When you enter a workplace, a hidden reality lurks beneath the surface. Often, this reality manifests as gaslighting. You may feel confused and helpless when your manager tries to deny they said something or falsely accuse you of making mistakes — to make you doubt your perception. Every instance can chip away at your self-esteem, making it harder to feel secure in the workplace.
What is gaslighting?
In its most basic sense, gaslighting is a highly cunning and manipulative practice of trying to control and confuse another person. When someone gaslights another, they try to make that person doubt their thoughts and feelings. They will use lies and false statements to further their agenda without being detected.
What are gaslighting examples?
Gaslighting examples include making you think that something you said was wrong when it was not, or as extreme as re-writing history and denying it ever happened. In either case, gaslighting can be highly damaging because it seeks to undermine your sense of self-confidence and autonomy.
Gaslighting is a common phenomenon in the workplace, where managers or colleagues work to manipulate you into doubting your thoughts and feelings. It is subtle, insidious, devastating, and corrosive.
Your words can be twisted or distorted, and facts ignored to make you think they understand while they refuse to listen. Your experience is invalidated as they question your perception of events or emotions.
You can be left exhausted, unsure of yourself, and questioning everything while feeling trapped in an endless cycle of self-doubt — unable to trust yourself or speak out against their influence. This type of manipulation is so challenging to break out of.
It can be hard to recognize gaslighting since it can be subtle and gradual. Still you can see the warning signs of gaslighting and take steps to protect yourself.
If you notice a consistent pattern of talk-downs and humiliation over time, then you may be experiencing this toxic manipulation. Here are more examples of gaslighting:
1. Minimizing your Concerns
Your manager can minimize your concerns and brush off your ideas without explanation. You know it when your boss belittles you. Small comments become seem innocuous, but they chip away at the truth.
Dismissing an opinion with a wave of their hand or rolling their eyes when you share a valid concern. They downplay the significance of what is happening, making it harder to stand up for yourself or even see that this is gaslighting.
It feels like your instinct is wrong, and something is wrong with you, not them. You internalize their subtle attacks, blaming yourself for feeling unheard and invisible in the workplace. Your manager is spinning words to make it feel like it is all in your head — but it is not.
2. Denying that problems exist
You can step into the workplace, a haven you thought it would be. But suddenly, it feels like a different world. Your boss can laugh off your comments and contributions and question your value to the team despite all your hard work.
You are constantly told that what you perceive is inaccurate — there is no problem here, nothing for you to worry about. You feel dismissed and undervalued but keep quiet because no one else notices anything amiss.
Nothing could have prepared you for this reality of gaslighting at work — but now that you know what it is like, it is time to change it.
3. Being told that you are too emotional
When you feel overwhelmed at work, and your boss tells you that you are overreacting, meekly, you accept the criticism. But deep down, it strikes a nerve. You know what you feel is justified and crucial for your mental equilibrium.
Despite this, your manager subtly reframes your reaction as an overreaction and manipulates the conversation to be about how ’emotional’ you are. This is some manipulation your manager can use to control your thinking or behavior.
It begins with small, seemingly harmless comments that focus on making you question yourself and your competency so that you second-guess all your decisions for fear of not being good enough.
4. Accusing someone of being lazy without valid reasons
No matter what you do, more is needed to prove your worth in your workplace. Every step you take is met with criticism or doubts about your competency, telling you you are not up to the task.
Your manager always seems ready and eager to point out their expectations for success which do not serve any practical purpose but still bring a feeling of inadequacy inside of you.
You are not lazy nor incompetent, yet without fail, every achievement is undermined. You can feel like no matter what happens that it will not be good enough for your boss.
So, you keep working harder only to be met with more uncertainty and mistrust from your manager, who should be standing by your side, helping to carry the load instead of creating more work for yourself.
5. Insinuating that you are replaceable
Your manager can insinuate that your efforts are replaceable and that your contributions do not matter. It is like they want to make you know that somebody else can come in and do the same job just as you can.
It feels like a slap in the face every time, even if it comes from the people who should champion you the most.
You may try not to let it get to you, but deep down, it hurts when your boss does not value or recognize what you do for them, the team, or the company.
