Dealing with gaslighting in the workplace


When you discover your co-worker led a pivotal meeting you didn’t attend — one to which he invited several key managers but not you — you confront him. He looks affronted, and says, “But didn’t you get the invitation? I sent it to you a week ago. Maybe you deleted it by accident?” His certainty shakes you, and you search your inbox, your deleted files, and your spam folder, but don’t find a memo.

Tension between the two of you has grown for months. He makes snide comments that discredit you, but when you call him on them, he responds with, “You misheard me”; “I was just joking”; “You’re overly emotional”; or “You’re making too big a deal over an innocent comment.” Yesterday, after he says, “You seem unstable,” you decide to talk to your manager.

When you reach your manager’s office, you find your co-worker there, talking about you. He tells the manager you didn’t provide him with a file you know you left on his desk. He’s so adamant your manager believes him. Despite your certainty, you begin to wonder whether someone else took it off his desk, or worse, if you just thought you gave it to him but had instead left it somewhere else, like in the break room when you went for coffee.

That’s when you realize you’ve started to doubt yourself and no longer feel sure about anything.

Welcome to gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation in which the gaslighter sows doubt and confusion in his target’s mind. Gaslighters sabotage co-workers to undermine their co-workers’ confidence and status, increasing their own power and control, or eliminate rivals by painting them in a bad light.

[Gaslighting happens in families. Here’s how to spot and stop it.]

It can be difficult to spot initial gaslighting efforts, as it generally begins with small, seemingly innocuous passive-aggressive incidents, which the gaslighter brushes off with statements such as “you misinterpreted that” or “you’re reading too much into a trivial incident.”


Signs you’re being gaslit include your co-worker:

• Sabotaging your efforts by setting you up to fail, setting up situations for the purpose of embarrassing you, or by making you appear irrational;

• Making statements on which you rely, but later insisting they never made those statements;

• Retelling events in a way that blames you;

• Belittling your efforts or invalidating each statement you make in a group setting;

• Lying in a way that levels the playing field when they perceive you have an advantage; or

• Saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or “I never said that; you must be misremembering” when you confront them.

Those who allow gaslighting to continue unchecked eventually reach a stage where they feel on edge and doubt themselves. Said one reader of this column who called me wondering what he was facing and how to handle it, “I’m constantly second-guessing myself. I ask myself, ‘Am I too sensitive? Am I making too big a deal of this? Am I paranoid?’”

[4 steps for stopping workplace manipulators from targeting you]


If you suspect you’re being gaslit, collect evidence in the form of emails or texts. You might ask a colleague invited to a meeting from which you were excluded if you were listed on the invitation list. You can ask a witness for his account of what he overheard when you and the gaslighter spoke.

Next, turn off the gaslighter’s gas. Instead of leaving a report on their desk, email it to them for a chain of proof. Confirm all meetings by email and send summaries after each meeting.

If you find yourself involved in an unhealthy discussion that is becoming crazy-making or a power struggle, opt out. You can say, “I’d like to think about what happened and back get to you.” or “I feel like we’re just going back and forth, and I need a break. Can we come back to this?”

Confronting gaslighters rarely works because gaslighters don’t own their behavior. They deny what they’ve done; deflect problem behavior onto others; present themselves as the victim; or manipulate the situation to make the true target feel guilty, irrational or paranoid.

Do you suspect you’re working alongside a gaslighter? If so, document what leads you to draw that conclusion and escalate the situation to HR or senior management — before the gaslighter beats you to the punch.

[My employer asked me to delete personal social media posts. What are my rights?]

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.