Why can't I get over my bad ex-boss?
August 22, 2016 5:40 PM   Subscribe

It's been almost two months since I left a place of employment which had become very bad for me. I still can't get over it. Why am I so stuck on this?

The backstory: worked there for almost ten years and it was great at first. Lots of responsibility, minimal supervision and good co-workers. Over the years, that changed. The payscale remained well below average. We had to attend an ever-growing list of evening events without extra pay. Her new husband, and her unemployable son, got hired to work there and made everyone unhappy. And so on :-)

I needed to take some extra sick days for some medical appointments, which is how she knew I was trying to get pregnant. Shortly after that, she told me my contract would not be renewed. In deference to my long time there, she was going to give me one year, in a somewhat demoted capacity, and then I was done. I was very demoralized and beat myself up over it for awhile, then resolved to end on a high note, work my tail off for that one year, and go in peace. I also began applying elsewhere. When my year of shame was done, I was well-connected for the next steps, career-wise, and six months pregnant to boot. I'm in a good place now. It will be fine for me.

I'm still in touch with several former co-workers, which is nice because it's the first time I've really been able to maintain a friendship after the job ended. But at the same time, I see and hear things about Boss, via their Facebook updates and her comments on these. One co-worker just had major surgery and didn't tell boss until the day before because she did not want to 'upset' her. The surgery was related to an on-the-job accident which she likewise did not file a claim on, and her surgeon told her to take four weeks off. She is not; another co-worker has a 'mother who was a nurse' and is going to 'cover for her.' I am appalled that Boss has made people this afraid of her. *I* was this afraid of her. And still she is out there taking advantage of people.

There have been other things. And most of them fall as equally into the 'not my circus, not my monkeys' category as this example did. It shouldn't bother me so much. I'm done there. Yet...I hear these things and I get angry. I understand she is in a business and trying to maximize her profit, but still, there is a right way and a wrong way to treat people. It infuriates me that she gets away with treating people like this.

I am perseverating on this more than I should be. She's not in my life anymore. And I'm in a better place for it. So why can't I let this ex-boss go?
posted by ficbot to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Working in an abusive environment can take years to get over, especially if you don't realize you were in an abusive situation so you don't know to put some effort into specifically addressing the aftereffects in your life.

You might at least look into some of the workbooks available for post-traumatic stress or recovering from abuse, if you don't have access to any kind of therapy.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:48 PM on August 22, 2016 [25 favorites]

Because your boss does illegal shit like fire people for medical reasons, and puts people's health in danger by doing so, and demand mandatory work events after hours without pay.

It'll take you a while to get over it, just like it takes a while to get over a bad breakup. I wouldn't expect you to be all "Tralalala" after two months when you worked there for 10 years. Cut yourself a little slack.

I'm glad you're out and were able to put that last year to excellent career-building use. Now, warn everyone in your network not to work there. Consider posting on Glassdoor.com about the toxic work environment. Let it be known in the industry that Boss is a bad boss. Her candidate pool, and then her business, will dry up eventually.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:51 PM on August 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

It can totally take more than a couple of months to get over being in an abusive relationship, which is what this was.

Block her on facebook, and you won't even see her comments.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Be kind to yourself.
posted by rtha at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I had a tasmanian devil for a boss for years, the place wasn't a bad place to work but she made it unbearable. I found a better job and it took me I would say about 2 years to get over the bad feelings I had towards this person. Now I if see her in passing I am just so grateful I don't have to deal with that drama anymore, I feel at peace. So time, time will make it better. Leave it behind, move forward, do better. You will get there!
posted by just asking at 6:00 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

It definitely takes more than 2 months. Do block her on FB as suggested above. You can filter your coworkers on FB for a while so that you don't see their posts (but can still message them and check their pages if you want to). You can also politely let your friends know that you prefer not to hear about your former boss.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 6:02 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Why? Because she is chaos incarnate, and the amount of mental and emotional energy her type of personality drains is so extreme that it can take years to move past having someone like her as a boss. I'm almost one year out of my second most psychologically traumatic job ever, and for a while I was doing fine, until a few weeks ago I got a slew of LinkedIn connection requests from people who wanted to use me to talk to my ex boss. I've had nightmares about him and the hell he put me through almost every night since. It sucks! It really, really sucks. And I'm in therapy! I have been in therapy because of this job for 4 years! That's how much a bad job can do to us. Our brains try so, so hard to rationalize and make sense of things that when we reach something that we just can't process, perseverating is inevitable.

