Gaslighting in the workplace

Have you experienced gaslighting?

The term gaslighting is rooted in the  1938 play Gas Light and its film adaptations which has been subsequently used in clinical research literature. Wikipedia says:

Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

Gaslighting in the workplace

Gaslighting in the workplace

Very often referenced in relation to domestic abuse, people are surprised to hear the term in the workplace. But it happens there too. Because women generally have a softer communication style and are considered to be more emotional, they are frequently targets of this behaviour. At best, it can be bulldozing by a forceful personality. At worst it is a form of bullyingTweet this. Read: 10 behaviours of an emotional bully

Psychology Today, cites a few common signs of workplace gaslighting. Constantly having to second-guess a colleague or boss is high on the list.  Wondering if you are being too sensitive or emotional. Questioning your judgements of certain situations and doubting your memory of interactions instructions. Your perception of reality is being turned upside down.

Gaslighting when combined with belittling or humiliating someone, can be damaging to their their self-confidence and professional image. It’s not always intentional but damaging nevertheless.

Peggy, a customer service representative says “My last boss had me doubting my own sanity. I thought I had the onset of early dementia. She has a very powerful personality and speaks with force and conviction all the time.  She never expresses doubt. Emails with instructions never arrived in my in box. Assignment deadlines were given without telling me (“you must have forgotten”) and times and places when key information was shared were a complete blank.  (“I mentioned it on xxxx,  after the monthly meeting,  Joe was there too.”) When I tried to raise this issue, there was a patronizing insinuation that I was “a sensitive soul,” with a suggestion I might need some support for stress.

Even though I reached all my KPIs I received a poor performance review based on inadequate organisation skills, erratic communication and obstructive manner. This had never happened before. I had always been a star performer and lead member of the team.”

Although  men are more guilty of  aggressive bullying, when the bully is a woman, the bullying tends to be softer and more covert, the target is more likely to be a woman as well. Read: How to deal with a bully boss

There is a significant difference between poor performance and gaslighting.Tweet this

Here are 4 things you can do immediately to combat gaslighting:

  1. Talk to your colleagues. Share your experience. Is it just you or do they have the same problem?
  2. Keep records and benchmark situations.
  3. Confirm requests and assignment details by email.
  4. Ask for, or seek; a mentor or coach. When confronted with criticisms of your work, log a complaint and escalate if you need to.

Connect with a Coach or Mentor – Contact Us now!

Gaslighting is insidious and can do a lot of damage. Make sure you speak up.

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  • Ivan Faught says:

    Are there any statutory laws against Gaslighting where the guilty one can be held responsible for such abuse?

    • Hi – for gaslighting can be tied into bullying or mobbing then it will be necessary to keep a record and produce a paper trail. That of course takes time. The target will need to make note of all the instances of exclusion and under mining for example which are quite difficult to prove. It helps to find an ally.

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