Rodney M Bliss

Gaslighting: Merriam Webster Word Of The Year. . .Personal Edition



1 psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator
2: the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage
(Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

Would you believe that two years ago I didn’t know the definition of gaslighting? It had never come up. During an online discussion someone accused me of it. I had to go look it up. It’s easy to think of it as simply lying. It’s more than that.

I now know exactly what it means. I’ve lived it for the past 16 months at work. I only realized it in the last couple of months. And once I realized it, I also realized it was time to leave.

I’ve been a program or a project manager for most of my career. I’m good at it. A PM has responsibility to be the translator between the end user, or the customer and the technical or development teams. I describe it as,

Client: I want flying pigs

PM to Development Team: I need animated icons that can move freely about the screen

The client understands flying pigs. The developer understands animated icons. The PM has to be both technical and a good communicator. I could do both. And that’s why I was hired at my last company. It was a small company. My job was to be the project manager working with a large state agency in the state of Florida. I joined a team that had developers in India and my technical resource was Terry. Terry was the senior technical resource for the 12 person company.

I was fortunate to have him as my technical lead. He understood the product better than anyone. And I had the chance to learn everything about the product, and our customer. Lucky me, right?

Not so much.

It took me much longer to learn the product than I was accustomed to. I figured I was getting older and just not picking things up as quickly as I used to. Terry was willing to share information, but he didn’t like to repeat himself and there were times where he assumed I knew things that we had never gone over.

For example, we had a product called postman. It’s a way to simulate a connection between two systems. You load a file into postman and you can send it as if it came from another system. Of course, you have to include all the connection information to the system along with a correctly formatted file.

Terry, how can I get the latest vendor list?

Just use postman. I gave you the install point!

Okay then. I went elsewhere to try to figure out what format and endpoint I needed for the vendor list.

I also started to notice that if Terry and I disagreed, he was always right. At first, that made sense. I didn’t know the product nearly as well as he did. But, eventually, I figured stuff out. That’s when the gaslighting became obvious. During a phone call the client asked for information about a report. Apparently the report we wrote was different than the report in their existing system. Terry assured the client,

Rodney will research that and get you the answer.

Yup. That was my job. So, I dug in and I realized that the client was looking at the wrong report. They were looking at the Account Tab Report. They should have been referencing the Account Tabulation Report. I composed an email with a sample copy of the Account Tabulation Report. I also included a screenshot showing where to access the Account Tabulation Report. I sent it off the client and included Terry.

Yay, I managed to answer that question within an hour. Good job!


Terry followed up my email with an email of his own.

I’m sorry Rodney sent you incorrect information. Please ignore his email.

And then, he sent an email to me and included Frank, the owner of our company.

Once again I have to correct you via email. Why would you send this information to the client. Please check with me before you send these to ensure we aren’t giving them wrong information.

A little harsh maybe. The thing is, I wasn’t wrong. I was exactly correct. Eventually Terry figured out that I was correct. He didn’t apologize or even acknowledge his mistake. Instead he made it clear that this was my fault.

Rodney, clearly there is some confusion around the reports. Where are the sample reports located?

Well, some of them are in the Milestone 3 folder. Others are in Milestone 1. And every service ticket has a copy of the report.

That’s not going to work! Move all the sample reports to a single folder. Telling me to go look in three different locations isn’t helpful.

And the strange thing was I hadn’t told him where to look for reports. He’d simply asked where they were. I told him. Just like I had answered the client’s question as he asked. It was at this point that I remembered the definition of gaslighting. It was clear that the reason I was not making progress was that Terry really didn’t want me to. Once I noticed it I started seeing how this had been going on for months.

During a status meeting with the client another team had given me some unexpected praise.

We really want to thank Rodney for his help getting our training material prepared.

That is exactly what a PM loves to hear. That we are making a difference. That we are helping the client. I really didn’t expect to get recognition in front of the stakeholders. You would think Terry would be happy that I was getting results.


Rodney, who did you meet with and what did you tell them?

And, again I remembered the definition of gaslighting.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started networking again. I’ve been to lunch with some of my former team members. Of course, they asked me about leaving my previous company.

That makes no sense. You are the best PM I’ve worked at.

I let you finish the story, but as soon as you started I realized someone was gaslighting you. Because you are the best I’ve ever seen.

I’m a little embarrassed it took me as long as it did to recognize the gaslighting. But then, that’s part of the power of gaslighting. You convince the person that you’re their friend and trying to help them. Terry was pretty good at it. He kept it up for 16 months.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany III A Collection of Holiday Short Stories, an anthology including his latest short story, “You Can Call Me Dan” here

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