Was I "gaslighted" at work?
Recently I had a troubling interaction with a colleague—now client––I’ve known and trusted for many years. We were working on a project together and after mutually agreeing to scope and terms, I went to work on my part of the deal, only to be told a few days later that I misunderstood the plan. Even though I had our emails and agreement in writing, which I sent back as a reminder, he continued to blame me, causing me to doubt myself. I was tempted to walk away but then decided to set my feelings aside for the good of my growing business. Did he “gaslight” me, and if so, what is the best way to handle this at work, or in any relationship for that matter?
Bonnie in Boston
Dear Bonnie from Boston (we’re practically neighbors!),
YES, you did indeed get gaslighted, and you really handled it well, by the way.
Although not always intentional, this insidious form of manipulation can still have the same damaging effect, but only if you let it. Sounds like you caught it before you really went down a rabbit hole of questioning your perceptions. Been there…as I am sure most everyone has at some point in their lives, whether at work or in their personal relationships.
Something as seemingly innocuous as a particular aunt of mine constantly saying “you’re crazy” whenever I experienced something different from her, like…
ME: It’s so cold in here. HER: You’re crazy, I’m burning up.
ME: This tastes delicious. HER: You’re crazy, it’s overcooked.
ME: That guy gives me the creeps.
HER: What’s wrong with you, he’s a friend of the family, you’re crazy…
Conversations like this, or any which make you question your reality and think there must be something wrong with you, that’s gaslighting...especially if it is a frequent occurrence.
What is gaslighting? The 1944 film Gaslight is the best explainer. I've seen it several times over the years. While it still makes my stomach churn, it did help me understand how to identify gaslighting when it’s happening…and it happens at work all the time.
In my experience, whether you get caught up in this subtle form of workplace bullying depends on how vulnerable or insecure you are feeling at the time. Earlier in my career, when I allowed myself to be gaslighted, I’d leave work in tears. Over the years, as I grew more confident in trusting my gut, my perceptions, and my experience, I was able to deal with it more effectively. As a matter of fact, the last time it happened, it was my boss who went home in tears, after I refused to let him gaslight me.
There’s a lot of great content out there about gaslighting––how to spot it and how to handle it––and it’s well worth a read. If you haven’t yet experienced it, rest assured, you will…and you’ll be prepared!