11 Warning Signs Your Military Command is Gaslighting You

A frustrated military soldier sits with hands on his head. Photo by DepositPhotos

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic sometimes used in abusive relationships to gain power and control by making the victim question their reality. This was outlined by psychologist Dr. Stephanie Sarkis in a 2017 article. I couldn’t help but make the connection between how gaslighting is used in a relationship between two partners and the relationships service members have with their command.

Here is the list of the 11 Warning Signs mentioned by Dr. Sarkis. See how many apply to your leadership at your command:

1. They Tell Blatant Lies

They look you square in the eyes and lie. A brazen, obvious lie that makes you question reality. Even if you try to present facts and evidence to show them otherwise, they blatantly stick to the lie. The message they send you is clear, “It doesn’t matter what is right, I am right, regardless of truth. Know your place.”

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof

“You can go on liberty as soon as you get your work done.”

You finish your work and then ask to go on liberty.

“No, I never said that.” Yet, you wrote it down in your pocket notebook. There’s an email. You have witnesses. Doesn’t matter. They deny, deny, deny. Sound familiar? The more often this happens, the less likely you’ll feel comfortable questioning their memory and pretty soon, their memory is the only one that matters.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition

Liberty. Leave. Family. Partner. Kids. Money. Rank. Nothing is off limits to use a leverage to squeeze every ounce of work out of you. “The military didn’t issue you a wife/husband.” The subtext is that you are not as worthy to your command because you care about other things in life. These are things that make you a complete human being and not a robot or drone. What happens is that service members are less likely to express excitement or happiness about anything out of fear that the Command will use it against you to guilt and squeeze every last ounce of labor from you.

4. They wear you down over time

Gaslighting is typically done gradually over a period of time. It may be over the span of a day or deployment or your entire time at a command. By breaking your spirit and exhausting you to the point where you don’t have the energy or wherewithal to push back, they can essentially do or say whatever they want to you.

5. Their actions do not match their words

Words are fickle and useless. Actions are what will determine if your leaders have a healthy relationship with the chain of command or not. Pay attention to what they do and not so much as what they say.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you

Maybe you get an award or a “shout out,” but immediately after they go back to treating you poorly and the gaslighting continues. They make you question your feelings by making you think that they couldn’t possibly be bad leaders if they say nice things to me….right?

7. They know confusion weakens people

Gaslighters purposefully miscommunicate and confuse you to make you question reality. It makes you frustrated and want to give up. If your command leaders are vague and allow uncertainty to fester, you may be a victim of a gaslighting tactic to control you. Seek clarity whenever possible.

8. They project

Ever have a supervisor or leader chew you out for no reason? Or use words to describe you that don’t seem to line up with who you are? They may be projecting their own insecurities onto you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of insecure military leaders who project their own problems onto their subordinates. You get so busy defending yourself from false accusations that they hope you don’t notice their own problems.

9. They try to align people against you

Misery loves company. Master manipulators turn the ones most loyal to them against

you. Once they recruit others to go against you, it ostracizes you and makes you feel alone. In order to feel like you fit in, the gaslighters will try and get you to ‘join the crowd’ and ‘fall in line.’ Sometimes they will pull people aside who you trust and convince them to pass toxic messages to you.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy

An effective technique. They make you question your sanity to distract you from how awful they really are. This is when a good foundation to fall back on is so important. Trustworthy mentors or people who really care about you would not do this.

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar

“Quit listening to others, only listen to me.” This builds a dependency on them. They want you to come to them first and only for the ‘truth.’ Breaking down your trust in others is a gaslighter’s way of narrowing your world view. Having a network of trustworthy people you can turn to is a gaslighter’s worse nightmare.

These may be a good indicator that you have a toxic command. You can’t solve a problem without first identifying it. Being aware of these tactics will help you identify gaslighting problems. The military has lost a lot of good service members due to leaders gaslighting their subordinates. Sometimes they just leave and become bitter veterans. Some have taken their own life because they have abusive gaslighters as supervisors.

How many apply to your chain of command?




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store