What To Do if You're Being Gaslighted at Work

Gaslighting doesn't just happen in romantic relationships.

Gaslighters create their own reality. Within their worldview, they're always right, and their opponent—anyone they decide they want to dominate, basically—is wrong, misguided, and uninformed. The goal of a gaslighter is to deceive and obfuscate to gain power over you. Dating a gaslighter is challenging. But so, too, is having one as your supervisor or coworker.

This form of workplace harassment may be more common than you think. "Gaslighting and other forms of harassment are underreported in the workplace, because gaslighters who are particularly adept at manipulation may make the victim feel as if it was all [their] fault," Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, Florida-based author of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People—and Break Free told Health.

Gaslighters are often very smart, concurred Connecticut-based psychotherapist Dori Gatter, PsyD. Their intellect, combined with their inability to handle negative feedback, means they often assume positions of authority in the workplace. "More often than not, they'll either be an entrepreneur or in some position of power—that's where they're much more comfortable," Gatter said.

Working for a boss with gaslighting tendencies or having a gaslighting coworker with authority over you can diminish your confidence and leave you feeling paranoid and off-kilter—not just during work hours but around the clock, as the abuse cuts into your personal life. Getting a new job is an option, but it's not your only recourse. Here's what the experts we spoke with recommended.

Make Sure It Really Is Gaslighting

A tough manager who is hard to please is one thing; they might quibble with a report you turned in but then give you the feedback and time to get it right. A manager who is a gaslighter is another, and there's a way to tell the difference.

According to Sarkis, a gaslighter doesn't really want you to succeed at all and will sabotage your efforts. They might change due dates and deadlines in the middle of a project, leaving you pulling all-nighters to get it done. They might undermine your efforts with comments about how you don't know what you are doing—making you doubt your own expertise.

Extreme gaslighters might even say disparaging things or touch you inappropriately, then deny it happened, claiming it was an accident, or call you a liar when you confront them, Sarkis said. Remember that gaslighters try to bend reality to make their version of events the only true one. They cross lines most of us wouldn't, which is how they get away with their harassment.

"Gaslighters are going to communicate that they know more, that you don't know what you're talking about, and that you're confused and uninformed," Sarkis said.

Document Everything

Once you're sure it really is gaslighting, start documenting every email, memo, and other evidence proving what's going on. Don't trust your memory. Keep a record of every interaction where gaslighting occurs, including dates and times. "Do not keep this information on a work-issued device, as your company may have access to that information and will take the device upon your quitting," Sarkis advised.

Tracking the gaslighting accomplishes two important goals. First, it helps you confirm to yourself the severity of the situation. In some cases, you may be able to live with your supervisor's behavior or develop workarounds that allow you to still do your job. If not, documentation is also invaluable if you decide to get people higher up in administration or human resources involved.

A verbal account isn't compelling to HR folks and high-level supervisors, and it also tends to give your gaslighter an advantage, Gatter said. "Gaslighters will talk their way out of a bag," she explained. Digital or paper proof, however, lays out your case.

Ask Colleagues if It's Happening to Them, Too

Sometimes a gaslighter at work will focus their abuse on one employee. But often they see many people on their path to power, and they gaslight them as well. So ask around. How does your boss interact with the other people on your team? If coworkers say that they also receive similar treatment, ask them if they're willing to document the gaslighting behavior they have to deal with, Gatter suggested. That way, it won't be just you making a complaint. Remember, there is strength in numbers.

Schedule a One-on-One With the Gaslighter

After reviewing all your evidence, schedule a time to meet with the person gaslighting you. Be direct and firm, sharing how you feel and asking how you two can form a better working relationship. Try to avoid accusations and a confrontational tone, because if there's one thing that sets off a gaslighter, it's critical, negative feedback.

"If they truly have gaslighting tendencies, they're probably not going to hear you and will throw that back at you that whatever you tell them is really your fault," Gatter warned.

Document your conversation as well, even via handwritten notes. It's possible, although unlikely, that your conversation will lead to changed behavior. Mostly, this interaction is necessary for office politics, Gatter said. When you meet with the gaslighter's supervisor or human resources, you'll be able to show that you tried to address the problem on your own.

Go to HR or Other Higher-Ups

Check your employee manual to see if your office has a policy on handling complaints about a manager, Sarkis recommended. If there is no official policy, reach out to HR or the gaslighter's supervisor to share your experience.

You can't necessarily predict how the company will respond. A best-case scenario would result in your gaslighter backing off and you resuming your job (and regaining your mental health as well). Alternatively, the company could opt to transfer you. Unfortunately, it's also possible that the company won't support you.

In that case, Gatter said, it may make the most sense to seek out another job rather than return to the same situation and endure the anxiety, depression, and other mental anguish caused by a gaslighter. "It's not fair that you need to leave, but what is it costing you to stay?" Sarkis said. If you find yourself in this position, weigh your options carefully. The toll a gaslighter takes on your health may justify handing in your resignation.

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