My psychopathic boss

The more distance I take from work, the more amazed I am by just how manipulative and controlling my (soon to be former) boss is. I see my colleagues suffering time and time again from his flagrant lack of respect and vicious techniques.

I am starting to think I should document the multiple incidences that prove just how noxious he - and his wife - are.

Like the time a colleague dared to ask to work 4/5th, or at least a rhythm that would allow her to go home at 5 every day and pick her kids up from school, and the boss and his wife gave her the silent treatment for weeks afterwards. Other colleagues picked up on the vibes and avoided her too. Of course, I invited her out for lunch ;) When I got back to the office, I received a mail from the boss: "Have you just been to lunch with K.?".

I mean, WTF? My first reaction was guilt. What had I done? My immediate second reaction was indignation. Why wouldn't I be allowed to go to lunch with her?!? So I answered "Yes, why?". I have to highlight that by now most of us would have been making up excuses for our behaviour and asking for forgiveness, so my response was quite bold. At the time I had already identified a lot of his techniques and wasn't prepared to let him "get to me" any more. My response was what became a typical countering technique to neutralise his attacks.

I was told by him numerous times in the first year I worked there that I was "incapable of motivating a team", "a bad people manager", "didn't have any authority over my team members"... In the beginning, I would take the blow full-on, cry, recognise my inability and suggest receiving appropriate training. This was met with a "it's not something you learn, it's something that you either have or don't".

Then one day, I was called into his office after his wife (also my superior) "ratted" on me for not doing something to her high standards (without even confronting me about it first). I got the first degree, was told I was doing a crap job, demotivating everyone, bla, bla, bla. Then he said if it continued he would have to draw his conclusions and take me off the client. I snapped. At that moment I decided I wouldn't take the abuse any longer (and it was abuse: I was doing a great job. My clients all loved me. I was juggling more projects than anyone else. The only real problem was his wife's management style and expectations).
So I snapped, and replied: "Fine, take me off this client". His response was a shocked: "Where is your implication?!?". To which I replied: "If it means being treated like this, I'd rather quit. Now I'm going to get back to work and finish what I was busy with, and when you've made a decision, you can let me know whether or not I still work here. Because if it's really as bad as you make it sound, you should fire me.". He was speechless (lol). And from that day on I slowly took back some of the dignity and self-respect they had robbed me of.

I have seen so many colleagues suffer from similar humiliations and unjust accusations.
People work their asses off - easily working 50, 60 hours a week to get more than their fair share of work done - I've worked 80 hour weeks several times over the past 3 years - and instead of praise, they get blamed for the slightest thing they don't do absolutely, perfectly right.

The easiest victims are the ones who lack self-confidence. A couple of colleagues seem more immune to their games because they have a stronger sense of self-worth, but even they are cracked after a while - a really promising young colleague has been continuously refused a promotion because he's "not ready yet" and ends up believing he has no other options because no other company would want him. Where he gets that idea from is beyond me! He's one of the best people I've worked with and is already doing the job that the refused promotion requires of him. He deserves that title!

3 years ago, just after I arrived, we were promised that if we reached our quarterly target, we would be rewarded with a long weekend in Marrakesh. We worked our butts off for the next 3 months, went way over target, but the trip never came. The excuse? They couldn't find a date that would suit everybody.

They pulled the same trick the next year. And the year after that. We pulverised every target set for us. We got no reward. No bonus. Meagre pay rises given I am convinced solely to keep us quiet - I got a 5% pay rise after 2.5 years: peanuts.

Now, it's crisis and every pay rise that was promised last year has been put on hold, indefinitely.

On Thursday September 25th 2008 I couldn't get out of bed. I had been suffering from headache, backache, acid reflux, toothache due to clenching my jaws in my sleep, high blood pressure, stomach pains and panic attacks. I had been doing the job of 4 people due to poor holiday planning - they were all on holiday at the same time, all working on at least one project with me, I needed to cover for all of them. I had been pushing myself to my limit - again.
At 10.30 a.m. the first call came, there was a problem on a project, I needed to solve it. 2 hours later the second bomb dropped. I spent the rest of the day on the phone, behind my computer, worked from home to solve all the issues - this after having called in sick.
The next morning I went to work. I opened my mailbox to discover 120 new mails received between 8 p.m. the day before and 9.30 a.m. that morning - everyone was doing overtime. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for half an hour, packed my things and went home. On the Monday I resigned.

In 2 weeks' time I will close the door on this chapter of my professional life, on some great colleagues, almost a family, on clients I've built a bond with over the years and on my boss and his wife. I can relativise everything a lot more now, especially as I'm working part time, my workload has decreased tremendously and I know I'm on my way out. And I can't help wondering how someone can get away with treating people like that for so long. How the brilliant, young, talented people I work with manage to get dragged into his games and suffer them for years and yet not have the survival instinct to get out.

I think it's a combination of seeking acceptance and recognition, poor self-worth, low self-esteem and a certain cultural stoicism that explain why most of my colleagues are still there today.
There is also the fact that my boss is an extremely charismatic person, he can be charming and funny, he likes to go out, have a few drinks, act crazy with his employees. He is someone people look up to. People want to be like him and be liked by him. And I guess that's what gives him power over them.

I've started reading the book "Snakes in Suits: Psychopaths in the Workplace", and I hope it will provide me with some insight into how his mind works and make his tricks more transparent. I want to be able to recognise people like him next time I meet one, so I can steer clear of them.

I spent years as an adolescent living with an emotionally abusive father. I knew something was wrong but couldn't put my finger on it. The manipulations and the abuse is so subtle it's difficult to put it into words. I thought I was crazy. I minimised it. One day, years later, I was able to find a name for his "illness": NPD, narcissistic personality disorder, confirmed by his oncologist several years later, a few days before he passed away.

It took me months of therapy before his death to develop coping mechanisms, to learn to build a protective barrier between us and shield myself from his attacks. I thought I could control it. I thought I would be able to protect myself from it happening again, but it happened again anyway.

The one thing I learnt that saved me is to always respect yourself. Other people will only respect you as much as you respect yourself. Give an abusive person the opportunity to abuse you and they will. Let them get away with it and they will do it again, and again, and again. And every attack takes away a little part of you, a little piece of your self-worth, until you feel you deserve no better, until you become the useless, worthless person you see reflected in your abusers eyes.

Abusers are not used to resistance. And emotional abusers will usually back off from anyone who is capable of consistently resisting them. Having said that, my advice is, no matter how strong you are, get as far away from them as you can, as quickly as you can.


life-begins-at-21 said...

wow hun uve been through loads u deserve a job where ur treated with respect. sounds like u did the right thing! xx

boredeasily said...

Very engaging reading, both the topic and the way you write! Happy for you that you are getting out of it - you deserve a lot better!

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