Emotional abuse is a form of workplace harassment, which is commonly defined as belittling or threatening behavior towards an individual worker or a group of workers. Harassment and emotional abuse on the workplace cover a wide range of conducts of an offensive nature. These behaviors appear to be disturbing, upsetting or threatening, and in the legal sense, they evolve from discriminatory grounds.
Recognizing Emotionally Abusive Boss
It’s often difficult, even for psychologists, to properly define emotional abuse, and to differentiate it from normal workplace relationships. To gain a better understanding of the emotional abuse, and recognize the signs of an emotionally abusive boss, we will break down the characteristics of the concept:
- It’s a non-physical behavior – emotional abuse involves a number of behaviors, from delivering threats and insults, to open public humiliations and intimidations.
- It involves an imbalance of power – emotional abuse usually exists in a relationship where the imbalance of power exists as well, and the authority of power is used to manipulate, demean and control.
- It’s intentional – the abuser deliberately chooses the action of attacking the victim. All behaviors are calculated with the intention to hurt the victim.
- Emotional abuse occurs on a regular basis – abusive behavior exists for prolonged periods of time, usually escalating and getting worse.
Acts of “emotional psychological violence” usually come up in one of three forms:
- Verbal aggression – abuser uses destructive forms of communication to attack the self-concepts of other people. It is supposed to annoy and diminishes the victim. There is a number of motivators of verbal aggressiveness, like frustration, psychopathology, and argumentative skill deficiency.
- Dominant behaviors – emotionally abusive boss asserts dominance over the abused, making it sure to deliver a message that he is the one in control, and the one making shots. Tactics of isolating the victim is also a part of this type of behavior, used to prevent seeking assistance from others.
- Jealous behavior – it comes up usually in emotionally abusive romantic relationships, but jealousy rears its ugly head in workplace relations also. It raises suspicion which drives people to assert control over others. Roots of jealousy are self-esteem problems of higher ranked employees which often feel threatened, personally and professionally. They are afraid to lose position to younger, more capable colleagues.
How to React to Emotional Abuse?
First, the victim needs to recognize and acknowledge its position. Admitting to yourself that you feel abused, can sometimes be very hard. The victim needs to identify the feelings of depression, fear, and shame that are often the consequence of abusive behavior by superiors and to identify the situations in which these behaviors arise.
And here’s what the employee should do:
- Talk to the abuser confidently and rationally, and initiate a dialogue. Be direct about it, and as for the reasons for such actions and behavior. Request that it stops. Be free to ask a co-worker or a supervisor to intervene.
- Consider pursuing legal action.
Can You Sue for Emotional Abuse?
There is no universal law against workplace harassment and bullying. However, federal and state laws prohibit a hostile work environment that comes as a consequence of protected traits:
- Sex or gender (sexual orientation and gender identity)
- Pregnancy or family status
Even when emotional abuse isn’t based on one of the protected traits, you may still be eligible for action against the employer. Most of the employers have implemented anti-bullying policies, and failing to enforce them may constitute a breach of contract. The claims and damages available in these cases are depending on the terms of those policies, so it is well advised to consult with an experienced employment lawyer to review your case.