Signs of Covert Abuse at Work


Stacy told me about how her immediate boss started to isolate her from the rest of the company. Since working remotely is more common because of the pandemic, isolation is accomplished with greater ease. It’s easy to feel isolated in today’s remote work environment.


I’ve experienced extreme gaslighting, and it really can make you feel like you are going crazy. The purpose of gaslighting is to manipulate you, cause you to doubt yourself, erode your self-confidence, and teach you that you cannot trust yourself. It’s one of the more insidious tactics.

Losing trust in yourself opens you to manipulation and abuse.

The term first came from a 1938 play followed by the 1944 movie of the same name, Gaslight. The movie starred the stunning Ingrid Bergman. Her husband begins manipulating her surroundings then denying her the truth when she questions it. Eventually, another character helps bring her to reality by telling her…

“You’re not going out of your mind; you’re slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind.”

Gaslighting looks like this.


It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, how smart you are, or how much you bring to the table; workplace narcissists love to talk down to you. The problem is, they really do believe they are superior to you in all ways.


Covert abusers have a good habit of creating situations that don’t exist. They desire to define your reality for you by twisting your words and misrepresenting your thoughts and motives.


Covert workplace abusers will use veiled threats and mistruths to frighten you into compliance. They may share comments that “others” have made negative comments about you, often leaving you unable to confirm the validity of those comments.


Narcissistic abusers are masters in controlling their image to the world. Other coworkers, who may not be a target of abuse, can’t understand why you have an issue with the abuser. It’s why your CEO loves them so much because they are meticulous not to reveal true colors to everyone.

You can always expect people to eventually be who they are.

It takes time, but it will happen. This is also why abusers use the “boil the frog” method with their potential targets. If you put a frog in a pot of hot water, they will immediately hop out. If you put the frog in a pot of cool water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will stay.

What can you do?

  • Realize that you can’t change them. Period. You will never do enough or be good enough for them. They are choosing their actions, not reacting to yours.
  • Leave. Get a new job if you are able. I’ve found that when I step out on faith, the path appears.
  • Set boundaries like a mother-fucker! I wrote a post on self-advocating that includes some great tactics to use if you cannot change the situation…yet.
  • Reach out to your Human Resources department if you have one. Keep a record of every incident. Record your phone calls and meetings but be certain to check the laws for your state on how to comply legally. My state was a “one-party consent state,” meaning it is legal to record a phone conversation when only one party to the conversation knows of the recording. Some are “two-party consent states.” Meaning both participants must be aware of the recording. Be prepared to prove your accusations if nothing more than to create a record of your complaints and hold your company accountable if things become increasingly worse.
  • Know that you are worth more than this treatment. That job isn't worth your mental health.



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Donlyn Turnbull

Donlyn Turnbull

Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to write about this thing called life. (Life transformation writer.)