How to Survive an Abusive Boss

Oh dang, did you get snowed by a narcissist or BPD boss? It happens to the best of us. In fact – compassionate and empathetic people are MORE likely to get taken in by an abuser with a personality disorder. Sometimes the toxic behavior patterns are evident right off the bat – if you have just gotten the job OR have not accepted it yet and you can see the warning signs, RUN. You can Postmates your way through another couple of weeks. Trust.

But as in any relationship, your abuser will probably not let on how terrible they are right away. They may spend months or even years grooming you with praise and subtle gaslighting before the shit hits the fan. And now you’ve been in the same role with its weird undefined parameters and they start telling you that no one will pay you what they do (no one else will love you), good luck finding another job that lets you work flextime (you are not worthy), your job is “changing” roll with it if you want to keep your job (congrats you now do the work of 4 people for the same pay and will never see another weekend).

Maybe right now you are thinking – oh my boss is kind of a jerk face, but is this relationship really abusive? How do I know if my boss is abusive?

Has your boss texted you at midnight and then again at 6 am asking why you didn’t respond at midnight? Or emailed you with a work “emergency” at 9 pm on a Sunday? (Is something on actual fire? Did someone die or are they in mortal peril? No? Then it’s NOT an emergency.)
YOU might have an abusive boss.

Have you been given the highest of high praise and told how amazing you are one day, only to have your integrity and work ethic questioned the very next day? Been told you are getting a raise and then laughed at when you ask about it later?

Is your job constantly changing with little or no warning? Have you been dressed down for not doing tasks that no one told you were yours? Are you constantly being threatened with a demotion or termination?
YOU might have an abusive boss.

Has your boss called an emergency 8 am all hands on deck meeting? And then showed up 30 minutes late while high on cocaine?
YOU most definitely have an abusive boss (don’t bother with the rest of this article, please run screaming in the opposite direction)

Okay, you realized that what is happening is abusive and not normal and you need to get out – so NOW what??

While some of you might have the luxury of just outright quitting if you are not the sole breadwinner or have a nice chunk of savings – most of us will have to tough it out for as long as we can, while trying to find another job. How can we juggle the stress of working for an abuser + the stress of job hunting without losing our damn minds????? While it might sound impossible – you can take steps to protect your sanity and self-worth.

  1. Continue to produce good work – Okay this one is tricky, it is super tempting to go full Office Space on a nasty boss. But if your work quality tanks – your brain might start whispering nasty things like “They’re right about you, you know. You aren’t very good. No one else will hire you” low self-worth will not only affect your mental health, but it will make nailing that interview to GTFO of this sitch even harder.
  2. Know your value – Not just what your job is worth in salary (though doing research here is a good idea) but list out all of the things you have done, every time you have gone above and beyond, what you have accomplished – looking at it all laid out will help you see that you are a valuable employee and that the tactics used against you to keep you complacent are BECAUSE you are so valuable.
  3. Enforce boundaries – do NOT reply to any emails or texts sent after work hours, do not work overtime for free, set clear boundaries and stick to them.
  4. Self-care – Workout. Make the time at lunch or after work (I know you are mentally so drained – do it!) if hard workouts aren’t your thing- take a walk or do gentle yoga stretches. Eat nourishing food that tastes good. Often under stress, we will default to comfort food and I’m not saying you should not indulge in your easy tiger pretzel habit once in a while if it brings you joy, but stress eating junk food will only make you feel bad physically – on top of the heavy mental tax you are under. Drink. NO not like that. (okay maybe a little) hydrate yourself, drink lots of water, invest in many cases of topo chico. Add those little flavor packets – whatever works to help you stay hydrated.
  5. Talk it out – Talk to your closest friends about what’s going on – not only to help spread the word that you need a new job and stat – but getting a fresh perspective can be a huge self-worth boost. When my situation started to go south – it took me telling the story to my friends and seeing their reactions to really realize how bad things really were.
  6. Set a job search goal and stick to it – Job hunting sucks. Let’s face it. Adding job search stress ON TOP of your abusive boss and holy hell work situation can seem daunting. Set aside time each day to search. Add alerts for companies and job titles to the major job search platforms. Privately message anyone in your network that you can trust that you are looking. Set a daily or weekly application goal and meet it. You will feel accomplished even when you don’t get as many callbacks as you would like. (no one does)

I hope you never find yourself in a terrible job situation. But if you do, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you are worthy of being treated with respect!