Recently, I met a woman named Betty who told me she’s afraid to get a new job. She said she was forced to quit her job last year because of the company’s COO. He had been yelling at her, been verbally abusive, and was literally in her face about a project. She had had enough.
After 15 years of dedicating herself at this company, giving it her heart and soul, Betty finally told the big boss to “please back off.” She explained that he had been scaring her and bullying her and that she wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Betty was quickly let go after a list of grievances suddenly appeared. Despite 15 years of having a stellar record and a high position in the company, the job was over. Now, Betty’s feeling afraid to work at another company — afraid of repeating that awful experience.
Betty was traumatized.
We therapists understand that someone like Betty’s boss takes nos and boundaries as a narcissistic rejection. What happens? A primitive rage is triggered from deep within the psyche of that extremely vulnerable person. This person doesn’t look vulnerable. He (or she) hides behind outward aggression or apparent “coldness.”
Anyone who’s been through this knows how tough it can be.
It’s hard to establish boundaries. It’s likely Betty’s boss had been mistreating her for a long time. I’ve worked with a few wonderful bosses — I’ve worked with some really difficult ones too. The difficult ones can sure wreak havoc on your health and happiness.
Dealing with a terrible boss?
1. Don’t take it personally. Detach. Know that there is something being triggered within your adversary that has nothing to do with you.
2. Laugh about it. Find a friend who can help you find humor. The only way I was able to detach from a particularly challenging boss was to call a funny friend. At one company, we thought we might be being listened to on the phones (our boss was super paranoid). So a girlfriend and I hitched a scheme where we would pretend on the phone that we were going to drive up in a white van and steal the company secrets. We would laugh uncontrollably. Nobody was really listening but it helped lighten the burden of dealing with a bad situation.
3. Find a mentor or advocate if possible. Poor Betty had no one to support her when she finally stood up to her boss. Too many women feel like they have to do it all on their own. No. Getting help is a strength.
4. Don’t get stuck in a pleasing cycle. Women often feel that if they just did it better or did _____, that extra effort will magically make a nutty boss less crazy. Then they try, try again to “get” the boss to be happy with them. This comes from a pleasing and appeasing schema women are used to engaging in.
5. Get the H%$% out of there. No need to throw yourself on the grenade time and time again. Use your anger and fuming energy to put together a great resume, network and find a new job. Always have options.
I referred Betty to a therapist who specializes in trauma. I know she will heal, learn from this and get better. Put some good vibes out there for Betty. A lot of us have been there.
What kinds of difficulties have you experienced at your job? What helped you? How did you cope with it?
Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW, is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at www.stopgivingitaway.com.
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Last reviewed: 6 Feb 2014