I don’t know how to get past my toxic job

A reader writes:

Like many people, I’ve recently lost my job. My question is how to deal with the aftermath and get myself in better mental place for a job search.

Let me give some background. My manager was a huge bully and a toxic person who belittled and emotionally manipulated the members of his team every day. This often involved giving his project managers (PM’s) half the necessary information, excluding PM’s from their own projects, and then berating them when projects were not completed as he deemed they should be, along with personal criticisms and insults and passive aggressive silent-treatments, dominating and speaking over his PM’s on conference calls. I realized this toxicity quite early on, but vowed to tolerate it for a couple of years, get the experience on my resume, and then get the hell out. Being an overly empathic person, I often just felt sorry for him. I thought, “He must be in such personal pain to treat people like this” and “he probably has no friends” to justify his behavior and, I guess, to make easier to endure day in day out. I just tried to keep my head down and get on with my work.

Then Covid happened, so it was “oh crap, I need to hang on a bit longer here!” We were busy and business was ticking along, so I thought we were safe for the meantime. Then out of the blue in June – just two hours before a huge client meeting, for which I had spent three months preparing – my manager and the HR manager told me that I was losing my job due to Corona-related financial losses.

I knew that they had just hired a former colleague of my manager to the team (nobody on the team was aware they were hiring, we were just told someone new was starting in two weeks), so I questioned this hire in light of my layoff. The pair of them were extremely confrontational (they are BFFs in real life), and launched into me like an attack, and made some personal comments (as is normal for my manager). It almost felt like my fault that I was being laid off. Needless to say, I left the meeting in tears and couldn’t go through with the client meeting that afternoon, much to my regret. I was just totally in shock.

To add insult to injury, I received an email that evening from HR informing me that I was expected to carry out the rest of my notice period in a fully professional manner with clients and colleagues. I finished up my projects, completed my handovers in a professional manner, and left on excellent terms with all my clients.

What really kills me is how HR and my manager treated me in my last month. It was so cold. There was zero acknowledgement of my two years on the team or my work or successes. Nada. No card, farewell lunch. No good luck. I’ve never been laid off before so I’m not sure of protocol, but aren’t those things kinda normal? I mean, c’mon.

The whole episode on top of the bullying and undermining for the duration of my employment there has left me absolutely broken. I am only now realizing the deeply damaging effects of my boss’ treatment. Along with the horribly carried-out layoff, my confidence is shattered. I know that I need to embark – and quickly – on a job search. But I just feel broken. I feel unemployable. I tolerated, to my detriment, so much crap from this man, and still wound up unemployed. It has knocked my confidence more than I ever thought possible. How do I get past this experience?

There’s another way to look at this, which is that the behavior your boss displayed during your layoff was entirely consistent with his character.

This is a man who you know to be a toxic bully who doesn’t adhere to any normal standards of professional behavior or human decency. Of course that was also on display during your layoff. It would have been surprising if it hadn’t been! This is just who he is: a jerk.

A layoff can be traumatic, and it’s understandable that you had some assumptions about things they would do to protect your dignity and generally make it less hard on you. But when you look at who this man is and what you already knew about him, he wasn’t capable of rising to the occasion. He kept on being who you already knew him to be.

So the way the layoff was handled doesn’t say anything new about your tenure there or your value. It only reinforces how deeply toxic your former boss is.

It’s not at all unusual to come out of a toxic job with your confidence shaken. Working in an abusive environment messes with your head. The best way forward is to get really, really clear on what was going on there, and what you know to be true about the forces that have left you feeling this way. For example, those PM’s who your boss bullied and insulted — would you say his treatment reflected their value or their employability? Or did it just reflect his own toxicity and dysfunction? Assuming it’s the latter, why would it be any different when it’s you?

If you find you can’t get your former boss and former job out of your head, even just a few sessions with a therapist can probably help. (And if this ties into struggles you already had — like if you grew up with a bullying parent, and this is tapping into that wiring — I’d definitely push you toward a therapist to help untangle it.) But sometimes just backing up and looking clearly at what really happened at a toxic workplace and who was responsible for what can be enough to get you moving forward again.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. Pidgeot*

    Nothing to say, just that I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’ve been in this position, too, and it certainly takes a while to recover. If you have a support network to lean on, now is the time to do it. Best of wishes for the future

    1. willow for now*

      I agree. Oh, LW, you sound so beaten down. From what you have told us here, you sound like a good and professional employee who can’t tell up from down any more.

      I just started watching The West Wing, about the President and everyone around him. They all have high stress, high profile jobs and are sometimes at odds with each other. But they all treat each other with such respect. You might want to watch at least half of Season One. It can reset in your mind what a workplace SHOULD feel like.

      1. Susie To Go*

        Given the state of American politics right now, I feel like watching West Wing right now is probably either cathartic or torture porn and there’s probably no in-between.

  2. Admiral Thrawn is Still Blue*

    I can relate, unfortunately. When I was fired last July – no warning, or justification, it was done as brutally as possible – it destroyed me. I have no faith or self confidence anymore, and my finances are likely irrepable at my age. I certainly hope you can move past this. I’m employed again, but it’s not the same.

