Gaslighting: The Silent Assassin of Self-Esteem

“Essentially, a Gaslighter spins their negative, harmful or destructive words and actions in their favour, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you.” 

Najwa Zebian, Lebanese-Canadian author

Holding up the marketing report with a theatrical flourish, Darcy declared, “Why these changes, Jerry? I never asked for this.”

Feeling the weight of the room’s attention, Jerry responded, slightly shaky, “I followed the email you sent, Darcy.” He promptly displayed the email on a piece of paper.

Darcy scoffed, “You always seem to misinterpret things.”

Whispers swept through the room—some filled with empathy, others mirroring Darcy’s assessment. Before Jerry could defend himself, Darcy steered the meeting forward, asserting that the past couldn’t be changed, but such an oversight must not recur.

At lunch, Kelly, a tenured colleague, leaned in and whispered, “Jerry, he does this all the time. It’s not you.”

Jerry, holding back his anger, nodded. “I just want to do my job well.”

“He’s a bully,” said Kelly. “Don’t let him gaslight you.”

According to psychologist and educator Quincee Gideon of Gideon Therapy in Los Angeles, “The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton, where a husband makes his wife believe she’s losing her mind by altering the gaslights and denying any change. This term now refers to psychological abuse where someone tries to make another doubt their perception or reality. The idea was further popularized by the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’ with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.”

Gaslighting gnaws away at the victim’s confidence and self-esteem as it progresses. The continuous cycle of deceit and manipulation fosters an environment where victims constantly second-guess themselves. This relentless doubt weakens their confidence in their abilities, beliefs, and values, which can particularly damage personal and professional relationships. Recognizing gaslighting behaviour is crucial, as when confidence dwindles, it is replaced by insecurity, fostering a fragile self-esteem that is easily bruised and broken.

Some common signs of gaslighting include

Denying reality: The gaslighter might deny saying or doing things they did. They may insist that the victim is imagining or fabricating events.

Trivializing feelings: Gaslighters often downplay the victim’s feelings or concerns, making them feel overly sensitive or irrational for their emotional reactions.

Shifting blame: They frequently shift blame onto the victim, making them feel responsible for the gaslighter’s actions or mistakes.

Withholding information: Gaslighters may withhold information, selectively sharing details to manipulate the victim’s understanding of a situation.

Countering: Countering involves constantly challenging the victim’s memory or perception of events, making them question their recollections.

Isolation: Gaslighters may isolate the victim from friends or family, making it harder for them to seek outside perspectives and support.

Projection: They may accuse the victim of behaviours or feelings they are guilty of, projecting their flaws onto the victim.

Within a professional setting, gaslighting can wield a profoundly detrimental influence over the self-esteem of those who become its targets. This subtle and persistent tactic slowly chips away at an individual’s grasp of reality and self-worth. Additionally, it can induce doubt in employees’ capacity to carry out their work competently or even at all.

Employers who engage in gaslighting their employees may do so for various reasons. Here are some potential motivations, although none of them justify such actions.

Control: Some employers may use gaslighting to exert control, manipulating employees by making them doubt their perceptions, reality, and ability to perform their duties.

Maintaining a Dominant Position: Gaslighting can be used to maintain a dominant position within the workplace hierarchy. Some employers or supervisors might use gaslighting to assert dominance and keep employees subservient.

Avoiding Accountability: In some cases, employers may resort to gaslighting to deflect blame and avoid taking responsibility for workplace issues or their mistakes. They may attempt to make employees feel they are at fault.

Personal Insecurities: Insecurity or a need for employer validation may lead them to gaslight employees. They might feel threatened by competent and confident employees and try to undermine them.

Recognizing these signs and trusting your instincts is crucial in identifying gaslighting behaviour. Maintaining open lines of communication with trusted friends or professionals who can provide objective insights and support if you suspect you are a victim of gaslighting is essential.

It’s important to emphasize that gaslighting is unethical and counterproductive in the long run. It damages trust, employee morale, and the overall work environment. Employers who engage in gaslighting risk legal consequences, damage to their reputation, and a high turnover rate as employees seek a healthier and more supportive workplace. Effective leadership and communication are far more conducive to a positive and productive work environment.

“Gaslighting, at its core, is a form of emotional abuse that slowly eats away at your ability to make judgments,” writes Lebanese-Canadian author Najwa Zebian. “Essentially, a Gaslighter spins their negative, harmful or destructive words and actions in their favour, deflecting the blame for their abusive deeds and pointing the finger at you.” 

Gaslighting, with its insidious tactics of manipulation and deceit, poses a grave threat to our self-esteem. However, armed with awareness and an understanding of tactics employed by Gaslighters, we can defy the gaslighter’s efforts. We can protect and nurture our self-esteem, ensuring it remains unshaken in the face of their deception. Remember, your perception and your feelings are valid. Trust yourself. Embrace your inner compass, for it is the guiding light that leads you out of the shadows of gaslighting and onto the sunlit shores of self-empowerment and authenticity.

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