9 Signs You're in an Abusive Relationship with Your Boss

abusive boss
People don’t often associate abusive relationships with the workplace, but a toxic relationship with a boss can be just as unhealthy as any personal relationship.

But, how do you tell the difference between a type-A boss who may be a little demanding or “rough around the edges” when it comes to communication and a truly abusive personality? If the following list describes your boss, chances are they are creating a toxic work environment and abusing your position – all signs it’s probably time to get out as soon as you can and find a healthier work environment.


An abusive boss is a master at belittling employees in order to keep them second-guessing themselves and fostering unhealthy competition among his own team members. This creates a highly negative and usually very stressful work environment. If your boss is constantly belittling you, your ideas, or your work, you should likely find another employer who values what you bring to the table.


Yelling in the office is a surefire sign that something is “off” with your boss and likely he/she is creating a negative work environment. Conversations can get heated from time to time, and everyone is capable of losing their cool on occasion… but regular, frequent yelling and aggressive outbursts are not normal and certainly not to be tolerated by anyone.


Bad bosses will do all they can to make you feel isolated or powerless and, therefore, easier to control and abuse. If you find your boss constantly angling to isolate you from the rest of the team, even pitting you against other employees, it's time to question their role in your professional life.


The most abusive bosses are also often the most manipulative. For example, they may periodically draw you in by seeming to share secrets about the business or other employees, positioning you as a key player in the company and making you feel valuable or “in the know,” only to ultimately turn on you or pit you against other team members. Manipulation can also take the form of lying, blame shifting, passive aggressiveness, showing favoritism, or using guilt to motivate. All toxic behaviors that signal your boss is abusing his or her position.

Physical Abuse

Although this alarming type of abuse in the workplace is often thought of as more rare than subtler types of negative feedback, physical intimidation of any kind (whether there is physical contact or not) is a clear sign of an abusive boss and should always be immediately reported to the company and, when the abuse is serious, even the authorities. This applies even if you see a colleague being threatened or abused physically – the time to stay silent on these serious issues is, fortunately, over.


Abusive bosses are adept at using intimidation or strong-arming as a motivator, although this is certainly not the kind of leadership style that gets long-term, high-performing results. If you feel nervous, scared or intimidated around your boss, you’re likely dealing with a form of abuse that can take a serious toll on your morale level, job satisfaction, anxiety level, and productivity.


Creating a chaotic environment where staff feel like they don’t have a handle on the day-to-day or where there are no strong processes and lines of communication in place to establish accountability and oversight can give an abusive boss free reign to take advantage of team members. Chaos creates distractions and diversions that lets abusive bosses get away with bad behavior.


Micromanaging and controlling every aspect of their employees’ workloads or day-to-day is not only a sign of a poor leader but also, when combined with other toxic behaviors, an abusive personality. The desire to gain and keep control often motivates abusive bosses to display all of the other signs of abuse, so if you can tell you’re working for someone who seems unhealthily obsessed with being in control of everyone and every project, it’s wise to get out before your own career suffers.


Bad bosses will often undermine their employees, both in private and in public, using demoralization and humiliation as a form of manipulation and control. If they convince their staff that they know best always and other ideas, perspectives or approaches are rubbish, then employees will be less likely to question their bad behavior and tolerate the abuse. If you work for a toxic person like this, be careful not to internalize all of their negativity and let it affect your own self worth and value as a professional. In fact, it’s best to find a healthier professional environment where you are valued and respected.

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