Here’s a sad but undeniable truth: abuse, in all its forms, shapes and sizes, is everywhere. In fact, it has even become part of most people’s way of life that they have trouble spotting it for what it is: a gross disrespect for one person and his rights, often with harmful and injurious results, and the only one to benefit from it is the person inflicting the abuse.

Any improper or excessive usage or treatment is termed as “abuse”, but in the human and psychological context, it refers to one’s treatment of others beings or individuals. In this context, it is closely associated with issues that relate to aggression, suppression, deceit, maltreatment and, often, violence.

Signs of Emotional Abuse at Work (and How to React)

© | ESB Professional

We need only open the television and see displays or acts of abuse, whether on the news or in various TV programs. The most common forms are physical maltreatment, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, people in power abusing their authority, and many others.

But there is one other type of abuse that often goes undetected, mainly because of how often it is inflicted with subtlety and disguised as valid discourse or form of communication. It doesn’t get as much attention and publicity as, say, physically attacking someone and causing injuries, since it is non-physical and, therefore, does not leave any identifying marks or scars. This is called Emotional Abuse.


Perhaps you have greater familiarity with “verbal abuse” more than emotional abuse. That’s understandable, because it also happens to describe the something. It has proven, however, to be quite a limiting word, considering how emotional abuse can also be inflicted even without verbalizing it. Yes, a person can abuse someone emotionally without uttering a single syllable. Thus, this form of abuse is often referred to by a more general term, which is “psychological abuse”. “Mental abuse” is also frequently used to describe this state.

There is a certain ambiguity in how emotional abuse is often described, and this made it difficult, even for psychologists, researchers and clinicians, to come up with a fixed definition for it. However, emotional abuse is loosely described as the ongoing emotional maltreatment or neglect inflicted by one person on another, seemingly weaker, person which often results in the latter developing psychological trauma, such as anxiety, depression, and other health-related disorders.

To gain a better understanding of this concept, let us break down the characteristics of emotional abuse.

  • It involves non-physical behaviors, which may range from delivering threats and insults to openly doling out public humiliation and intimidation. It may even be in the form of wordless but constant monitoring (bordering on stalking) and deliberate neglect and isolation of the subject or recipient of the abuse. A person damaging property by throwing or kicking things around violently will also fall under emotional abuse, despite the use of physical force, since it the acts of physical aggression are indirectly aimed at the other person, who may also be the owner of the damaged property.
  • It is often brought on when there is an imbalance of power in the relationship. One wields a higher authority or power over the other, and he uses this to manipulate, control, demean, or simply demonstrate this superiority over him.
  • The abuse is intentional, with the abuser deliberate in choosing the actions he will use to attack his intended victim. He may be calculated in his approach, or he could use random and even reckless acts, but they are all meant to do one thing: to hurt his target.
  • The abuse occurs on a regular basis, with the repetitions taking place for extended or prolonged periods. As it goes on, the intensity of the aggression is escalating, with each attack worse than the previous one.

Murray A. Straus developed the CTS, or the Conflict Tactics Scale, as a research tool for family violence issues. In this scale, he identified three categories of acts of “psychological aggression”. They are:

  1. Verbal aggression: Words can wound, and the abuser makes full use of this weapon by saying things or uttering words that he is fully aware will upset, annoy, or offend other people, particularly the person he is directing his verbal attack to. It could be a thinly veiled insult, or it could be an all-out, full-on verbal lashing that involves swearing and cursing, and it could be done either in private or in public, with many eyes watching.
  2. Dominant behaviors: The abuser asserts his dominance over the abused, making sure that the latter understands, in no uncertain terms, that he is the one calling the shots. For example, after an open tirade, the abuser warns the abused not to let anyone know about their exchange, or else “he will regret it”. He could also employ tactics that will isolate the abused, such as preventing him from seeking help or assistance from others, or blocking other avenues for the abused to be able to make even a token resistance against his abuses.
  3. Jealous behaviors: The green-eyed monster is usually seen at the root of most cases of emotional abuse, especially in relationships and, in some instances, in the workplace. Jealousy plants seeds of suspicion which, in turn, drives people to want to control others. Their need to feel secure in their current position, especially when they feel threatened, makes them even more determined to stake their claim, so they become abusive.


The main reason why emotional abuse is often overlooked is the fact that there are no physical signs or marks to prove that it exists. However, emotional abuse can be just as harmful, and probably even more destructive, since the damage goes deeper within the psyche of the one on the receiving end. Instead of physical pain, he is left with the harder-to-ease emotional pain, and the scarring can be more permanent.

  • Emotional abuse starts hacking away at the person’s self-esteem, which is already quite low to begin with. His vulnerability to emotionally abusive attacks is brought on by existing feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, and a general lack of confidence. By piling on the abuse, the person will feel even smaller, since his initial impressions of himself are, in a way, validated or confirmed. For example, a husband never misses pointing out how incompetent his wife is, and this eats away at the wife, who is already suffering from a low self-esteem because of her current unemployed state. As a result, she tends to be sullen and quiet as she stays home to do housework.
  • Repetitive emotional abuse can shape one’s self-worth. The repetition or constant exposure to the abuse is likely to have a hypnotic effect, so that the person will start to believe whatever abusive things he is told. In the example above, the barrage of verbal abuse and insult about her supposed incompetence and worthlessness may eventually become fact for the wife, who will start to believe that she really can’t do anything right.
  • Emotional abuse is likely to make the recipient shoulder all the blame. At some point, the abused may start looking around and questioning why she is going through these difficulties or subjected to that abuse. But if the emotional abuse has done its job and has become deeply embedded in her psyche, she will find no one else to blame but herself. Thus, she will end up blaming herself for everything: for the misery she is going through, for her shortcomings, for every little thing that is going wrong, and even for the abusive behavior of the other person. In fact, she will even come to the point that she thinks she deserves being treated in that manner. She had it coming; her husband would not have been verbally attacking her if she had been better and more competent.
  • Emotional abuse can result to trauma, which can be permanent. Psychological trauma is a likely result in the worst cases of emotional abuse. The abused may end up suffering from anxiety and chronic depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, trauma is something that cannot be easily treated or cured, and it usually takes time before one can fully get over it. For many, they are never able to completely be free of their trauma, even if they are able to put it under control. This also has an overall effect on how the person will conduct himself onward. It will cause strains in his current relationships, and may also impair him from forming new ones in the future. The effects of the trauma will be so far-reaching that life, as he used to know it, will no longer be the same.
  • Emotional abuse can lead to other, more serious health problems. When their emotions can no longer deal with the blows, it is their body that will likely start reacting. The stress and trauma brought on by constant exposure to emotional abuse will take their toll on the human body, and various illnesses can come up.


