South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

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

- 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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