Gaslighting. We’ve all heard this term mentioned in social media – but what is it exactly? There are so many new terms to learn that it can be hard to keep them all straight. I admit, being the age I am, I had to look this one up before writing about it. But after seeing multiple political posts online today about politicians “gaslighting” the public – I figured that I should do some more research on the subject.
According to one of my favorite resources, Urban Dictionary, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse. It’s also referred to as ambient abuse – where information is purposely falsified to the victim. The purpose of this is to make the victim doubt their own memory.
There is however a more clinical definition of gaslighting.
There are many examples of gaslighting that can occur in your daily life. Some key signs to watch out for are: the feeling of being emotionally manipulated, being made to feel like you’re going crazy, being signalled out of a group of people to pick on you over your worst fears, or receiving constant negative feedback or criticism. These are also signs of an emotionally abusive relationship that can leave you feeling depressed.
My ex Trigger, I’ve written about him before, was a professional gaslighter. I knew what he was doing was wrong but I had no idea what it meant at the time. I just accepted as part of who he was.
Him: “I lost my phone. I couldn’t call you for days.”
Me: “You lost your phone again? What’s this, the third time?”
Him: “I can’t help it. I went pig hunting. And it fell out of my pocket.
Me: “The first or second time I can believe, but a third time, really? How do you expect me to believe this?”
Him: “It’s not my fault I lost my phone. You are the one who wants regular contact.”
The man lost his phone on a regular basis. It became his go to excuse for not calling me for weeks at a time. He either lost his phone or forgot it at home. He was a business owner, I found this hard to believe. He was addicted to that thing.
James, the Mr. Big in my life, was also notorious for gaslighting. Going back to the argument we had about what we were to each other back in 2011:
Him: “What do you want from me? I’m at best a part-time lover. We’re friends.”
Me: “I don’t sleep with friends. I don’t have lovers. There’s exactly one person I sleep with. You.”
Him: “I don’t believe in friendship with rules. You expect too much of me.”
Me: “Asking you to stick with plans and actually call me is expecting too much?”
Him: “We’re friends. What more do you want from me? This is all your fault anyway.”
Conversations like this just messed with my head and my heart. From one day to the next, I never knew what I was to James. When we were together in person – he was a totally different person. He made promises and talked about planning trips together. He told me he loved me. But then when we talked in between seeing each other – he was cold and distant. Like a totally different person. Everything was my fault.
The one thing about James I couldn’t put my finger on – I knew he had some feelings for me but he was using me at the same time. I couldn’t figure out why. Or what his end game was. Was it the manipulation he enjoyed? Was he in it just for the sex? But that couldn’t be it – because we didn’t always have sex when we were together. It’s a question that still bothers me today.
I’ve experienced gaslighting in the workplace too. Whether it’s constant complaints about your performance or negative gossip – these can all have a serious impact on your overall health. And as I learned recently, the constant badgering and harassment can leave you feeling burned out, or can even cripple your confidence.
I worked for an engineering firm many years ago for a few months. The economy was in the “shitter” and there weren’t many jobs available. I had applied for a job of an office manager which I was qualified for but was offered the job as a reception instead. I took it because the pay was good. It turns out that I was replacing the newly hired office manager who had worked as the receptionist for a few years.
From very early on, “Jenny” had a problem with me. I think she saw that I was a good worker- perhaps even better than she was. She complained that I didn’t do anything at all during the day. Which was partly true – it was because she never gave me work to do. I sat there waiting for the phone to ring most days.
I had to take some time off for funerals – two family members died in one week. When I came back to work, I was pretty emotional. She gave me a hug and acted all sweet but things fell apart quickly then.
“You look like you’ve been crying all night” she said. I told her well yeah, I just lost two family members in like five days. “I knew it,” she said and walked away.
Like, wtf? Who does that?
I remember walking in one morning and sat down at the desk.
“You forgot to unload the dishwasher last night,” she said and started to walk away. She came back, “Oh, and good morning.”
Or… “Don’t you see how dirty the wall is here?” she wipes it with a rag. “Why didn’t you clean it?”
Me: “Because they have cleaners for that — if it’s something I should be doing, then it should be in my job description.”
She walked away in a huff. It was after that exchange that she started making up reasons why I sucked at my job.
There was one order that I was to place for $1500 for printing. I tried the best I could do for the order, but the manager changed his mind SO MANY times. His order was scribbled all over and I did my best to make sense of it.
And who got blamed for the wrong order? It was me. I was then put on probation because “I didn’t do my job correctly.”
This is the very definition of gaslighting. I can’t go into details of what happened after that as I signed a “non disclosure” document prohibiting me from naming the company. But… let’s just say, it worked out in my favour. I got a little extra money out of the deal, quit – and went back to government contracting.
Sometimes you just have to get out of a bad “relationship” – otherwise the constant negative nitpicking will cripple you.
Stopping someone from gaslighting you is a tricky thing to do. You can’t change how a person is, but you can change how you react to them.
What I’ve found is that these people are looking for a reaction. Their main purpose is to inflict pain on you. Or to blame you for their misgivings.
When it comes to relationships, you can set boundaries. I learned this after splitting up from James for the last time. I learned to be vocal about my needs without being clingy. I learned that we weren’t compatible and that’s okay too.
Work Place Relationships
When it comes to work relationships – the best thing to do is get everything in writing. Document everything. Keep track of emails. If you have a verbal conversation with someone, write up a summary email of the details, and send it to that person with a cc to your supervisor if necessary. If you’re asked to do something that isn’t in your scope of work – get it in writing.
Yes, family can gaslight too. I have one relative who often makes me feel guilty for not wanting to attend social gatherings. Parties just aren’t my thing. I’ve chosen to ignore these little remarks. How? I just stop responding to the conversation. Eventually, the person will learn to correct their behaviour – or at the very least, you get a break from toxic relationship.
Have you been gaslighted before at work? If so, let me know in the comments.
To learn more on gaslighting, here’s a good youtube video from Psych2Go.