    1. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      You were treated badly but you really did not deserve any of this – please hold on to this from an internet stranger.

      1. Admiral Thrawn is Still Blue*

        Excellent reference! People don’t realize that there were many good Imperial officers. I maintain that Thrawn was a good man, but definitely ruthless in achieving his goals. We can’t forget another of my favs, Col. Yularren.

  3. Business Squid*

    I’m really sorry you’re going through this, OP. I’ve had very similar experiences and they mess you up so badly. I’ve worked with my therapist about it a lot and even though my current job is much better, a lot of those old traumas crop up every so often. Just take comfort in the fact that you’re out and be forgiving with yourself if you find it hard to let go of what was done to you. You’ll get through it, one day at a time -hug-

  4. Akcipitrokulo*

    You will get through this.

    And there is a job out there for you that doesn’t have this level of poison.

    And you will be good enough for it.

    None of this reflects badly on you. it sounds like you did really well to keep it together for so long in the face of truly dreadful behaviour. I’m sorry he’s made you feel like this – but it’s not a true reflection of you. It’s a reflection of him.

    1. Laure001*

      This such a complex issue. The other commenters will wisely advise therapy so I will go for something completely different. After a toxic time in high school, I was haunted for a while, only thinking of what happened. Then I had a great dream where everything got closure and “I won”, and when I woke up in the morning, I was able to let it all go.

      Obviously you can’t control your dreams. But I try to use my imagination to recreate the method. I imagine little scenes where it all goes my way and I get my say and “I win,” and I play those scenes them in my head for a while, like a movie… It works pretty quickly. After a while I get tired of “the movie”, it just fades away and I am able to move on.
      It’s not necessarily a revenge fantasy – I’d even say it should not be. The made up stories are ethical. It’s more a fantasy of a perfect closure where you act right and dignified, morality is satisfied in a compassionate way, you get great dialogue, and BAM, credits, the heroine (you) walk towards the sunset.
      It’s pretty satisfying, and well, if it doesn’t work, it cannot hurt. :)

      1. merp*

        Wow, I have never heard this described as a deliberate coping mechanism but that makes so much sense – I used to be embarrassed that these thoughts would come to me because I felt like it meant I hadn’t gotten over something that should have been “no big deal.” (Obviously, a lot of self-judgment and dismissing my own feelings in that belief, which I am glad to be able to recognize now!) I’ll try to think of this kind of thing as a tool rather than something I’m ashamed of in future.

      2. Susie To Go*

        I knew my mind was healing from toxic school related events when, in my 20’s, I started having dreams where I would be in class, get up during a test, say, “I’m never going to need this as an adult and why am I even here?” and leave the building.

        Same deal after a particularly toxic job- I started having dreams where I left work and *floated* out of the parking lot.

        I don’t fantasize as a coping mechanism, but the mind does heal and dreams help in that respect.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I still occasionally have ‘I have math class and I can’t find the book and I can’t even remember where my locker is’ and sometimes I’ll remember in the dream that I don’t have to care, either. Not too shabby.

      3. Anon for this one*

        I got this advice from my therapist too, actually.
        I felt like I couldn’t help imagining terrible possibilities or reliving horrible experiences. What if my next job was just as bad? What if I deserved the treatment I got? What if I had said X instead of Y, could I have changed what happened?

        My therapist said, “What if we rewrite the story so it has a different ending?”

        It helps me to imagine, or even write out fanfiction-style, where I get to say exactly what I want, where I am listened to and understood, where the villain feels remorse and apologizes or otherwise regrets what they’ve done, and everyone claps at my brilliant comeback as I ride off into the sunset.

        It kind of lets all the grouchy unfinished feelings pass through the body, helps me process all the feelings and things I wish I’d said, and come out the other side. Like a detox or a good sh*t.

        Good luck to you OP!

        1. JSPA*

          There are (at least) two benefits. One’s the ability to unclench. The other’s modeling successful behavior and responses for yourself. That double reset can be a huge help. It won’t always cover every eventuality (the sort of too-close-to-past-experience situation that gives you deja-vu may also flash you back into a pattern of cringe, crunch, hunch, excuse and deflect) but for everyday situations, it’s surprisingly powerful.

          And if you do have a moment of flashing back to bad reactions from bad experience, know that most people have, at some point, had a bad experience, and that most people are intellectually clear and emotionally sympathetic to the statement, “For reasons that are nobody’s fault, that just took me back to an interaction I had at a toxic job. I could really use a moment to compose myself before we continue.”

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s funny you should say that. I once got past a bout of depression with related anorexia via a most empowering dream. And I do try to fabricate dream to give myself closure too. So it works for me, why not for others?