So, you are not alone. Your response to this whole thing is normal. It will take time, but the main thing you gotta do, IME, is assert to yourself that your ex boss is not a good person, that your former coworkers do have it rough and you empathize, but it is not your job to fix any of it and you dodged a major bullet by getting out when you did, even if it was a trial by fire! Your coworkers will deal with their part of their experience with your ex boss when it's their time to. Mute their updates for a bit -- that way, you don't have to keep watching the trainwrecks spiral and you can start to really enjoy not being her employee anymore.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:48 PM on August 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's been 6 months since I left an incredibly toxic boss and I'm only just now starting to get over it. It takes time.
posted by raw sugar at 7:08 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's normal for the negative feelings to linger on, especially since you have invested so much in your workplace over the years and was poorly treated.

I am in the same situation like you. Worked hard for years, was loyal, worked tons of overtime without pay, didn't take vacation for two years and in the end I quit (actually very recently) because the situation became unbearable. Even though I instantly knew quitting was the right decision and never regretted it, I still feel resentment over being unfairly treated.

It is unsettling to first-hand discover how unjust the world can be, especially if our hard work and suffering also goes unacknowledged. We do, however, have this great ability to move on and forget, just takes some time.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a nightmare about my bad boss over a year after I left. But that was the last one :-).
posted by bq at 8:31 PM on August 22, 2016

I still have PTSD from the last two years in a toxic environment. I actually cried when someone I didn't know very well (but with whom I was working on a major project) was nice to me and even apologised for something I had misconstrued.

It's been a few months, but it's really helped to throw myself into some new situations, and to be really honest about why I'm so emotional about it. Something like, "I'm sorry I'm reacting this way. It's been a rough couple of years and in my last work environment, I was shut down a lot. Thanks for your understanding as I work through this."

And having people to talk with about it who will listen (but aren't invested in the place still) are really helpful.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:50 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a terrible boss who I stopped working for back in 2011. I hated her for years but at some point I just stopped caring.

When I think about her now, in 2016, I couldn't even begin to muster the white hot anger I once felt for her. I'm in a good job, doing what I did then but with more responsibility and my family life is good to boot.

Living well is not only the best revenge but the key to forgetting toxic people who were formerly in your life.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:35 PM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

The reason you are still upset is that you are still seeing things about her on Facebook. Period.

I have found that that particular kind of passive exposure (both to the person herself, and people posting about their interactions with her) is particularly toxic for dredging up bad memories and igniting anger -- because you are hearing about the problems but are not in a position to do anything about them.

Agreed with those above who said to block your boss on Facebook and to filter your old coworkers such that you don't see them in your newsfeed, at least for the time being. You can still message them to find out how they're doing, but a one-on-one private conversation about Evil Boss will feel much healthier than you seeing a public status about her and feeling mad and helpless.
posted by mekily at 10:37 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thank you ficbot for this question. I was in a very similar situation to yours last year with the boss of a company I'd worked well with for more than eight years. In my case, the ending came quickly when he decided to completely undermine my team's hard work and dedication under difficult circumstances partially of his own causing. He threw his employees under the bus with a client in a very public manner in order to prop up his own reputation. I went to bat for the team, questioning this approach pretty pointedly, and on getting the response, "It's my business, I can do what I like," sent in my resignation the next day. He has since said that any reference he gives will allude to the fact that I am "not a team player" - this is from someone I would have called a friend, for who I put out so many metaphorical fires over the years and who less than three weeks before the incident said that he "loved working with me" in my yearly review.

So anyway, all I can say is I feel your pain. This was a year ago and it still smarts. Immediately after the fallout it was extremely painful. I kept thinking that he was going to get in touch and apologise. I had to block all reference to him and my ex-co-workers from social media otherwise all the feelings (rage, sadness, doubt, guilt, repeat) would be triggered. Basically I went no contact and I'm not sure I will ever communicate with him again.

The poster above who likens the situation to escaping an abusive relationship, thank you. I had never put two and two together in this way. Now I look back, the red flags were there in the way he treated other people and the fact that the really good people who came to work with us moved on fairly quickly - I wish I'd picked up on this sooner so I could have moved on and avoided my own situation. Anyway, hindsight... :)

One of the most painful things about the experience was the lack of support from afore mentioned co-workers, particularly those whose careers I went to bat for. I know now that they were still in that abusive relationship and any move on their part to sympathise with me would have led to them having to question their own position. One co-worker who I know as a friend outside work tried to minimise his behaviour and spoke to me about how she had found ways to support him more effectively so as to avoid the tantrums, so I see her very little these days and pointedly do not respond to any conversational gambit featuring the boss or the company.

