Ever Wonder If You've Got An Emotionally Abusive Boss?

Sometimes emotional abuse comes from the one who actually signs off on your paycheck.

Workin' Girl

2020 marks the 20th year that I've been making most of my living as a writer. Although, during that time, I had a couple of other gigs here and there, all of them allowed me to work from home, with no micromanaging and very limited drama. Amen. Praise the Lord! Yet as I was sitting here and reflecting on what life was like when I did have full-time gigs, I have to admit that, in some cases, the title of this article is what motivated me to get the hell out of those offices. Emotional abuse? It is the absolute worst. Problem is, I'm not sure if a lot of us even stop to consider that it's something that could possibly be happening at our place of employment; especially between us and our manager, supervisor or boss.

Before showing you some of the telltale signs of it, I'll already say that if a part of you is "triggered" at the mere thought of being abused in this fashion, that is probably your first clue that something unhealthy is going on. Then I'll follow that up by saying, if even three of the signs check out, you really should consider an exit strategy.

If you have no clue how to go about doing that, I've got a little present for you. It comes in the form of a YouTube video entitled "I Saved $20,000 And Quit My Full-Time Job To Be 'Funemployed'". The video is totally worth your time to watch but the gist is this—a woman who goes by Evelyn From The Internets shared her definition of funemployed. It's "being unemployed on purpose". In her sixteen-minutes-and-some-change totally entertaining share, Evelyn talks about wanting to leave her full-time gig and how she saved enough money (I believe it was in a year) so that she didn't have to go from one stress-filled job to another. Or, as it relates to this article, one emotionally abusive corporate situation into another.

With articles out in cyberspace like "Why Are Workers Quitting Their Jobs in Record Numbers?" and "85% of People Hate Their Jobs, Gallup Poll Says", I'd venture to say that more than a few are victims of emotional abuse in the workplace. They and you deserve better. So sis, if you see these red flags, perhaps 2020 is the year for you to become funemployed (with the operative word, finally, being "fun"). And just what are the signs of an emotionally abusive boss?

They’re Micro-Managers


I mean, really. Is there anything more insulting than being hired for a position, only to have someone breathing down your neck to make sure that you do your job? Why did they hire you if all they were going to do was send you an incessant amount of emails, make you do daily reports (that is really nothing more than mere busywork) and find a way to complain about each and every little thing that you try and complete?

Just like there is such a thing as helicopter parenting, there is also such a thing as having a helicopter boss. They are the kinds of people who have an office full of adults, but you would think that they are in a daycare full of children. You didn't sign up to be patronized, condescended or constantly followed-up on. So yes, if your boss is a micro-manager, this is just one indication that you are being emotionally abused at work.

They Are Big Time Gas Lighters


I can take a lot of things, boy. But if there's one thing that irks me to absolutely no end, it's a gas lighter. They are the kind of people who are master manipulators. They pull it off by withholding information or distorting facts in such a way that when you bring a matter to their attention, they are so cryptic that you end up feeling like you're confused or you are totally losing your mind.

How do you know if your boss is a grade-A gas lighter? Do they deny doing or saying something that you know for a fact that they did or said? Did the two of you come to a mutual agreement about something, only for them to suddenly renege? Are they hypocrites in the sense that they expect more from you than they do of themselves? Do they tell little "white lies" or cut corners often enough that you start to feel drained and unable to do your best work? Whenever you address any of this, do they claim to understand, only for you to end up with more work or for other staff members to give you the cold shoulder (probably because your boss has been slick-talking about you)?

Gaslighting sucks because sometimes it can be hard to put your finger on it. But if you just read all of that and you had to fight the urge to jump up out of your seat in agreement, 1) you are the victim of a gas lighter and 2) it is definitely a form of emotional abuse.

They Constantly Shift Blame


It's one thing to go above what's expected of you because you feel inspired to do it. It's another to have to refer to your job description, at least twice a week, because it seems like you're doing so much more than what you were initially hired to do.

Doing your best is one thing. Doing three other people's jobs while only getting paid for yours is something entirely different. If your desk is full of other people's responsibilities, if you can't remember the last time you got home at a decent hour or it seems like you're stressed out and overwhelmed at the mere thought of walking into the office every day, not only is this a clue that your boss is probably taking advantage of you, you are most definitely being emotionally abused (especially if you bring all of this up to them and they blow you off).

They Take Credit That They Don’t Deserve


We all know that when we work for a company, there are going to be times when we don't get the credit that we deserve. That's actually why a lot of people become entrepreneurs—they don't want all of their skills and ingenuity to go into building someone else's dreams; they would much rather build up their own. But it's one thing to not get your just due every once in a while. It's another matter entirely when your intellectual property, blood, sweat and tears are things that your boss puts their name on rather than yours on a regular basis. Not only is it shady as hell, but it's a low-key form of stealing.

Please don't think that just because you work for a business that not getting credit for the work that you do should automatically come with the territory. No matter how many companies might like their employees to think so, it's foul and yep, you guessed it—it's also pretty darn abusive.

