There are few things worse for the human spirit than working all day at a job that is boring, spending hours in a negative environment, or working with toxic, narcissistic, or abusive people.

Over the years I’ve coached some pretty amazing, highly competent, even high-level clients through difficult work relationships, into exit strategies if needed, and on to recovery from business or corporate PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.) It happens all too frequently. I felt compelled to write some basic guidelines to help you through a tough circumstance.

If you’re working in a corporation or business environment where you are underappreciated, undervalued, or out-and-out abused by a narcissistic, harassing, or bullying boss, manager, or co-worker, implement these guidelines because when you’re in an already unsafe situation you do not want to make yourself more unsafe.

Angry female boss yells at employees

Dysfunctional or toxic leaders behave inappropriately, disrespectfully. They can be overtly or covertly abusive, demeaning, and bullying. Seek help if you are in a toxic work environment or working for a narcissistic boss.


Who Is The Toxic Boss or Co-Worker?

We often hear about ineffective employees. What about the lethal, abusive, toxic, or harassing boss, manager, or co-worker? No matter how much money you are making, how prestigious the position or how high-paying the salary, being treated this way takes a huge toll on your energy, your psyche, and your soul.

If you frequently feel demeaned, undermined, over-looked or over-worked, harassed, bullied, or put down at work you most likely are working for a narcissistic, bullying, or toxic boss, supervisor, or manager. Or even a co-worker.

These people come in all shapes and sizes. They can be young or more mature, male or female. What makes them dangerous or lethal is they have little or empathy, compassion, or concern for others. They appear to “enjoy” intimidating others. They often reward those who “suck up” to them, those who buy into their view of reality, and those who work to meet their ends to look good.

Narcissistic or toxic leaders can “operate” overtly or covertly. They may intimidate or act abusively toward everyone under them. Or he/she will often zero in on one person or one person at a time: serial targets. Their direct level peers or those above them either seem oblivious to the behavior or they focus their attention only on what that leader brings into the company (e.g. revenue, contacts, contracts.) The narcissist or abuser may attack throughout and out abusive or foul language, yelling, swearing, threats and put-downs or through covert undermining and putdowns (e.g. giving inappropriate assignments, taking assignments away, and further along the continuum working to move an employee out of a job through HR investigations of complaints, putting the person on a plan, etc. Attacks may come in a group meeting or some target only in private. Sometimes their targets are treated this way only when no one else is around to witness the behavior.

While the narcissistic boss can be male or female it seems that often men are more likely to intimidate in front of others, while women are more likely to undermine privately.

Often manipulative, always demeaning, sometimes verbally abusive. Sometimes the abuse is couched in seemingly nice or professional language or context. If you are targeted they often call for unnecessary meetings with you. They undermine your person and/or your work product making you feel unnecessary or stupid.

Surviving workplace stress and dysfunction requires support and career coaching

Workplace stress and dysfunction can lead to anxiety and depression in employees. It requires support and career transition coaching to take care of your well-being.


What Do You Experience?

If you work in a toxic environment or have a narcissistic boss, here are some of the symptoms you may be experiencing. These symptoms often creep up so gradually that you may question your sanity, especially if you have a good work history and no past experience of harassment or self-doubts about your worth and value.

It can be especially confusing if you are the only employee who appears to be experiencing or suffering the consequences, or if upper leadership ignores the bad boss. While having co-workers confirm the toxic or abusive behavior does not ultimately make the work situation better, at least there is some validation for what you are experiencing.

Such a work environment is also very confusing because you want to learn and improve your skills which can make you vulnerable if you open up to criticism or critique of your work and receive the backlash and skewed perspective of a toxic boss.

Also, people in such a toxic environment often intuitively know it is wrong or abusive, however when you are in the middle of the situation and it deteriorates gradually and insidiously, it is easy to lose perspective on what is normal behavior. And especially, if you have an earlier history of any kind of abuse, please know you are even more vulnerable. Please seek an outside “reality check” as soon as you realize you are experiencing the symptoms below for any period of time:

    • You constantly question yourself and your decisions
    • Your work future feels threatened
    • You second-guess your every move
    • You don’t feel like anyone “has your back” at work
    • You feel “thrown under the bus” by co-workers who are trying to stay out of the limelight of the toxic or narcissistic boss
    • You feel “little” or young whenever you have to deal with this person even when you are perfectly grown-up and professional
    • You question your work capabilities, even if you’ve had years of good feedback and evaluation of your work in the past
    • This toxic person says things that are totally the opposite of feedback you have received in the past (e.g. “You are a bad communicator.” “You don’t know what you are doing.” “You didn’t handle that right…or professionally……” Etc.)Your work environment feels “crazy-making” (e.g. you literally question your sanity, your view of reality)It is damaging your self-esteem; you feel worthless
    • You feel trapped, helpless, or hopeless
    • Your boss uses disrespectful language; may even call you names; is demeaning of your person and your capabilities and/or your work product
    • Your boss yells at you frequently and acts like it’s okay
    • You feel “in a bubble”
    • Even without a history of anxiety or depression, you feel continuously anxious, jittery, on-guard
    • You experience panic attacks (like an elephant is sitting on your chest and you can’t breathe.) You’ve never had this before.
    • You try to make yourself invisible so the boss won’t single you out
    • You find yourself putting on an act or telling your boss whatever you think he or she wants you to say
    • You worry constantly; You can’t stop thinking about work
    • You feel like whatever you do, it’s never enough
    • You’re not eating properly
    • You’re losing weight
    • You don’t sleep well
    • Your friendships are suffering
    • Your marriage is suffering
    • You have no energy
    • You’ve lost all joy
    • You hate to go to work
    • You used to enjoy, even love, your work

Toxic Business Environment


Resources to Help Reflect on Creating a New Career Path


I hope these articles and resources have been helpful to you. If you are highly triggered, I recommend you reach out to a good therapist for support and to learn ways to manage your symptoms. If you need a referral please go to my calendar here and sign up for a 15-minute time slot. In the space provided, indicate that you are looking for a therapy referral. I will see if I can be of help.


When you are ready to explore career transition coaching, you may reach out for a Complimentary Conversation to explore your needs and how we might work together.

Contact Dr. Jan for a Complimentary call to discuss your needs here.



Dr. Jan Hoistad