Signs of Gaslighting

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Health Assured team

16 February 2023

It can be hard to spot when an employee is going through emotional abuse, like gaslighting.

It can affect both their personal and work life. But regardless of where it comes from, it leaves people with very little control over their life.

If an employee opens up about a gaslighting issue, you need to help them overcome it. If you don't, you could end up losing talented staff or even paying compensation.

In this guide, we'll look at the signs of gaslighting, what the law says, and how to help employees going through it.

An employee looking anxious while workikng

What are the signs of gaslighting?

When it comes to gaslighting behaviour, there are several signs to look out for.

The signs will vary depending on how serious the gaslighter's abuse is or what their intentions are.

Let's take a look at common signs of gaslighting in a relationship:

  • Lying: The gaslighter constantly lies about something even when they've been shown evidence to suggest otherwise.
  • Denying: The gaslighter insists that an event or behaviour didn't happen. They keep a straight face and convince the victim that they've remembered it wrong.
  • Gossiping: The gaslighter spreads rumours or negative comments about the victim. Or tells them that other people are talking negatively about them.
  • Covering tracks: The gaslighter keeps changing the subject when the victim confronts them about lies or gaslighting behaviours.
  • Overreacting: The gaslighter tells the victim that they're overreacting after they confront them.
  • Shifting blame: The gaslighter shifts the blame onto the victim. They'll state the victim is the root-cause of the gaslighting behaviour.
  • Love-bombing: The gaslighter will shower the victim with words of affection and loving gestures. This is to help smooth out the situation and bury things.
  • Manipulating: The gaslighter will try to manipulate the situation to hide or erase their hurtful behaviours.
  • Downplaying: The gaslighter buries their abusive behaviour by saying "it was a joke" or "you're being too sensitive".
  • Isolating: The gaslighter will physically keep the victim away from other people (like family members or friends). Or from all people so they don't call out the gaslighting behaviour.

What do victims feel in a gaslighting relationship?

Victims of gaslighting relationships will go through all kinds of feelings and emotions.

The abuser or partner makes their victim feel guilty about all sorts of things. This kind of manipulation will slowly break down a person's sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

Let's look at examples of what victims feel in gaslighting relationships:

  • They have trouble making even decisions (even simple ones).
  • They spend a lot of time apologising for the person gaslighting.
  • They're constantly second-guessing or blaming themselves.
  • They're often second-guessing their own thoughts and feelings.
  • They doubt their own memory or reality about situations.
  • They're left feeling threatened but still don't leave their relationship.

An employer typing on a laptop

Why do people gaslight in a relationship?

There are several reasons why a person might feel the need to gaslight others in a relationship.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation. The 'gaslighter' (abusers) ultimately wants to maintain control over the 'gaslightee' (victims).

Gaslighters see themselves as 'self aware' people - with great confidence and bravado. But in reality, they'll do anything to maintain control over people or situations.

They'll lie, cheat, and manipulate their victims - leaving them with self-doubt, or even feeling crazy. Some victims become oblivious to gaslighting behaviour. They allow their abusers to gain power over their own reality.

Victims of gaslighting might feel crazy or have low self-esteem for a short period. Other times, they suffer from this type of abusive relationship for years.

Remember, victims don't just go through gaslighting in a romantic relationship. They can experience it in other relationships (like with a family member or a work colleague).

Is gaslighting in a relationship ever justified?

Gaslighting in a relationship is never justified. But there are times where people might not be able to help acting that way.

Gaslighting behaviour often happens because the abuser suffered from their own mental abuse. The person gaslighting may have gone through traumatic events in their childhood or a past relationship.

Someone the person trusted may have treated them this way. So, they might not be able to help implementing this into their current relationship.

It leaves the gaslighter with a personality disorder. They might have narcissistic tendencies and emotional detachment issues. To process their self-confidence issues, the person pushes these feelings onto others. For example, the other person who's in a relationship with them.

What are examples of gaslighting in the workplace?

Gaslighting techniques don't only come from an abusive husband or when you're in romantic relationships.

It can happen between people in a work relationship. When an employee experiences gaslighting at work, it instantly makes their work environment uncomfortable. As an employer, you need to be able to spot gaslighting signs and deal with them promptly.

Let's take a look at examples of gaslighting behaviour in the workplace:

Gaslighting from managers

Gaslighting can happen between a manager and their employee.

When an employee faces gaslighting behaviours from their manager, it makes them feel vulnerable and isolated. They'll find it hard to come to work, as they dread to see their manager.

Employees lose self-esteem as they start to second-guess their work capability. They might also find it hard to maintain a healthy relationship with other colleagues.

Some narcissistic managers use praise to make their teams feel validated at work. But this is actually a form of hidden manipulation. It's often a calculated attempt to gain something or take credit for work they didn't do.

Other times, gaslighting behaviour is more visible. Narcissistic managers are constantly accusing or shifting blame onto their employees. They're made to feel confused or guilty for wrong outcomes.

Gaslighting from colleagues

Another place where gaslighting behaviour is found is colleague relationships. The colleague might be on the same company level as the employee. But they gain power over them through their manipulative words and actions.

This type of behaviour is known as 'whistle-blower' gaslighting. After experiencing gaslighting from their co-workers or managers, the employee decides to report it. The most common behaviours reported are bad working conditions, sexual harassment, and gross misconduct.

In any of these situations, the employee often second-guess themselves. They start to think about whether they acted irrationally. 'Did they remember things in the wrong way; or read the situation wrong?'

