How I Experienced Gaslighting at Work

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Written by Maria John

What do you mean I was fired?

I was on the phone with a former coworker, three months after quitting my job. They wanted some advice and in the midst of our conversation, I was dumbfounded and yet, not surprised, to find out that my previous boss had told everyone, including my former juniors, that I had been fired.

The story starts a few months prior to the quitting. I had aced it as a team leader; the project I had overseen bringing in profits my department hadn’t seen in years. Despite competing with team leaders who had spent a longer time than me at the company, I eventually came out on top to secure the position of a co-manager under the new boss after an intensive series of rounds. I was extremely excited about the promotion – my hard work had paid off and I was feeling super proud of myself. My predecessor shared the same feelings because he had seen all that I had achieved with my team in the previous year and the plans I had outlined for the next.

While bringing up the past isn’t something I like doing, I write this to help others out there who might be stuck in a toxic situation with a gaslighter at work – be it your boss or even a co-worker.

The new boss seemed like he would do a good job – he was passionate about the work and everyone was forward to working under him.  Unfortunately, things started going wrong almost immediately. The first month went extremely well, until my co-manager was fired (the first of many firings), and I was saddled with much more responsibility. Still, I was more excited than scared because hey, I’m a tough woman, and was convinced more than ever to reach success.

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The vision I had of the work I’d set out to do was slowly torn apart as he began his turn as a real piece of work. He openly spoke about the lack of trust he had in his subordinates and it showed.  He would jump into my department meetings without notice, overtaking supervision while my juniors would just look at me whispering, “What’s going on,” as he babbled – succeeding in making me feel for the first time that I wasn’t a capable leader. He said and did things that make me believe that I wasn’t enough, asserting that I wasn’t committed to the job, leaving me feeling like a complete failure.

The work environment turned toxic, other departments constantly having people quit – including longstanding members who had been with the organization for a long time – in turn creating a work culture that loved to play the blame game.

The stress I allowed myself to be put under led to a massive weight gain – about 22 pounds in those few months. I would often go without sleep for more than 48 hours owing to the amount of work I did- oh and get this – when I mentioned this to him after being asked why I looked so haggard, he would just say, “So? I’m not sleeping either,” almost as if sleep wasn’t a basic human need.  Sleepless nights working for the organization were encouraged, implying that it was the only way we could ever show everyone that we were productive.

I didn’t realize the pressure I was under until I ended up bursting into tears in front of my new yoga teacher, someone whom I’d met for the first time that day – the conclusion I needed to understand that this job wasn’t worth the mental headache.

To read more about the importance of stable mental health and its effect on productivity, read the story about Silence Around Mental Health.

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Luckily, I didn’t have to make that hard decision to quit after months of hard work.

The boss called to put forward a last minute meeting across the city and I tried to arrange it at the office since it was a busy working day. After again questioning my commitment to the job, he gave me an ultimatum, “Either you’re going to come here right now or you quit.”

Sick of the mind games at this point, I quit. And could finally breathe a sigh of relief. God, just writing about this has me heavily breathing with anger. My mom told me to even send this article to him when I’m done, especially since she saw how it affected me. For months, I was depressed, worsened by the sudden quitting and feeling like a complete failure. I had no idea of what I wanted to do and the mere thought of job hunting made me nauseous.

Luckily, I had the support of my mom, friends, and eventually started seeing a therapist who helped me understand that I wasn’t the failure I’d been made to feel like. I like to even think of it all as a positive situation since it did help me stumble into freelance writing, a job that allows me far more happiness and the freedom to pursue what I want. Still, I never want to relive that again.

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