Signs Of Abuse In A Toxic Workplace

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Have you found yourselves with a heightened sense of anxiety going to work each day?

Do you stress yourselves trying to please others at work?

Have you found yourselves being the subject of gossip at workplace?

Have you found yourselves behaving in ways that don’t fit your nature or personality?

Then it is a sure sign that you are working in an environment which is ‘toxic’ to say the least.  The psychological harm that you are put to eventually will begin to have a negative consequence on your mental and physical health.

Many organizations and business leaders would not be willing to acknowledge that their workplace could potentially be toxic, just so that they can present a clean image to the outside world.

In such workplaces it is most often the complaining victim who is forced to look inward to self-reflect whether their complaints are indeed valid or they are being too touchy and sensitive.  In such workplaces, the spotlight quickly shifts from the toxic individual who is perpetrating the problem to the victim.  It’s like a rape-victim who is forced to prove that it was not consensual, that she is of high morals and is not using the complaint as a slander against the perpetrator.  Sad!

Most victims or let’s call them survivors of toxic workplace environments do not get to even bring to attention the abuse they are being subjected to at workplace.  I would not be surprised that maybe over 90% of workplace harassment by narcissistic abusers doesn’t even get out in the open or get reported.  Well that’s a high percentage to work with isn’t it?

Speaking of narcissistic abusers, it is time that we not just recognize but take a serious look at the fact that abuse, harassment, depression, suicidal thoughts are as much a part of today’s workplace as it is at home.

So how would you go about identifying if you are part of a ‘toxic workplace environment’? 

Let me present a few tell-tale signs of a toxic workplace.  They may not be necessarily in any order of importance.

  1. Gaslighting – The abusers in this case blatantly deny their own manipulative behavior and ignore evidence when confronted with it. They become dismissive and critical if you attempt to disprove their fabrications with facts. Instead of them actually addressing their inappropriate behavior, it always becomes your fault for being overly sensitive or touchy. Toxic people try and make you believe that the problem isn’t their abusive behavior, but instead your reactions to their abuse.

2. Gossiping and Smearing – You will find that narcissistic abusers often use gossiping and smear campaigns against their victims.  They plant little seeds of poison, whispering about everyone, praising them to their face, and then complaining about them behind their backs. You will be surprised that you find yourself disliking or resenting people you’ve never even met before. You can quickly identify a potential narcissistic abuser when you join an organization or a team.  They are the people who approach you first to feed you what they claim as important information about people and the culture etc.  They will bait you into believing that you have a special place in their so-called inner circle as they also share purportedly some dark truths about your work environment.  Most victims fall for such a bait as they feel they have an ally who will protect them in case of any future problems at work.  Unfortunately it’s too late before the victim realizes that he has been caught in the quick-sand of this abusive relationship. You will find that they will be the same people who will lament to the very same people who they complained about, as to how stupid or crazy you are.

3. Eroding confidence – In an abusive workplace you can identify people who criticize you with a condescending, joking sort of attitude. They present a smirk when you try to express yourself. Teasing and sarcasm becomes the primary mode of communication in your relationship. They subtly belittle your intelligence and abilities. If you try to point this out by giving them feedback, they call you sensitive. You might begin to feel resentful and upset, but you learn to push away those feelings in favor of maintaining the peace.

4. Covert methods – Toxic people in the workplace often use very covert methods to undermine your success. For example an abusive boss who does not give you all the information needed to complete tasks, and then goes to embarrass you in front of your team when the tasks are not done as they should have been.

5. Negative competition – If you find yourselves as a victim of others jealousy and see a clear and present rivalry in the team then you are in a toxic team environment.  The abusers in such teams provoke rivalry and jealousy by first excessively focusing their attention on you by praising and promoting you and then suddenly withdrawing to focus their attention on others. You end up feeling confused as to what you would have done for getting this treatment.

6. Hypocrisy – In a toxic workplace you will find the exact opposite of what is stated and propagated as values and culture.  You will also find that abusive bosses in these workplaces expect others to “do as they say” and not “as they do”.  You will find that they have high expectations of you but will exhibit none of this to you.  It starts to then frustrate you immensely.

7. Comparison trap – If you find yourselves constantly being compared to someone and how that someone can and is doing a great job, you would know that adds to the pressure.  While comparison is supposed to spur growth and performance it actually has an adverse effect on the victim.  Many abusive bosses use it as a method to keep the victim under their control and as a tool for manipulation.

8. Withholding information – In a toxic workplace, information is provided in a selective manner and as per the convenience of the abuser then it is definitely a red flag.  Narcissistic abusers who are in position of power, especially those responsible for performance reviews and appraisal use it as a tool to manipulate their victims.  They would be comfortable revealing information about others (gossip) but not about you and your performance.  They would expect you to figure it out for yourselves.  In such environments you also are not provided with clear role definitions and the abuser in this instance the boss keeps it as vague as possible. This gives him the opportunity to manipulate you based on his needs.

9. Isolation – if you find yourself or any other in the team being isolated from important meetings or events in the organization then surely you are a victim of a toxic environment.  You will find that you are not being included in important decisions regarding not just team matters but that which matters for you to perform your role effectively.  The worst is that any attempt on your part to raise this issue within team or organizational forums will be considered as you being insecure, touchy and disagreeable.

10. Silent treatment – if you find yourself as a victim of silent treatment from any of your team members and especially so from your boss then you are definitely in an environment where you are being subjected to psychological abuse.  The problem is that it is hard to identify, as abusers who use such behaviors increase or decrease the frequency in a way that you will be confused whether they are really wanting some ‘quiet time’ or they are manipulating you using this technique.

