(OMTimes | Marcia Sirota) What do you do when your boss transforms from an apparently ideal employer into an abusive boss who overwhelms you with negativity?
Your abusive boss will never change so stop trying to change them
Sometimes, a person inadvertently gets hired by an abusive boss. If this is you, you might not realize it at first, especially if they’re the type of abuser who’s initially very charming, charismatic, attractive, and super-attentive.
Initially, you might think that you’ve won the workplace lottery, so when the inevitable red flags start waving in your face, you’re more likely to ignore them.
You tell yourself that your manager’s unkind, unreasonable, hyper-controlling and critical behaviors are just momentary lapses until they become more and more common and begin to outweigh any moments of kindness or reasonable behavior.
Little by little, your boss transforms from an apparently ideal employer into a total nightmare. You start to feel overwhelmed by all the negativity coming at you.
And this is where many people make a crucial mistake. They do this by relying more on hope than facing what’s right in front of their eyes.
This is how it goes: when your boss ultimately reveals their true, ugly colors, you tell yourself that the original version of this person is the real one; not this undermining, crazy-making, hyper-critical micro-manager you’re currently dealing with. And you convince yourself that you can get your boss to become the ideal manager again, just by making them happy and giving them what they want.
So, instead of saying, “I’m out here,” you try to convince your now-abusive boss that you’re not as bad as they’re saying you are. You try to retrieve the reasonable, supportive earlier version of your boss by “proving” to them that you’re worthy of their respect.
But here’s the thing. If they’re this hyper-critical and unreasonable, it’s your boss who isn’t worthy of your respect.
Any supervisor who constantly complains about you frustrates you, undermines you, and/or intimidates you is not deserving of your time, energy, or loyalty. Any boss who can’t value your efforts and treat you with basic consideration and respect is not the type of manager you want to work for.
And here’s the other thing. Anyone who is this critical of you isn’t actually criticizing you because you have faults. Everyone has faults, including the person who’s criticizing you, especially the person who’s criticizing you. Your boss is putting you down in the mistaken belief that this will make them feel better about themselves.
But putting other people down will do nothing to boost their own self-worth. The things that will boost someone’s self-worth are 1: self-love; and 2: kindness to others.
When you have self-love, and when you’re kind to others, you feel good about yourself. Putting other people down will only turn you into a bitter, miserable person.
So why do some managers continually put down their staff? It’s because their brains are like the brain of an addict. They’re convinced that the wrong thing – in their case, dominating or abusing their workers – will heal their inner wounds and boost their self-esteem. It doesn’t work, but just like any addict, they’re convinced that it’s not working because they’re not doing it enough.
They redouble their efforts and ratchet up the criticisms and the control, certain that more of the wrong thing will somehow turn into the right thing. Of course, it won’t, any more than more heroin; more vodka, more binge eating, or more gambling will finally make someone feel better about themselves and their life.
On your end, you’re trying to convince this hyper-critical supervisor who doesn’t actually deserve you that you’re not as bad as they keep saying you are. You’re trying to “prove” to them that you’re not as stupid or incompetent as they keep saying.
But if someone keeps saying that you’re stupid and incompetent, it proves that they’re the ones with the problem.
A reasonable boss who’s dealing with an incompetent employee would offer them remediation or would let them go. By constantly attacking you, your boss is showing you how hurtful they really are. Their actions are telling you that they’ll never, ever be satisfied with anything you do. Their actions are showing you that remaining in this workplace is a set-up for ongoing misery.
The truth is that someone who needs to put you down to build themselves up will never accept any “proof” that you’re not as bad as they say. They need to see you as stupid and useless so that they can feel superior, by contrast. They’ll never accept your defenses against their verbal attacks because they believe that putting you down is the only way that they can feel better about themselves.
It’s futile to try and prove to a hyper-critical boss that you’re not as bad as they say. They’re showing you, with their behavior, that they’re the one with the problem. They’re hurtful, really hurtful, and they’ll never change.
Your abusive boss will never revert back to the seemingly supportive person you first met. That’s because this nice version was the fake version – the bait they set to trap prospective employees. Once you were caught, they showed you their true self, and face it, it’s ugly. Stop telling yourself that they’re not so bad. They are.
The only choice in this scenario is to find other work. Instead of trying to convince an abusive boss that you’re not that bad, it makes a lot more sense to find a workplace where you can be supported in your efforts and valued for your contributions.
About the author
Marcia Sirota MD FRCP(C) is a board-certified psychiatrist, that does not ascribe to any one theoretical school. Rather, she has integrated her education and life experiences into a unique approach to the practice of psychotherapy. She considers herself a realist with a healthy measure of optimism.
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