When emotional abuse is mentioned, the first scenarios that come to mind where it is likely to take place are in intimate relationships and domestic settings. We immediately picture couples and family members inflicting and receiving emotional abuse from one another. Meanwhile, the typical victim of emotional abuse, at least in most everyone’s mind, is that of a weak and defenseless child, or an adult who is visibly weaker or inferior to the person doling out the abuse.

However, emotional abuse can also take place among professionals, in decidedly formal and business-like settings. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, when you think about it, especially when you take into account the often competitive atmosphere in the workplace. Despite efforts to promote a culture of teamwork and promoting harmonious working relationships in the workplace, companies and businesses still face issues on workplace conflicts, low worker productivity, high employee turnover, and overall low employee satisfaction – all because of emotional abuse being a pervasive presence in the workplace.

The workplace is actually an ideal nesting place for emotional abuse, since it serves as a perfect breeding ground for various negative emotions such as jealousy, envy, competitiveness, and insecurity. The hierarchy usually found in the workplace means that there are varying levels of authority; in that respect, a power imbalance is already in place.

The phrase “workplace bullying” was coined to describe this type of emotional abuse at work, and it is used to describe the acts of “harassing, offending, and socially excluding someone, or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks” and often includes “personal attacks, social ostracism, and a multitude of other painful messages and hostile interactions.”

Bullying and abuse in the workplace is claimed to be a worldwide phenomenon, not just affecting workers in the Western hemisphere. In fact, according to a study conducted by Pai and Lee on the risk factors for workplace violence among nurses in Taiwan, 51.4% of the respondents were victims of verbal abuse. This clearly proves that, despite cultural differences, bullying and other forms of workplace abuse can happen – and are happening – everywhere.

Workplace bullying can arise in many instances, and it is not just restricted between a subordinate and his superior. In fact, many cases of emotional abuse in the workplace also take place between and among co-workers, who are supposedly colleagues and, in the hierarchy of the organizational structure, are equals. This implies that differences in position and rank are not the only “power” factors at play, since it may also be attributed to a social power imbalance.

But how can you definitively tell that there is, indeed, emotional abuse at work?

Have a quick break and learn about the four bully types at work.


Originally, the Duluth Model: Power and Control Wheel was developed in 1984 as a tool for the conduct of studies on domestic violence. Patricia G. Barnes of Abuser Goes To Work tweaked it to come up with the Workplace Power and Control Wheel, which describes all the indications that psychological abuse exists in the workplace.

Emotional Control

This refers to the most straightforward forms of verbal and emotional aggression employed by abusers.

Abusive Acts:

  • The abuser takes every opportunity to deliver insults and put-downs to his target, either by saying it to the latter’s face or delivering the barbs in a roundabout and indirect manner. Some may be sly about it, pretending to be civil and nice, their body language and facial expression in direct contradiction with the words coming out of their mouths. But some may opt to do it in an openly hostile manner, clearly leaving no room for doubt that they mean what they are saying.
  • Name-calling is one of the most recognizable form of verbal abuse, with the abuser using offensive names and insulting language to one-up the target of his abuse. He uses these to win an argument. He also resorts to name-calling to sway or persuade others to reject or condemn his target, or anything that has to do with him. This is also a favorite method when the abuser wants to establish his superiority over the target.
  • Giving the silent treatment is a non-verbal way of toying with the emotions of the abused. In other instances, the silent treatment may be accompanied by glares and looks of open hostility. The abused will initially be baffled at the reason why he is being given the cold shoulder, and this will eat away at him, until it affects his concentration and focus at work. Usually, the abuser will not make any attempt to explain why, since he enjoys the confusion and bewilderment being experienced by the target.
  • The emotional abuser will revel in publicly humiliating his target, so he may choose to deliver his putdowns and barbed remarks when there are other people around. He will deliver his attacks in front of the other employees and, worse, even in front of the bosses, especially when putting the other down may potentially benefit him. For instance, if there is a promotion hanging in the balance, or there is a project awaiting approval, and the abuser sees the target as a threat or a rival, he won’t hesitate to resort to public humiliation to get his way. This is an oft-used action for co-worker sabotage.

How to React:

  • Stay calm and keep your cool. Maintain a decent and civil attitude even in the face of these emotional aggressions, even when the abuser starts to rant and rage at you. Losing your temper not only increases the likelihood of an ugly confrontation, it also puts you in a more vulnerable position. Remember, the abuser will feed off your discomfort and misery. The moment he sees that he is able to provoke you and get a rise out of you, this will motivate him to continue with his abuses, and be more creative with them. If you can’t be calm after a particularly ruthless tirade, the safest thing to do would be to walk away, get some air, breathe in and out, until you have calmed down. That is the only time you should walk back in to talk to him.
  • Talk to the abuser with confidence and a rational attitude, looking them straight in the eye the whole time. If you can conduct the conversation in full view of the other employees that were witnesses to those abuses, that would be even better. Ask the abuser to stop what he is doing, and make it clear that you will not stand for it. You can also tell him that, if he doesn’t stop, you will not hesitate to report him to your supervisors.
  • If, despite that, the aggression continues, then it is high time to report the matter to your supervisors or higher-ups, complete with documentation on the details of the acts of abuse you experienced, and your futile efforts to fix things.
  • Do not hesitate to point out the error of his ways or, specifically, his attacks. More often than not, verbal abuse involve digs and attacks on the victim’s personal life and matters. If this is the case with you, go right ahead and let him know how unprofessional he is being by getting your personal life mixed up with things at the workplace. This is also an excellent way to set boundaries and show the abuser – and other co-workers – that you are serious about separating your personal and professional lives.


