When I Realized My Boss Was Gaslighting Me
I was so excited when I received the phone call.
“We loved you, we would like to offer you the job!”
I felt such a sense of achievement that I had gone out of my comfort zone and secured this role. This was an industry that was new to me, and although I had the tools, there were still parts that felt daunting; but I was ready to rise to the challenge.
I began my job in February 2020. The first week was normal. I completed the relevant paperwork and E-learning and had all the introductions with the necessary key people in the department. The person who had interviewed me and offered me the role had informed me pretty much as soon as I started that she would be leaving the team. I felt a little disappointed as I’d had an instant rapport with her, but I was still happy for her that she was on to new pastures.
I was informed that my new manager would be *Jane.
Even at that time I remember this feeling in my gut, this uncertain sickly feeling. I tried to push it away and told myself it was just my own silly subconscious playing tricks on me.
Fast forward a few more weeks and the COVID-19 pandemic was just getting started. There were whispers that a countrywide lock down would be happening, and I began to feel anxious that I was going to be isolated at home in a new role I hadn’t yet learned the basics of.
Jane had a Jekyll and Hyde personality. One day she would approach me with a beaming smile and she would seem like a supportive big sister.
“How’s your mum doing?”
“You’re really smashing your fitness goals.”
“I know it must be tough dealing with a sick animal, I went through the exact same with my cat.”
I felt like she really understood my issues and not just that, I felt like she truly cared.
The next day she was like an entirely different person. I found myself feeling quite anxious around her. She would tell me not to do something as I hadn’t been trained, and in the next breath she would criticize me for not getting said piece of work completed.
When the country was thrown in to a lockdown, I was sent home with nothing but a laptop and had only had six weeks in the office in my new role. I hadn’t even completed a telephone call as I was told I wasn’t allowed to do so without Jane shadowing — yet she never made time to shadow me.
I finally felt a bit of relief being at home. I was able to plan my day and I didn’t have her listening in to everything I was doing. My work ended up being put on hold due to COVID-19, so I was tasked with other things.
I had gone from being a manager of a large team and working with vulnerable adults, to completing pretty basic admin tasks. I felt like I had no purpose.
Not only were we in the middle of a pandemic and I was shielding due to being on an immunosuppressant medication. My mother was hospitalized in Turkey where she lives and we were advised she might not make it; there were limited flights at the time. My dog was diagnosed with stage 5 heart failure and I spent my days providing her with round the clock care. She lost the use of her back legs towards the end which meant she had to be carried to the garden and her food and drink had to be administered.
In the midst of all this chaos I was still trying to find my way in a role I had not been equipped to complete. Jane was cruel for the sake of being cruel. I had tried to establish a friendship with her and taken an interest in her life, but if anything it made her more distant.
She would belittle me in front of senior managers. I recall one occasion she asked me a question directly. I responded with a simple answer. She immediately snapped at me as if I’d done something wrong. I remember sitting there in that moment completely confused. I had been asked a question, I had responded with a fair and simple answer, and I had been scolded for it.
Another example was when my dog Cookie was sadly coming to the end of her life. I was in the vets waiting for my appointment to have her put to sleep. I was intermittently crying with my husband waiting for the moment my beloved dog of 13 years was going to be taken from me forever.
Jane’s only concern was that I needed to book the time off as annual leave, as I hadn’t accrued enough time to use my flexi time.
It was only when I was sitting telling this story to my therapist that she informed me of psychological abuse.
“You may have heard of the slang term, which is gaslighting.”
Suddenly I felt that nauseous feeling again.
My therapist explained to me that sitting and questioning my reality, replaying a sequence of events only to be left confused is a direct impact of gaslighting.
We discussed other scenarios and it became apparent that this had been happening for the best part of the year.
Jane micromanaged every aspect of my working day. She belittled me, she was rude, she deliberately kept things from me to keep me reliant on her. Eventually I hit what is known as “burn out.”
I was so mentally drained by Jane that I completely stopped functioning. I wasn’t able to recall a simple word. I would walk in to my kitchen and completely forget for a moment where I was and what I was doing. I was exhausted, but if I shut my eyes I couldn’t sleep. I felt on the brink of tears every minute of every day. Food tasted bland. My days all blurred in the one.
I took six weeks off work during this episode.
It took almost a whole year for me to discuss this in my therapy session. All that time had passed and I had never realized the abuse I had endured at the hands of Jane. Sadly it wasn’t just me she treated in this way. I was grateful that I was fortunate enough to access treatment.
What I learned from working with Jane is the important of personal resilience.
If I am ever in a situation where I encounter another Jane, I know I will be strong enough to challenge her.
I will be confident enough to be assertive and direct in all of my exchanges.
I will be brave enough to raise the alarm and not to suffer in silence.
*Jane’s name has been changed to protect their identify.
Getty image by ecep-bg