4 Ways to Deal When Someone at Work Is Gaslighting You

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 12, 2024 at 7:12PM UTC

You turned in a project weeks ago, but your manager insists they never received it. A coworker takes credit for your work during a meeting. Someone claims you’re being overly sensitive about a “misunderstanding”—or claims they never uttered those remarks at all. You’re starting to question your own sense of reality.

These are examples of gaslighting. While the term has become so overused—and often misused—that its meaning has become a bit obscured, gaslighting is no less serious. It can have a negative impact on your professional life as much as your personal one. 

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a type of manipulation in which the perpetrator (the gaslighter) makes you doubt your own sense of truth and reality by saying things that are blatantly false. It’s a form of bullying that can have serious repercussions. It can happen so gradually that the victim may not realize what’s happening until they are fully questioning their own sanity and events or facts they know to be true, to the point at which they feel like they have no control over the situation.

How do you handle gaslighting at work?

1. Document everything.

It’s important to put everything that happens down in writing. If things seem amiss, start jotting down notes after your interactions with your colleague. Additionally, try to have conversations over email—this creates a record of what has taken place, and they won’t be able to manipulate you or claim you’re misremembering. If your interactions are vague, get clarification, such as by writing, “To confirm, we discussed X and Y.”

This won’t just help you solidify your own recollection, but it can also serve as evidence if you need to escalate the situation.

2. Address the situation with the gaslighter.

If you feel safe doing so (and this is important—skip this step otherwise), raise the situation with the person who is exhibiting the gaslighting behavior. It is possible that they don’t even realize what they’re doing, and you broaching the subject could make them be more aware of what they’re doing.

Try to raise the issue in a polite way, even if they’re not extending you the same courtesy. This will decrease the chances of them getting defensive. Using the instances you’ve documented, point to specific situations. If you have real facts to support your claim, you will have a better case. Again, try to avoid being confrontational or making them feel cornered. This will give them a chance to voice real concerns if they have them.

3. Get additional support.

Enlist the support of colleagues. The gaslighter could very well be exhibiting the same behavior with others, or there might be coworkers who have witnessed how they have been acting toward you. Talk to people you know you can trust, and ask them if they will support you if and when you choose to report the issue.

4. Report the behavior.

As a last resort, you should report the behavior of your gaslighter. In some cases, such as instances of discrimination or harassment, this step will come much earlier. But either way, if you haven’t been able to make strides with your perpetrator and their actions are affecting you and your work, you must escalate the problem and report it. Look into your employer’s policy on how to report these issues—there is probably a procedure in place. It might mean going to your manager first (of course, if your manager is the gaslighter, skip this step) or HR. 

Hopefully, your employer will take appropriate action. If they don’t, consider the next steps. Legal action may be appropriate in certain cases—again, such as discrimination or harassment. Otherwise, it may be time, unfortunately, to look for a position elsewhere. A toxic environment just isn’t the right one for you.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab-mix Hercules. She primarily focuses on education, technology and career development. She has worked with Penguin Random House, Fairygodboss, CollegeVine, BairesDev and many other publications and organizations. Her humor writing has appeared in the Belladonna, Weekly Humorist, Slackjaw, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Points in Case. She also writes fiction and essays, which have appeared in publications including The Memoirist and The Avalon Literary Review. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

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