If getting the silent treatment is bad enough already, completely shutting down (and out) a person is bound to achieve the same results, making him feel rejected, isolated and alone.

Abusive Acts:

  • The target finds himself excluded from social events and gatherings involving co-workers. Short of not being invited, he will be left alone and largely ignored. For example, in an upcoming teambuilding activity within the department, the abuser may initiate actions to have his target’s name removed from the list.
  • Important meetings and work-related planning events may be conducted, and the target will only find out about them when they are already over. This is no thanks to the abuser intercepting messages or memos providing notification of the meetings.
  • During meetings or important conversations about work, the abuser will refute everything the target says, and even shoots down some of his ideas, saying they are silly or not feasible, even when they have some potential. This also demonstrates how little respect the abuser has for the feelings of the target.
  • Being ignored by someone for long periods can take its toll on one’s self-esteem. If the target is already having a hard time dealing with being given a rude brush-off or subjected to silent treatment without him knowing the reason for it, it is doubly worse when he is treated as if he does not exist. On the hallways, when they are about to meet, the abuser will look through him, as if he isn’t there. Basically, his very existence won’t even be acknowledged by the abuser.
  • Emotional abusers have a knack for making someone feel out of place, as if he does not belong in the workplace. Fitting in is very important for employees in order to enable them to carry about their tasks effectively and productively, but if they find difficulty in fitting in for the simple reason that there is someone who makes them feel they are a wrong fit within the workplace or the company, then they will definitely have a difficult time.

How to React:

  • Initiate a dialogue, and be direct about it. Ask the reasons for his actions, and request that he stop. Essentially, you will be using a defensive action that is the complete opposite of the offensive action used by the abuser. He practices evasion to make you feel isolated, so you have to be forward and honest when addressing the elephant in the room. Your directness and resolve to take them head on will likely catch them by surprise and throw them off their best-laid plans to make you feel alienated. This tough talking approach will also get you some answers that you may use in the future to improve your relationship with your co-workers. Yes, even with your abuser.
  • If you do not trust yourself to be able to walk up to the abuser and have that tough talk, you can approach a neutral party – maybe a co-worker or a supervisor – and ask him to intervene, and be the one to talk to the abuser.

Try to develop yourself into becoming mentally stronger.


Fear can be debilitating, resulting in extreme psychological trauma for anyone experiencing it. This is also seen by many abusers as one of their best weapons to assert their control and authority over their targets. By instilling fear in their target, they can pretty much have their way with him, and this will lead to even more emotional abuses.

Usually, this tactic is used by supervisors or members of management, using their higher position as license to commit acts that will intimidate those who are below them, and cow them into submission. The abused will end up feeling fearful, timid, and often inadequate.

Abusive Acts:

  • Abusers that use intimidation don’t even try to be discreet about it. Supervisors pull rank on subordinates by raising their voices and yelling at them, even ridiculing and humiliating their victims while others are watching. The sad thing is that they will be able to make their actions seem like it comes with the territory of being a supervisor or boss, and they are likely to end up being praised for it and even getting good ratings or evaluation scores from top management. At the same time, they will also be able to make the abused employee look incapable of handling pressure at work.
  • The suffocating and stifling effect of a supervisor closely observing every move of the subordinate in the workplace can be categorized as emotional abuse. This micromanagement style can intimidate an employee, constantly putting him anxious and on edge because the supervisor is breathing down his neck at every turn. Ultimately, its demoralizing and demotivating effects will cause the employee to break down.
  • Supervisors or higher-ranked employees may use their higher positions to undermine their supervisor’s work outputs. We often hear of some of these people abusing their authority by making their subordinates do the work and, at the end, get all the credit for the employee’s hard work.

How to React:

  • Consider pursuing legal action, especially when the abuse involves theft of proprietary output (which is the case when a supervisor steals the work of a subordinate or takes credit for it), or the abuser’s modes of intimidation leads you to fear for your safety. Again, it is advised to keep notes, much like a diary where you list down all the incidents and instances that you experienced this type of emotional abuse, along with other pertinent details such as dates, the people involved, and even how the incidents made you feel.
  • Unless you are very brave, which isn’t very likely, considering how you have been marked by the abuser as a target, you can confront him head-on. However, since that is not the case, get a neutral party to act on your behalf. This will show the abuser that you are not going to keep quiet, and that you are very much willing to talk to other people about how you are being intimidated.
  • Get your superiors involved. Let them know what has been going on. If the intimidation is coming from a supervisor, turn to a higher supervisor for help, or maybe even HR.

Coercion and Threats

Similar to intimidation, this type of emotional abuse in the workplace aims to render the victim fearful and unresisting to the abuser’s machinations. This time, however, the abuser issues threats openly. While intimidation goes about it indirectly, the threats already contain the intent of the abuser, and that is to punish, injure or damage the employee and even his state of employment.

Abusive Acts:

  • Managers and supervisors often hold the threat of job termination or a bad performance evaluation over an employee in order to manipulate them into doing their bidding. In many cases, they even go as far as issue unfounded warnings and reprimands the employee unfairly, openly stating that, unless the employee falls in line, there will be no leniency next time.
  • Some employees may find themselves being subjected to unreasonable demands by the abusers, with the consequences made clear to them should they fail to meet those demands. Thus, they are forced to cross some lines and maybe even break some rules just so they can deliver what has been demanded of them.

