Gaslighting, a term rooted in a captivating play and its subsequent film adaptations, unveils a psychological manipulation tactic that cunningly sows doubt in an individual or targeted group. It skillfully plants seeds of uncertainty, leaving them questioning their very memory, perception, and even sanity. This insidious tactic of control takes on many deceptive forms, wreaking havoc within personal relationships and the workplace. Brace yourself for its treacherous grip on reality.
Gaslighters employ deceit, empty promises, and personal assaults to instill self-doubt in those around them. As the PR Daily reports: “for example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss says, “You can all leave at noon on Friday.” When Friday comes along, your boss indignantly says, “I would never say you could leave early. You weren’t paying attention.”
The concept of gaslighting is not new, but it is seeing a renaissance of sorts as people become more aware of psychological abuse and manipulation tactics. As professionals, we need to be equipped to recognize and respond to gaslighting behavior, particularly in high-stakes environments where clarity and confidence are crucial. In this blog post, we will dissect ten common gaslighting phrases so you can learn to identify them and protect your mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Gaslighting at Work
1. “You’re too sensitive.”
This classic gaslighting phrase often follows a hurtful or disparaging comment from the gaslighter. By dismissing your feelings, they aim to delegitimize your emotional response and make you feel as though you are overreacting. It’s imperative to recognize that everyone’s emotions and reactions are valid responses to their experiences and are not to be dictated by others.
2. “I never said that.”
If you find yourself constantly questioning your memory and sanity, this phrase may be a key to identifying gaslighting. Gaslighters are adept at rewriting history. A statement made in a meeting or a directive given can suddenly be denied, leaving you to feel foolish and confused. Keep track of communications and document interactions whenever possible as a defense against this covert manipulation.
3. “You’re just making things up.”
Linked to the previous phrase, this attack on your credibility can be profoundly destabilizing. It’s a tactic to make you doubt your version of events. When faced with this assertion, calmly and confidently stand by your story. Reaffirming the truth, particularly when you have proof, can help neutralize this attempt to confuse and control your perception of reality.
4. “Stop trying to play the victim.”
When you express concern or dissatisfaction with a situation that the gaslighter is involved in, they may try to turn the tables by framing their behavior as a response to your alleged victimhood. This tactic can be especially disorienting, as it may cause you to doubt your own motives and critiques. Remember, addressing injustice does not make you a ‘victim’, and it’s possible to advocate for yourself while maintaining a sense of agency and strength.
5. “You’re the only one who has a problem with this.”
This isolating and divisive tactic aims to portray your views as extreme and out-of-step. By making you feel alone in your perspective, the gaslighter can prey on your need for social validation, making you question whether you are, in fact, misjudging the situation. Seek support from colleagues or friends who can offer an outside perspective and help you gauge the validity of your concerns.
6. “Don’t you trust me?”
This phrase can weaponize the very concept of trust. Gaslighters may use it to shift the focus from their unreliable behavior to your supposedly irrational failure to trust them. Trust is earned, not demanded. If someone consistently undermines your trust, it’s important to assess their actions and not allow guilt to dictate your judgments.
7. “You’ll never be able to do that without my help.”
Undermining your abilities and self-sufficiency is another hallmark of gaslighting. The gaslighter may sabotage your confidence in your skills or autonomy, creating a dynamic where you increasingly rely on them for validation and assistance. External feedback and acknowledgment of your capabilities can be invaluable in rebutting these attempts to erode your self-worth.
8. “You’re acting crazy / irrational.”
Pathologizing normal reactions is a cruel tactic used by gaslighters to further discredit your emotions. Labelling you as ‘crazy’, ‘paranoid’, or ‘irrational’ is an attempt to shift the narrative from the troubling situation at hand to your supposed mental health or emotional state. Personal therapy, regular check-ins with a mental health professional, and supportive networks can serve as solid grounding points to counter these assertions.
9. “It’s all in your head.”
Similar to being called ‘crazy’, this phrase is designed to make you doubt the validity of your experiences. Gaslighters may use this tactic to imply that you are creating problems where none exist, again making you question your perception of reality. Keep in mind that trust in your own judgment is a fundamental aspect of maintaining mental wellbeing.
10. “You know I’m always right.”
This grandiose, self-aggrandizing statement is the gaslighter’s ultimate power play. It seeks to silence dissent and alternative viewpoints, inculcating a belief in their infallibility. No one is ‘always right’, and every individual is capable of error. Recognizing and challenging this assertion can be an important step towards reclaiming your autonomy and sense of self.
As you navigate the complex social and power dynamics of the workplace, it is essential to keep a clear head and a strong sense of self. If you recognize these gaslighting phrases, don’t dismiss them as mere misunderstandings. Trust your instincts, seek support, and address the manipulative behavior head-on.
By fostering awareness and discussion around gaslighting, we can create a more psychologically safe environment for all professionals. Remember, your mental health and integrity are non-negotiable. Defend them with the same fervor you apply to your professional development.