Understanding Gaslighting in the Workplace: Recognizing Manipulation and Protecting Yourself

Rob Wiley

Dallas Employment Trial Lawyer Rob Wiley

Gaslighting is a term that has gained prominence in discussions about psychological manipulation and emotional abuse, particularly in interpersonal relationships and professional settings. Coined from the play and subsequent films titled “Gas Light,” where a husband deceives his wife into questioning her reality, gaslighting describes a methodical strategy to undermine someone’s perceptions, memories, and sense of self.

In the workplace, gaslighting can be especially insidious, often leading to confusion, self-doubt, and emotional distress for the victimized employee.  This is a particular problem for Texas employees.

Imagine a scenario where an employee consistently exceeds performance targets and receives positive feedback from clients and colleagues. However, her employer repeatedly undermines their achievements and criticizes their work in front of others. The employer might say things like:

“You’re not meeting expectations. Your performance is subpar compared to others.”

“Clients have been complaining about your work. You’re lucky we haven’t taken action yet.”

“Your memory seems to be failing you. We discussed this issue multiple times, and you keep making the same mistakes.”

Meanwhile, the employer never provides specific examples or evidence to support these claims. The employer might also subtly deny praise or positive feedback given to the employee by others, making the employee doubt their abilities and judgment.

Gaslighting in the workplace typically involves a power dynamic where the gaslighter (often a manager or supervisor) uses their authority and influence to manipulate the perceptions and emotions of the gaslightee (the employee). The gaslighter employs various tactics to achieve this, such as:

Undermining Achievements: The gaslighter may downplay or ignore the employee’s successes, making them doubt their competence despite evidence of their accomplishments.

Fabricating Criticisms: The gaslighter might invent or exaggerate shortcomings in the employee’s performance without providing concrete examples or constructive feedback.

Denying Reality: Gaslighters often deny their own words or actions, making the employee question their own memory and perception of events.

Isolation: Gaslighters may isolate the employee by discrediting their relationships with others, making the employee feel alienated and more vulnerable to manipulation.

For instance, an employer might continuously criticize an employee’s work in team meetings, undermining their confidence and making them doubt their abilities. The employer’s comments could be vague and unsubstantiated, leaving the employee feeling confused and unable to defend themselves effectively.

Over time, the effects of gaslighting can be profound. Employees subjected to gaslighting may experience anxiety, depression, decreased productivity, and strained relationships both inside and outside of work. Recognizing gaslighting behavior is crucial for safeguarding one’s mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Workplace gaslighting can be illegal.  Often, employees are targeted for gaslighting because of their race, gender, sexual orientaiton, religion, age, or disability.  This sort of gaslighting can be illegal harassment.  Federal and Texas laws prohibit this sort of discrimination in the workplace.

Understanding the tactics used by gaslighters and knowing how to respond can empower employees to advocate for themselves and create healthier work environments. If you suspect you are being gaslighted, you can contact my law office to schedule a time to discuss your concerns with an attorney.

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