How to React:

  • Do not let fear of the threat overwhelm you. Take a moment to get yourself together before you show any outward reaction to the threat. Let the heated moment pass, then carefully assess the situation so you can arrive at a decision on what to do next. Showing your temper or becoming antagonistic won’t get you anywhere.
  • Again, if there are rules, laws and policies being violated, and the demands made by your supervisor may push you into violating them, you have the option of taking the proper legal action. Just make sure you have sufficient evidence to back you up.
  • Enlisting the aid of other people who are neutral and not likely to take sides is also advised. It is important to show the abuser that, even when threatened or when your hand is being forced, you are not averse to asking for help from others.
  • Make an attempt at bargaining. If unreasonable demands are being made, launch into a logical argument as to why you think it is unreasonable, and propose a compromise. Maybe a deadline extension, reduction of the amount of work, or a suggestion to split the work with someone else. Tack on a subtle suggestion of letting other supervisors about it – maybe even the Big Bosses? – and asking for their opinion. This may be a bit sly, but once in a while, there is nothing wrong with playing with the abusers in their own game.

Economic Control

This type of abuse will have the abuser zeroing in on the vulnerability of the target, specifically his financial or economic status. The abusers often see them as fair game, easy to control and manipulate because they cannot afford to lose their job and source of livelihood.

Abusive Acts:

  • Abusers often resort to blackmail, with the employee’s financial status being poked at. The employee is given an ultimatum: do something the abuser wants, or face the possibility of being demoted, suspended, or getting fired altogether. The fear of losing his source of income will eventually lead the employee to let himself be controlled and manipulated.
  • Unfair treatment of employees is also one way of inflicting economic abuse. The target will feel frustrated and demoralized if the abuser gives rewards and incentives to other employees that are non-performing while he, the one who has been doing all the work, does not get any.

How to React:

  • Inform the next higher supervisor, or even top management, of any unfair treatment you are receiving from your department or supervisor. Lodge a complaint, if you have to, but make sure it is filed in the right channels, following the standard procedures or protocols. This will also serve as a warning to the abuser that you are willing to take this matter to the right ears if you have to.
  • Maintain your high level and quality of performance at work. Just keep performing your tasks and responsibilities properly, and make sure that you remain a productive member of the organization. This way, when the abuser carries through with his threat, top management will find it unreasonable to let you go or demote you. Do not give them a reason to put your economic position in jeopardy.

So, how do you stop emotional intimidators? This is how!

Supervisory or Management Privilege

This is blatant abuse of authority on the part of the abuser. He sees his position as some sort of a license to be abusive to his staff, and that the lower ranked employees should defer to him by virtue of his higher position in the organization structure.

Abusive Acts:

  • The supervisor or manager treats his subordinates like they are his servants or slaves, jumping up to please him and do his bidding, and be at his beck and call at any time of the day. He might call an employee in the middle of the night to do a personal errand for him such as pick up his dry cleaning or drive his kids to school because he is in an important “golf” meeting with a client.
  • The refusal to give credit to whom it is due is also one form of a wrongful exercise of supervisory or management privilege. Say an employee has done excellent work on a specific project, and the supervisor is tasked by top management to deliver their positive feedback to the employee. However, out of envy and spite that the employee was able to do a good job despite having butted heads with him over the project, the supervisor does not deliver the message, and the employee is allowed to stew in his nerves, wondering what top management thought about his performance.
  • Delivering criticisms in an unnecessarily harsh manner, and refusing to give compliments for satisfactory work are other forms of bullying by supervisors. They have a lot of words when it comes to less than stellar work, but they are also very stingy in expressing personal satisfaction as a supervisor on a subordinate’s work. And when he has no choice but to do so, the compliment is likely to be offered grudgingly, so that it won’t sound like a compliment at all to anyone hearing it.
  • Favoritism practiced by supervisors almost often mean that there are some employees that are sidelined or always left out of the priority list. The supervisor may expressly prohibit the employee from undergoing trainings and seminars meant to equip him with new work skills or hone the ones that he already has.
  • Whenever he is not pleased with the employee, he will assign undesirable work to him. You will find that abusive supervisors will never run out of unpleasant tasks to assign to their targets. If they run out of undesirable tasks, they can increase the workload and even set unrealistic deadlines that must be met, otherwise there will be a corresponding punishment.

How to React:

  • Learn to say no. One of the reasons that your supervisor considers you easy picking is because you are always receptive and obedient to everything he says. Admitting your limitations may throw him off a bit, especially when he expected you to meekly do as he says. However, say no in a courteous and non-offensive manner.
  • Let another person in authority know about what is happening, preferably someone with a higher rank. Or you could approach the HR about this. In many cases, the victim may hesitate, afraid that their job will, indeed, be compromised. While that may be true, that is no different to the situation where you will do nothing and let your supervisor trample over you. Better take the risk than to allow yourself to be broken.
  • Use legal action as a last resort, when the problem cannot be fixed at your level. Again, keeping notes is recommended.

Inciting Mobbing

The workplace may be likened to high school; there are cliques, factions and groups, with each unit having their own loyalties. This is what the abuser will capitalize on. The abuser is not above using whatever tactics he has up his sleeve in order to inflict the most pain and misery on his victim. Therefore, he won’t hesitate to use others to aid his “cause”.

Mobbing, according to Dr. Heinz Leyman, is a behavior where a single individual – the victim – becomes the recipient of abuse from many abusers. The abusers, on the other hand, sees strength in numbers, and will enlist the help of other people to terrorize the victim.

Abusive Acts:

  • With just a few well-placed words and thoughts, the abuser can successfully create a conflict with their target caught somewhere in the middle. It is quite common to see a workplace that is overran by unfounded rumors and baseless gossips, often directed at one person. This will definitely cause distress to the subject of the rumors, compounded by how the number of attackers are overwhelming him.
  • The abuser will charm the other employees into making the victim feel isolated and completely alone, further fueling the fire of the seed of thought previously planted in his mind about him not belonging in that workplace.
  • It is also possible for managers and supervisors to be pulled into the abusive cycle, whether they are aware of it or not. They may blatantly lie about the victim’s performance so that he will get poor evaluation scores and will look incapable in the eyes of top management. The victim may be suddenly made to defend himself against made-up accusations – either personal or work-related, or both – volleyed at him. The abuser can convince management into making things at work more difficult for the victim, who will feel more hopeless, considering how even members of management are involved.

