Gaslighting in the Workplace Part II: Oh No! I’m a Gaslighter!

This post is a continuation of Part I: What Is Gaslighting and Who Does It?

I did get to interview one gaslighter, who later gaslighted me toward the end of the interview. But he was a gaslighter in a friendship between two friends involving money, not between him and me or in the workplace. But one thing was extremely clear – he felt like he had done all he could to avoid gaslighting, felt like he had to do the gaslighting to survive, and learned it from his father.

But I’m Not the Villain!

No one wants to think of themselves as a gaslighter. I hypothesize that gaslighters learn how to do it from someone else. In my friend’s case, it was from his father. His father didn’t sit him down and say, “Son, to get what you want in life, I’m going to teach you a “powerful psychological tactic.” Instead, his father gaslighted him, he learned that it was a behavior that got him the results he was looking for, and he subconsciously started doing it to others; again, I still don’t think it was intentional.

What’s interesting is that the victims I interviewed knew that it wasn’t intentional. They said that they didn’t think the gaslighters knew what they were doing and that the gaslighters just had serious emotional problems, anger issues, the compulsive need to control others, impaired memory, and a lack of self-awareness and empathy. But the victims, it seems, did not have the ability to do it to others. They couldn’t imagine anyone engaging in this behavior, and therefore didn’t have the ability to imagine, even subconsciously, how to do it to others.

example of gaslighting. when someone presents a good idea, pretend to be really confused then present it later as your own.

Another one of my favorite examples of gaslighting.

Why Are Gaslighters Doing This?

The gaslighters are in survival mode, desperate to be right in order to “survive”. Since this all happens in the amygdala, the fight-or-flight part of the brain, they sometimes don’t remember. Usually, except in cases of psychopaths or sociopaths, they aren’t aware of what they’re doing or the impact, which is usually clinical PTSD. In all instances, the gaslighters lacked empathy. It wasn’t impossible for them to have empathy, they just don’t have it yet.

The victims who spoke to HR told me that the gaslighters would vehemently lie and deny. Ultimately, the victims were blamed for being “too sensitive” and seen as the problem! This is what happened to me. It’s painful for me to know that we’re seen as the problem because they’re willing to put our relationships and the company culture before our own comfort. We aren’t the ones causing the conflict in the first place! I think that we need more employees with this kind of courage. That’s a place I’d want to work at.

How Can Gaslighters Get Help?

This all sounds like a mess – the injustice of the bullies lying in such a compelling manner, often because they don’t remember any of the behavior in the first place or desperately need to be right, and the victims getting blamed! But I do think there’s hope for gaslighters.

HR needs to stop blaming the victims and learn how to coach gaslighters. It won’t be comfortable, so read Difficult Conversations if you haven’t already. Everyone would benefit from reading this book.

When coaching a gaslighter, HR should acknowledge that they know that the gaslighter had good motives, but negatively affected others, often to the point of PTSD. If a safe space has been created, the gaslighters will be able to listen, be curious, and experience empathy for their victims.

There is hope! But if the gaslighter is uncoachable, I was told by the HR managers and consultants that they are toxic for the workplace and must be let go. I have never officially worked in HR, and hate the idea that we have a lump of the population that can’t be helped. What are they? Throwaway people?

More research is needed on how to best identify gaslighters and help them maximize their contribution to the company, community, and society; but for now, we can’t help everyone.

Please let me know if and how you’ve had success helping gaslighters!

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