Narcissistic bosses are always difficult to deal with, and one of their most effective tactics is “gaslighting.” Where they make you think you are going crazy and try to make you question reality. Here is how you deal with a gaslighting narcissistic boss —
Deal with a narcissistic gaslighting boss by using methods to cut through their lies. Avoid getting caught up in their story, and use their narcissistic tendencies against them to overcome their abuse. Be strategic with your actions, as a direct confrontation will often exacerbate the problem.
In the rest of this article, I’ll go in to the exact methods your narcissistic boss might use against you. As well as what you can do to stop them in their tracks and take back control of your life.
What Is Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a common term in the psychology community, and increasingly in common usage, that refers to an emotional manipulation strategy where the abuser conspires to make the victim question their perception of reality.
The term itself comes from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” in which there is just such an abusive relationship.
If you feel crazy or confused about the simple facts or events at work, you may be getting gaslit.
Gaslighting often takes the form of —
- The abuser gradually and bustling changing details of events until they no longer resemble reality
- The abuser continually questioning the victims memory
- The abuser may even fabricate evidence, photos, etc to make their version of the story real
- Abusers often gaslight third parties, and bring them in to back up the abuser’s version of the story to the victim
- Abusers may “forget” past events
How to Know If Your Boss is Narcissistic
Narcissistic bosses have a number of qualities which make them difficult to work with.
Dealing with a narcissist boss is much different than dealing with a generally well adjusted boss who might be intentionally or unintentional gaslighting you. For more information on how to deal with a narcissistic boss, check out my previous articles —
- How to Overcome a Narcissistic Boss
- How to Manipulate a Narcissistic Boss | Antinarcissism Employee Tactics
How to Know If Your Narcissistic Boss is Gaslighting You
Here are the specific strategies a narcissistic boss might use to gaslight you —
They may make your version of events seem of little importance, or too insignificant to worry about. This way, they can emphases their fabricated story.
I find this to be the most difficult to deal with because as an employee you are often relying on a boss to set the direction at work, and to help you grow through your career by relying on their experience. Because you can’t necessarily always know if your position is right or not, they can use your inexperience against you by putting down even valid points.
Using this strategy, your boss will try to prevent you from learning to function without their help.
They will do this by —
- Withholding key information
- Finding or creating trivial mistakes in your work that keep you from progressing
- Casting your as a failure, or just “not good at your job”
- Separating you from your coworkers
- Attempting to control all information flow in the office, and rationing out as they see fit
Narcissistic bosses develop this authoritarian framework as a means of control, and of framing the narrative. When they limit your ability to function independently of them, they have the ability to frame reality through control of information. The more dependent you are, the more effective they will be at gaslighting you.
Countering and Diverting
When you catch a gaslighting boss in a obvious lie, they will use countering and diverting to protect themselves and to continue the gaslight.
This tactic is a core competency of a narcissist, who cannot psychologically take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they will find a scapegoat to blame and project responsibility on to.
Deflection of responsibility make a narcissistic boss extremely dangerous.
Because, if you are caught in the crossfire, bosses often have the authority to seriously damage your income or career if you are the victim of their accusations.
Countering and diverting tactics are one of the reasons why I don’t recommend you confront a narcissistic boss directly. Instead, use the more strategic methods later in the article to overcome their gaslighting.
If you don’t seem to be getting with the program, and buying in to their gaslighting narrative, a narcissistic boss may begin to use whatever authority they have to punish you for daring to question them.
You might see punishments such as —
- Assignment to difficult or unrewarding tasks
- Skipping over for promotion
- Reduction in pay or bonuses
- Restriction of paid time off, vacation time, or sick leave
- Administrative reprimands or write ups
- Public shaming in meetings or widely distributed emails
- Poor performance reviews
In most cases, the narcissist will not directly acknowledge that they are punishing you for your unwillingness to believe their false narrative. Instead, they will make up some seemingly believable excuse. Usually, they will try to find or make up some deficiency in your to hammer you with. Otherwise, they may deflect and say they are “undermanned or slammed right now,” even if that is clearly not the case.
Forgetting & Denial
Another very common behavior with a narcissistic gaslighting boss is a spontaneous extremely poor memory. Your boss will suddenly begin to completely forget important details of things that they would normally remember.
While, bosses due tend to be stressed, and may legitimately forget things now and again, if your narcissistic boss only forgets things that support your perspective of the story, and seems to perfectly remember things that supports their narrative, then you are like being gaslit.
Also, if your boss is starting to “forget” events that happened the same day or even just moments ago, when they have no history of an extremely short function memory, then they may have suddenly decide to employ the forgetting and denial strategy.
Dealing With a Gaslighting Narcissistic Boss
So, now that you know how your boss is gaslighting you, how do you deal with it? Here are the strategies that you can use to deal with a gaslighting narcissistic boss —
Learn How Gaslighting Narcissistic Bosses Tick
The most important thing you can do is recognize their narcissism when it is happening. This can be more difficult than it seems, since narcissists are incredibly good at manipulating the emotions of other people.