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          And I got through a more recent bout of depression with the help of hypnotherapy which is basically suggesting good scenarios to beat the bad. One session was particularly helpful: the therapist told me to imagine a river, that I was throwing whatever was making life painful in the river for it to carry those burdens away. I immediately saw a whirlpool in the river, where the burdens just went round and round, like in my head. The therapist was unflappable: she just told me to throw the rubbish further to where the river was flowing fine. I went home and starting throwing stuff out that was weighing me down. I was in floods of tears as I did so but it felt so good once it was all gone.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I have a friend who advises me to mentally throw such burdens into the toilet and then flush it, which is pretty much the same thing.

      5. Perbie*

        This is awesome! Something i’ve employed on fictional stories that upset me (i like to read horror, but sometimes end up with the kind of horror that… isn’t my cup of tea). Never really thought about using it on rl events beyond “write that angry letter/comment, then delete it without sending” but makes sense to help move past something traumatic.

  5. GustoMatic*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Even though they handled your layoff in an absolutely DISPICABLE manner, the silver lining is you no long have to work for that bully. I highly recommend therapy because separating yourself from the “normalcy” of a toxic environment can be difficult.

    I’ll be honest, your post scares me a little. I recently found out that my company is moving me over to a team with a manager JUST LIKE THIS (maybe it’s the same guy?), and I have no say in the matter. I’m not even supposed to know it’s happening. To say I’m terrified is an understatement. For financial reasons, I cannot be jobless right now, and have daily anxiety attacks about what it’s going to be like working under him. All I can think is “I’m 35, I know this is a BAD TOXIC THING, and I can’t do anything about it (immediately, anyway).

    Again, I’m so sorry to hear but hopefully you can move on from this, build your confidence back up, and head towards bigger, better, and healthier opportunities!

    1. Sher-Bert*

      At least you are forewarned so you know already to document the crap out of everything and always be prepared for your new boss’s psycho BS. Yikes!

      1. GustoMatic*

        I don’t even know how one is supposed to “prepare” for that kind of thing! I’m not super sensitive but I know after just a few days of that type of behavior, I’m going to just be riddled with anxiety driving into work!

        1. Sher-Bert*

          True enough! But if you were to go in thinking your boss will be normal and get blind-sided, well, I guess I’m just thinking that’s somehow worse. Best of luck!!

          1. Budgie Buddy*

            Seconded. And there’s not “nothing you can do about it.” Gusto, You can identify which things you can control (your behavior) and which things you can’t (your boss, his behavior, his emotions and reactions). You can acknowledge none of this is about you and give yourself permission to not care about the boss’s approval. You can plan for things to suck rather than expecting them to be normal and then having your plans derailed.

        2. digitalnative-ish*

          Disengage emotionally. A job is an 8 hour interruption in your day that pays your bills. Be as professional and as distant as you possibly can. Always remember it’s them, not you. And document, document, document.

          Not advocating this but my coworker wears heels after our boss digs into her. Boss is already sensitive about their height difference. Goes against the disengaging thing, but it makes me smile.

          Best of luck! It’s a rough road but we’ll make it through.

            1. digitalnative-ish*

              Oh she’d make a point of standing up and towering over our boss if they came by to talk. This would be the day after (for a while, pre-covid, a visit was pretty much guaranteed), so it wasn’t noticeable as a dig on our boss to anyone else.

        3. Tex*

          Forewarned is better. That means you can set up documenting systems before things go haywire. For example, if your boss has a propensity to throw you under the bus when he fails to do something, have a personal tracking spreadsheet that is password protected the you can note the documents to send the boss for review – the requests he sent you, what stage of draft they were in, the day you gave them to him, when he returned with comments. If he tends to make undermining remarks, have a physical work diary that you note the items down along with witnesses. If he gives you verbal instructions but refuses to commit anything to email, email him back a summary of his instructions and start a paper trail. If it’s ok within your company, print or email yourself on a personal account critical emails.

          1. TardyTardis*

            And send a copy home to your own computer, don’t trust anything on a work computer to be safe.

    2. Madtown Maven*

      Time to get a different job. Let your job search be fueled by an understanding of your intrinsic value as a human being — you don’t deserve to be treated badly at work. Best wishes, GustoMatic.

      1. Smithy*

        100% start looking for a new job.

        When you are stuck in a bad situation and have to survive, emotionally disengaging is a response to make it tolerable. It can also serve to filling the emotion and drive that you need for a job search. A job hunt means extra work in your off hours, selling yourself and being prepared to accept rejection. When your work survival strategy has you emotionally letting go, that can easily touch on the energy and hope a job hunt needs.

        If you can channel any anxious energy you have into a job hunt now, hopefully that can buffer the entry with this new manager.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          This, and I’d also say that in the OP’s situation – they should have been job hunting too. You don’t need to stay 2+ years in toxicity land just to prove a point. In fact, if you flee immediately (so long as you don’t make a habit of it) I’m pretty sure you can just wave it away; the job was a bait and switch, you regret taking it, and you’re looking elsewhere. Worst case scenario, no one bites and you’re stuck there anyway, but that’s the best case scenario if you don’t try.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Look at the loss of power statements here:
      I have no say in the matter.
      I am not even supposed to know.
      I can’t be jobless.
      I can’d do anything about it (immediately).

