're making that up. I didn’t say that in our meeting yesterday.”
Trivializing - Asserting that the victim’s concerns are an overreaction.
  • “I’m giving you plenty of time to complete this project. Everyone else can meet their deadlines.”
  • “You're being too sensitive. Your coworker thought my joke was funny.”
Withholding - Pretending to misunderstand concerns or refusing to listen.
  • “I’ve got to make an important call right now. I don't have time for your nonsense.”
  • “You’re not making any sense right now.”
How to Prevent Gaslighting

A gaslighter won't just give you negative feedback. They’ll compliment you just enough to make you feel good and give you hope that they like you. To make matters worse, they’ll often be respected by their peers and will carefully select targets for gaslighting. Here are some ways to prevent it:

1. Get a support system

Make sure you have someone to talk to who is supportive and nonjudgmental. Seek help from HR, a therapist, or a trusted friend. 

It might be an issue that your team has faced before. HR can help by scheduling mental health awareness training, trust-building activities, or virtual team-building for remote teams.

Be careful when discussing work problems with your friends. They’ll typically be biased and take your side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it’s nice to vent sometimes, it can snowball into more negative feelings.

2. Remember your truth

You are trying to do the best you can. Don’t let anyone make you feel worthless.

Make a list of all your accomplishments and the things you have done to improve yourself at work. It will help you realize that you are doing a good job, and it will give you something to fall back on if you feel like you are being gaslighted.

3. Avoid direct confrontation 

You will likely lose in a confrontation. It’s best to let the gaslighter think they are in control of the situation. Confer with HR if there’s any way for you to reduce the amount of time you have to work with them.

If you have to speak up, remember that workplace politics might be against you. The gaslighter might have more sway in the company and have seniority, so if the argument gets heated, your coworkers might believe them over you.

4. Document evidence

This will help you understand what's happening in the workplace. It will also help reassure you that you’re remembering things correctly. Avoiding verbal communication might be best when dealing with gaslighters, as email and other forms of written communication will leave a paper trail that may be useful later.

Save emails and messages so you’ll be able to provide them as evidence to support your memory. Depending on company policies, you might be able to record meetings as well.

5. Leave your position

Remember, there are other jobs out there and this job might not be the right fit for you. Money isn't as important as your sense of self and your mental health. Take care of yourself so you can take care of the people who matter to you. Be honest with the HR team during an exit interview but be careful not to put all the blame on others.