How to React:

  • Remain accessible. Do not make the problem worse by doing some avoiding of your own. This will only dig the wedge in deeper and drive you farther away from the others. Carry on as you always have and maybe even make a conscious effort to reach out to the others. Do not give them the chance to completely shut you out. Remind the ones that you had good relationships with why they liked you in the first place.
  • Do not cower before them. The abuser is counting on the strength in their number to break you, which is why he is involving other people. Keep your head up, and never let them see you falter. Upon seeing how gracefully you are taking this, the others may start doubting their decision to band with the abuser.
  • Do not think that they are all against you. Never forget who the main abuser is, and how some of the ‘mob’ may have only been talked into it with falsehoods and deception perpetuated by the abuser. That means you still have a chance to turn them back around, and you can do that by calmly sitting them down and talking to them, setting them straight on a few things. If you confront them and argue with them, you may only turn them into new enemies, which will work to the abuser’s advantage.

Minimization, Denial and Misplaced Blame

Abusers will never readily admit that they are, indeed, committing abusive acts. In the first place, they are convinced of their own entitlement to act the way they do. These abusers are, by nature, selfish, so they are always looking out for their own interests.

Abusive Acts:

  • When confronted with their abusive acts, they will actually make light of it and minimize the negative impact. They will treat it as if it was just a joke, and everything was done “in good fun”. This nonchalant and uncaring behavior can further cause offense to the victim, seeing how the abuser refuses to acknowledge how his actions have had adverse effects on him.
  • The abuser can turn things around and make the victim look like he’s the bad guy, unable to take a joke and being too sensitive for his own good. He will accuse the victim of not being able to deal with work-related stress and maybe even call into question the victim’s ability to interact and work with others, including him.
  • One of the worst claims that an abuser can make in his defense is to say that the victim’s misery and pain were all self-inflicted. Everything was the victim’s fault, and he whines too much while making others accountable for something that was entirely of his own doing. Try directing this line of reasoning with a victim already suffering from a low self-esteem, and there is a high probability that he will cave and believe that he is, indeed, to blame.

How to React:

  • No matter how eloquent and convincing they are, never accept the blame that the abusers are pinning on you. Inflicting abuse is a conscious decision, and not something that is committed because “they were forced or coerced into it”. The abuser will attempt to break down your defenses, brick by brick. Don’t let him.
  • When confronting the abuser, it is preferable to have a mediator to intervene and keep things on an even keel. In fact, you should consider asking a supervisor or superior to be the mediator or witness to your conversation, since this will pressure the abuser into defending himself. Who knows? He might just be the one to dig himself into a hole while scrambling to find a way to justify his actions.
  • Stay calm and serene when talking to the abuser. Seeing you like that is bound to discomfit him and make him lose his footing, figuratively. Then he will start doubting the wisdom of turning things around on you.

In all the emotional abuses discussed above, the employee subjected to them cannot be blamed if all he wants is to get as far away from that workplace as he can. They start to think that the ideal solution would be to hand in their resignation and look for another place or company to work at where, hopefully, they won’t be bullied or abused.

But that is not always the best solution. There is always that risk that the emotional abuser you were planning to sever ties with is also the one to give you a reference when you leave, and he may purposely provide a negative reference, destroying your chances of finding another job.

The first course of action you should always attempt is to face the music, instead of turning tail and running away from it. There are several options available to you, and we have gone through several of them.

Also, this is something you should never forget: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AS AN EMPLOYEE. Familiarize yourself with the Labor Laws and other workplace and worker welfare legislation. Be aware of the specific policies of the company, especially with regards to employee welfare and protection. By arming yourself with these knowledge, you will be better able to protect yourself from any type of abuse.

Emotional abusers will continue to inflict misery as long as there are people who are willing to take these abuses and do nothing about it. Showing resistance and actively taking action to stand up to them is likely to dissuade them and make them back down. Once they realize that you are not the type to take their abuses sitting down, and that you are strong enough to withstand their attacks, there is a great chance that they will leave you alone.

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Donna Scott-Cacciatore

This is an excellent article that I myself had been subjected to bullying, fear, intimidation, humiliation, micromanagement by a female, self-admitted lesbian boss who decided that I would become her "target". She treated me like a bullying male would have. Like a scorned lover. I endured this horrible treatment for over a year when she became my boss. I filed verbal complaints with a few upper managers and co-workers about her treatment over several months. I tried my best to endure what was thrown at me because I needed my job. When it reached to my very core where she not only had negatively affected my job, but was destroying my spirit that when I found the courage to file a verbal and written complaint with her boss and Human Resources. My complaint was never investigated. I was suspended six (6) day later after the employer accused me a falsifying an iPad survey that was totally untrue and they terminated my employment six (6) days after that. Point being, in situations like mine the employer will always FIND a reason to terminate the employee for complaining. This woman and the employer who is a casino owner have destroyed my life. I was 66-years old at the time this happened to me and it's impossible to find another job. I worked in the casino industry for nearly 40-years with 18 of those years where these incidents took place. I was a model employee never having been given even ONE verbal or written warning in all the years I worked there. It's all well and good that "sexual" harassment is coming to light because of women coming forward that started with the Harvey Weinstein movement, but what about women like myself who have suffered emotional, mental and psychological harassment at the hands of a boss? What about us? How do we get our story told? We matter too . . .

Martin Luenendonk

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Donna.


This is helpful to see now. For over a year I've been blind to all the signs. I handed in my notice on Friday as I couldn't deal with it anymor and had to remove myself from this vicious cycle.


Interesante articulo. Avísame si lo recibiste.


I feel I am on the receiving end of emotional bullying, but I am also aware that I find it difficult to verbalise my needs. And as an older woman than the boss perhaps they think I do not want or need any support. I did the managers job before she started, filing in after the last one left, and I was asked to train her, so I sometimes get carried away with doing my job as I see it needs doing, and forget to check in with the boss first. I am often worrying about things and lost in my thoughts, and can come over as standoffish as a result. Is it possible that my boss is feeling as if I do not respect her, even though I have tried hard to do a good job. None of this excuses her snapping at me rudely, or changing the rota without warning to suit herself, or cancelling my holidays and taking hers instead, but I feel I have not helped the situation by forgetting her need to feel in control. Am I being pathetic by not confronting this, or wise to try to let it go. She is now moving on to work with a friend of hers but I am left feeling stressed, as if I failed, and not sure if I want to stay either.