      I am not surprised you are having anxiety attacks. Your power, your autonomy, has been taken from you.
      This is a substantial problem and relates to OP setting also.

      To the both of you, I say, what can you do to take back your power, your ability to define how your life goes?
      So this is a huge question, right? Because there are oh-so-many aspects to any individual’s life.

      I have been where you are and honestly, I am not sure that I wouldn’t slip right back into it if I fell into a bad job.

      You CAN:
      Fortify your body by hydrating and eating good foods. I know this sounds simple…. until we actually try to do it. At then end of a long day a box of cookies was much more appealing to me than that practical, dull salad. Eat the salad first then see if you still want the cookies. Call the salad your investment plan, you are fortifying yourself so you will be sharp tomorrow. I also find that my mind works better after chicken or salmon for dinner. Experiment see what differences you notice.
      Drink water. Really tough to remember to do that when you have someone calling you a stupid a-hole all day long. I know. BTDT. Measure the water out in the morning so you can easily keep track of your progress. You need your mind and organs working correctly so you can pull yourself through this crap that happened/is happening to you.

      Fortify your mind by reading here, it can be your link to sanity. You may get benefit from self-help books. If you have had previous let downs in life, such as a parent who epically failed you or an SO who broke your heart into a million pieces, it might be more to the point to read books on relationships in general. Perhaps you think you need to set boundaries so boundary books would be a good plan.

      Grief books can also be a big help, grief isn’t just for funerals. It’s also for lost jobs, loss of self, loss of a path in life…. grief comes up way more often than just funerals. Learn about the types of things we grieve and the symptoms of grief. For example, sleeping too much/not able to sleep BOTH are symptoms of grief. Eating habits can increase or people can lose the desire to eat, and so on. This will help you to recognize all the things that can come up caused by grief and helps to sort this confusing stuff.

      Now the meat and potatoes: Help someone. Seriously. If you want to get your power back, turn around and help someone with a problem they are having. It does not have to be big. Grab a carton of milk for your neighbor who is quarantining. Give a lost stranger directions if they ask. Yeah, most of the time they will thank you and express appreciation. But that is not why we do this. The reason why we do this is so we can reframe our own mental image of ourselves. We can start to see ourselves as effectively helping others, effectively making a contribution and we can see others respecting us again.

      My father lost his house, my mother, and all his financial security with my mother’s illness and medical bills. Eh, he even lost his dog. The barrel was pretty empty in his life. So he turned and helped a neighbor. Her husband was very ill and could not be left alone. My father would go over and sit with the hubby so she could go out in the yard or take a little nap. He’d read the Sunday comics or light Reader’s Digest stories to the hubby, because conversation wasn’t really possible. As he went along, my father was able to pull back parts of himself and get his own life redefined with new (modest) goals. Of course, the family was overwhelming grateful. But that’s not why he did it. He did it because he understood this person really, really needed help. He could not just ignore the enormity of their setting. In his determination to help this couple, he found and reclaimed his own determination to help himself, also.

      If you are able,perhaps try some volunteer work. You get with a nice group of people that can be a very healing process. If you prefer to work more on your own, perhaps you can find a way of volunteering for solo projects that you just do yourself.

      Last. I think it is helpful to realize that this stuff forever changes us. We can’t UNsee it. Once we see it, it shapes us and eventually shapes our values and priorities in life. Yeah, it’s a bfd. Don’t ever tell yourself it’s not a big deal, because that is simply not true. “I am different now because of this experience.” One thing (of many) I know has changed for me, is that I have a huuuge appreciation for the work Alison is doing here. I feel that I understand how bad the need is out there. If I had not had those experiences I am not sure I would understand what a privilege it is to read Alison’s blog. I know for a fact, she is permanently changing the course of people’s LIVES because of her solid advice here.

        1. wee beastie*

          + 1000
          Everything that Not So NewReader says here. This is excellent advice. And Alison is absolutely spot on about finding a way to remind yourself as often as you need to, this wasn’t about you. He was a vicious bully to the end, that doesn’t reflect on you.
          OP, this all happened to me. And I have felt this exact despair. And I have felt this lack of confidence. I promise you can get passed this.
          I want to add a piece of advice.
          You will obviously need to build a new resume, but before you do the real one, the one you’ll feel a bit anxious about getting right, start with this project:
          Make a list of all your accomplishments at all jobs you’ve ever had. Any awards? Any praise given by clients or colleagues? Even just assignments and projects completed on time and with quality. List types of work you’ve done, types of projects, and all things you were responsible for that you handled effectively. Then, review those concrete items and make yourself a list of skills and abilities as they are reflected in each like of this list. Redefine who you are so you can see it on paper.
          Remind yourself that in the professional world you have value darnit!
          Also, do you have any friends from that job who have also been laid off? Maybe speak to them. Sometimes there’s a value in chatting with someone who was in the trench with you. It can be a relief to get a reality check that you weren’t crazy. But don’t allow those conversations to give you an excuse to wallow. Get back to how you can do something productive that reinforces skills you know you have. Whenever you feel weak or down, which will happen and that’s ok, try to pull yourself out by reminding yourself you didn’t deserve any of how you were treated. You didn’t invite it or cause it. You weren’t responsible for it. And you are free of it! The time with the bad boss is all over now.