Every day becomes an effort to prove yourself, to show that you have something unique and valuable to bring to the team despite what anyone says otherwise.
6. Twisting the truth to make you doubt yourself
A sense of doubt follows whenever you ask a question or suggest an idea. Your manager can twist his words to make you think twice, then deny ever giving the answer he did moments ago.
Your team members can follow suit, and suddenly you start questioning yourself more than ever. The truth is being manipulated and twisted to make you doubt your place in the workplace.
It is like a chess game — every move matters and any misstep can have drastic consequences.
And the worst part? You do not even realize what is happening until it is over. This method of gaslighting employees is all too common, and it will not change anytime soon if you stay silent about it.
Speak up, stand firm, and do not let anyone twist reality to make you feel lost at work — because only when we recognize this manipulation for what it is can we hope for real change.
7. Criticising someone in front of others
You walk into the team meeting room feeling confident. But that is all taken away when your manager turns to you, starts criticizing your work, and points out mistakes. It feels as if everyone is watching.
Your coworkers watch in silence as you are humiliated before them, powerless to defend yourself. You feel belittled and exposed as they criticize you in front of others.
You know, it is not just about the work that was done wrong — it is about making an example out of yourself in front of everyone else. This is one of the tricks some managers use to control employees and put them in their place.
It is part humiliation, part fear-mongering — a toxic combination that erodes any sense of security or trust between employees and managers.
8. Using condescending language to belittle someone
When you suggest an idea, the response is always the same. Your boss can speak to you in a condescending tone, making your opinion seem trivial, or use dismissive words that make you feel small and insignificant.
You can try to explain yourself, but it is useless — they will never take your thoughts or opinions seriously.
Every sentence is thick with condescension as if they hint at their superiority over you and do not even have the courtesy to hide it.
The worst part? It is not just the — subtle hints of this behavior scattered throughout the workplace, from managers to team members.
It feels like a no-win situation — nothing satisfies a manipulative boss or coworker, and every step forward seems to lead to two steps back.
9. Twisting a genuine concern into insubordination
When you raise a concern, the atmosphere can quickly change. Your manager’s eyes narrow, and their tone shifts — it is as if they assume you are being insubordinate. They can accuse you of challenging their authority and willfully disregarding their instructions.
The message is loud and clear — express yourself at your peril. This type of gaslighting is an all-too-familiar part of the workplace experience — but it does not have to be this way.
You will never find freedom in silence — so you must politely speak up for yourself, challenge unreasonable expectations, and not back down when someone tries to invalidate your concerns or opinions.
It may seem daunting at first, but eventually, you will learn that speaking up is the only way to protect yourself from such manipulative behavior.
10. Forcing you to feel guilty of things beyond your control
No one wants to feel guilty or responsible for something out of their control, but many employees experience this in the workplace.
When things go wrong, responsibility is thrust onto you. Your manager can clarify that it is all your fault — even if the problem was beyond your control or out of your hands.
As you try to explain, the conversation can quickly turn into blame — guilt hangs heavy in the air as they make it clear that nothing you do will ever be good enough.
It is like you cannot win — no matter what you do. But this kind of toxic behavior is sadly all too common in today’s workplaces — and the only way to break free from it is by refusing to accept guilt for something you did not do.
Do not let anyone scapegoat or pressure you into feeling guilty; be brave, stay strong, and take back control of the situation by asserting your position and defending yourself against unfair accusations.
11. Keeping someone worried about their job security
The workplace can be an environment of insecurity. Your job security can feel like an ever-shifting foundation beneath you. You never know when the next comment or decision could put you at risk of being replaced by someone better qualified.
Even if your performance is up to standard, managers may still find excuses to let you go — they might make subtle threats of termination or belittle your efforts in private conversations.
This gaslighting leaves employees feeling powerless and disoriented, as they never know where they stand.
The difficulty lies in trying to prove that something is going wrong when everything appears normal on the surface, making it difficult for anyone to take meaningful action against someone who is gaslighting you.
No one should have to suffer in such an unpleasant atmosphere, but unfortunately, it happens all too often in today’s workplace.
