12 Warning Signs Your Boss Is Gaslighting You at Work

Gaslighting in the workplace - Dealing with gaslighting boss

If you are wondering what is gaslighting, then it is important to first answer the question. Gaslighting is a manipulative dynamic that can occur in personal relationships and at work.

The term “Gaslighting” originates in a play called “Gas Light” that was produced in 1938. The story was about a husband who manipulated his wife by making her question her reality so that he could commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance.

While that is an obvious example of this type of manipulation, gaslighting at work can be subtle, confusing, and less than obvious.

How Does Gaslighting Work

Your boss uses various manipulation tactics including lies, personal attacks, fake promotions with vague job titles, deceiving salary increases, and unfulfilled promises, and as a result, you are left questioning your memory, your skills, your sanity, and even your value at work.

If it continues for any length of time, gaslighting at work can have a profound impact on how you view yourself. It is an incredibly destructive cycle.

If you find yourself constantly second-guessing your actions and decisions at work, you may have a gaslighting boss.

Gaslighting in the workplace is also a form of harassment where your boss is constantly undermining you to make you question what you know to be true.

Take a look at the following warning signs of gaslighting examples that your boss uses to manipulate you at work.

1. Your Boss Lies to You

One clear sign that your boss is gaslighting you is being lied to. On Tuesday, your boss tells you to do your job one way, but on Wednesday, he or she tells you that they never said that. This leaves you feeling confused and wondering if you misunderstood.

The fact is that bosses who gaslight at work use this manipulative tactic to make you insecure so that they can exert control over you.

2. Your Boss Lashes Out at You If You Question Him or Her

A positive work environment should encourage employees to ask questions about what they are supposed to do. If your boss tells you to file papers one way on Monday but then tells you that they should be filed differently the next day, it is natural to ask for clarity.

When your boss is gaslighting you, he or she will lash out instead of providing the clarity you are seeking. Gaslighting bosses often feel threatened when you ask questions and retaliate if you challenge what they say.

They might accuse you of overreacting or not listening in the first place.

Read also: How to Handle a Junior Colleague Who Undermines Your Authority

3. You Feel Confused About Your Responsibilities at Work

When you have a new job or a company has gone through changes, it is normal to have some confusion about your role during the adjustment phase.

However, if you have held your job for six months or longer and you still find yourself unable to define your responsibilities, you might have a gaslighting boss.

Your boss might tell you that you should know what your responsibilities are instead of answering your question. He or she may also mock you and act as if your question is ridiculous.

It is important to know that in a healthy work environment, you should always be able to ask for clarity concerning your responsibilities, and in the best kind of environment, you will know exactly what they are.

4. You Find Yourself Apologizing All the Time

It starts with you apologizing for not responding quickly enough to an email. Then, you find yourself apologizing for taking a five-minute bathroom break. Soon enough, you start apologizing for your boss’ mistakes or those of your coworkers.

In a healthy workplace, you will only apologize when you feel remorse because you made a mistake. Constantly apologizing is a sure sign that your self-esteem is diminished, and this is natural when you have a boss who is criticizing you for every little thing.

A good read: Are You Embarrassed by Your People Manager Skills?

5. Your Boss Compliments You in an Undermining Way

Human beings thrive on acknowledgment for doing a good job. In fact, when people are recognized for going above what is expected, it is proven that they work harder, are happier in their work, and are more productive members of a team. However, a boss who is gaslighting at work will add a twist to the praise.

Gaslighting bosses make the following statements: “Who would have known that you could do such a good job,” or “Well, you finally got it right after six tries.”

Those are gaslighting examples of pseudo-compliments that are really criticism cloaked in praise. They are designed to make you feel bad about yourself, and it is a sign of gaslighting.

6. Your Boss Is Never Satisfied with Your Work

No matter what task you are working on, your boss always finds something wrong with it. Whether it’s the wording of your email or your ideas at a team meeting, you are constantly met with criticism.

That is such a demoralizing tactic, and you can end up feeling worthless and demoralized.

In a healthy work environment, your boss will let you know when you make a mistake, but it will not be incessant. The reality is that if you do your job that poorly, the company would let you go.

When you find that your boss finds fault with every single thing you do, you can be sure that he or she is gaslighting you.