      1. Pen keeper*

        This is really really good advice! And on the helping part, I found that even if it´s just small ways to help someone else (I have a very limited amount of energy, so things like volunteer work wouldn´t work for me) it really gives a needed distraction from one´s own pain and a good self esteem boost.

    4. JSPA*

      Pre-visualizing also works, sometimes. It’s not productive to visualize flipping him the double bird and doing lunges all the way out the door. But it might help to visualize watching him quizzically like a bug under the microscope, in your best Spock impersonation, and internally saying, “fascinating!” while cataloging his techniques.

      Having a list of phrases that can be said with true sincerity, whose internal meaning is quite something else, from what the recipient hears, is also great. “I could learn a lot from you” and “I should take notes” are a good starting point. You get a little internal glee, and you also put the problem person just a bit on the back foot, so that the conversation is happening on your terms. Sanity savers.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Oh, I always used to pretend I was a queen in disguise listening to squabbling courtiers.

      2. Salsa Verde*

        IDK why, but “doing lunges all the way out the door” is killing me! I’m just picturing being so unbothered by the bully boss that the OP decides to get some exercise in as she leaves! LOL!!!

  6. stk*

    That’s rough, OP. But Alison’s definitely right, and hopefully you’ll someday soon be able to see this as ultimately a good thing, because it got you out of there. The longer you’re in a toxic job the more difficult it can often be to move on after: you’re better off finding something new, and using this as a learning experience about what things you *don’t* want in an employer.

  7. Mary Anne Spier*

    I can relate, too, OP. I lost my job at the end of June and dealt with so much dysfunction and toxicity at my org that I’m not at a point where I feel ready to start looking again (fortunately I am in a position where I can step out for awhile). I realized I wasn’t ready when I started feeling panicky reading job descriptions with the lists of all the tasks the job would require, because I was feeling the anxiety of being told, essentially, to figure something out, or to be told after I’d finished a task that I’d done it incorrectly (having received no direction). I know it wasn’t my fault, but it’s now my issue to figure out. Best of luck to you.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You were abused and then thrown away, this is very traumatic to go through! That place oozes bad energy and it gets into your mind. Now you’re away from it and you still have the energy trapped inside of you, you will release it but it will take time to seep out.

    You are not employable. You are not trash. You deserved better, they are the problem, it is not you. I hope you find something soon, finding a new job that treated me correctly was what finally let those toxic wounds heal fully.

    1. Rosamond Vincy*

      I agree, a new job with a respectful management dynamic will be incredibly beneficial. This was what worked for me. So to the OP – really look for this in your job search. Make it a two-way interview as Alison often advises. It will definitely be hard during Covid to be selective, but you deserve a job that values you. Best of luck!

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*


      And listen, OP, it’s okay to feel like this. In fact, it would be weird if you were not feeling downhearted and traumatized. It would be strange if your confidence was NOT shaken.

      So give yourself permission to feel like shit, for a week or two, okay? Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you are beating yourself up.

      Also – do you have some image in your head of a person who would have survived and thrived under your toxic boss? Do you think another, better version of you would have played their cards just perfectly and come out on top in that situation? Do you think other people spring up sunshine and daisies from a layoff, dust off the resume, and get a job the next day? If you do – even secretly deep down in the bad part of your brain – stop. Those people don’t exist outside of your head, and you have not fallen short. You’re human. It’s okay to be.

      1. StingRay*

        HarvestKaleSlaw, you are so right. There really is no chance that someone could thrive in this situation. There could be no positive outcome to this sort of behavior. I think that feeling like I’m falling short is the consequence of a toxic boss. They get off on making people feel like they are falling short. After a while, it seeps in. I remember once in the same conversation he told me I needed to speak up more, only five minutes later, to tell me that I am too outspoken. His need to criticize was greater than his need for logic.

        1. pope suburban*

          I really want to validate this assessment. I had a boss like yours for three years once, down to the most important thing in every conversation being finding a way to belittle me, rather than solving whatever problem the conversation was about. Three years in a job that people lasted hours in (Apparently, more than one of my predecessors had left for lunch and never come back, some on the first day of their assignment), or maybe a few months. You and I are hardy and can survive in environments that would, reasonably, shatter the composure of others. We can claim as a mascot the bacteria that live in those blistering, weirdly-chemical lakes in Yellowstone. And even we could not thrive in an environment like that, because NO ONE CAN. Those bosses poison the environment to the point that not even resilient bacterial fighters can flourish. So. We take pride in our survivability, we honor what we did to provide for ourselves, then we gird our loins and resolve never again to settle for “surviving.” We don’t deserve to scrape and bow and grit our teeth, and so going forward, we won’t. I’m now three years out of that pit and while my current job isn’t perfect, my current boss would NEVER EVER act like my former one. I’m paid better, I have work/life balance, I sleep at night, I don’t get Sunday dread. You too will have these things, I believe in you.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          I worked for this boss. I vividly remember realizing that I wasn’t the problem. He brought me in to scream at me for neglecting an extremely important detail. One, this was a fine point of instrument maintenance that 99.95% of users don’t even know about. Two, I have literally never heard of this component causing trouble, so even the 0.05% don’t bother. And three, I’d checked the stupid thing. Recently. So I pulled out my notebook and showed him.