Gaslighting from non-employees

It's not just colleagues that an employee experiences gaslighting from. It can also come from any non-employees they deal with at work. For example, a client or a customer.

Most of the time, employees provide them with a service expected from their company. And the employee will offer the best experience or outcome for them. If they do a good job, they'll 'get the contract' or make a good amount of money, etc.

But clients and customers can abuse this type of leverage they have over employees. They may use a manipulation technique to get what they want.

The employee has no choice but to serve them, or else the business could suffer from financial or reputational losses. The clients or customers exploit this, so they act 'out of control' and threaten employees into submission.

An employee using a laptop in a kitchen

What does the law say about gaslighting?

In the UK, there are no laws which mention gaslighting specifically. But there are legal rules which may cover the abusive behaviour if the right conditions are met.

In the workplace, all employees, workers, and job applicants are protected from discrimination. This includes harassment, victimisation.

It is illegal to discriminate against employees because of their protected characteristics.

Under the Equality Act (2010), employees are protected from discrimination against:

Discrimination claims will be judged by an employment tribunal. They will determine if you are liable for unlawful discrimination. If the claim is upheld, you could face paying unlimited compensation or even business closure (in certain cases).

two employees talking openly

Can gaslighting impact your physical health?

Yes, gaslighting can impact a person's physical health.

All businesses have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace. That means following laws like the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA).

If employees get injured because of unsafe working standards, you need to deal with this swiftly. You can't 'gaslight' to deny their injuries; nor can you blame them as the only cause. In the end, employers have to take legal responsibility for all work-related accidents.

Some injuries may lead to a long-term illness; which means they'll need extended sick leave. Employers cannot coax them into working whilst they're unfit; or threaten them with disciplinaries (like dismissal).

Can gaslighting impact your mental health?

Yes, gaslighting can also impact a person's mental health.

Some of the most common conditions that gaslighting victims suffer from is anxiety, stress, and depression. Depending on the person, these mental illnesses can affect them during their everyday activities.

Under the Equality Act 2010, a mental health illness can count as a disability. But it needs to meet certain legal requirements first. Their condition must:

  • Have a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on a person's daily life.
  • Last for at least 12 months (or is expected to).
  • Have an influence on a person's ability to do normal activities.

Remember, you don't only find gaslighting behaviours in romantic relationships. A person can experience it in work relationships, too.

If an employee's mental health is worsened by unfavourable gaslighting, they could raise a disability discrimination claim. Here, you could be forced to pay unlimited compensation if their claim is successful.

unhappy employee sitting quietly

How to help employees who are experiencing gaslighting

It's hard to know what to do if an employee opens up about their gaslight relationship.

As an employer, you have a duty to care for your employees. It doesn't matter if their abusive relationship has outside factors only. You should listen to their case, have emotional intelligence, and take the best steps for them.

Let's look at ways to help employees going through gaslighting:

Add gaslighting to your grievance policy

It's possible that an employee may be experiencing gaslighting through a work relationship. For example, from clients, colleagues, or managers.

Employers can manage these issues by adding gaslighting to their grievance policy. The policy should also cover how employees can report gaslighting incidents they faced at work. These reports should be kept fully confidential; so, advise them to add as much evidence as possible.

All employees should know what the consequences are for gaslighting behaviour at work. By making them aware, you’ll be able to address any issues and act as a positive reinforcement to manage it.

Allow them to talk about their situation

Some stressful issues just can't just be left at home. Sometimes, they can affect employees so much, it makes it hard for them to concentrate on their job.

Once an employee is ready to open up, give them enough time, space and privacy. Allow them to talk about the emotional abuse without judgement. Remember, they might be talking about a colleague, manager, or even their employer.

You can advise them to speak to HR or occupational health (OH) if it's more suitable. They'll offer private discussion and tailored support for their specific case.

Plan out a recovery solution

Sometimes, when you hear a victim's story, you can get overwhelmed just thinking about how to help them. Of course, it's important to be empathetic about their situation. But try to keep an outside perspective and don't let your feelings get swayed.

Employers should focus on planning out a recovery solution. Offer advice if you think they'll benefit from it. Remember, this is specifically for help they may need during work.

For serious or delicate situations, the employee may need to seek external support. For example, you can refer them to a mental health professional, like a therapist or counsellor. They'll introduce recovery plans that can help them deal with trauma, as well as moving on.

Be supportive throughout their situation

When a person is constantly told they're wrong or crazy, it can take a huge toll on them. In the end, it's hard to see the full damage on their physical or mental health.

For employers, you might not be able to the full extent of their abusive relations. But you should be supportive and regain control over their own reality.

Remind them that they're not responsible for the abuser's actions or behaviours. No matter what they say to them. It's never the victim's fault; and they have available support to help fix their situation.

This last step might be the hardest one for the person. So, help them believe in their self-worth and their own relationship with reality.

Get expert advice on managing gaslighting with Health Assured

Employers need to be proactive when it comes to dealing with gaslighting. Remember, gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse; so, you need to take the right steps.

If an employee raises a gaslighting complaint, you need to deal with the matter correctly. If you don't, you could breach your duty of care. In the end, you could face unlimited compensation and business losses.

Health Assured offers expert advice on eliminating the signs of gaslighting. Our teams offer guidance on employee wellbeing whilst simultaneously meeting your business needs.

We also provide a 24/7 helpline that's open 365 days a year–helping you care for your staff all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0844 891 0352

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