I have experience workplace bulling, abuse for years in my job, this has affected my personality ,I have troubler trusting and socializing with people, just last year I have been harassed at work ,unknown person would send me sms with insults of related to matters at work, my boss sidelines me ,treats me with less respect in front of other collegues,what is worse at onetime I was raising a point in a meeting ,I was told to quite and stay in my line, its so bad,HR is not even helping with the matter .the organization culture here is very bad ,more if you fall in one ethnic group ,it hard ,I tried to commit suicide at some point, thank God am still here, I would like to get out of this job but because I have kids to feed and stack ,and am also afraid if ill ever be better and do well again if I change job, my self esteem is at it lowest.
how to I overcome this battle, before it kills me.


All this has been and still is happening to me..I just filed an EEOC charge against my employer for my bosses boss did not want to investigate and took the abuser side. I did not want to do that but they left me no other choice. Unless measures are taken against my boss and her boss I will push this through. It is all up to upper management to do the right thing and I would be willing to drop my claim. Abusers ( Bullies) have no place as a supervisor or/and employee, for they disrupt the mission of the work unit and poison the workplace against their victim (s).


I think I am target at work in many different ways by above managers being bulling, manipulated by them. It is shame... I did said that I and my staff are feeling. I believe because she has a power and use it.
I think i have to go further.... HR, I had before, and was much better for some time..but began again in a different way. It hurts not able to concentrate.


I've been at my job for 4 yrs. I don't know where to began.. I suppose y o u can a at it all mainly scattered when my sister in law went to work for the same company.she was and has told other employee s very personable things about myself.. And telling them in a another language so that I don't understand at least that's what she thought.. And then there's the manager..she. Is the very heart of the problem.. I've asked her countless times to ask the others to speak in English but countless time the higher ups told.them to continue speaking in Spanish. Because that's the language the speak.. Needless to say.every time I spoke about this it seems as if I'm the one being punished.. Yes I do cry.Yes it has really taken a big role on me..please help me understand why..


I'm experiencing emotional abuse at work. I'm a sales person and finished my community and waiting for a new community to start sales. My supervisor has ignored my emails, calls and text messages in regards to placing me in a new community. I've gone to HR and she tried to help by calling my supervisor for answers. My supervisor just keeps postponing my contract as he has all control of my future placement and finances. My supervisor has nothing on me but his power to hold me back and this has been going on for 3 months. I'm suffering all the symptoms of emotional abuse and need advise if I should seek counsel. ??


Having faced a situation where a few co-workers used lies and destrustul behaviours, I was given the chance to work in a more protected area, but this was viewed as a "privilege" and led to another form of mental torture. The problem of work abuse is so difficult to tackle and solve, that all the newly hired people in a company should be accompanied, to avoid any "disturbing behaviour"


I had worst experience in my life in an organization. They abused in such a manner even I take more than 1000 pages to explain you won't believe. I ask you all a single favour for me.
Prayer - Pray to GOD, whatever they did to me shall come back to them & their children in the same coin including consequences I suffered and suffering.

Surinder Singh


It sounds like you need to change a job. As a high tech worker, I have worked for a few companies and the cultures really vary from place to place. My Last company where I worked for a year, I constantly got sick because of the stress and hostility people displayed towards each other. An extremely political place. One day I was sitting at my bed in morning and my nose started shooting blood. I realized that I must make a move.

My currently place, I actually ran into a very unique case. A coworker who is my peer really bullied me. He stated that I am the one always disagreeing him which was not true. Later I learnt, with a lots of help from Psychologists and internet, some people have severe psychological issues, for whatever there reasons, if their fear/insecurity are invoked, they will behave like a crazy dog, chase you till death - that is pretty much how I experienced. He would suggest others who are supposed to be managed by me, to take over and host my meetings; he would bluntly says and madly that how my statements did not make any sense; he would create secret messenger channels and exclude only me from me; and most importantly, he lied to our boss and convinced him that I am a bad guy. He also threatened me by saying that he and our boss are friends , "well we are friends, feel free to tell him anything", he'd say. And he'd say things like " the boss is not happy with you, but he won't just fire you yet". all out of no where. He would do important tasks then hide the information I need to share with upper management. He would constantly argue about the name of a process we call instead of focusing on the actual process, to just make my work harder. Luckily, he lied about something that is very easy to point out -- while he was the one who could not show up at a 100 ppl + presentation, he actually said I was 'not engaged' and 'impacting team's moral'. I pointed that out immediately to HR with sound evidence. Of course with the 100 + ppl of witness, the company can not not take this seriously. I did not go to HR for a long time only because that would make my boss look very bad. But because boss was fully convinced by him at that time, I had no choice. I made sure the HR understands that I have no complaints to my boss only to him. My psychologists told me that a former alcoholic like himself, even when he is not drinking, he still may experience 'dry drunk', meaning he behaves same way like a drunk person, insecurity, and hostile and abusive, deceptive, all very true.

Now my company has a great culture so I believe. I talk to my CEO from time to time because we have a very special culture bond. He is a typical decent guy and I trust the culture standard this company is holding.
If you can not say the same about your company, and you won't become to one of them - move, that's the only way. Work in a place you approve the culture and the culture nurture and support you, so that you can work everyday happily and with meaningful productivities.

At all time, keep your work up. If you feel too stressed, explain that to your boss. But it's up to you to perform. Good luck! Stand straight, don't let the bully beat you down! The society won't be so bad forever! Good is good!


I think the silent types of abuse are much more common amongst management positions than people would like to think in modern work environments. Favoritism, lying, back talking, sidelining and downright ostracism a re all much more prevalent in our time. I think this is because there are a lot more borderline personalities in the workplace than there used to be, people who aren’t necessarily outright sociopaths but are borderline sociopaths, using their high intelligence to mask their anti social behaviors and carry out subtle emotional abuses in the workplace. I used to work with some of these types of people who always thought they were fooling me with their bad behaviors. I guess they need to do this to make themselves feel superior.