          He stared at the notebook, and at me, with barely concealed anger. It shut him up for a whole fifteen seconds. Then he was right back to screaming at me. This time, the reason that I was incompetent and should just quit and stop wasting his time was that I hadn’t labeled the graph in my notebook properly. I’d used the labels that come with the raw data – e.g. it was “time” rather than a proper description.

          I also remember swearing, on Cthulhu and my dead ancestors, that I would finish my degree and never again be trapped in a garbage job with a garbage human who knows I need the job too much to object. That rage kept me going, and I’m in a much better job now.

          1. TardyTardis*

            I have fun turning such bosses into characters in my novels, who are then exposed for what they are in humorous ways (thinking of the Simpsons episode where the really tall guy comes out of the car and teaches Nelson a lesson).

    3. MarsJenkar*

      Good advice in general.

      One note, I’m guessing you were trying to say “You are not UNemployable” in that second paragraph? If so, that’s a bad typo.

  9. Another Mom working at Home*

    Crazy boss, bad situation. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Bad situation all the way around.

    I want to speak to your expectations on departure protocols. “ There was zero acknowledgement of my two years on the team or my work or successes. Nada. No card, farewell lunch. No good luck.“

    Whenever I’ve left a job, IF I’ve gotten a card, farewell lunch, or good luck wishes, they came from my coworkers, or personally from my boss, not from the company. Even from a good company, you might possibly get a severance package, but it’s not a given. Since you worked for a toxic company/boss, it’s not surprising that all you got were … crickets. Even coworkers I thought were friends have “dropped” me after a few months because, well, we were colleagues, not true friends. By having such high expectations you are likely to be disappointed, especially in a toxic workplace. I hope you find a better job soon, and that you have a network of friends (Or counseler) to support you emotionally

    1. MK*

      I think it’s also fair to point out that a lot of people would find acknowledgement of their successes, cards or farewell lunches grating/insulting in the event of a layoff. And that a lot of even non-toxic managers would feel awkward when they had to let someone go and handle the situation gracelessly.

      But most importantly, OP, were these things done in this company when other people left? It doesn’t sound like the kind of company that springs for farewell lunches. If they were done, maybe they were done by coworkers, like Another Mom says, and right now your former colleagues are too worried about their own futures to organize anything.

      1. fposte*

        And I don’t know where the OP is, but all that kind of thing has disappeared near me due to COVID. And we used to be good at celebrations and cards.

      2. Nonprofit Nancy*

        It’s a little odd to me to lay someone off but then expect them to serve a notice period, honestly. The layoffs I’m familiar with, people are escorted out same-day so at least they don’t have to try and keep up a brave face around their colleagues for the next two weeks. Two weeks is when you’re the one who quit, IMO. I hope OP at least got severance to stay and wrap up.

        1. Andy*

          I find same day escorting the American corporation specialty and very off putting. It is not to safe face to people, it is because humans don’t matter so why should they be treated as humans.

          1. Alina*

            Unfortunately, same day escorting is also about maintaining workplace safety in the US. Workplace shootings are one of the leading causes of death in the workplace here, above fires and even “slips, trips and falls” [1]. Shootings by ex-employees specifically happen about 25 times a year [2].

            There are guides about how to conduct firings in a way that reduces shootings. They include doing it on Friday (so that there is no one at work the next 2 days, which is the most likely time for an incident to occur), doing it respectfully, talking about how a reference letter will be handled, etc [2].

            So a more optimistic view might be that it’s done because a company values their employees’ safety.

            [1] https://denverite.com/2016/06/30/homicide-leading-cause-workplace-death-women/

            [2] http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-aurora-shooting-workplace-violence-firing-policies-20190221-story.html

            1. TardyTardis*

              Also, people with access to sensitive systems can wreak havoc if they are no longer motivated to be happy with the company. People are like that, sometimes.

        2. MK*

          Notice is something that can be given both by the employer or the employee and severance is supposed to be given instead of notice. Basically, either you give the employee warning they will lose their income, so that they can make whatever arrangements they can and start a job search (ideally find another job, but that wouldn’t happen often, I imagine) or you give the some money to help ride them over. If the OP kept working, they probably just got paid, not received severance.

          Frankly, walking people out is a demeaning and offensive practice only warranted if the employee has committed a serious transgression or given signs they might do something wrong after they are let go. Ideally the company should offer severance and let them walk out at their own time. Nor do I think it is inherently awful to ask them to work a notice period after a layoff, if the split is somewhat amicable.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I think that walking someone out who didn’t do something heinous can be understandable in certain roles — and I say that as someone who was walked out when I was laid off. I was responsible for subcontracts on a DoD contract and while I certainly wouldn’t have taken two weeks to steal information about the way my company did subcontracting or sabotage my subcontracts, I can completely understand why the company would not take that risk.

