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Gaslighting at work: Perpetrator and victim

Gaslighting is a growing concern in the workplace. It’s a terrible form of bullying or psychological manipulation designed to make someone feel lousy. Gaslighting causes the victim to doubt themselves and what they know to be true. It causes self-doubt and confusion.

While gaslighting can be described in different ways, there’s no denying it’s a power game and a form of emotional abuse. Gaslighters play with and manipulate the feelings of others. People who suffer from gaslighting are often made to feel they’ve lost the plot when, in reality, they’ve done nothing wrong. The victim starts to mistrust themselves and their perception of reality. They question their own thinking.

Do you gaslight? Do you know someone who does? Do you recognise gaslighting when you see it? Do you know how to deal with it?

This expert article examines gaslighting at work.

Is gaslighting illegal at work?

Gaslighting can constitute workplace harassment since it’s unwelcome, offensive and undeserved behaviour, comments and/or actions. It can be subtle or blatant. The perpetrator can be charming when gaslighting or just darn nasty.

NSW is the first Australian state or territory to formally criminalise Coercive Control and the new legislation comes into effect in July 2024.

Who gaslights at work?

Gaslighting can occur at all levels. It can be done by someone in a position of power, like a manager, but co-workers can gaslight too. Sometimes groups get together and gang up to gaslight against a colleague.

Are there different types of gaslighting?

Yes, there are different types of gaslighting and it’s not always easy to pinpoint the behaviour. Someone who is plain rude and inconsiderate, for example, may not be gaslighting.

Gaslighters are known to:

  • tell out-and-out lies
  • manipulate reality
  • scapegoat, or blame someone who hasn’t done anything for something bad
  • coerce or persuade someone into doing something they don’t want to do by threatening or using force.

What are the signs of gaslighting?

Many signs indicate gaslighting. The behaviour tends to occur over time. You may recognise some of these signs.


  • humiliate an employee in front of others
  • set an employee up for failure by, saying, giving them responsibility and then putting up roadblocks to success
  • take credit for ideas or achievements that belong to someone else
  • favour one employee over another
  • suggest an employee is responsible for something they did not do
  • say one thing and then do another or make promises they have no intention of keeping
  • make an employee feel they’ve missed something important, or misunderstood something, when they haven’t


  • take credit for work that they didn’t do (which can include presenting someone else’s ideas as their own)
  • spread untrue rumours or false stories about colleagues (even false accusations)
  • cause problems between colleagues by, for example, manipulating information
  • intimidate by threatening to share false information that could ruin someone’s reputation
  • negatively impacting confidence by undermining a colleague
  • accusing people of having feelings they don’t have

Group gaslighting

This is when a group of staff gang up on another staff member by making them feel unworthy and unwelcome and not part of the team.

What do I do if I feel I’m the victim of gaslighting by my boss?

If you feel your boss is gaslighting, this can be tricky because managers who gaslight typically get defensive when confronted. They may turn the situation around and accuse you of not having a thick enough skin or a sense of humour. They may also accuse you of being the only one who feels the way you do or say they don’t think your concerns are a ‘big deal’.

This is when it could be beneficial to talk to others about specific examples of gaslighting, as a reality check.

At work, this could be someone in HR or a person providing Employee Assistance Program services. It could be a coach or a mentor, or a colleague you trust. When doing so, it helps to have documentation of gaslighting times and examples.

While you may find solace in talking to friends and family, they may not be in a position to provide professional advice.

If you get support and nothing changes, you can go to HR again. Perhaps a formal complaint is in order, or mediation. You should not be forced to leave your job, although some people who are gaslit do because their mental health begins to suffer.

What do I do if a colleague is gaslighting me?

If you’re comfortable, talk to your boss and provide examples (ideally about documented examples). You could also talk to HR, the Employee Assistance Program, a coach, mentor, or colleague who trust.

Distance yourself from the gaslighter if possible. Confronting them can be draining and risky. Try to extricate yourself from the gaslighting situation.

Ask if you can be physically relocated to put distance  between you and the gaslighter. It might be that one of you can be transferred to another team.

Do you gaslight?

If deep down you know you gaslight, do everything in your power to stop. Read about gaslighting online and honestly assess your behaviour. Then deal with the problem, for the sake of others and your integrity. Eventually gaslighting will catch up with you.

Gaslighting case study

Jo says in a team meeting that he came up with a great idea for improving a process to save time and money. Sue was at the meeting and was shocked because she knew the idea was hers. She is professional but direct in her communication and points this out. Jo gets a smirk on his face and assigns blame by telling Sue she’s overly sensitive … that the ultimate aim is to help the organisation and what difference does it make who came up with the idea? He suggests that Sue has a big ego that needs to be patted all the time and tells her to calm down and be a team player. Then Jo says he was just joking anyway, and he tells Sue it’s best to get over it so the meeting can move on.

Can you see how manipulative Jo has been throughout this scenario?

Can you see how he has put Sue in an unfair and awkward position?

Can you see that he was trying to get credit where credit was NOT due?

This is gaslighting …

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