I found this article and the responses very helpful and timely as I am actually out taking sick time to get away from my abusive manager, who I believe either has full blown narcissistic personality disorder or a sociopath. I've learned alot about abuse mainly from personal relationships but have actually had 3 abusive managers in the same department of a large firm over the last two years. It has taken a HUGE toll on my well-being. This last boss I've had for 3 months and it's the worst. I've been doing a TON of research over the last few days as I've come to a crossroads on just needing to quit. Im a single mom and need my job but I'm so beaten down with depression and anxiety that I don't have energy to focus on looking. Luckily I have some retirement to live off of for a bit. This is not the ideal situation but I know enough about abuse to know the damaging effects it causes. Thanks for the article. I believe with everything we need to take a stand against abuse!


I am being emotionally bullied by the owners of the company I work for. I am in HR and I have no one to help me or turn to. My new supervisor is just the same and said I am not capable of learning and would be considered an over paid staff accountant to him. I need help really bad. I cry at work when I am alone. I have even thought suicide to stop the pain. I feel like I will not be able to get a job any where else because he is in my head and everything he has said has torn me down to a sliver of a person. I have no where to turn and no one to help me.


Quit! It will never get better only worse! I left a job that I was being bullied from and started my own business. I am sooooooooooooooooooooooo happy now, and I don't have to take shit from anybody anymore!

Martin Luenendonk

Wow. Melissa, you need to realize that it's TOTALLY not your fault. Don't make other people put you in an unhappy spot. Maybe you can start building your emotional support network or try to look for another job (maybe even if it's paid less), so you are out of this situation.


Great article! Shared with my colleagues.


The above article and advisory are generally very helpful thank you. I wish however to point out that abused and the abuser can be male or female within the workplace or in the home where domestic violence is any form of physical or emotional abuse perpetrated by either gender. The article infers sexism and inequality both in the workplace and in the home. Given that women have equal opportunity in the workplace and hold management and executive positions equal to men, it is unjust to take a biased view that males only are assumed to be perpetrators. The issue of abuse concerns all of us and is harmful to either gender and human kind whether in the workplace or in domestic situations. I would suggest that further thought is given to the article and that "he" in the text is replaced with "he/she" so it is clear to the reader that the abuser or abused can be both male and female. Thank you.

Martin Luenendonk

Totally agree with you Michael. It would just be very hard to read if I would write gender neutral every time.


I need Well,I have been physically attack shoulder butt every chance she got when no one could see. I told management and HR and corporate nothing happen to her I have nowhere else to go. There was a job posting we were told to put in resumes we did so did the one who attack me co workers interview us one was her friend so when it got announced that she got the job I said wow what a surprise. About a week later I guess HR must of called and management got told to handle this because this job was a way to hide this girl in the back but because I kept speaking up I was and still am afraid of this girl she's crazy and nothing happened she got promotion and I get written up. I don't care about the job I am worried why nothing happened to her she still tries to intimidate me. I need help and need to know what and where I can get help


Due to promotions certain people had become motivated to make constructive changes. I worked there for more than 10 years with low key successful productivity. A peer with five years was promoted to manager and suddenly three other peers vanished. One had 8 years the other six. I was put on 90 day disciplinary warning probation with conditions or termination. I was in shock, threatened all of a sudden by the attacking sleeper regime. I found the co. pres. was retiring soon and the vp was in line to be the president. He wanted changes so that was the cause. My conditions were to improve performance to criteria that I had been meeting for years. This was in written warning form so I asked for examples of poor performance. I got none. Who wrote these complaints. None of my business. I went for a legal consult and found I was in a structure termination. You are effectively fired in three months but we need you to finish our work and be a guinea pig for our new management control process. Ok, so they went twilight zone. I filled out some state ULPC and federal EEOC labor complaint forms and brought them to our next meeting. They gave me more bad paper so I gave them those forms. They saw their names with boxes checked accompanying their disciplinary warnings. If this all continues, out into the mail they will go I promise. I got nothing to lose, you will fire me soon and harass me until then. I will follow through with all the hearings too. I was a money maker here and I got betrayed. I am going to give you some trouble. Counter attack in the twilight zone. Not a pretty thing. Quiet anger for everybody after that. At 75 days I got another job and left. The old job is re posted often, no one will stay there very long. Everyone loses when these types of people get busy. Its a good thing though to get to flip over a few tables on them. They will remember me.


The bullies in my case are my direct supervisors, who are also the founders of the organization. They've developed an extremely oppressive work environment for nearly all they employ. There is no HR person, just a business manager. We have no recourse and therefore just have to take their belittling and degradation and the place is a revolving door as a result. It's too bad, as the staff signs on because they believe in the mission. They take the abuse because they want to further it. The anxiety and depression (I am new in this position) is quite debilitating.

dba surindersingh

Gina, I can't understand your position at work but believe me they did it intentionally and deliberately.


Also - please don't tell me to find another job. I was unemployed for 10 months after I left another abusive work situation. I am looking for another position, but finding another job isn't quite so simple.


I have been dealing with a strange type of abuse at work for 4 years. My manager is off and on. When she is on, she is my friend, we work well together and everything seems great. Then when she is off, she intentionally does spiteful things, says things to me quietly that are mean spirited and says and does things to make me look like I am doing a bad job. I am a bit of an overachiever and it is important for me to be on time, do good work and help others even if it is inconvenient for me. She is a bit of an underachiever and does not communicate well with the staff however I make extra efforts to avoid her tirade and not call her out on her neglect but compliment and thank her for her assistance. I am respectful when no-one else is. I guess I am an easy target. I love my job and our boss is her husband which makes things extremely more difficult. We work for a ski resort so this isn't some mom and pop business. We have both worked for the company in excess of 10 years and I don't know what to do. I have a lot of anxiety and can't sleep and actually had a full blown panic attack last week when she approached me to accuse me of something I didn't do and wouldn't back off. She doesn't seem to notice she does these things and when I went to HR they ask me what I wanted to do and I just said I wanted to document my concerns but was afraid to approach the subject to her directly because we are like a family in the area I work. I wrote an email to our boss (her husband) but it didn't seem to make a difference and when we talked he somewhat made excuses for her. I know at least 3 people who have left our group because of her. I do this job because I love it not because I need to but leaving is like leaving my family. I don't know what to do.