Things I learnt:
* Don't let career inertia keep you in a tense situation.
* Don't have dealings with people who cannot deal with their feelings without shouting / blaming / lashing out.
* Just because someone is in a position of power doesn't mean they are a grown up or have any idea what they are doing.
* Choose working relationships as carefully as you would choose personal relationships.
* Don't put all your career eggs in one basket.

Anyway, not sure the above helps you ficbot, but I wish you well and I'm sorry you had to deal with such a horrible situation.
posted by doornoise at 12:09 AM on August 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

I asked this question a few months back, which may be relevant. I'm many months out from a toxic job and it's still upsetting. My former workplace was also in the side business of wrecking their employees' health, particularly their hardest-working employees' health, for no good reason.

One thing that absolutely made it worse was running into a former coworker who had also moved on, but was still in touch with people working there and was full of horror stories about how things had become even more gruesome. This coworker was not one of the toxic people, but listening to them for ten minutes sank me into flashbacks for several days. You have to block the toxic people on social media and dial down your connection with the people you were friendly with, at least for now.

You say things started going wrong over the last few years. Without beating yourself up, can you do a postmortem? At what point do you think you should have started looking elsewhere? At the same time, can you congratulate yourself for getting out of there? Not that your ex-coworkers deserve to be tortured, but at least you got out of there before Stockholm syndrome fully took you over.

At the risk of suggesting that you continue the drama with your former employer, don't you yourself have grounds for some kind of pregnancy discrimination lawsuit? It sounds like you were very directly and openly discriminated against for becoming pregnant.
posted by ziggly at 1:18 AM on August 23, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you! I want to favourite every answer :-) It's good to know I'm not crazy. Bq, I have had nightmares too. I had one where she came after me to take the baby so I could pay her back for all she had done for me. This woman messed with my head. There were some BS reasons she gave for why she was letting me go, and I did not see them for what they were until after. And the whole pattern she has of stringing people along on one year contracts forever and not giving them stability, and paying poverty-level wages while she herself has been on five overseas vacations this year...

Like I said, I'm grateful I got out of dodge and landed on my feet. I just wish she wasn't still treating people that way. And it's good to know I am not crazy for still needing time to process this. Thank you for all the replies.
posted by ficbot at 4:21 AM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a psychological place for employment that is wrapped up in feelings of pride, self-worth and sufficiency. We are asked to devote a significant portion of our lives to an endeavor that, while it puts food on the table and a roof over our heads, also asks for a pound of flesh (or more) along the way. The stress of losing your livelihood is real. The stress of an office environment where people are toying with your psychlogical health because they haven't managed theirs can be unreal. I think these things can do actual long-term harm and have effects not unlike PTSD.

Recognize that this boss looked at you in a most vulnerable time, grabbed that rug and brazenly yanked it out from under you. It's betrayal combined with actual harm. And if you're a mother now, just know that mothering hormones with all the things that you are responsible for can create a general sense of anxiety. This former job is a place for your brain to go to ruminate. Do your best to acknowledge that this is a real issue and find ways to self-care that acknowledge your pain directly and seek to move on from it.

I'm sending you the best vibes!
posted by amanda at 7:49 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have your emails from the job? If you think you can make the case at all, a Title VII suit against her for family-status discrimination might take a bit of the sting out. Call a lawyer for a free consult! Of course I suggest this mostly because I didn't save the emails that would have provided an airtight case once upon a time.

One of the most intriguing things about business is that garbage people can succeed, and indeed hire and convince other people to do much of the work for them! That these people exist convinces me that work can't be the most important thing in the world (aside from the money part). Truly, as you've found out, even when the job is sunshine and rainbows the situation can turn on you very quickly.
posted by rhizome at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm three years out from the year I spent with a toxic boss (and his toxic boss). Only recently have I stopped thinking about him and my experience there, partly due to a career change. I refuse to say or write the name of the company or patronize it, which is sad since I loved my first year-and-a-half there.

For me it was because I was so demoralized, had been discouraged every time I tried to take on new responsibilities and had no one on my side at the company. A lot of my self-worth was tied up in my work and I internalized this jerk's behavior as a reflection on me. It's taken finding my own value in other places and turning my anger at him onto him instead of onto myself. After I did that I was able to discard his influence on me and see him for the jerk he is.
posted by bendy at 5:25 PM on August 23, 2016

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