        3. Stingray*

          OP here. Yes, I’m in a country where you have to, by law, receive a notice period if you are laid off. This is different to being ‘fired’ with immediate effect, where you are escorted from the premises. I know it is law for employees’ protection and to give them a forewarning of the employer’s intention and a chance to start looking around. But I know people who have literally had to train in the people replacing them. For example, when the role is being outsourced.

    2. Peachkins*

      I work for a company that is very good to its employees, but I honestly can’t think of a time when we did a farewell lunch, party, card, etc for someone who was laid off. Typically I’ve only seen those things when someone is retiring (although it’s certainly possible other teams have done something on a smaller scale).

      1. Thistle Whistle*

        Yep. At old toxic job the one (only) thing they were good at was celebrating things; birthdays, babies, retirements and leavings etc. It was “expected” to be generous, and if there was more than one occasion in a month you could easily be £30+ a month. One girl got nearly £1,000 of baby stuff at her maternity lunch.

        At one bout of redundancies myself and one other in my team volunteered. About 2 days before our last day I had to gently tell my colleague that her expectation of a leaving party and presents was unrealistic. She was young and had seen other people move on or retire and had seen the money collections and leaving do’s so she expected the same (yes it was the girl who had the baby). Even after I pointed out that the rest of the team who hadn’t volunteered were still at risk of the chop she expected her card and gift/money envelope. When she was given her leaving card, it saw her check it for any “extras”.

        Most companies have an unwritten) policy of keeping redundancies low key. They unsettle the remaining staff and it just seems to be in poor taste to be seen to make a fuss. Plus the people going generally want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

        OP, I get that you would have liked more of a fuss but having been on both sides I can tell you both suck.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      I actually did have a small farewell party when I finally left Toxic Ex-Job. It was… definitely in the Top Three Most Awkward Events I’ve Ever Suffered Through.

      I completely understand why OP feels disrespected and ignored and I validate OP’s perceptions, but there’s an admittedly small silver lining to that cloud, I think.

    4. StingRay*

      OP here. Yes, you are quite right. These are totally based on my personal expectations, and what I would hope I would do for a colleague who was laid off. So, I totally agree – having expectations was setting myself up there for disappointment.

  10. Lolo*

    I feel like you just described the boss I left 2 years ago. My therapist told me the situation left me with some PTSD, and it would just take time and a good job to get over it. Me: Ooookay, so… how do I get a good job?

    After a contract role in the interim, I landed a fantastic job. It was a step back in title and pay, but I was willing to try it because I heard such great things about the company culture. It was worth it; I’m happier than I’ve been at work in years.

    In time, you’ll definitely feel better. I hope you can get into a good work situation soon.

  11. Stacie*

    I am so sorry, OP. I think working with a therapist is really good advice. You were in an abusive environment. Of course you feel less than: it was your boss’s apparent sole purpose in life to make everyone around him feel miserable and less than. I wish you the exact opposite experience at your new job. :)

    I am also in a toxic job and now stuck. In January, I felt good and felt ready to be successful elsewhere, and was just ramping up to start looking when BAM there comes COVID. It took everything I had to get through the lockdown (and selling my house, and 2 moves, and replacing the floors and painting at my new condo which took forever because COVID, and all of which were put into motion before lockdown was on the horizon). Now I’m a mess, and I can’t seem to get back to any confidence in my experience, expertise, and/or abilities. I’m going to be 50 in 2 months and I didn’t walk a cookie-cutter career path in my industry. All I can think of is who is going to hire a 50 year old with a not-cookie-cutter background in this fucking economy? I’m working with my therapist to get back to a better place mentally so that I can move forward too.

    I do have a question. Are you a member of a protected class and was the boss’s bff who was hired not a member of a protected class? Your company may have some some legal liability. You may want to consult with an attorney. You only have 90 days to file a complaint with the EEOC, so do it sooner rather than later.

    1. Sher-Bert*

      Even if not in a protected class, does OP have some recourse? I vaguely remember something about a law where you can’t fire someone just to hire someone else, and it really sounds like that’s what they did.

      1. EnfysNest*

        My understanding of the US laws is that there is no such thing as being “in” or “out” of a protected class – the protected classes can’t be used as reasoning for anyone. A woman being fired because she’s a woman and a man being fired because he’s a man are both illegal because they are both being fired because of their gender. The protected class is “gender”, not “women” in that example.

        The only exception is in regards to age discrimination, which only applies for those over 40 and isn’t illegal if they’re basing hiring decisions on someone being “too young”. But for all other categories, everyone is protected – employers’ decisions cannot be based on / influenced by the protected classes in any way.

        1. Anononon*

          Re: age discrimination, some states have more protective state laws where age can’t be used as a factor at all (not just for those over 40).

        2. Stacie*

          I’m a lawyer with years of employment law experience. Protected class is a well-defined legal concept, and women are members of a protected class. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, sex, and now sexual orientation/gender presentation. I’m not OP’s lawyer, however, so I simply informed OP that they may have legal redress and may want to talk to a lawyer about it.

