You’re not completely sure, but lately, it feels like you’re being sabotaged and even bullied by your boss. She’s patronizing towards you, sometimes, but then just last week, she pitched your idea at the all-hands meeting, totally stealing the credit for what you brought to her first.

To top it off, you were brave enough to voice your concern, and she told you that this isn’t really happening, that you’re imagining it, or that you’re being “paranoid” or “overly sensitive.” Since then, you’ve been second-guessing your own judgment and perceptions, making you feel insecure, incompetent, anxious, and a bit like you’re losing your mind. 1

These are examples of gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation in which someone makes another person question or doubt his or her feelings, experiences, memories, or understanding of an event or situation.2

It can happen in any setting—the workplace is no exception. In fact, a recent poll of more than 3,000 people between the ages of 18 and 54 found that 58% of the respondents said they have experienced gaslighting at work.3

It’s unsurprising considering that gaslighting usually involves a power relationship and a need to control others. In the workplace, the dynamic between a boss and their subordinate can be the perfect breeding ground for this type of behavior. “It requires a position of power to pull it off with impact and effectiveness,” explains Craig Malkin, PhD, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of Rethinking Narcissism. “The person bolsters their own sense of self-confidence and self-esteem by undermining yours.” But sometimes gaslighting can happen among co-workers at the same level, too. It can be hard to spot and even more difficult to deal with. Our experts offer advice below.

Gaslighting at Work Examples

When it happens with a supervisor, he or she may give positive feedback to your face but speak badly about you behind your back. Alternatively, he or she might berate or shame you in front of colleagues or clients and then act like nothing happened when it’s just the two of you.

In other instances, your boss might tell you to handle an assignment a certain way, but when you do, he gets cranky and says that wasn’t what he wanted, making you feel like your memory is faulty, says Robin Stern, PhD, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life.

In other situations, your boss may exclude you from a meeting and when you ask about it, he might accuse you of being too sensitive instead of answering the question. When gaslighting happens with a co-worker, she might offer to handle a part of a group project you’re spearheading then later deny it, saying something like “Don’t blame me if you can’t get your work done!”

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However it occurs, gaslighting in the workplace involves manipulative, abusive behavior that ends up making the targeted person question their competence, perceptions, and self-worth. It’s an insidious form of abuse often done covertly to make you feel like you’re absolutely losing it. As Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group, LLC, and author of Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss, wrote in The Harvard Business Review, “Gaslighters know how to fly under the radar. They are adept at undermining an employee’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of reality in subtle, sneaky, and hard-to-prove ways.” 4

What Types of Work Environments Are Most Vulnerable to Gaslighting?

It’s likely to be particularly common in highly competitive, even cutthroat, work environments such as law firms or financial organizations, says Malkin. Also, in work environments where “people feel burnt out and defeated,” Stern adds. “That creates a fertile ground for gaslighting to take place.”

Because gaslighting is often a power play and may be rooted in social and hierarchical inequalities, research suggests the impact of gaslighting is more devastating for minorities, women, and those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.5 “It’s more likely to impact minorities because they often have less power,” Malkin explains.

Dealing with Gaslighting in the Workplace

The first step is to separate truth from perception or distortion. You might consider whether your boss’ behavior really constitutes gaslighting or whether he’s just a jerk, a poor communicator, or a control freak.4 To suss out the truth, write down your experiences and ask yourself questions about what really happened in a particular encounter, what the person’s motives might have been, and how it affected you. “If you feel like there’s something wrong in the relationship but you don’t know what it is, you can see it when the exchange is written down,” Stern explains.

To protect yourself, document everything—your interactions, conversations, assignments, e-mail exchanges, and the like. “Keep records and back-ups of records at home in case your work supervisor seizes what’s on your computer,” Malkin advises. “This does two things—it keeps you grounded in reality and it may protect you because you can produce a record” of what was said or done.

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If you decide to talk to your boss or colleague about the gaslighting, tread carefully and go into it with a clear sense of what you want to achieve. If a coworker is gaslighting you by constantly questioning what you’re doing, “ask about what’s going on with them instead of thinking their behavior says something about you,” Malkin suggests.

During a conversation with your boss, describe your experience and what you’d like to change in the future. You could say, “I feel like we often have miscommunication about assignments—could we document them through e-mail in the future?” Or, “I often feel like I’m chastised when I’m simply asking a question. I’d like to clarify my intentions.”

At the end of the conversation, repeat back what you heard, thank the person, and follow up with an e-mail reiterating the main points.

But don’t get your hopes up that this talk will automatically solve the problem, Stern warns, because “it may not go anywhere”—it’s hard to get a gaslighter to change his behavior unless he’s motivated to do so. If things don’t improve, at a certain point, you may want to consider getting out of the gaslighting situation by looking for a new position in the same company (with a different boss) or elsewhere.4 It may be one of the best things you can do for your emotional well-being.

Gaslighting at Work FAQs

Is gaslighting a form of harassment?

Yes. “Gaslighting has a lot in common with harassment,” says Robin Stern, PhD, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, because it involves power, control, and repetition. It's also a form of workplace abuse.

How do I respond to gaslighting at work?

One of the best things you can do is develop a trusted support system at work, with people who will have your back, encourage you, and affirm your perceptions.

How do I prove my boss is gaslighting me?

Robin Stern, PhD, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life says gaslighting is very hard to prove. “Apart from that, who are you proving it to?” she asks. “Unless you’re actually recording the conversation, it’s always your word against someone else’s.” If you’ve gotten to this point in your relationship with your boss, it might be in the best interest of your mental health to move on from this position as soon as you can.

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Last Updated: Sep 30, 2021