Here’s the rub: gaslighting doesn’t only happen in intimate relationships. Since the rise of the Me Too movement in October 2017, women have been speaking honestly and publicly about both physical and emotional abuse they’ve endured at the hands of men. In recent months, the singer FKA Twigs and the actor Evan Rachel Wood detailed their own claims of abusive and toxic past relationships (which have been denied by their former partners).
But gaslighting isn’t something you can only be subjected to by a partner – your boss or a colleague can do it, too. Earlier this year, the actor Adam Deacon accused his former Kidulthood co-star Noel Clarke of derailing his career through gaslighting, which he said led to the “complete breakdown” of his mental health.
[At the time of writing, Clarke had not responded to a request for comment on the gaslighting allegation.] Several female actors also made allegations of groping, harassment and bulling against Clarke. In April, Clarke apologised for his actions that “affected people in ways I did not intend or realise”, but denies sexual misconduct.
“Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse or coercive control where the perpetrator works to convince the victim that he or she is going crazy,” explains Dr Stephanie Sarkis, a psychotherapist and the author of Gaslighting: Recognise Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – And Break Free. In short: making you question your own sanity is the main aim of a gaslighter. It’s a form of abuse that is difficult to identify, and difficult to prove. “Anyone has the potential to be a gaslighter, and anyone has the potential to be the victim of a gaslighter,” she says.
Below, British Vogue takes a closer look at what qualifies as gaslighting in a work environment, how to identify it, and what to do about it.
How can you spot the signs of gaslighting in the workplace?
“Gaslighting in the workplace can come from your boss or co-workers. Your co-worker may tell you that others in the office think you are lazy, or they may set you up for failure by telling you the wrong due dates for assignments,” explains Dr Sarkis, by way of example. “They may pit you against your co-workers. A gaslighting boss may assign you tasks that they later say were never given to you. They may try to get you alone in the office, and then tell you that nothing of the sort happened.” In short: it’s a subtle form of manipulation, making it especially difficult to pin down and prove. Maybe it’s part of the reason why, according to Totaljobs, nearly half of UK workers have felt compelled to leave a job due to a poor relationship with their boss.