Gaslighting in the workplace
In a professional context, gaslighting can be practiced by colleagues, managers, or subordinates and can lead to a hostile work environment where employees often feel marginalized or unfairly treated, constantly second-guessing themselves and questioning their abilities and competence. Examples of gaslighting in the workplace can include the following:
Taking credit for your work – instead of recognizing your contribution, a colleague or your boss will take credit for your work, putting themselves in the spotlight.
Blaming you for the failure of a project without taking their share of responsibility.
Disregarding and minimizing your qualities and abilities – saying things like, "No matter how I explain it, you won't understand," or "Someone else should handle this project; you won't be able to handle it."
Sabotage – this can take various forms, such as promising to send you an essential document for a project but "forgetting" to do so, not informing you about a meeting and then criticizing you for your absence and for not fulfilling your duties, or offering to help but actually hindering your progress and lying about their progress on assigned tasks.
Withholding essential information – the other person omits to share crucial information, expecting you to read their mind or know in advance what needs to be done. If you ask for clarification, you're accused of incompetence or ignorance.
Defensive attitude – when you confront a colleague for crossing certain boundaries or making a mistake, they become defensive and upset instead of trying to understand their error and rectify it, often accusing you of having ill intentions.
Double standards – your boss may insist that everyone adheres to certain rules that they themselves do not follow. For example, they may stress the importance of working late as a team while leaving early most of the time. When confronted, they may deny it and accuse you of trying to run away from your responsibilities, that you don't want to do your job, and that you shouldn't criticize others in these circumstances.
Giving unjustified negative evaluations/ reviews – providing negative feedback without any valid reasons or lying about the quality of your work or services.
Fueling hostility between colleagues – the gaslighter spreads rumors and gossip to create animosity among colleagues or tarnish their reputations.
In such situations, it's advisable to use written communication. For example, even if you've had a verbal discussion about how to approach a project, formal communication in writing is preferred to have proof of your contribution. If you're falsely accused of not doing something when you have indeed completed the task, you can provide evidence.
Another action you can take is to confront the person who is spreading false information about you or trying to make you believe something contrary to your own knowledge of events. Politely yet firmly express your thoughts and intentions and state what actions you will take if they continue to cross your boundaries, emphasizing the need for professionalism and respect in your interactions. Keep the conversation focused on professional matters and avoid getting into personal issues that could be used against you.
If the problem persists despite direct communication and confrontation, consider talking to a supervisor, the HR department, or any responsible party who can assist you. You might also explore other options such as transferring to another department or seeking alternative job opportunities if the issue remains unresolved.
Gaslighting in friendships
Friendship is built on trust, reciprocity, and mutual respect. However, there are also one-sided friendships that resemble hidden competitions or power struggles in which one person uses the other, disregards their feelings and needs, and attempts to manipulate them for personal gain. Sometimes, as you grow and evolve, your friend fears they won't keep up with you and may try to hinder your progress through various methods. Examples of gaslighting in friendships can include the following:
Invalidating your feelings – your friend often tells you things like, "You shouldn't feel that way," "I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of it; many others have it worse than you", "You don't really feel that", "You are the one upset?", "Why did you get angry? Can't you take a joke anymore?". They fail to consider what you're experiencing and don't validate your emotions, frequently making comments about how you react or behave inappropriately, exaggerate, or misinterpret things. They make you feel bad, guilty, or ashamed if you express your dissatisfaction or try to assert certain personal boundaries.
Pretending to be concerned about you and your life and pretending to take care of you – someone who pretends to be your friend but is actually envious and wants to thwart your progress can feign concern, saying things like, "I'm worried that... you've been so lost lately / you've started forgetting things / you've become paranoid." However, their aim is to make you doubt yourself and become easier to manipulate.
Taking advantage of your friendship and attempting to seduce your partner. If you start to suspect something or confront them directly, they deny everything, play the victim, or pretend to be hurt, saying things like, "How could you think that about me?" and accusing you of being too jealous or paranoid, claiming that your partner made advances to them, and so on.
Speaking ill of your other friends – they accuse your other friends of untrue things, insinuate various things to plant doubt in your mind, tell lies, and spread rumors and gossip to turn you against each other.
Repeatedly lying to your face – even if you catch them in a lie with evidence, they don't admit it and continue to lie even more to cover up the initial lies. They might say things like, "I'm not lying, you're just remembering it wrong," "You're supposed to trust me; I'm your best friend," "You believe a stranger over me?"
Conveniently "forgetting" moments and situations where they hurt or wronged you - we all make mistakes or unintentionally hurt others, but instead of taking responsibility for their mistake, apologizing or trying to make amends, your friend will make you believe that it never happened, that it's all in your head, or that you misinterpreted it. They might say things like, "I didn't do anything wrong," "You're making it up; it didn't happen that way," "Why do I always have to apologize? You've never done anything wrong?" "You're too sensitive."
Constantly criticizing you under the guise of looking out for your best interests - a true friend will not only tell you what you want to hear to stay in your good graces but will also provide honest, less pleasant, feedback when necessary. On the other hand, a manipulative "friend" will criticize you constantly, be sarcastic and malicious, and emphasize your flaws or even invent them to make you feel bad about yourself. When someone is overly critical, you may believe they're being sincere and speaking for your own good, but pay attention to how it makes you feel – you shouldn't feel ashamed or fundamentally flawed. The feedback from a true friend helps you open your eyes and be honest with yourself, but it shouldn't make you feel bad about yourself, ashamed, or guilty.
Blaming you for their own problems – even if you had nothing to do with a situation, a manipulative friend will find a way to make you responsible for it. They might say things like, "If you had/hadn't said/done X, I wouldn't have said/done Y," or "If you had lent me money, I wouldn't be in this situation." They make you believe you're responsible for their wellbeing and actions, and that it's entirely your responsibility to get them out of the problems they've gotten themselves into.. You are not responsible for anyone else's life, just as you can't expect someone else to take responsibility for your life. The entitlement in our friendships comes from both our immaturity and selfishness.
They speak ill of you behind your back – you end up finding out all sorts of things about yourself, many of which are untrue, and you discover that the one spreading these rumors is actually your friend. One of the gaslighting techniques is to discredit someone and try to tarnish their image by inventing all sorts of things and spreading rumors and gossip.
If you find yourself in a situation where a friend frequently displays such behaviors, it's essential to distance yourself and observe them more accurately. It may be challenging to believe that, and you may have doubts or fear that changing your behavior toward that person will affect your other friends, as it could shift the group dynamics. Verify the information they provide and maintain a healthy level of skepticism, meaning don't take their word for it, especially if you've noticed that their words have often stirred conflicts among group members. Don't engage in gossip with them and refuse to speak ill of others. Also, avoid using them as a messenger.
Ask your friend to have a discussion, where you can express how you feel in that relationship, what bothers you, what specific behaviors affect you, what changes you'd like to see, and what you will do if you can't reach an agreement. Listen to their perspective and try to understand why they behaved the way they did and if there's a willingness to change.
Friendship should be about respect, reciprocity, honesty, and mutual support. A person who tries to manipulate you for their own gain, who disregards your feelings and needs, who speaks ill of you or spreads rumors is not a true friend. Your duty is to take care of yourself first.
Your duty is to take care of yourself first, so distancing yourself from such individuals or cutting off all contact with them is a sign of self-care and self-respect. A person who is not willing to take responsibility for their toxic behaviors and change them (even though you've told them what harms you and what your boundaries are) is not the kind of company you'd want to have around you. You deserve to surround yourself with people who value and appreciate you for who you are, so choose wisely the people who are part of your life!
Dr. Ursula Sandner