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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

7 Ways a Boss Can Be Abusive

devil wears pradaUsually, abusive behavior is discussed in the context of a marriage and parent/child relationships. But in reality, it can exist anywhere, even in a work environment. Many larger corporations address obvious abuse such as hitting or screaming though their human resource departments. Yet few businesses acknowledge the more subtle methods of abuse some bosses employ. Here are the seven ways bosses can be abusive:

Physical. Their posture is an aggressive stance or intimidating stare. They might even stand over the employee while talking to intensify feelings of domination. Some bosses limit the ability of an employee to leave the office by physically blocking the doorway.  Shoving or pushing occurs behind closed doors with no witnesses. Even the room temperature can be increased to uncomfortable levels to further agitate the employee.

Mental. A rage occurs out of nowhere in private causing the employee to fear being alone with the boss. Some bosses use gaslighting techniques to abuse by lying about the past to make their employees doubt their memory, perception and even sanity. Giving employees the silent treatment, twisting reality to avoid blame and projecting their negative behavior onto employees are other tactics.

Verbal. They praise employees in front of others but privately are belittling, demeaning, bullying and degrading. An abusive boss frequently interrupts, talks over, withholds key information, and interrogates.  Typical browbeating includes utterances such as: “If only you would…, then I won’t have to be this way,” “The problem with you is…,” and “That (verbal abuse) didn’t really happen.” There is no apology, only threats of being fired.

Emotional. Some bosses nitpick employees apart, belittling their accomplishments, aspirations or personality in front of co-workers. Teasing, sarcasm or gossip is commonly used to degrade and mock. They embarrass employees by sharing private information without consent, treating employees like children or exposing some shameful event. Often in a passive-aggressive way, they remind employees of their shortcomings. They treat employees as inferior by holding them to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard, then gloat when they fail.

Financial. Abusive bosses like to use an employee’s need to earn money as a weapon by refusing to pay what is due, knowing the employee’s vulnerable position makes it unlikely that he or she will retaliate. Bad bosses rewrite the rules to avoid paying bonuses, tell employees they can never earn any more money, make it difficult for employees to further their education or limit their employees’ ability to advance their careers. The employee might be put on an overly strict budget while the boss spends excessively.

Sexual. They suggest an employee dress provocatively to attract clients or hint that an employee should have sex with a client. Sometimes, they tell inappropriate sexual jokes, knowing this bothers the employee. Even worse, some abuse involves asking for sexual favors in return for a favorable review, coercing employees into performing sexual acts and threatening loss of job if sexual favors are not performed.

Spiritual. They refuse to give religious holidays of, such as Yom Kippur, when requested. Employees who don’t comply with the boss’s beliefs are seen as disobedient. A boss may insult the religious choices or practices of employees or treat employees as inferior because of differing religious views. They might isolate employees from other co-workers because of religious differences. Spirituality or religion may be used as justification for performing abusive acts.

These abusive behaviors may begin cunningly and then escalate further as time goes on. It is similar to bringing a pot of water to a boil over low heat. The change is not noticeable day-to-day, but reflecting on it over a longer period of time can reveal the abuse.


7 Ways a Boss Can Be Abusive

Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Christine Hammond is a leading mental health influencer, author, and guest speaker. As an author of the award-winning “The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook,” and more than 500 articles, Christine has more than one million people downloading her podcast “Understanding Today’s Narcissist,” and more than 400,000 views on YouTube. Her practice specializes in treating families of abuse, and trauma, with personality disorders involved which are based on her own personal experience. Her new book, Abuse Exposed: Identifying Family Secrets that Breed Dysfunction will be published in 2020. Christine is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Qualified Supervisor by the State of Florida, a National Certified Counselor, Certified Family Trauma Professional, with extensive training in crisis intervention and peaceful resolution. Based in Orlando, you may connect with Christine at Grow with Christine (


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2017). 7 Ways a Boss Can Be Abusive. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from