          1. Stacie*

            Just to be clear, there are other elements in a claim for discrimination. You don’t just cash in for being a member of a protected class. You also have to show you met legitimate expectations, you experienced an adverse employment action (being laid off counts), and others outside of your protected class were treated more favorably. And that’s just the first hurdle a person alleging discrimination must jump in a 3 step analysis.

          2. EnfysNest*

            Right, but men are also part of a protected class, yes? Title VII protects everyone from being discriminated against on the basis of those classes. I just meant to say that “not in a protected class” isn’t a thing – everyone is in a protected class. The protections aren’t just for minorities or more commonly marginalized groups, they are for everyone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, exactly. The protected class is “sex,” so it protects men and women from discrimination, not just men. Same with race, religion, etc.

              People often say “is in a protected class” to mean a woman or not-white or another less advantaged group, but that’s not really correct. (White men are also in protected classes because they have race and sex.)

            2. Stacie*

              Yes, but men can only sue for discrimination on the basis of sex (the word used in the statute) under extremely limited circumstances, at least in my federal court of appeals circuit. Is asking if a person is a woman as shorthand to find out whether she is a member of a protected class is technically incorrect? Yes, technically. However, it is extremely difficult for men (or white people) to avoid dismissal of their claims/judgment in employer’s favor under Title VII. That’s the case law reality.

  12. New Jack Karyn*

    “How do I get past this experience?” This is so hard. Being in that emotionally abusive environment has shattered your confidence, and now you have to put yourself out there to risk rejection in a job search–the very last thing you need to ‘heal up’ from being around these awful people for two years. (As an aside, they’re remarkably stupid, too–who tells someone they’re being laid off right before they’re giving a major presentation to a client?)

    This kind of thing has helped for me: Be gentle with yourself, but try to not wallow. Make a Big List of things that need doing, such as applying for unemployment, editing the resume, updating LinkedIn, reviewing job postings, etc. Each day, make a list of household chores and include one thing from the Big List. (My household-chore list included Eat lunch, and Take meds, but you might not need to get that detailed.)

    Reach out to loved ones for support, but ALSO to have some fun social time and not always talking about your struggles. Within your ability, eat good food every day and move your body every day. If your slump continues for a while, try to keep track of what activities make you feel better and which are just rabbit holes that leave you feeling empty–binge watching The Good Place might be good for some folks, while others will feel it ‘wasted a whole day’ and fall into self-recriminations.

    Pet the cat. Walk the dog. Watch otter videos.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      When I got laid off (and escorted out of the building 10 minutes later) I allowed myself one week to be sad, humiliated, and unproductive. The next week I updated my resume and LinkedIn profile, made sure I had my former manager’s personal contact information (because she had also been laid off), and started applying to new jobs. You’ll get through it one day at a time — and if that seems impossible, one hour at a time. Good luck!

    2. Polly Hedron*

      > they’re remarkably stupid, too–who tells someone they’re being
      > laid off right before they’re giving a major presentation to a client?

      Yes! Stupid and crazy! Why not wait three more hours until after the presentation?
      That by itself shows it was a crazy place that you are well out of.

  13. JJ*

    1000% I’ve been there too, and Allison’s “how to ask for a raise” technique REALLY helped me though. Like you, I was made to feel like I was just no good at my job by crummy management. So, to prep for what what turned out to be my last annual review, I started making my “what I have contributed/achieved” list to advocate for a raise. As I wrote, I realized how much I was doing well, with no support, and had been for years. I was leading giant projects alone, my proposals were almost always selected over my peers’ by the clients, and I even turned our firm’s biggest nightmare client into a cheerleader of mine via just…being awesome at my job. I could almost literally feel my self-esteem rise in that moment, and it helped fortify me to quit that toxic job a few months later.

    Everything in your letter sounds like you were actually quite good at your job, and your clients knew that. You sound so much like me, that I tell the story above because I think it’ll help you too. Try writing a list about all the successes and good habits and improved processes and happy clients you were able to generate despite working for a complete and utter turd, and embrace your initial empathic reasoning that your boss is just deeply unhappy, and it’s not about you at all. Reflect to see if some of the things he said to you, or provided as feedback during reviews, was actually caused by his bad management, because I bet most of it was.

    1. Old Admin*

      Writing that list of successes and good habits and improved processes and happy clients can later turn into your new cover letter, too! :-)

    2. Ohlaurdy*

      Yes!!! Also, OP – give yourself permission to write people like your boss off as the jerks they are. You do not need to harm yourself bending over backwards to justify why someone is treating you badly

    3. Khatul Madame*

      I was going to suggest this, too. Focus on yourself, not the managers from hell. Reflect on your accomplishments that you achieved despite the toxic environment, and write them down. I found it helpful to use the STAR method, which has an added benefit of preparing stories for interviews.
      Write a kick-ass resume and read it often to remind yourself how awesome you are.

    4. StingRay*

      OP here. