Understanding An Abusive Boss

Lindsey Novak on

Q: When I interviewed with my current boss, he seemed dynamic, intelligent, helpful and caring. When I began working for him, he was helpful and kind to me, but everyone he called into his office got reamed out. He used profanity, name-calling, and lectured each one, treating them like idiots. None were. I would see their expressions -- deflated and disheartened -- as they left his office. Some were emotionally tougher than others, but none was exempt from the effect of being shouted at, insulted and demoralized. They returned to their desks with an overall disappointment in themselves, and they would try again to do it correctly, according to the boss' instructions, which changed after each reprimand.

I wondered why they stayed in their jobs. Of course they needed an income, but when I asked one of them, he told me he agreed with the boss' criticism, but not the manner it was delivered. They were all smart, but they were so beaten down they felt inferior and couldn't see their worth anymore.

The boss never treated me that way, but he became disagreeable, to the point where I thought he was jealous of my coming up with good ideas for which he couldn't take credit. I am confident and know I'm intelligent, so his rejecting my ideas didn't hurt my feelings or make me question my value. I think the only reason he wasn't abusive to me was because I am a woman. He respected my intelligence, but it also irritated him.

His behavior renewed my interest in the field of psychology. I want to return for a graduate degree in childhood development, focusing n how abusive personalities. I know I have to be more than just interested to go into a field. How do I discover if practicing in psychology is for me? Graduate school is a major commitment.

A: Read books in the field of your interests before pursuing this path. You'll discover the depth of the knowledge you'll need and it will either ignite or discourage your desire to work in the field. The Heart of the Fight (New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA, 2016, $17.95) by Drs. Judith Wright and Bob Wright, founders of the Wright Foundation, Wright Living, focuses on couples' relationships and the types of arguments that destroy relationships. But the Wrights found their research also applied to the way people communicate in the workplace, which is not always positive.

The Wrights explain it begins with human "yearnings," which are more significant than "wantings." Neuroscience shows that wanting and yearning activate different centers of the brain. Wanting stimulates dopamine, which creates a temporary "high." Yearning, on the other hand, is paramount to one's survival. When yearnings are met, one's system is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals. The Wrights created a list of universal yearnings: To be secure; To love and care for, and respond to others; To relate, see and be seen, know and be known, to connect; To have one's existence appreciated; To express one's essence, sense of self and potential; To matter; To be connected with others; and, To connect to something greater than oneself. Meeting one's yearnings is the road to true satisfaction.

It's possible your boss didn't have his yearnings met as an infant or young child. The distress of unmet yearnings carries into adulthood, affecting the ways in which he communicates, which can lead to inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The Wrights' "Rules of Engagement" offers a roadmap to win-win outcomes. They use these rules in their Bliss Skills program: 1) Accentuate the positive; 2) Minimize the negative; 3) No one gets more than 50 percent of the blame: 4) You each get 100 percent responsibility for your happiness and satisfaction; 5) Express and agree with the truth, always; 6) Fight for, not against; and 7) Assume goodwill.

According to the Wrights, limiting beliefs are unconscious, mistaken core beliefs, such as "I'm not good enough," which stems from feeling insecure, inferior, or superior as a way to overcome feeling inferior. Another belief may be "I'm too much," which can lead to holding back and toning down one's self-expressions. Limiting beliefs are numerous, and are based on negative feelings about one's self.

It's impossible to correctly analyze the personalities where you work, just as you won't know if a career is right for you until you are in it. But psychology is never a mistake, as you can use the information to learn about yourself.

Email all questions to workplace and life coach Lindsey Novak at For more information, visit and follow her on Twitter @TheLindseyNovak and Facebook at Lindsey.Novak.12. For past columns, visit



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