gaslighting – tactics that make workplace bullying even more distressing

Gaslighting (definition)

A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity. The classic example of gaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they’re sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they “must be imagining things” when they challenge these changes.

A more psychological definition of gaslighting is “an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim – having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.

Origin of gaslight

A reference to the 1944 movie “Gaslight”, in which an abusive husband secretly and repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in the house while accusing his wife of imagining the flickering.


 

Gaslighting is such an interesting way of describing how one person (or more) can manipulate another person into believing they are actually. going. crazy.

When gaslighting tactics are used in conjunction with workplace bullying the results are overwhelmingly devastating. Gaslighting causes your own reality to be questioned in such a way as to distort one’s own perspective.

What the heck am I talking about I hear you ask…?

If I was going to attempt to explain what gaslighting feels like in physical terms, I would describe it as having a warm-ish fire lit under your butt – it doesn’t burn but it feels uncomfortable. You don’t know where or when it started, but you know it’s there and you don’t know how to make it go away.

Explaining it in psychological terms, I would call it covert emotional abuse. A form of manipulation that is deliberate and makes you question your own sanity, judgment, decision-making abilities and affects your memory so that your recollection of events becomes distorted.

Gaslighting is malicious and is used to gain dominance and control over another person.

On top of being bullied at work, I experienced gaslighting in many different forms. At first, it started as comments that were essentially quite rude but delivered in a way that made me question if the comments made were true. By the time I realised what had been happening, it was all a little bit too late as I did believe they WERE true and my mental well-being had already been compromised.

As mentioned in my previous blog posts I was a highly regarded, high performing employee before I was bullied and experienced gaslighting tactics – essentially, out of my job. Technically, I am still employed however, due to legal proceedings some of my comments or examples must remain limited (for now).

This made me question my position in the workplace – was I really ever good at my job? How is it that all of a sudden, I am not as confident in my work as I once was? Why am I double checking things I already know? Did I ever really know anything at all? Maybe they’re right… I am utterly crap at my job.

After I reported my experience of being bullied at work by my team leader to HR, I also decided that I would be very honest and open about the mental health issues it had caused me. Everyone knows about the stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace and the negative effects it can have, but I decided that because my anxiety disorder had been caused to me in the workplace, I would not hide it. I absolutely refused to hide it, because it absolutely refused to go away.

I think this is when the gaslighting really kicked in. The leadership group that swore to support me back to recovery, back to the high performing employee I used to be, took advantage of my mental health condition and sought to worsen it.

In no uncertain terms, and on many occasions, I was basically told to “sit down and shut up”. No, not in those exact words – in the kind of words that sounded like “look, if you want us to help you we will, but you really need to pipe down with the whole bullying in the workplace caused me to develop an anxiety disorder” type words. Still, even though I felt at my lowest, and as though I had nothing left, I knew I had one thing left and that was my TRUTH. No matter what happens on this road and into the future my truth is the one thing I will always have, and I will hang onto it for dear life.

So, I refused to sit down, and I refused to shut up. This I believe, basically enraged the said leadership group in that every time I would mention mental health or anxiety I was met with blank stares. The kind of blank stares that made me want to provide these people with definitions for what I was describing. They looked at me as though they had never even heard of the words mental health or anxiety in their lives. On many occasions I found myself describing to them what I was feeling, what I was going through and how it was affecting not only my work life, but all aspects of my life. Cue more blank stares.

To hush me I was ‘railroaded’ in different directions, provided with irrelevant examples of these people’s past experiences with matters that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was forced to shut up by losing my voice.

This is not to say that I stopped talking, no, I did not. I had my truth and I was sure that it was going to be heard. Surely someone was going to acknowledge that they were listening to me, surely my voice was going to be heard…I truly believed that someone was going to provide me with some form of actual support. Surely, my words would eventually be heard and, if even one person who had the smallest amount of empathy acknowledged me, I would stand a chance. However, empathy does not exist in the makeup of workplace bullies or gaslighters, it is an attribute they do not possess. For workplace bullies are narcissists, sociopaths and/or corporate psychopaths.

Lesson one learned: my employer was never going to acknowledge that my becoming unwell was caused to me because of workplace bullying.

I endured meeting after meeting where I was questioned as to why I had proceeded with my work in the way that I had, and I explained time and time again that my previous (bullying) team leader had instructed me to do so. I explained over and over that I was bullied by being provided with unrealistic deadlines, by being undermined, by being provided with wrong and misleading information. I explained that the anxiety it had caused me had lead to my losing confidence in myself and that I found it utterly ridiculous that I was in this position. How does someone go from being a high performing individual to an underachiever in what seemed to be the blink of an eye?

I explained the same thing over and over again, but my voice was not heard. Was it lost?… no. Had the leadership group suddenly all gone deaf?… no. Was I going crazy?… no. Did I think I was going crazy?… yes.I.did.

I received feedback (in writing) that basically stated, I had no idea how to do my job. Regardless of the explanations I gave, regardless of the amount of times I gave those same explanations, they were not considered in the feedback I received. There was no mention of “you made this decision because you were provided with wrong and misleading information” it was more along the lines of “you made this decision because you clearly do not understand the work, the processes or procedures in place and you cannot prove or demonstrate otherwise”.

 Hang on, wait… what? But, remember I told you why? Why is this not acknowledged? Did you not hear me?… Is this the edge of the cliff? Should I just step off now or should I just wait for you to push me?

Needless to say, by this time, I saw RED. I had had enough mentally, emotionally and physically and still, I really didn’t know what to do.

Luckily for me, I AM stronger than I think and occasionally, if pushed hard enough I am reminded of this. So, after everything, the meetings, the so called “support strategies”, after all the pure and utter RUBBISH I was subjected to, I confronted the lead gaslighter.

Lesson two learned: the gaslighter is not interested in my reality. Gaslighters will pretend to ‘care’ about you, but their tactics of changing personalities from being nice, to being intimidating to becoming angry only serve to confuse their victims. Gaslighters have a motive, in my case it was money – protecting their careers and paypackets at the cost of my health… meh, it’s just my health and well-being.. who cares right? No one. Not anyone at work, not anyone in HR, not anyone in any insurance company.

However, if you are lucky, as I am, those who matter will care – your family, close friends and your trusted medical team. Those are the people that keep me grounded, it is those trusted people you must find to ensure you are looked after and protected. Without them, battling your own mind every single minute of every single day is just too exhausting.