There is the noble slogan “live and let live” that is supposed to rule society, but life is not so simple. A colleague phoned me earlier today, asking for advice on how to deal with a work situation where mind games are on the order of the day.

Mind games in the shape of extreme manipulation that is also known as gaslighting.

The goal of gaslighting as a form of manipulation is to get you to doubt yourself. When you doubt yourself the other person can start to exert control over you and the situation. This is not a fun game.

A master of gaslighting usually starts by saying negative things about you, indicating inadequacies and faults. This leads you to be defensive and if you attempt to call the gaslighter out on their lies, the tactics will escalate.

You can spot gaslighters because the narcissistic tendencies are clear as daylight. They believe that they are very gifted and unique. However, their self-esteem is rather fragile and they need others to think highly of them and continuously praise them. They don’t tolerate criticism and hate losing because they are easily humiliated and offended.

Gaslighters even pop up at work. They are masters at shaming co-workers and distorting the truth. They emphasize things with extreme conviction or indignation. There is no mutual understanding or co-operation in their interactions. They will counter, block, divert and trivialize what you are saying.

Subtle tactics used by a gaslighter include:

  • Discrediting you.
  • Using a mask of confidence, fake assertive talk and bogus compassion.
  • Changing the subject.
  • Denial and avoidance.
  • Twisting and reframing.
  • Demeaning your contribution. An example would be when you try to explain something, the co-worker starts browsing the internet and even laugh out loud.

What should you do?

  1. Be assertive. Gaslighting is not about you, but the manipulation is all about someone else’s rage and insecurities.
  2. Limit social media interaction. This is a playground where you have no control or defence. Cyberbullying is one of the tools of a gaslighter.
  3. Document all the interactions with the person. Be meticulous in keeping records and minuting meetings.
  4. If you feel the situation is serious you have to talk to your HR department.
  5. Be assertive all the time – in and out of working hours.

I acknowledge that there is a difference in society’s perceptions about masculine and feminine traits when we discuss assertiveness. Here are a few questions that can help anyone to evaluate their level of assertiveness:

  • Am I able to say “no” without feeling guilty or anxious?
  • Can I straightforwardly request help or information from others?
  • Do I acknowledge and own my mistakes?
  • Can I express emotions like disappointment and discomfort?
  • Do I speak up in a group and value my contribution?
  • Can I easily ask for clarity to shed light on topics?
  • Am I able to tell others when their behaviour is not okay for me?

If you reply “no” on 2 or more of these questions you might need to consider getting help to enhance your confidence and to boost your assertiveness.

This article is written by Dr Barbara Louw for the Wellness4Wholeness weekly blog. You can find the blog or make an appointment with her on She can assist you with addressing situations where you are just tolerated instead of being valued.