The Dysfunctional Relationship No One Warned You About

You spend every single day with this person, you respect them, you want to be better for them. They, in turn, question your capabilities, squeeze the most out of you, give you back-handed compliments and if ever questioned, respond in a way that makes you question your own abilities or capabilities.

Sound like a toxic relationship?

To me, it sounds like a modern-day narrative of your relationship with your boss.

One aspect part of being a millennial is bearing witness to a generational shift. On one hand, we have a community-based generation that our parents adhere to. On the other hand, with the increasing conversation around mental health and self-care, we see us shift towards a more individual need-based generation.

Now the challenge is to be stuck between both.

A well-intentioned colleague of mine (in his mid-40s) once said, “People from your generation can be so incompetent. I think it’s better to just sideline such people than to even remotely engage.”

Unfortunately for him (and me), he didn’t see how problematic such a statement is. The system, apparently, suggests that sidelining someone can make them feel unworthy and hence, encourages them to leave on their own so it doesn’t come to a nasty farewell via a superior and HR.

This was a moment of awakening from me. Thankfully, I work in a feminist workplace that maintains a healthy and nurturing environment. But I didn’t know until now was that this is a massive privilege – even in 2020.

I live in an age where long working hours are not only glorious but are also synonymous with hard work and efficiency. I live in an age where prioritising work over your personal life – to an extent that it hampers your relationships – is not only a matter of pride but also synonymous with dedication and ambition.


Also read: The Immortal – and False – Myth of the Workplace Queen Bee


In recent times, the usage of the term ‘gaslighting’ in relationships has gone up drastically, but what no one tells you about is the toxic relationship the work culture of today has made you a part of – the one with your boss. The one that blinds you to an extent that you fail to recognise abuse of power, the downside of power-dynamics, and worse of all, a gaslighting superior.

For those of you who don’t know, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality or rather, their ability. The predator, in this case, tries to exert power over you in a sly yet manipulative manner over a period of time. The subtlety of gaslighting makes it rather passive-aggressive in nature.

Let’s understand a couple of traits a gaslighter might use to enable you to recognise this playing out in real life. Gaslighters might lie and make you feel responsible or at fault a lot of the time. They take up close to zero accountability or responsibility for their actions. They might leave you feeling inadequate or incapable. They might engage in gossip as it offers them ammunition. They might take information and twist it or use it as per their convenience. They give you back-handed compliments. Most of your interactions with them leaves you feeling confused. They don’t respect or validate your feelings. Most of their reactions to your low points makes you question your self-worth.

If any of the above rings a bell, then chances are that you have been a victim of gaslighting.

Gaslighting at the workplace is massively common between a superior and a subordinate thanks to the evident power dynamics at play. This can happen with the intention of squeezing you to get maximum work done while leaving you with low self-esteem to maintain the power dynamics.

Though opting out of such situations has a lot more to do with your privilege than your will, it’s important to act as and when possible. The toughest thing to do in a situation like this is to believe yourself and fight through the self-doubt while reminding yourself of your worth.


Also read: We Need to Talk About Toxic Work Environments


One of my friends mentioned how despite working 12 hours a day for months without a break, the moment she asked for a leave, her superior called her ‘selfish’ and ‘complacent’. A similar narrative of another friend revealed constant taunts over how the young generation only cared about themselves and are disrespectful because they are opinionated. Now while I am against being disrespectful, it’s sad to be taunted for having opinions and beliefs. Another narrative of a friend involved her superior rolling eyes at her while she conveyed that she was getting anxious because of the conversation they were having.

There are many, many more such stories.

We spend over 30-40% of our day at our workplace. It’s important to ensure that it’s a healthy, nurturing environment that respects individual autonomy in all forms – be it your mental health, emotional space, or your capabilities.

With the kind of hierarchical structure that most organisations have, it gets difficult to fight back. This is when it becomes crucial to take a collective stand. Reach out to your colleagues and actively engage in healthy conversations that increase awareness.

Always remember: If someone makes you question your self-worth and capabilities, you are being violated. We see you, we hear you.

Bhuveneswari is a marketing professional by the day who also runs her own initiative that aims at facilitating a conversation around mental health. She hopes to make people smile a little more with each passing day with her words.

Featured image credit: Reuters