11. Overt and aggressive – behavior is also a form of abuse the victims of a toxic workplace have to survive.  Sometimes you will find that you will be yelled at in meetings, publicly mocked, and even physically touched in a manner meant as an act of dominance.

12. Presence of fan clubs – abusers in toxic workplaces always seem to have a fan club of their own.  If you find yourself in a situation where you seem to be the only person who seems to have a problem with the said abuser then it is a clear red flag. The abusers carefully cultivate their fan clubs to brow beat the victim into submission.  They do that without getting their hands dirty.

13. Presence of great actors – you will find that abusers in a toxic workplace present a wide range of emotions and are able to play act so well that the victims are often left to wonder whether their perceptions are real.  If you have turned from a self-confident individual to a self-doubting one then you are definitely surviving in a toxic workplace.

Regardless of how you are experiencing the abuse, the toll it takes  on you physically and emotionally can still be the same.

It’s important that you become aware of the tell-tale signs of a toxic workplace and the narcissist abuser in it.

The Toxic Family Of ‘Counterfeit Niceness’

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Did you know that a majority of domestic abuse is of the psychological type?

The mainstream seems to be mostly obsessed with calling out the physical abuse, which is easy to identify and communicate and helps increase the TRPs.  It is also the one which the vast majority of drama and thrill seeking audience wants to see and talk about.

Unfortunately, the one type of abuse which often doesn’t get reported and is also the cause of great trauma leading to depression and suicidal tendencies is the one to do with psychological abuse.  Especially in a ‘toxic family space’.

It all starts with parents who lack the basic empathy and selfless nature that loving parenting requires.  They have no problem meeting their own needs before their child’s needs and also justify their actions.  The effects of such domestic abuse lasts in the minds of the adult long after he/she has left home.

Such parents in the later part of their life complain that their child doesn’t have an authentic relationship with them anymore. Children of such parents have a life full of resentment about the relationship.  These are the parents who pit one sibling against the other, just so that they maintain a strangle hold of control in the relationship.  Unfortunately, the same continues even when their children have grown up to be adults.

If you are in a family which has huge turmoil among siblings and close relatives then you are a victim of such toxic family.  I know it may be hard for you to imagine that a parent can sabotage relationships of their children.  It does happen and is happening all the time around us.  It’s just that it is not reported or victims of such abuse do not find it appropriate to talk about it much. 

Victims are made to believe in the idea of presenting a ‘façade’ of a well-knit family to the outside world no matter how turbulent it is for them inside.

I’ve seen some families use the ‘Us Vs. Them’ philosophy to make the victim believe that they have their best interests in mind.  In fact I have come across parents who have completely isolated their children from relatives and friends by using this technique.  Just so that they remain in control of their lives.

Parents in toxic families continually feed the minds of the child and later the adult child about the ways in which the world has conspired against their family and how they have been at the forefront in keeping their children from harm’s way.

Toxic families present a façade of niceness which is used to mask the inner abusive environment.  So much so that it will be hard for people in the community to even believe any story which is contrary to the well crafted image they put up.  The problems also lies in the fact that it is so difficult for the child to complain against his/her parents.  You will notice that the social framework is such that it is always the parent who is seen as the victim especially when they are pitted against their own children.

How do you then identify whether you are a victim of a toxic family environment?

There are several ways in which toxic families operate and the environment frequently throws up the following indicators;

  1. Constant pressure to please – if you find yourselves under constant pressure to please and appear nice in front of your parents, siblings and relatives.
  2. Silent treatment – if you find yourself as a victim of silent treatment from any of the family members and especially so from your parents then you are definitely in an environment where you are being subjected to psychological abuse.  The problem is that it is hard to identify, as abusers who use such behaviors increase or decrease the frequency in a way that you will be confused whether they are really wanting some ‘quiet time’ or they are manipulating you using this technique.
  3. ‘Us Vs. Them’ discussions – if you find yourself part of discussions which involve the use of ‘us vs. them’ technique then you might find yourself over a period of time isolated from the rest of the world and in complete surrender to the people who use it to their advantage.  I have personally seen this technique being used more by parents in order to keep complete control of their children long after they have turned to be ‘adult-children’.
  4. Excessive gossip – if you find that most of your family discussions involve talking about relatives and siblings who are not present then most definitely you are not in a healthy environment.  The worst is that any complaint against such behavior is brushed off by the perpetrators as the complainant being ‘too touchy’ or ‘sensitive’.  The abusers even justify stating that the people in question wouldn’t have minded it as they know the abusers didn’t mean any real harm.
  5. Divide and conquer – many abusers in families use this technique to victimize people.  Simple acts like keeping a distance from the victim in group situations, making them sit slightly away, calling for a group photograph by leaving out one targeted member of the family, giving compliments or gifts to all except one targeted member and that too in front of the whole group are some examples.  Even parents in toxic families pit one sibling against the other to maintain control.  They act as the arbitration authority.  If you find yourselves frequently going back to your parents complaining about your siblings behavior then more than the said sibling, the parent is actually the abuser.
  6. Isolation – if you find yourself or any other in the family being isolated from family groups and clubs then surely you are a victim of a toxic environment.  You will find that you are not being included in important decisions regarding family matters, you are left out of some family vacations or trips.  The worst is that any attempt on your part to raise this issue with such a toxic family will be considered as being insecure, touchy and disagreeable.

I know you might already be saying that all these are common and prevalent in small amounts in all families and around the world.  You may also want to rationalize this toxic family environment by saying things like “it’s human to have a little bit of friction, conflict and difference when in families and groups”.

And that for me is the problem.  It is difficult to identify psychological abuse in families. 

Healing from toxic families is a slow journey because you have to rewire your deeply held beliefs.

Recovery though is absolutely possible and starts with acceptance.