12. Instigating harmful competition among coworkers
You may think that working in a competitive environment will ignite your inner motivation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
When workplaces promote competition over collaboration, you can feel the adverse effects before you arrive.
Exhausting battles over petty issues and attention-seeking behaviors run rampant — there is rivalry instead of teamwork, leaving little incentive to cooperate or learn from one another.
Unfortunately, it is often set up this way by managers to make sure that only a few people succeed in an environment meant for many.
Your manager can deliberately create an atmosphere filled with unhealthy competition to make coworkers outdo one another rather than working together with a common goal.
It becomes difficult to communicate meaningfully when there is an air of suspicion between everyone — it is every person for themselves rather than unified support. The pressure to prove yourself day in and day out is palpable, and it takes its toll over time.
You dread mistakes and push yourself harder than necessary to demonstrate your worth for fear of being replaced by someone “better” or more aggressive. In this kind of work culture, there can be no winners — only exhaustion and wasted potential.
13. Using subtle language to undermine someone
Too often, managers use subtle language to subdue your confidence or get the better of you. A single comment may be brushed off, but repeated comments become harder to ignore.
Whether belittling your ideas or casting doubt on your capabilities, this behavior is meant to make you question your ability and judgment.
An example might be when a boss implies that an employee is not capable enough through phrases such as “That’s not very helpful” or “You should have thought that through.”
While such statements may appear innocent, they are meant to manipulate you or undermine your confidence, leaving you discouraged or defeated.
14. Making it feels like you are constantly on trial
You may feel like you are constantly on trial. Every day, you strive to make the right decisions, yet your manager puts obstacles in your way.
The slightest mistakes can be scrutinized and used against you to create doubt about your value and commitment.
The blame is shifted onto you for the slightest faults, making it seem like nothing can go right. You dread being called into the office, not knowing what new challenge or test will come your way.
You are weary of always having to prove yourself while at the same time struggling to keep a professional attitude throughout it all.
It can drain your energy and enthusiasm, make you second guess yourself, and create mistrust and suspicion.
Even after passing these tests, you still have to stay vigilant or risk falling back into the same churning cycle again — a cycle that undermines self-esteem without providing solid evidence of failure.
15. Making unreasonable demands
You become accustomed to being held accountable for all your small or large tasks. Despite delays in the process or lack of resources, you are bound to fulfill requests with an almost impossible timeline.
Yet when you cannot meet these expectations, you are still accused of not doing enough and are blamed for any shortcomings. It is a feeling that starts to creep into your work life and slowly erodes your confidence and ability to focus.
No matter how hard you work, more is needed, and it presents a seemingly impossible challenge to balance productivity with mental well-being.
As if unable to distinguish between communication and control tactics, the expectation is very high — never allowing room for failure or improvement even though everything has flaws.
Such atmosphere leads to perpetual frustration as you struggle with an ever-shifting goalpost that always seems just beyond reach.
16. Twisting someone’s words
You make a point, but it gets twisted beyond recognition. Your manager’s words seem to have a life of their own, taking on meaning that was never intended.
In the process, you may feel belittled and embarrassed in front of the team. They stare in confusion as you attempt to explain yourself further, leading to misunderstandings.
As frustration and embarrassment build, your thoughts become clouded with criticism and doubt. You hesitate before speaking up again, wondering if your words will be taken out of context or manipulated to fit someone else’s agenda.
The environment becomes strained as you cannot express yourself without fear of ridicule or judgment.
Trying to make sense of what is happening leaves you feeling drained and powerless — all you can do is accept the situation for what it is and try not to let it weigh down on you too much.
The goal is to make you sound unbalanced or unreasonable so that your argument can be easily dismissed.
Read also: 12 Examples of Ethical Decisions
Gaslighting is a cruel form of manipulation that seeks to force someone to change their views, thoughts, and even reality. When it happens, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless.
But remember, you can break free from the cycle of gaslighting by recognizing the signs of manipulation and holding other people accountable for their behavior.
Take back your power by standing firm in your beliefs, acting when you feel threatened, and seeking advice if needed. There is no need to be a victim — you have the strength within yourself to stand up for what is right.