Don’t let your abusive boss destroy your soul.  Recover your power.  Restore your health.

Why Your Abusive Boss Has So Much Power to Harm.

We humans are wired for relationship.  We survive and prosper in community.  Isolate and marginalize us, and we suffer. 

Rejection is not only painful, it’s psychologically devastating if from someone important to us and we on whom we depend.  This is why children, the ultimately dependent people, can be damaged for life by abusive parents.

So, being abused by a boss who can deprive us of our income and sense of dignity is particularly painful.  If the abuse is daily,  we may easily become depressed, anxious, and physically sick.  That is why so many employees “go out on stress leave.”  Place a bad boss in an already stressful work situation with too much work and too little help, and the situation can be toxic.  The downward cycle is awful.  We’re depleted, and therefore less resilient, and therefore the next day’s stress is even more difficult to bear.

Tactics to Cope With an Abusive Boss

Here is a list of some counter-tactics.  Note the tactics all focus on you, not your boss.  You can’t change your abusive boss.  You can change your own actions and thoughts.  Despite the stress, imagine the options, and use them:

1.  Depending on the severity of your situation, don’t wait for a complete meltdown.  Take medical leave now.  Give yourself some time away to recover and reorient.

2.  Tune in.  Your body is being effected by the stress, but you’re likely pushing on, ignoring the symptoms.  Eventually the symptoms will overwhelm you.  So, take a hint.

3.  Practice mindfulness meditation.   This practice is mental training.  It teaches detachment and observation, and allows emotional distance from disturbing events.  Here is a link to a Harvard Professor’s description of the benefits of mindfulness.  

4.  Pray, if you have any foundation of belief in a higher power.  Prayer produces results.  The source of those results can be debated, but persons of faith cope better.

5.  Stay off sugar, caffeine and alcohol.  Never use illegal drugs.  Use prescribed drugs as needed to transition through a negative time.  Prescribed drugs can take the edge off an stressful situation, but they are not a solution.  You are the solution. 

6.  Difficult though it be when you’re the target, realize it’s not personal.  Your boss is generally abusive, and seeks out the weak for more bullying.  You’re not bad, and you’re not the cause of the attacks.  Your abusive boss needs to bully for his own sick personal reasons.  He’s in a dance, and you’re the partner called “victim.” You could be anybody.

7.  There are those who give, and those who take away.  Connect with the givers to compensate for the abusive boss who is depleting you.  Reach out to the energizers.  Spend social time with people who enjoy laughter, good meals, or fun activities.  Find people who share the activities you enjoy, and make time with them to share those activities.  Let yourself laugh again.  Enjoy the feeling of letting down your guard.  Create and use these opportunities with the same routine you would take a prescribed anti-depressant. HBR – How To Succeed at Work

8.  Get more sleep.  It helps to exercise, even if just a brisk walk of 15 minutes, a few hours before going to bed. 

9.  Take rest breaks mentally and physically throughout the day.  Get up from your work, and take a walk.  Breath deeply.  Stretch.  Generally, develop a host of 1 minute interludes to replenish and renew.  Develop a little mental repetition of a positive phrase of hope.  Repeat it silently throughout the day.

10.   Be patient.  You’ve been under stress so long your body is in a nearly continuous stress response mode.  You’re likely hyper-vigilant and reactive, and unaware that this negative state has become your “new normal.”  It takes time to unwind from the pattern.  Just stay with the recovery plan. 


Abuse has multiple motivations, some of which may be illegal. If the bully is also motivated by racism, ageism, gender bias, disability discrimination, or other like prejudices, you can fight back by calling upon the company’s internal policies and using the company’s reporting mechanisms to detail the “double standard” treatment.  Basically, the message here is:  “Yes, she’s a bully generally, but she’s also directing more hostility towards me because I am [older, pregnant, used medical leave, need disability accommodation, male, a minority, etc.].  Read the company’s anti-harassment policies, and follow the internal reporting process stated by the policy.

But the reality is that company Human Resources managers may not be responsive.  They themselves may even be complicit in protecting the manager, and deflecting blame to you.  In those situations, consider a broader range of options.  Seeking legal counsel early and confidentially may provide you with new options and approaches.  That doesn’t always mean suing.  It may mean counseling you to communicate your situation more effectively to get management’s attention that the problem can no longer be ignored.