They Are Passive Aggressive


This is another trait that drives me up the wall. Do you get backhanded compliments like, "You did so much better on this than I thought you would"? Is your boss's humor really hard to read? When you try and receive feedback from them, is it so unclear that you're exhausted after meeting with them or reading their emails? Does it feel like you never receive clear instructions? Do they spend—and by that, I mean waste—a lot of time exerting their authority by enforcing petty and pointless rules? Are they really warm to you on one day and cold as ice the next?

If so, none of this is normal behavior; it doesn't matter how used to it you've become. And if there's a part of you that wonders why someone would go through the drama of being passive aggressive, typically it's because it's the kind of behavior that is easier rationalize (at least in their own minds) over being frank or direct (which could lead to confrontation). Yes, it's exhausting, but since it's hard to pinpoint what a passive aggressive person is doing, they can keep triggering you without directly being seen—or reported—as being a bad guy or girl.

Passive aggressive can push someone into becoming aggressive. That is why it made this particular list.

They’ve Got a Selective Memory


They told you that you could take Friday off. Then when Thursday rolls around, they give you a ton of work that's due by Monday. During a staff meeting, assignments are clearly delegated. Oh, but a week later, you get an email about doing something that was never previously discussed. You schedule a meeting with your supervisor because you are interested in a position that was recently posted in-housed. They agree to keep you in mind but then hire someone who has never worked for the company before. And, to all of these things, your boss comes at you on some, "Oh…did we discuss that? I don't recall."

While there are times when that might be the case, just like it is your responsibility to remember to come to work on time and remember to do your job, it is your boss's responsibility to remember to keep their word. A selective memory is a not-so-low-key sign of a lack of respect. Who can remain in a healthy and productive relationship with anyone who doesn't respect them?

They Threaten Your Position. Regularly.


Another example of an emotionally abusive boss is they try and intimidate you. An example of this is them constantly making you feel like if you don't comply with all of the examples of emotional abuse that I just shared—or if you decide to tell the higher ups about these things—they will cause you to lose your job—or they will make you so miserable that you will up and quit.

If this is what you feel is going on, again, watch the video about how to be funemployed. Then put an exit strategy together that consists of—saving money; looking for another position; keeping record of how you are being mistreated; identifying how they trigger you (so that you can work on deactivating them); setting boundaries (do your job well but also be OK with saying no to doing tons more for nothing in return) and getting totally off of the clock once you leave the office.

Emotional abuse, of any kind, is something you shouldn't have to experience. Never assume that, just because it's happening at your place of employment and that you are getting a check in return, your boss is justified. They are not. Abuse is abuse. Simple as that.

Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Join founder Necole Kane, and co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, for conversations over cocktails each and every week by subscribing to xoNecole Happy Hour podcast on Itunes and Spotify.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Unhealthy Workplace Stresses You Need To Break Free From

What Happened When I Tried Being More Assertive At Work

Is The Grind For The Corner Office Putting Us In the Casket?

10 Podcasts All Aspiring Girl Bosses Need To Listen To

Feature image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

I started dreaming about moving abroad when I was about 21 years old. I remember returning from a two-week study abroad trip to Dublin, Ireland having my eyes and mind wide open to the possibility of living overseas. This new travel passion was intensified after graduating from college in 2016, and going on a group trip to Italy. I was intoxicated by my love for Italy. It's hands down my favorite place. However, my post-grad life was one twist and turn after the next. I'm sure you can relate.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

If you are a frequent reader of my articles, then you know that I am front-of-the-class here for the culture. Using all of my platforms to be vocal about Black women and all things Blackity, Black, Black, Black is how I get down, and frankly, if you aren't here for me bragging on my people, then we probably won't have much in common. The wave has been snowballing too, because so many feel the same way I do, which is something we've had to consciously build up as a community.

Keep reading... Show less

This article is in partnership with Staples.

As a Black woman slaying in business, you're more than likely focused on the bottom line: Serving your customers and making sure the bag doesn't stop coming in. Well, there's obviously more to running a business than just making boss moves, but as the CEO or founder, you might not have the time, energy, or resources to fill in the blanks.

Keep reading... Show less

Whether still dealing with the aftershocks of the pandemic, not being able to get enough time off or money being a little on the tight side is what's preventing you from going on a romantic vacation this summer, who's to say that you can't do a sexy staycation instead? If the mere thought of that feels like a poor man's — or woman's — consolation prize, I promise you that it absolutely does not have to. Opting to stay at home while possibly throwing in a couple of day trip adventures (which is a classic definition of a staycation, by the way) can be loads of fun, super romantic and also really cost effective without feeling mad cheap.

Keep reading... Show less

Growing up, my mother didn't let me wear make-up. At the time, I was pissed. Oh, but now that I'm deep into my 40s, I'm ever grateful because it's rare that a week will go by and someone won't be shocked when I tell them my age. Meanwhile, a lot of the — I'm gonna be real — white women who I went to high school with? Whenever I run into them, the combination of constant tanning and piling on cosmetics back in the day now has them looking several — and I do mean, several — years older than I.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

'Insecure' Writer Mike Gauyo Talks His Journey From Med School To The Writers' Room

"Meeting Issa Rae was a story of perseverance, following up, being persistent and all of the characteristics and attributes you need to be a successful writer."

Latest Posts