Sarkis: How to identify a gaslighter

Joining the growing literature on gaslighting behaviors is Dr. Stephanie Sarkis’s Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break Free (2018). Sarkis is both a counselor and a mediator, and her experiences in clinical practice brought gaslighting and gaslighters to her attention. The results of her work make for this welcomed contribution to our understanding.

Dr. Sarkis writes:

Gaslighters will convince us that we are crazy, that we are abusive, that we are a huge bundle of problems and no one else will want us, that we are terrible employees who haven’t been fired yet just by the grace of God, that we are terrible parents who shouldn’t have had children, that we have no idea how to manage our own life, or that we are a burden to others. They are toxic.

…Gaslighters use your own words against you; plot against you, lie to your face, deny your needs, show excessive displays of power, try to convince you of “alternative facts,” turn family and friends against you — all with the goal of watching you suffer, consolidating their power, and increasing your dependence on them.

But wait, there’s a lot more. Among other things, in a chapter titled “Who, me?,” Sarkis asks her readers to confront the ugly question: Am I a gaslighter? Consider these queries, adapted from pp. 204-205:

  • Do I lie often, “even when lying doesn’t serve a purpose”?
  • Do I avoid being direct in sharing my needs, instead expecting people to read my mind and know what I want — and then being upset at them for not knowing?
  • Do I not know my own needs?
  • Do I try to get people to do want I want, “instead of just directly asking them”?
  • Do I not tell people what I want, then get back at them for not providing it?
  • Do I get frustrated when others take more time than they should to do what I’d like?
  • Do others tell me that my “tone of voice is sarcastic or rough”?
  • Do I “have a short temper”?
  • Do I “black out” and forget things I did when I was in an angry state?
  • Do I see people as being “mainly selfish and out for their own needs”?

For those who answer “yes” to a lot of these questions, Sarkis offers compassionate, direct advice, rather than judgment.

Gaslighting joins Dr. Robin Stern’s excellent The Gaslight Effect (2018 ed.) (discussed earlier this year) in providing wise, accessible insights on gaslighting behaviors, their impacts, and how to respond to them. Although both books focus more on interpersonal relationships, those who are interested in bullying, mobbing, and other forms of psychological abuse at work will find plenty of relevant information and observations.

***

Related posts

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018)

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect” (2018)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012, rev. 2017)

 

When diversity issues emerge, bullying often lurks underneath

Last week, NBC News cancelled the “Megyn Kelly Today” show days after Kelly made racially insensitive remarks about wearing blackface for Halloween. As reported by Megan McCluskey for Time magazine:

Amid growing controversy over Megyn Kelly’s racially insensitive comments about blackface, NBC News has announced that it has canceled Kelly‘s 9 a.m. hour of the Today Show, Megyn Kelly Today.

. . . Kelly came under fire earlier this week for saying that she doesn’t understand why blackface Halloween costumes are racist during a roundtable discussion on offensive costumes on her talk show, Megyn Kelly Today.

“What is racist?” she asked a panel that included Jenna Bush Hager, Jacob Soboroff and Melissa Rivers. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay just as long as you were dressing as a character.”

One can make a plausible claim that cancellation was a harsh consequence for one badly misinformed and ignorant remark. After all, Kelly’s transgression paled next to virulently mean-spirited statements tweeted out by Donald Trump on a regular basis. However, many news reports have suggested that this may have been simply a tipping point preceded by other concerns about her show. Among other things, while Kelly has become a strong voice for women’s interests during the #MeToo era, she also has a history of stirring up controversy on matters related to race.

In any event, as I searched around to learn more about Kelly’s situation, I found an earlier news report that reminded me once again that when diversity-related concerns publicly emerge out of a given workplace, allegations of bullying behaviors often aren’t far behind. From January of this year, here is Emily Smith’s Page Six account of a “Megyn Kelly Today” writer who lost his job after complaining of alleged bullying behaviors faced by staffers: 

A top staffer on Megyn Kelly’s show has been fired after claiming there is a “toxic and demeaning” environment on set, rife with bullying and “abusive treatment.”

