Gaslighting: It refers to the psychological manipulation of another person, so much so that they question their own sanity. Unfortunately, those in authority positions tend to have stronger manipulation powers and this means that, sometimes, bosses have the ability and will to gaslight their employees.
Gaslighting is a toxic behavior that can have a significant impact on your mental health. If you're starting to feel confused and anxious at work, and you're wondering if it's them or you, here are eight habits of gaslighting bosses that may give you some more clarity on the situation.
1. They compare you to other employees.
Gaslighters like to bring you down, and they know that comparison is the thief of joy. While it's fair to use employees' successes to encourage other employees in the workplace, gaslighting certain employees by comparing them to others and making them feel lesser is another story. If you have areas that need improvement, your boss should have a private conversation with you that either motivates you to forge forward or that lets you go. But a gaslighting boss might instead make you feel incompetent by comparing you to others — even those not in your line of work.
2. They don't show any respect for you — even if they brag about you in public.
Sure, you should respect authority. But we're all human, and if you're doing work for someone who hired you presumably because they appreciate and value your experience and skills, it's not unfair of you to expect some level of respect back. A gaslighting boss, however, may not have mutual respect, which can start to get to you when you wonder why they'd hired you in the first place.
3. They habitually lie to you — and even more regularly obscure information.
A gaslighting boss is usually a liar or, at best, withholds important information. Maybe they lie to you about something as simple as deadlines because they don't trust that you'll get your work done on time, or maybe they lie to you about the state of the company because they don't want you to jump the sinking ship. Whatever the case, you might start ransacking your brain for answers as to what is going on around you, when your boss knows very well. And that can make you feel crazy.
4. They call you out in front of others for infractions that aren't real.
Maybe you leave work right at 5 p.m. when you're technically allowed to go. Maybe you show up right at 9 a.m. when you're technically supposed to be there. Maybe you actually take your hour-long lunch to which you're entitled. If your boss not only calls you out on exercising your rights but also calls you out in front of others to make you look irresponsible, this may be a form of gaslighting. If your boss really has an issue with your behavior in the workplace, it's best to have a private conversation — a conversation somewhere you can comfortably share your own thoughts on the matter.
5. They expect special treatment (beyond what's deserving of their authority).
Of course, authority figures should be treated as such. But if your boss is walking around expecting pigs to fly, you might start believing that pigs should fly. And when the rational side of your brain tells your gaslit side just how ridiculous these asks and demands are, you might start to feel like you're losing your mind and no longer know right from wrong.
6. They talk at you instead of with you.
A boss is a leader who should know how to have a conversation — which, of course, is a two-way street. Sure, sometimes your boss just needs something done, and it's your job to do it, so there's no need for back and forth. They tell you to do something, and you do it. But other times, the topic deserves a proper talk, and your boss talks at you instead of with you. In these cases, your boss may be gaslighting you.
7. They make you feel bad for using your paid time off (PTO) — even after encouraging you to take it.
If you're given PTO, you should be allowed to take it. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Studies show that many people don't take PTO because they fear that it'll make them look irresponsible or unreliable. When they do take it, they might be afraid to totally unplug. If your boss doesn't respect your time off and makes you feel any certain way for taking what you're legally entitled to take, it might be a gaslighting situation.
8. They make you feel bad for wanting a work-life balance — even after saying your balance is a priority for them.
Having a work-life balance is important. In fact, a wealth of research says that a work-life balance is one of the biggest perks for job seekers. The reality is that your job isn't your life, and you likely have other obligations like tending to your family and your health. If your boss makes you feel a certain way for practicing a healthy work-life balance (i.e. leaving on time so long as you get your work done!), they may be a gaslighter.
How can you manage someone who gaslights you? It may be best to seek help from a mental health professional to get to the bottom of you feelings of stress and anxiety. If your boss is treating you in a way that's causing adverse impact to your health, finding a culture that doesn't tolerate abuse — of any kind — is worth the stress of a job search.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.