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:

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Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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