I really really appreciate this article.

I didn't know that I'm already suffering with Emotional Abuse way back when I'm still a student by some but it's nothing for me because I thought that it's natural and I take it as a joke. Until such time that I graduated and I have my internship in a construction firm. It still didn't get to me that what my boss continually do is also a form abuse but I have respect and understand where my boss is coming from so I just do what I need to do and try to be professional and compassionate. I love my work and I enjoy it I'm trying to make everything right just to make things flow smoothly even if you can tell that your boss puts all the pressure on you but I keep doing what I know will be best not just for myself but for everyone and for my boss so that stress will be lessen for her. But it came to a point that my boss was really demanding, toxic, keeps on scolding everyone just because of personal/family problems that keeps us adjusting and I really know it isn't healthy anymore. This routine just keeps repeating that it affects the whole team it's as if they are saving themselves just to spare themselves. And I felt alone, I felt drained, unhappy and unhealthy. I hate quitting but this time my immune system weakens that I need to leave work and rest for 2 weeks because I was infected of chicken pox by my workmate. But for me its a blessing in disguise because I finally can rest tho Im still suffering. I came back to work and everything seems different. Just when I thought that everything will be ok that I can start anew turns out worst for me because I am a target of pressure by my boss. I had no choice but to shoulder all the blame since I rested for more than 2 weeks. The feeling of being alone, drained, unhappy and unhealthy came back. No matter how much effort I exert I know this will not work out and that before we came to a point where we'll hate each other I just need to cut ties and resign for the betterment of both of us. I really want to stay and finish whatever work or help and contibute but everything is so complicated.

This experience just opens my eyes to Emotional Abuse now, its even clearer to me that all this time I am surrounded by toxic people that I let myself be intimidate and always question my self "is there anything wrong with me?" that I dont know who really are the persons who GENUINELY support me in everything that I do. But as much as possible I dont want it to really affect me because all I have is myself and my faith.

Now at this very moment Im still suffering from the effects and the trauma of Emotional Abuse esp. now that it ic clear to me. I am and Im in fear of applying for internship again because theres a possibility that it will happen again but come what may I have to face it.

So big thanks to this article that finally just this day I had a understanding of one of the challenges/problems that I'm suffering at the moment. But I know I'll get through this I just need to continue to learn from this experience tho this will be very hard.


I just found this article and I find it to be really interesting, especially the parts about it being between coworkers. But I have a question - what about between coworkers where the one in a lower position is bullying/harassing the one in the higher position. The higher position doesn't supervise the lower position. In fact they report to the same person, but the one in the lower position does everything to bully and harass the one in the higher position.

dba surindersingh

I was Emotional Abused at work place intentionally. I am still suffering Health issues. I am new to industry and just helpless. I left that organization past 5 years back but paying the price. I pray to "LORD OF UNIVERSE -> GOD" Whatever they did to me shall come back to them & their children in same coin with equivalent pain, time period, sufferings & consequences. None shall be forgiven and escaped.

Premkumar Alexis Jegannathan

I found this article much later than I would have wished. This is such a great article which not only makes me understand the abuses that are inflicted upon me, but also the abuses I inflict on others. I just realized that I am not the "good guy" either.

I am being abused in my workplace to the extend that I stopped caring about others' emotions and started attacking them. I know I am weird to confess this here. Its because, I think that confessing would make me feel better and start being my good self again.

I am already in the process of resignation from my current job, just to escape the abuse. It is getting harder every passing day, especially due to the Covid'19 situation.

Thank you for sharing this article and positively changing my life.

Martin Luenendonk

Wow. Your heart-warm comment is lighting up my day. Thanks for the positive vibes. Cheers and keep becoming your best version!


me and my fellow co workers have experienced this abuse w a former employer. because of this 5 of her staff who are veterans including myself left. the only way i could do it was with them because the fear is real my two bosses are sisters so there is no one to turn too. they are super analytical micromanagers we are not allowed to be friends w coworkers. we can’t have lunch together and if we do my boss is following me around asking what we were talking about. she meets me at the door waiting for me bc i run 3 min late then writes us up. when u have an option on about anything they get defensive and think you are talking back. they have so many rules and restrictions that is impossible to follow. we work in a salon. a place of creativity well not here. everything has to be the same we have to do everything the owners way i can’t ask anyone to shampoo my client for me if i’m running behind w out looking for a manager and if i do i get questioned why. i can’t ask for opinions from other stylists on color only the owner. they never have back bar product except on her station and then when i ask for some she says sell it and i’ll give it to u. well folks u can’t sell anything u don’t use on ppl. they added an hour to one of my days w out discount w me. then when i asked for it back bc i’ve earned it. by being there 14 years they say i have to do all of this stuff to get it back. like being to work on time. like again 3 min late and u get a write up. she made us feel guilty after we came back from covid saying we should all be greatful to her bc she kept us on unemployment and she could have gotten so much more money. mind u during this she re did the entire outside of the building and parking lot. instead of investing in more important things. we are all now at new salons and the difference is black and white. we can’t believe the freedom and trust we now have from the owners. today was my first day and i’m not lying when i was telling my friend how great it was i started to cry because i never really realized how bad it actually was until i went somewhere else. it was the feeling of being violated and not knowing it until someone makes u aware of it. we all feel like we have some sort of ptsd. i find myself feeling things that i felt there and i’m like oh yea i don’t have to feel like this here. it’s such a relief i so want to make their issue so public. so fellow ppl applying there know what they are getting into. also wanted to add she only provided education to ppl she liked. and kept it from others then would say well they don’t have the training and put them down for not having it. i’m so glad we got out! this article is awesome and made me feel more validated about my feelings.