Kevin Bleyer was fired as a writer from “Megyn Kelly Today” this week after complaining that Kelly’s two top execs, Jackie Levin and Christine Cataldi, were bullying lower-level members of staff.

. . . Bleyer — a multiple Emmy-winning former writer for “The Daily Show” and speechwriter for President Barack Obama — on Tuesday sent the email to NBC News human resources, and was fired shortly after.

He wrote in the memo, revealed by the Daily Mail,“I’m sad to say … the executive incompetence continues — as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating. Jackie Levin persists in creating a toxic and demeaning environment, and Christine Cataldi enables and reinforces it.”

He claims Cataldi regularly calls her assistant “an idiot,” and when he offered suggestions for the show, Levin called him a “f–king whiner.”

At times there’s a more direct connection between the diversity-related behaviors and workplace bullying. As I reported earlier this year, Tom Ashbrook, a popular public radio program host here in Boston, was fired for engaging in bullying behaviors after initially being accused of sexual harassment. In the same piece, I wrote about how Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, an accused serial sexual harasser, has also been tagged as a bullying boss.

Toxic workplace cultures and bullying at work

Those who have studied workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse know very well that these behaviors are often stoked by toxic organizational cultures. Today I emphasized that theme in a presentation at a workplace mental health seminar hosted by The Conference Board (TCB), “a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest.”

I built my remarks around the concept of relational workplace cultures so brilliantly developed by Drs. Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks in their 2002 paper, “Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World” (2002), which I’ve referenced on numerous occasions on this blog.  (Linda Hartling is the current director of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network.)

According to Hartling and Sparks, a “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”

By contrast, three types of “non-relational cultures” hurt morale and productivity:

  • “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
  • “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
  • brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.

These three types of non-relational workplace cultures, I suggested, are likely to enable bullying and related behaviors at work. “Traditional hierarchical” cultures especially promote direct, top-down bullying. “Pseudo-relational” cultures especially enable indirect, passive-aggressive forms of bullying. “Survival” cultures fuel all types of bullying and mobbing behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to prevent and discourage work abuse is to create a relational culture. That includes nurturing civility, encouraging responsible speech, and applying the Golden Rule. However, when workplace behavior becomes targeted and abusive, firm interventions are necessary.

Of course, I also mentioned the need for stronger legal protections for bullied workers, in the form of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Many thanks to TCB program director John Brewer and event coordinator Amanda Edmonds for the kind invitation to participate in this event. I’ll have more to say about this excellent seminar in a future post.

 

Roundup on gaslighting

(Drawing copyright Aaron Maeda)

Among the most popular posts on this blog are those dealing with gaslighting. I’ve gathered a cluster of past blog entries on gaslighting at work and related topics.

On gaslighting specifically

Institutional gaslighting of whistleblowers (2018)

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect” (2018)

Gaslighting at work (2017, rev. 2018)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012, rev. 2017)

Related posts (most mention gaslighting)

Workplace bullying: Blitzkrieg edition (2017)

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Toxic systems and the eliminationist mindset (2017)

Workplace bullying and mobbing stories: “Do you have a few hours?” (2017)

How insights on abusive relationships inform our understanding of workplace bullying and mobbing (2017)

Workplace mobbing: Understanding the maelstrom (2016)

Workplace bullying as crazy making abuse (2014)

The bullied and the button pushers (2014)

When superficial civility supports workplace abusers (and their enablers) (2014)

Targets of workplace bullying: The stress and anxiety of figuring out what the h**l is going on (2014)

The Kavanaugh confirmation as a mirror onto America

(image courtesy of getdrawings.com)

Here in America, we have just endured an extraordinarily ugly and partisan confirmation process for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Events leading to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court now comprise a terrible episode in our political and legal history. This will reverberate on many levels for a long time.

