Work is undoubtedly a big part of our lives. Almost daily, we interact one-to-one with management, peers, and subordinates!

Nevertheless, it is not always the case that the work team is friendly and welcomes us with open arms. Indeed, sometimes it's the other way around: office intrigues, gossip, and tyranny from the "veterans of labor" towards the newcomers. However, the worst thing an employee can face is an abusive boss.

So, let's discover how it's possible to protect yourself from an abusive boss, how to spot them, and, most importantly, how to escape from such a person and situation.

What is psychological abuse like at work?

Conflicts and disputes can arise in absolutely any company. Emotional breakdowns are also possible for all employees, for example, on the eve of a serious inspection or project delivery. However, when humiliation, manipulation, and pressure from management become regular and systematic, it is a cause for concern. You may be experiencing psychological abuse rather than just mood swings.

Nevertheless, consider any relationship abusive if it leaves you feeling stressed, nervous, insecure, or even depressed. The key is not to ignore the situation and the initial symptoms. In the case of psychological abuse at work, it is imperative to recognize the signs of abuse.

How do you know if your boss is an abuser?


Abusers assert themselves at the expense of others. Therefore, the most obvious signs of psychological abuse stand out as follows:

1. Taunts and Insults.

If a manager frequently raises their voice towards one of their team in front of other employees it is popularly called a "public flogging." Unfortunately, this still happens in many workplaces, despite its ineffectiveness and extremely negative consequences. The same goes for sarcastic remarks about employees, which the boss may make in a jocular manner but are still inevitably harmful to your self-esteem. These are all clear signs of abusive behavior.

Remember that humor should not be allowed to become personal, embarrassing, or uncomfortable for your colleagues. Deal with this immediately if this happens.

2. Devaluing Professional and Personal Qualities

Neglecting achievements and leaving professional achievements unnoticed or scolding at the slightest lapse or misstep is another sign of psychological abuse at work. Remember that all employees should get valued on their merits in a healthy workforce.

3. Passing the Buck: Shifting Responsibility.

Everyone, even the best and brightest, will experience setbacks or failures at work. It is natural because the age-old wisdom says: The person who makes no mistakes is the one who does nothing." A boss should understand that, not be a couch potato and be able to admit their mistakes and bear responsibility for them as you do, apologize, and correct disputable situations. If the boss shifts problems from bad to worse - this is the reddest of red flags. By the way, it is by learning to survive failures that we can turn them into valuable experiences. So, learn how to take care of yourself and your psychological health. We strongly recommend taking Lectera’s course "Leadership Thinking. Achieve Ambitious Goals” for this purpose.

4. Blackmail and Threats

A would-be abuser constantly uses blackmail and intimidation to achieve their goals, prove themselves, and gratify their vanity. I mean, think about it. If you get frequently threatened with the sack and regularly must prove you are worthy of your job and meekly put up with your bosses' antics, is it worth it? After all, such a job will not bring you anything but emotional burnout and chronic stress.

5. Mood Swings

Professionals are never guided by their emotions when making decisions. It is especially true about the "big bosses." Moreover, if the mood and frame of mind influence your line manager's work schedule and office behavior, they are mentally unstable. Consequently, they are likely to quickly change their attitude towards their employees ten times a day for no reason, behave irrationally, and even lose control. Indeed, all of these are also signs of abusive behavior.

People who suffer from so-called "emotional swings" will benefit from Lectera's “Read People's Emotions. Psychophysiology and Nonverbal Methods” course. The course covers the causes of various emotions, effective self-control techniques, and ways to develop emotional intelligence to achieve mutual understanding with colleagues, management, and team members.

How to protect yourself from psychological violence at work


Quitting your job and forgetting the boss-abuser forever is not always possible. Therefore, you should try more conservative methods before resorting to such radical measures. For example, learn to pull your punches and resist the abuser's manipulations. Here are some tips on how to start your fight:

Tip 1. Take time off to reassess the situation with fresh thinking.

Only after you have calmed down and soberly evaluated the events can you make the right decision for yourself and plan further action.

Tip 2. Set Personal Boundaries

Remember that respecting your boundaries is not a whim but the key to good mental health. Abuse by superiors happens precisely because a victim lacks personal boundaries. If a person cannot assert their point of view, allows others to snipe at them, or tolerates outright rudeness, they risk being the target of a psychological attack in another company.

Tip 3. Keep your Distance.

Avoid getting too close to your boss to discuss personal life or other personal matters. Neither should you try to get the boss to like you as a person: your job is to do it properly. Remember your chain of command, don't overstep your bounds, and don't allow others to do so. It is better to focus on your goals. Become aware of why you will work, and answer the main question: does your work meet your needs?

Tip 4. Do not be Afraid of Change, and Value Yourself!

Don't forget that to stay in high demand in the job market, you must keep developing, improving your skills, and learning new ones. This way, you can be sure you'll always find a new job, and no boss can blackmail you with your job position.

Tip 5. Networking

Become networked and expand your network of valuable contacts so that you don't become dependent on the opinion, patronage, or assistance of others. Even amongst your colleagues, you might find not only psychological support and care but also opportunities, perspectives, and a chance to find a more attractive workplace. What's more, remember: there is always room for a competent person in a more friendly team in a successful company!

By failing to act or ignoring situations of psychological abuse, you not only harm your health but also encourage further attacks of abuse. Think about the consequences that will befall you and your colleagues because of such a boss. Workplace abuse is always:

  • Emotional instability.

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion.

  • Sleep disturbances and headaches.

  • Decreased productivity.

  • Irritability and aggression.

  • Heart problems and neurological disorders.

  • Low productivity and, as a result, career stagnation.

To avoid bringing yourself and your colleagues to such states, use our advice and always value yourself! If you have already experienced abuse, the course "Stress management: methods of achieving internal balance" will help you overcome difficult situations and stress, where you will learn how to manage stress rationally, eliminate stress factors and maintain inner harmony.


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