Here are some good resources on how to recognize narcissistic behavior when it happens. As well as why some people are narcissists, and what is the driving force behind your behavior.
- Signs of a Narcissist | 21 Behaviors of the Classical Narcissist
- Why Some People are Narcissists | How One Gets a Narcissistic Personality
Having a good working knowledge of narcissism allows you to anticipate their actions, and counter their gaslighting as it happens by recognizing narcissistic behavior as it happens.
Get Other People on Your Side
In the work place, it is key to get other people on your side of the story.
While I don’t in many cases recommend that you outright accuse your boss of narcissism or gaslighting to you coworkers, as this may get back to the boss and make your life miserable, you should point out lies and other narcissistic behavior whenever you cane
To get other people on your side —
- Try to have other people observe your interactions with your boss whenever you reasonably can
- Keep coworkers well informed of your activity through emails, progress reports, etc
- Work in a public space, if that is an option
- Nicely point out incorrect or misleading information given by your boss, preferably with evidence, to your coworkers in private
- Gently bring the conversation in the office towards narcissism and narcissists.
- Show your coworkers some the articles linked here about narcissism or gaslighting
Eventually, some of your coworkers will also begin to see what is happening, if they haven’t already. Once people you work with realize you have a narcissistic boss, they will be more resistant to their abuse, and less likely to be used against you.
Document Everything You Can
This probably goes without saying, but keep records of everything that you reasonably can to back up your work.
You can’t put it past a narcissist to delete, “loose,” or fabricate documentation to hurt you. Here are some ways you can keep documents to help your case against a gaslighting narcissistic boss —
- Always keep a copy of emails and documents that you submit to your boss
- Keep copies of your work products if possible
- Backups of computer files and email accounts in disks or thumb drives that you can control, if allowed by corporate policy
- Get everything you say to your boss in writing or emails
- If documenting through emails, make sure you send it to the boss with a wording that solicits a response from them
- Get documents signed, verified, or acknowledged by other supervisors, bosses, etc as appropriate to further back your documentation
No matter what you do, make sure you don’t act to abruptly as to tip off the boss to what you are doing. In no way should it look like you are building a case against them, as this will probably lead to more aggressive action on their part.
Ideally, your documenting should seem like a normal part of a professional work flow. And, never break the law or corporate policy when documenting your narcissistic gaslighting boss. Doing so will likely cause more problems than it solves.
Learn How to Push Their Buttons
Narcissism opens up a boss to forms of manipulation, particularly by strategically withholding approval, and applying approval as a form of what I call “narcissistic dog training.”
Everyone trains the people around them to act in a certain way by how they respond. Using praise while simultaneously posturing yourself as not a threat can make working under a narcissist actually bearable if not even beneficial.
We also need to be ethical with our use of psychological mechanisms against our boss.
I have detailed instructions on how this works in my two previous articles —
- How to Overcome a Narcissistic Boss
- How to Manipulate a Narcissistic Boss | Antinarcissism Employee Tactics
Don’t Confront Them Directly
It is very important that you do not confront or accuse you narcissistic gaslighting boss directly.
Narcissist are constitutionally unable to deal with criticism in a constructive manner, and any direct confrontation will enviably lead to an increase in their destructive behavior and abuse.
It is imperative that your boss perceives you as —
- Not a threat
- “On their side”
- Unaware of their narcissistic abuse tactics
I discuss in more detail how to accomplish this task in the two articles linked above.
Build Yourself an Exit Strategy
While we do our best to deal with the narcissistic gaslighting boss in the place that we are, you can never fully guarantee success.
One of the best ways to limit your exposure, and to limit their authority over you, is to develop an exit strategy. This may involve looking for another job, or another position in a larger company. Additionally, ready your resume, recommendations, and any documentation you might need when you leave your company. Also, build up a financial cushion and limit new obligations so you have the financial freedom to make a career move if necessary.
Know How to Keep a Low Profile
One of the best ways to combat narcissistic gaslighting is to avoid exposure in the first place. Here are some quick tips on how to keep a low profile and keep your narcissistic boss off your back —
- Act bland or boring around them
- Don’t volunteer personal information, and only give non-specific answers to their personal questions
- Stay out of sight, and don’t work on projects in which they might be personally involved.
- Don’t rise to their bait, either praise or criticisms
- Accept what they say without objection, although do not necessarily agree with it
What is Narcissistic Gaslighting?
Narcissistic gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the victims is convinced that their perception of reality is warped, or that they are going crazy. This usually involves the narcissist weaving a false narrative around the victim with lies, false evidence, triangulation, and selective forgetfulness.
What is a Gaslighting Boss?
A gaslighting boss is an employer that uses lies to make their employee believe a false reality, in an attempt to manipulate them or diminish their autonomy. This usually involves the gaslighting boss weaving a false narrative around the victim with lies, false evidence, triangulation, and selective forgetfulness.