Kavanaugh, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, was nominated by Donald Trump to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Late in the confirmation process, several women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and in college.

Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford was the first and most prominent accuser, alleging that during high school, a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend attempted to rape her. She and Kavanaugh both testified about these allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27. The debates over these allegations and Kavanaugh’s suitability for confirmation have dominated the national news coverage and everyday conversations across the country.

I make no claim to objectivity on this topic. I was among some 2,400 American law professors who signed a public letter expressing concerns about Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament and urging the U.S. Senate to reject the appointment. However, my purpose here is to pull back on the camera a bit and examine the destructive impact of this episode on America’s civic, political, and legal culture. Here are some of the key dimensions:

A deeply divided country

If America needed yet another painful reminder of its deep political and ideological divisions, this was it. It’s too early to predict exactly how this will affect future national elections, but it will play a major role in shaping political discussions.

Trauma and abuse

For trauma survivors, especially women who have experienced sexual assault, these events may have been alternately re-traumatizing, empowering, sorrowful, clarifying, angering, depressing, and validating. It has been a very difficult and trying two week period for many. It remains to be seen whether this will galvanize a movement to call greater attention to sexual assault, psychological trauma, and the rights of abuse victims.

Toxic masculinity

The mocking and trashing of women who courageously gave credible accounts of sexual assault was horrific and outrageous, especially when it came from men in positions of power. It’s time to mainstream the term toxic masculinity and to understand that this behavioral dynamic is very much a part of American culture.

Getting to the truth

Thanks to boundaries set by the White House, the FBI’s investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh was grossly inadequate and gave all appearances of providing cover, rather than searching for the truth. Neither the accusers’ allegations nor Kavanaugh denials were subjected to a thorough vetting, and numerous possible witnesses were ignored.

High school

Believe me, a lot of people people experienced vivid flashbacks to high school during these events. For some this was accompanied by uncomfortable memories and contemplations about behavioral excesses during adolescence and early adulthood.

Class privilege

Matters of class privilege played out prominently. Media coverage of student life at elite private high schools and Ivy League career networks gave detailed, snapshot examples about how such advantages manifest themselves early in life and continue through adulthood.

Public job interview

My own impressions of Kavanaugh notwithstanding, I would not wish upon anyone this equivalent of a job interview in the form of a public ordeal, with millions of people watching the proceedings and discussing very personal and normally private aspects of an applicant’s life. It made for a tawdry spectacle.

Institutional credibility

The reputations of both Congress and the Supreme Court took well-deserved hits. And thanks to Kavanaugh’s highly partisan language and angry, threatening tones towards his opponents in his September 27 testimony, his credibility as an impartial judge is forever suspect. With that suffers the credibility of the Supreme Court as a judicial body.

Bullying behaviors

Accusations of bullying behaviors flew back and forth between both sides. While few incidents rose to the kind of virulent bullying discussed often on this blog, the proceedings were rife with incivility and name calling.

Conservative bloc

The Kavanaugh confirmation gives the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court the votes it needs to advance a sharply right-leaning legal agenda for years to come. We are very likely to see reversals in civil rights and workers’ rights as a result.

***

The events surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation process will be studied and discussed for many years. Kavanaugh’s votes and judicial opinions will be scrutinized closely against the backdrop of how he was confirmed. I don’t have much optimism for the civic aftermath of what we’ve just experienced, but I hope that I’m wrong.

Guardian investigation: Bullying behaviors rife at top U.K. universities

Hannah Devlin and Sarah Marsh report on a Guardian newspaper investigation indicating that a culture of bullying is “thriving” at leading British universities:

Hundreds of academics have been accused of bullying students and colleagues in the past five years, prompting concerns that a culture of harassment and intimidation is thriving in Britain’s leading universities.

