If your job is caus­ing un­due stress, in-of­fice ma­nip­u­la­tion may be the cause

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Success - By Jorie Goins

Even a great job can be stress­ful. If you’re the vic­tim of work­place gaslight­ing, your dream job can quickly turn into a night­mare.

Named af­ter the film “Gaslight,” where a man at­tempts to steal from his wife by mak­ing her be­lieve she’s in­sane, gaslight­ing in­volves ma­nip­u­lat­ing some­one to make them question their per­cep­tion of re­al­ity. Gaslighter­s may deny or refuse to hear a per­son’s con­cerns or triv­i­al­ize their feel­ings.

Gaslight­ing is a hall­mark of abu­sive re­la­tion­ships, but it can show up in the of­fice, too. In an ar­ti­cle for Health­line, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, au­thor of “Gaslight­ing: Rec­og­nize Ma­nip­u­la­tive and Emo­tion­ally Abu­sive Peo­ple — and Break Free,” noted that, “Gaslight­ing and other forms of ha­rass­ment are un­der­re­ported in the work­place, be­cause gaslighter­s who are par­tic­u­larly adept at ma­nip­u­la­tion may make the vic­tim feel as if it was all his or her fault.”

Bran­don Smith, ex­ec­u­tive coach and au­thor of “The Work­place Ther­a­pist” blog, says of­fice gaslighter­s en­gage in such neg­a­tive be­hav­ior be­cause, “At the core of it they don’t be­lieve they’re enough. …

So they try and get every­one else to start to feel and be­lieve the same thing.”

Gaslight­ing can oc­cur be­tween col­leagues as well as be­tween su­pe­rior and sub­or­di­nate. Smith says col­league-to­col­league gaslight­ing is the re­sult of a power strug­gle where one party wants to feel su­pe­rior, while a man­ager may gaslight a team mem­ber to dodge ac­count­abil­ity.

Gaslight­ing can be hard to rec­og­nize, but there are tell­tale signs that some­one may be ma­nip­u­lat­ing you, in­clud­ing:

■ Re­ceiv­ing praise but be­ing passed over for ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties

■ Be­ing told you were in­cluded in com­mu­ni­ca­tions (emails, meet­ings, etc.) even though you weren’t

■ Not be­ing treated equally to other em­ploy­ees

■ Hav­ing your feel­ings min­i­mized when con­fronting some­one (be­ing told you’re “over­re­act­ing,” “too sen­si­tive” or “mis­taken”)

■ Con­stantly ques­tion­ing whether you’re mis­read­ing a sit­u­a­tion

Dr. Natalie Jones, an Oak­land, Calif.-based ther­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in nar­cis­sis­tic be­hav­ior, foren­sic ther­apy and is­sues af­fect­ing black women, says gaslighter­s of­ten aren’t aware of their be­hav­ior. “It’s usu­ally de­vel­oped as a sur­vival mech­a­nism or some­thing that they ob­served . ... And so for them it’s just like breath­ing,” Jones said.

De­spite how obliv­i­ous a per­son may be to his or her ac­tions, gaslight­ing can prove to be toxic to a vic­tim’s abil­ity to work.

“It cre­ates high lev­els of anx­i­ety,” Smith said. “That can … im­pact your abil­ity to show up to the of­fice on some days or even per­form at the level that you want . ... When it re­ally erodes your con­fi­dence you can’t … in­ter­view well for an­other job.”

Worse, if you man­age to break through the smoke and mir­rors and re­al­ize you’re be­ing gaslit, it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to ex­pose a gaslighter so they suf­fer con­se­quences or change their be­hav­ior.

“(T)hey re­ally need ther­apy, frankly,” Smith said. “That skill set of cre­at­ing am­bi­gu­ity and clouds around them is very trans­fer­able. They can go to a new en­vi­ron­ment and do it again, and they can stick around for two, three, four years be­cause they can’t be held ac­count­able when they do it.”

While mild gaslight­ing can be prob­lem­atic, Lynn Tay­lor, a work­place expert and au­thor of “Tame Your Ter­ri­ble Of­fice Tyrant; How to Man­age Child­ish Boss Be­hav­ior & Thrive in

Your Job,” notes that “gaslight­ing in its truest sense is some­thing that can cause se­vere men­tal harm and men­tal ill­ness.”

If you sus­pect gaslight­ing on the job, it’s best that you han­dle things di­rectly with your col­league, Tay­lor says. Higher-ups may not be able to pick up on the ma­nip­u­la­tion you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

“They’re go­ing to be an expert at hid­ing this dark trait,” Tay­lor said.

Tay­lor says man­agers and su­per­vi­sors can min­i­mize the like­li­hood of gaslight­ing and other forms of ha­rass­ment by re­in­forc­ing that “no­body’s job is safe,” and that bul­ly­ing won’t be tol­er­ated. “That has to hap­pen by ac­tions not just words,” she said.

The ex­perts say it’s pos­si­ble to re­main in a job where you’re be­ing gaslit, but you must min­i­mize the gaslighter’s im­pact on you.

“Be very clear about what your end goals are,” Jones said. “Be very clear about what that job rep­re­sents for you.”

But if your work­place be­comes psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing, the ex­perts rec­om­mend start­ing up your job search.

“(A)n on­go­ing diet of sorrow at the of­fice is not good for any­one,” Tay­lor said. “No job is worth los­ing your men­tal and phys­i­cal health over.”

How to cope

If you’re con­cerned that you may be a vic­tim of of­fice gaslight­ing, here are some tips to ad­dress it:

Tay­lor rec­om­mends step­ping back to make sure you’re not over­re­act­ing or just deal­ing with a dif­fi­cult boss. “Then I would try to look for a pat­tern. See if this is some­thing that’s been oc­cur­ring over a long pe­riod of time and how fre­quently it’s hap­pen­ing.”

Do a gut check:

The ex­perts sug­gest find­ing con­fi­dantes (prefer­ably col­leagues) who can ob­jec­tively as­sess your work con­flicts and tell you if they’re see­ing what you see. “You need some­one to ... be your ground­ing source,” Smith said.

Find your work tribe: En­cour­age clar­ity:

“Gaslighter­s can­not gaslight if you’re driv­ing clar­ity,” Smith said. Ask for in­struc­tions in writ­ing, fol­low up on meet­ings and con­ver­sa­tions with email recaps, and when­ever pos­si­ble, keep a record of what your boss or col­league says. “Over-com­mu­ni­cate … you don’t want to sound like you’re doc­u­ment­ing any­thing for le­gal rea­sons … but it’s le­git­i­mate to ask for ver­bal in­struc­tions by email for clar­ity,” Tay­lor said.

Pur­sue work-life bal­ance:

Jones rec­om­mends hav­ing an es­cape from work so you can avoid be­com­ing too emo­tion­ally in­vested in a toxic sit­u­a­tion. “(Have) some­thing out­side of work … you can look for­ward to ... so that you can have some bal­ance and you don’t get too caught up in that,” she said.

Check in with your­self:

Jones sug­gests prac­tic­ing mind­ful­ness by pe­ri­od­i­cally gaug­ing how your work sit­u­a­tion af­fects you emo­tion­ally. “You do have to be able to check in with your­self … ‘Am I OK?’ ” Jones said. “‘How does this job, or this per­son or this space cause me to feel? What’s go­ing on with me right now that’s caus­ing me to feel the way that I’m feel­ing right now?’ ”

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