My husband came home at noon on a Wednesday with an announcement, a resolution more like it; “I want you to look for a job out of town! I am tired of you getting into work situations and then getting abused.” A legitimate complaint from a loving husband, to the woman he feels he is assigned to protect, I suppose.
But I explained to him that the problem wasn’t our city or even the organization I had been working for at the time. The problem is, people take advantage of other people in all places.
It happens in small towns, big cities, the military, big organizations, medium sized businesses, franchises…we justify it by calling it culture, old school, good old boys networking. Here in Cheyenne, some people call it “cowboy culture.” This is the most offensive of all, because it just isn’t true. True cowboy culture is gracious, united and courteous. If you are misusing this term this way, please stop.
Sometimes this behavior seems more prevalent in certain places, and I believe it can be, because we justify it and allow it to happen. We candy coat it rather than facing facts, and calling it what it is. We say, “oh that is just Anderson, Cheyenne, Indiana, Wyoming, Arizona, (your organization here)…” I have watched business owners do it to other business owners and call it “competition.”
No organization is immune, I have seen it happen in educational institutions, law offices, hospitals and churches.
It is called gas lighting.
Gas lighting is a form of manipulation that often happens in abusive relationships, but also in politics, office environments, clubs and social groups. The term gas lighting references back to the days before electricity when a light could be dimmed. It is a form of dimming one’s perception of reality, and in the beginning the person who is gas lighting will often seem kind, helpful and knowledgeable, but in the end, they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Signs and symptoms of gas lighting are…
People who gas light tell lies, especially “white” lies and gossip profusely – They will exaggerate and repeat the stories often.
People who gas light make promises that they don’t keep; if you challenge them they often deny or lash out even when there is evidence. They might say they are going to put your topics on a meeting agenda, or pass your idea off to the boss, but it never happens.
People who gas light cut your ideas off at the knees in front of other people and sabotage your work.
People who gas light will often be seemingly positive people and even encourage you. They give you just enough encouragement to confuse you and then set you up for another gut punch.
What do gut punches look like?
Gut punches come in the form of character assaults. You or your ideas might get called outright “stupid.” When you speak out against the assaults you will be referred to as sensitive. Gut punching might also attack or downplay your strengths. Maybe you are patient, and the person gas lighting paints it like a weakness instead of a strength. Sometimes it is in the form of non-verbals and body language, such as eye rolling, abrupt interruptions, and body blocking during conversations with important people and higher ups. Gas lighting may take the form of an abuser changing meeting times without telling you, or rewriting your reports or curriculum at the last minute.
The end goal of gas lighting is to dominate and control you and whatever project or team you are working on. Sometimes a person who gas lights has aggressive career goals, but not always. Sometimes they are just looking for social power.
What to do…
Follow your gut intuition.
Don’t ever confront the person that is gas lighting.
Do not retaliate with the same behaviors. While most of us who have been gas lighted will not usually retaliate with the same verbal behaviors, sometimes we are un-aware of our body language and we fall into the trap of mimicking the abusers non-verbals and para-language. Stay aware and be extra mindful of your actions. If someone body blocks you or interrupts an important conversation, your first instinct will be to jump back in, don’t do it. Stand tall, show confidence, and be patient for your moment to speak calmly and show that you are the voice of reason in the room.
Keep a journal if you need to. Do whatever you need to do to reaffirm yourself, because gas lighting is an attack on your self esteem.
Most importantly, this is a situation where you need to stay consistent, document your work and let your true character be reflected. Let your high moral standard and your established reputation speak for itself. Stay on your best, and always take the high ground.
Should you change jobs, clubs, churches, etc.?
Sometimes the culture in an organization or group is so bad that you just have to move on, however don’t ever think that leaving will stop gas lighting from happening to you again. You must, become aware of the decease and build up an immunity to it or it will happen again. And sometimes, you need to stay and “be the change.”
Again, first you must learn to recognize the signs of gas lighting, and recognize them early.
Second, be very mindful and aware of your own behaviors and responses. When you can recognize and respond early on, it is a real game changer. It allows you to feel empowered in the situation.
Lastly, do not ever let your self esteem begin to slip. If you allow your self care to slip in such a way that your self esteem begins to dip, you allow yourself to become a vulnerable target to a gas light predator. There really is something to be said for taking care of “you” first. It is very important to do the things that make you strong no matter how good or bad life gets.
Make no mistake, I am not saying the problem is with the victim. Abuse is always on the shoulders of the victimizer, but you don’t have to be a victim again. Now that we know what gas lighting looks like, together we can stop the cycle of abuse in our towns, cities, businesses, educational institutions, clubs and churches.