7. Your Perception of Reality Becomes Distorted at Work

When you find that you are questioning whether situations happened as you remember them on a regular basis, there is a good chance that your boss is gaslighting you.

For instance, you speak to your boss about a situation that upset you, and the response is, “It didn’t happen that way.” There is no conversation, just that you are wrong.

If you find that this is happening over and over again, you might begin to question yourself. You can actually end up thinking that there is something wrong with you rather than questioning what is happening at work.

In a healthy relationship with your boss, he or she will listen to your side and explain any misunderstanding rather than dismiss you and say it never happened.

8. Your Boss Gives Others Credit for Your Ideas

When you are at a meeting and your boss suddenly praises your coworker for a new idea, you might find yourself doing a double-take.

You came up with the idea and presented it to him last week. Maybe your boss takes credit for your suggestion to implement a new strategy when you had a meeting and presented the strategy a few days before.

This is another sign that your boss is gaslighting you. You deserve credit for your ideas. Not only is it important in terms of your contribution to the company, but it makes you feel valuable and inspires you to work harder and be more productive.

If you find that your boss is taking credit or giving it to others for your ideas, then he or she is gaslighting you.

9. Your Boss Breaks Promises

Have you ever been in a position where you asked for time off for a special event, your boss approved it, and the day before your event, the boss tells you that you never received approval? This is another destructive interaction that is a sign of a gaslighting example.

You should be able to count on your boss to be true to his or her word. If you receive approval for time off, you need to be able to count on it. Nobody can live with this kind of unpredictability.

In a healthy workplace, there will never be a question. If you are granted time off, it won’t be pulled out from under you at the last minute.

10. Your Boss Gossips About You with Your Coworkers

If you are hearing that your boss has made disparaging comments about you to your coworkers, this is not normal and it is very unprofessional.

Often this shows up when your coworkers tell you that your boss said you can’t handle your work or that you are always late with projects or something of that nature.

Gossip has no place in the workplace, and a professional would come directly to you with any concerns.

If your boss is sharing opinions or information about how you do your job with your coworkers, he or she is probably gaslighting you.

Also read: 7 Tips to Build Your Career with no Management Support at Work

11. Your Boss Keeps Telling You to Put Head Down, Learn and Work Hard

Many talented people in the workplace get entrapped and fall asleep in their careers. You do your job very well and your manager is holding you, hostage, because you are too good to let go.

There are so many manipulative tactics if your boss wants to keep you in the current role.

A boss who tells you to put your head down, keep learning at the job and work hard for a future career opportunity when you have already spent years in the current role can be gaslighting you.

What your boss is doing is to make you doubt your ability to succeed in a new role and then give up on your promotion ambitions or a better career somewhere else.

12. Your Boss Appears Charming But is Gaslighting You

Your seemingly charming boss is actually a gaslighting expert. Many bosses appear cheerful all the time but are so good at manipulating their staff.

And it is almost impossible to detect their gaslighting behaviors because of their bubbly personalities.

Even when you notice their exploitive tactics, exposing them fraught with risks, not least because it is like an attempt to undermine a charming boss.

How to Navigate Gaslighting at Work

Dealing with gaslighting at work from your boss is debilitating and makes it very difficult to do your job effectively.

You need to take steps to protect yourself from gaslighting in the workplace so that you don’t lose your sense of self-worth and value. Try the following:

● Always write any incidents that lack clarity. Also, keep track of any criticisms so that you can evaluate their validity.

● If you feel you are being manipulated by a gaslighting boss, speak to him but make sure you have someone else present. You can validate your concerns if someone else witnesses this behavior.

● When you are being instructed to do something, take down some notes.  Everything is more clear when it is in writing, and a gaslighting boss may be less critical when it is recorded in an email.

● Remind yourself of what you bring to the job: It is important to remember your skills and your value to your company.

  • Remind yourself that you are good at what you do so that this toxicity doesn’t break down your self-esteem.

● More often a boss who is good at manipulating is considered charming. Be careful and don’t get too close when dealing with this type of person.

It is possible for you to avoid your boss as much as possible but still deliver great solid results every day.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to become aware of gaslighting in the workplace?  Do you have specific gaslighting examples you want to share?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below

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