A Guardian investigation found nearly 300 academics, including senior professors and laboratory directors, were accused of bullying students and colleagues.

Dozens of current and former academics spoke of aggressive behaviour, extreme pressure to deliver results, career sabotage and HR managers appearing more concerned about avoiding negative publicity than protecting staff.

Their feature-length article goes into detail about their investigative findings and shares stories of individuals who have experienced bullying behaviors in academic workplaces.

When media devote coverage to bullying and related behaviors in academe

This is not the first time that the Guardian has highlighted bullying and abuse at work. The newspaper ran a week-long series on workplace bullying in 2017. And we’ve known for a long time that academe can be a petri dish for these behaviors. In fact, “Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?” (2009, revised 2014), is one of this blog’s most popular posts.

As I discussed in my last entry, when major, mainstream media outlets devote feature stories to workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, it serves as a powerful message that we must take these destructive behaviors seriously. It’s also noteworthy when a major newspaper with a global readership deems that bullying in academe merits significant coverage.

Here in the U.S., coverage of academic bullying has been limited primarily to specialized media covering higher education (such as the Chronicle of Higher Education). My own interest in workplace bullying was originally stoked some 20 years ago by my awareness of such behaviors in academic (as well as legal) workplaces. So, cheers to the Guardian for diving in with this piece. It makes a difference.

Redbook magazine examines bullying of women at work

 

Writer Jessica Press was caught by surprise. When she posted to social media that she was looking for stories from women about their experiences of being bullied at work, she expected a sprinkling of replies. Instead, as she recounts in the lede to her feature article appearing in Redbook magazine’s October issue, she got a deluge:

My inbox was flooded — overflowing with incoming mail. I’d put out the call to a handful of experts and Facebook groups for women’s stories of workplace bullying. I thought perhaps I’d hear from a dozen women.

Instead, within a week, nearly a hundred stories from around the country and around the world poured in, with a steady stream continuing in the days and weeks that followed. They worked in hospitals, academia, sales, food service — anywhere and everywhere. There were women still living in fear of retaliation. There were those who shared their journeys of deteriorating marriages, depression, anxiety, and PTSD-like symptoms. There were a surprising number who had involved lawyers and were limited in what they could even reveal due to nondisclosure agreements.

It’s a substantial feature article, and I suggest giving it a full read. Among those interviewed was Deb Falzoi, one of the key advocates for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill here in Massachusetts:

“Every day I would come to work feeling like, What is she going to do today? remembers Deb Falzoi. “Now that I know the ways bullies work, I realize she was very textbook. There were false accusations, removal of my responsibilities. At the time I didn’t know what to call what was happening to me. When I finally found the term ‘workplace bullying’ and saw that there was research on the issue, I felt a sense of relief. I hear that same thing from other targets.”

Press also gives a shout-out to our national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill:

[Drs. Gary] Namie and his wife, Ruth, the cofounder of [the Workplace Bullying Institute], along with David Yamada, professor of law and director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, are leading a movement to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill, which Yamada wrote. The bill would give both workers and employers clear-cut rights and clearly defined boundaries, which are of course the basis of any healthy relationship, professional or otherwise. “It provides an incentive for employers to adopt reasonable steps to prevent and correct bullying, which translates to having a policy and faithfully enforcing it,” explains Namie.

What’s the significance of Redbook doing a feature piece on the bullying of women at work?

I think it’s another important sign of the mainstreaming of workplace bullying and mobbing behaviors as topics worthy of our close attention. After all, Redbook is a long-time, monthly lifestyles magazine marketed primarily to women, with a circulation of some 2.2 million. That’s a sizable readership.

This is akin to the Boston Globe‘s front page feature on workplace bullying that appeared at the turn of the year.

These articles are an important form of public education about work abuse. And especially for those who are targeted by these behaviors, they serve an informative and validating purpose that helps them understand what they’re experiencing. I hope we see a lot more coverage like this.

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