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In 1944, Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer stared in the famous movie thriller “Gaslight.” If you like psychological drama, I encourage you to watch this film. If you want to learn what some bosses do to their employees, look up the verb “gaslight.” Just like in the film when Gregory (Boyer) purposefully manipulates information in such a way as to make his wife Paula (Bergman) question reality and her memory, a boss who gaslights you is manipulating and harassing you.  If you have a boss who makes you doubt yourself and your reality, then you are the victim of bullying on a whole different level — gaslighting. The boss that uses this technique is fully aware that what they are doing is wrong.  

Gaslighting is a subtle technique employed slowly and artfully. Your work life may have started out uneventful; with your boss complimenting you and your work. Your thought your opinion was valued and that you were appreciated. You felt respected.

Bosses who are bullies don’t want you to succeed because they will lose their power over you; they will do anything to impede your success, make you miserable, and block your momentum. But why does a boss gaslight? Because they want you to bend their will, to make you leahttp://minoritynurse.com/why-good-nurses-leave-the-profession/ve your job or to get you fired. If you challenge them, they will make the attacks worse. They employ their tactics to confuse and frustrate you. They want you to be discredited in the eyes of your fellow employees and supervisors. You are not “allowed” to have any ideas, thoughts, or actions different from theirs; your existence at your place of work is a problem for them.

A gaslighter will:

  • Pretend not to see you, acknowledge your existence or your work but will then be overgenerous with compliments and concern.
  • Change project guidelines, adding extra work and increasing the potential for failure.
  • State you are too emotional, your needs don’t matter to the bigger organization, that you are making a “big deal” of things, tells you to move on and forget the issues that concern you — by doing this they are trivializing you and your place in the facility. They do this because they want you to feel that what you are feeling is not reality.
  • Invade your privacy, listen in on your conversations, follow you, snoop within your office, monitor your location within the office, and watch who you speak to.
  • Withhold important information so that you cannot complete your work.
  • Share your private information with other employees.
  • Tell you one thing and then later deny it was said.
  • Allow work cliques to exist so that you are isolated.
  • Publicly humiliate or ridicule you using snide remarks, racist comments, and off-color jokes.
  • Micromanage.
  • Not be fair in the treatment of all — different rules for different employees.
  • Allow supervisors to mistreat and bully employees.
  • Gossip and lie to others regarding your appearance, health, personal life – in order to damage your reputation. The goal of this behavior is to make others believe you deserve the unfair treatment you’re given.
  • Attempt to give the appearance that they are listening to you when you speak, when in reality they do not care.
  • Take credit for your idea, telling you they had to “fine-tune” your original idea making it, no longer yours. Either this or they take an idea of yours that they had originally openly criticized.

What can you do?

  • Document! Trust your feelings that you are being harassed and abused and that you feel overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious. Documenting will be necessary should you choose to contact Human Resources.
  • Always have another coworker present when you meet with a gaslighter. If you are alone with a gaslighter, send a follow-up email to any conversation. Copy all employees that should have access to the information.
  • Limit your communication to emails and memos and make sure directives and instructions for projects are in writing and are clear and based on facts only.
  • Surround yourself with work friends who will reaffirm your talents and skills, because you will begin to doubt your self-worth.
  • Set boundaries that you will not let anyone cross, including your boss. If your react emotionally to them, they will merely point out that you are one with the emotional issues and that you are reacting inappropriately. They will make your emotional punishments worse than in the past. 
  • If you decide to contact Human Resources, be sure that you speak to a representative who you trust and bring your documentation. Be prepared to request a department transfer or search for a new job.
  • Some employment specialists recommend that you confront the bully; however, the person who gaslights will not tolerate being confronted, in fact, the aggression will become worse.

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Maggie Ciocco, MS, RN, BC

Maggie Ciocco, MS, RN, BC, has over 25 years of experience in nursing education, including as a preceptor, mentor, staff development instructor, orientation coordinator, nursing lab instructor, and clinical instructor. Ms. Ciocco received her master of science in nursing from Syracuse University, her bachelor of science in nursing from Seton Hall University, and her associate degree from Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey. She has been an American Nurses Credentialing Center board-certified medical-surgical nurse for over 20 years. Throughout her years as an educator, she has established preceptorship programs in acute, subacute, and long-term care settings. She is a member of the National League for Nursing. Ms. Ciocco was awarded the Sigma Theta Tau-Lambda Delta chapter Hannelore Sweetwood Mentor of the Year award in 2012. As a nursing program advisor, she works with Registered Nurses and student nurses as they continue their education, mentoring and advising them as to career and nursing degree choices. She is the author of Fast Facts for the Medical-Surgical Nurse: Clinical Orientation in a Nutshell, Fast Facts for the Nurse Preceptor: Keys to Providing a Successful Preceptorship in a Nutshell, and Fast Facts on Combating Nurse Bullying, Incivility and Workplace Violence: What Nurses Need to Know in a Nutshell, which was awarded second place in the 2017 AJN Book of the Year Awards in the Professional Issues category.
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