It’s Not Them, It’s YOU: How to Stop Gaslighting Others

3 Signs You Might Be Unintentionally Gaslighting Others

The Little Known History of Gaslighting

Gaslighting was coined from a British play Gas Light in 1938.  In the play, a man slowly turns up the gas in his home with his wife.  When she questions it, he denies it, and makes her feel as though she is mistaken.  This causes her to question her own mental health.  

Gaslighting is to manipulate a person (blaming them, questioning them, not believing them) causing them to question their own sanity.

The problem is this gaslighting behavior is still very common in the workplace.  Gaslighting is all too often the response to people that experience discrimination due to diversity in the workplace (i.e. race, gender, LGBTQ+, disability).  

Blaming the Victim

When folks from diverse backgrounds share experiences that have been hard to manage in the workplace, they are often met with denial.  It generally sounds like this:

  • Why were you there?
  • What did you do to contribute to this?
  • What were you wearing?

When people respond with gaslighting phrases like this, it denies the person’s experiences.  They feel even more isolated than before and it leads them to question their ability to trust others and share information in the future.  

Bottom line, this impacts the bottom line.  People that experience gaslighting are less likely to contribute ideas, take risks, or share problems for fear of this gaslighting retaliation.

Doubting Others’ Lived Experiences

It is difficult to understand someone else’s lived experiences.  Because you likely have not experienced what they have experienced, it seems unthinkable that people would mistreat others because of their skin color, nationality, disability, gender identity, or LGBTQ+ identity.  

I often share in my training on diversity and inclusion that I will never fully understand the lived experiences of people of color.  I am White and therefore have a white vantage point, however, that uniquely positions me as a potential ally.  I can help elevate issues like gaslighting when I see them.  My voice sometimes is heard more than others because it does not appear that I have “skin in the game,” pun intended.

These doubtful statements are subtle and often look like this:

  • Are you sure that is what happened?
  • He’s a nice guy, he would never do something like that.
  • You misunderstood, I didn’t mean it like that.

Well-intentioned allies in training make this mistake all too often.  We want to solve the problem for the person facing discrimination and make it all better.  By denying someone’s lived experiences, though, we are denying their truth.  We are making them feel like the “other” and denying their psychological safety.

Saying “It’s Getting Better”

Another rookie ally in training mistake is throwing a proverbial wet blanket on the situation.  Sometimes that sounds like, “things are getting better.”  In fact, diversity and inclusion is stagnant at best in most organizations.  

Most people with diverse backgrounds have countless stories of people saying and doing things that are offensive.  Hair touching, interruptions, -splaining, and taking credit for others’ ideas are just a few that happen all too often in Corporate America.  The data shows these microaggressions happen 4x more often to people of color, women, and those with diverse backgrounds.

To say “it’s getting better” is similar to denying reality.  It is again putting the ownership on the people facing the problem, instead of on those that are creating the problem.

Allies stand up with those that experience gaslighting.  When you hear harmful statements like this, say something.  Simply ask, “why would you ask that?” or “let’s let them share their story before making judgments.”

Diversity and inclusion is a journey.  We need more allies on the journey.

If you liked this post, check out our Next Pivot Point Diversity Training.  We meet leaders where they are on their diversity journeys.  Schedule a demo to learn more.