The Abusive Workplace

You work for someone vain, self-centered, and vindictive.  Someone who knows less about the job than you do.  You put in longer hours than he/she does, but his/her name is the one on the door.  You do the work, but he/she gets the credit.  You can’t remember the last time you received a raise.  And still you keep trying to please.

Sound familiar? A recent study indicates that the American workplace is “grueling, stressful and surprisingly hostile” [1].

We may view our work as a calling, enjoy our chosen field, and meet some wonderful people in that field.  Or, depending on the economy and our particular situation, we may not have much choice as to our job [2].

But we stay at some jobs far longer than we should, a fact which can negatively impact our confidence, our self-esteem, our relationships, and our health.  Why?  An abusive childhood can be a contributing factor.

Abuse can impact not only our personal, but professional lives.  There are many reasons victims tolerate abusive work environments and dysfunctional bosses.

Abusive Management Style

Does your boss manage at the top of his/her lungs?  Does he/she rant and rave over the least mistake…sometimes over no mistake at all?  Is scathing sarcasm his/her favorite style of communication?

Just as parents, spouses, and lovers may be bullies, narcissists, paranoiacs, or other abusive personalities, so too can bosses [3].

No Limits

Even work that is intellectually challenging and emotionally engaging can by physically draining.  In an ideal world, we would not have to choose between inspiring work and livable working conditions.  But ours is not, unfortunately, an ideal world.

As abuse victims, we set no limits for ourselves, exceeding all reasonable expectations.  We take work home nights, to the shore with us on weekends, and away on vacation. There are always more files, more cases, more projects.  Paperwork has a permanent place on the dining room table, and the nightstand beside our bed.

That fact facilitates avoidance.  We have no time for a personal life.  The endless hours we spend at the job, and the emotional investment – the very problems at work – serve to keep personal issues at bay.

The lack of limits, also, feels familiar.  We were raised in a setting where love required self-sacrifice to the point of self-destruction.  Reasonable boundaries were not allowed during childhood.  So we do not recognize them (and do not establish them) as adults.


Perfectionism can play a role, as well.  Victims may strive to achieve unattainable levels of perfection.  That we fail demonstrates, again and again, to us what we mistakenly assume is our inherent “deficiency”.  In effect, we are compelled to re-enact the emotional experience of our childhood.

Suffering as Proof of Value  

We view work as the sole thing giving our lives meaning and purpose.  We thrive on the adrenaline rush.  At some level, however, we believe the more we suffer, the more we demonstrate our devotion.  Not only that, but our value as human beings.  This creates a vicious cycle.  No amount of effort is sufficient.

A lack of resources reinforces the cycle.  We had to manage without basic care and nurture as children.  Why would things be different today?

Pain Tolerance

Abuse is likely to have given us a high threshold for pain.  We do not know when to quit.  We strive against impossible odds, for little or no reward, to meet unrealistic deadlines or unfeasible budgets, and rescue unsalvageable programs, departments, or organizations.

Biblical Standard

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him (Eph. 6: 5-9).

The standard the Bible sets for employers and employees is different.

Regardless of the personality of an employer, employees are to be honest, respectful, obedient (in lawful things), and hardworking, as if servants to Christ.  They need not though be servile.  The term “fear and trembling” is not meant to convey subservience, but rather a keen eagerness to serve.  To do the job well.

Employers are to view themselves as fellow servants of Christ, along with their employees.  They are to treat their employees with respect and kindness.

This standard governs whether we are working for petty tyrants or not.  Ultimately, employers and employees alike will be held accountable for their actions by a Higher Authority.

[1]  One Connecticut (Associated Press), “Study shows many in US face a ‘pressured and hectic’ workplace”, 8/20/17,

[2]  Most of us must earn a living.  Any honest work is honorable, particularly in difficult economic times.  This post is not meant to suggest otherwise.

[3]  For those who recognize themselves in this post, I recommend the book Crazy Bosses by Stanley Bing.




Filed under Abuse of Power, bullying, Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

15 responses to “The Abusive Workplace

  1. Really good read, Anna. I am laughing here, but I am an absolute legend when it comes to abusive work situations! I would write a book, but I’m afraid no one would believe me. My work history is totally related to abuse issues, especially a high threshold for pain and not knowing when to quit.

  2. Hi, Anna….I haven’t “been around” for several weeks and I want to say thank you so much for thinking of me (evidenced by you reading/commenting on older posts).
    Your post is sooooo important and I’m sure many can relate (whether directly or knowing someone who’s endured a hostile work environment). I really marvel at/appreciate that you provide this context for the perpetuation of abuse. Knowledge is power, and understanding how one’s early experiences lay the groundwork for an especially high threshold is a major step in working to change one’s internal messages and external actions. Setting boundaries can seem so daunting and contrary to our way of engaging with others, but, wow, once the veil is lifted, everything begins to change. Slowly, yes…years of trauma can’t be rectified in days, weeks, months…but, little by little…freedom is ours for the taking. Thank you for the inspiration and compassion, my friend ❤

  3. I am happy you clarified the “fear and trembling ” phrase from Eph 6:5. This is an amazing post!

    • You are always so kind to me, Gbolabo. It astounds me, in view of how gifted you are as a poet. I can never predict which posts may strike a chord w/ readers. I labor over some, and dash others off as inspiration moves me.

  4. great post – I see so many of the personality traits of abuse victims in the way I seek approval – it is exhausting to live that way

  5. Excellent read, Anna. Your work is very poignant with a voice to be reckoned with. Exceptional.

  6. krc

    very true and common points, this post

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