I have a friend. They have been having to take mental health days due to their work environment. They have been opening up to me for a few months now about their issues. Mostly, they were seeking confirmation that they weren’t crazy. Over time, it has made me angry and sad.
Before I continue, I have to express that I am blessed. Not only do I have the best bosses, I also have the best co-workers. For a group of people from different walks of life, we all get along pretty well. It’s a very laid back, family-like environment. I think I can truly say we all care about each other beyond being co-workers. Despite receiving numerous opportunity offers throughout the 12 years at my workplace (some with SIGNIFICANT salary raises), I have never felt like I needed to escape. Except that one time…but we will expound on that more a little later. All of my co-workers in my location are kind, compassionate, and treat each other with respect.
I understand that a lot of people can’t say the same. They work in a culture where disrespect, intimidation, and gaslighting are accepted behaviors.
In our talks, my friend consistently puts forth scenarios where their immediate supervisor makes them question their abilities at every turn. This, friends, is a form of gaslighting. For those not familiar with the term, gaslighting is a psychological manipulation/abuse of a person, or group of people, that results in that person, or group, questioning their own abilities or sanity.
A person experiencing workplace-related gaslighting may:
- Start finding it difficult to make simple decisions;
- Become withdrawn, unsociable, and/or not themselves;
- Begin to second-guess one’s abilities;
- Constant apologies to the abusive person;
- Begins to feel hopeless, joyless, worthless, or incompetent.
Gaslight abusers are well skilled in manipulation and are masters of mind games. They know exactly when and how to apply insincere apologies, praise, or appreciation. That’s the thing about gaslight abusers. They’re good at what they do.
Have you ever had a co-worker accuse you of being difficult? You might have answered a question, but it wasn’t the answer they wanted, so the only reasonable reaction/expectation/conclusion was that you were being difficult? Did that co-worker conveniently leave out any self blame despite there being overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Did that person overreact to something completely innocent? Did that person verbally attack you with an audience? Did they possibly belittle your expertise? Was the language they used condescending? After insulting you, blaming you, criticizing you, and refusing to own up to their own involvement, did they then proceed to extend a self-serving olive branch? “Despite you being totally unreasonable and bad at your job, we need your help, BUT if you don’t want to kiss my feet while doing it, I need someone else.”
This scenario is classic gaslighting and also traits of a highly toxic person. An abuser that uses this technique will tear you down, then try to immediately lift you up but just enough to make you second-guess whether you have the right to be angry at them. This means of abuse is meant to psychologically trick the victim into doing what the abuser wants them to do.
If someone you work with immediately comes to mind, and you are left in a state of self-doubt, you work with an abuser.
I think many people use this term, but don’t really understand what it means. A narcissist and/or a person with narcissistic personality disorder:
- Needs constant admiration or attention;
- Shows a lack of empathy;
- Believes that they are special or better than everyone else.
From my example above, I mentioned a person who verbally attacks with an audience. Whether it’s in front of a crowd, or they carbon copy everyone in the office in an email, narcissists require constant admiration or attention at the expense of being a decent human being. They wholly buy into the thought that they are never wrong and that fact is never up for interpretation. Their need to put on a show and become the center of attention outweighs common sense. Where a decent human being would have a private conversation out of respect to the other person, a narcissist simply lacks the ability to use empathy.
Narcissists carry internal expectations of how everyone is supposed to behave, act, think, and just be. They hold an internal image based on these expectations. Yet they don’t ever communicate this with you. You are just supposed to know how you are expected to behave, act, think, and be. Not only that, but their internal image and expectations often change on a whim. How things are supposed to be one day will certainly not be the same the next day. No wonder we all go crazy around them.https://universallyus.com/2020/07/06/unreasonable-expectations-of-narcissists/
A narcissist typically seeks out career paths with a lot of upward movement. Narcissists often clash with those in positions above them because their need to be better than everyone else supersedes the need to be a decent person. Typically, narcissists are quarrelsome, arrogant, and exploitive. The short-sidedness of a narcissist’s goals lead to the long-term destruction of an otherwise healthy workplace. In other words, in a workplace environment, workplace relationships are all just means to an end. A narcissist has an over inflated sense of self importance. This also leads to unrealistic expectations of their subordinates. They become “too important” to do every day tasks. They want to delegate, but then set subordinates up for failure. One day, their expectation is A, but the next day their expectation is B and somewhere the subordinate is supposed to magically know the expectation changed.
A narcissist makes a toxic workplace.
If someone you work with immediately comes to mind, you have a toxic workplace.
Earlier, I wrote about a time that I wasn’t really happy with my workplace. There was a span of about two years where I was applying for other jobs. I even went to a couple of interviews. I was convinced that my workplace didn’t appreciate me and that I was undervalued. You might be thinking, “But, wait! You just said that you work for the best place in the world!”
At the time, my judgment was clouded by someone else’s misery. The hard part about that is you don’t even see that it is affecting you. It creeps in slowly. It usually starts as a little office gossip and by the end, you’re not happy, they’re not happy, and you are all ready to quit.
Another person’s drama, hatred, loathing, and any other negative emotion can, and will, affect you. Especially if you care about that person. Being less wise, I had no clue it was happening to me. I thought I was being a good listener and friend, and, to an extent, I was. But, I was also an enabler. I enabled this person rather than detach myself from the situation. I am not putting blame on this person. I blame myself. I was not mentally strong enough to say, “I would rather not talk about that. How about we talk about something more positive?”
Instead, I gossiped and complained with this person and it ate at me like a disease.
In my case, I was lucky to have a few unanswered prayers. I couldn’t find a job, at the time, that met my needs and looking back, I am quite embarrassed that I fell into that trap. But, as said, it was MY fault.
So, if you know of a person at work that spews nothing but dissatisfaction with the state of things, kindly bow out. Save yourself the trouble and find a more positive person to hang out with.
In the end, I suggested to my friend to consider looking for another place to work. They are absolutely miserable and from what they have told me, the workplace culture isn’t going to change for them. I really have no advice if you feel you are in a toxic workplace. Everyone’s situation is unique. In the end, you have a duty to protect your own mental health. If you work with a gaslighting narcissist, you need to learn how to either deal with it, or be prepared to leave. Often more than not, the gaslighting narcissist has dug in like a tick and won’t leave without a fight.
There are plenty of resources online. What I ask of you is IF you can identify or relate to any of these issues, make sure to protect your own mental health. There is nothing healthy about taking mental health days because your boss/supervisor is causing that much stress.
Good luck to those of you in a toxic situation. Just remember that there are people that care about you. Let them help you.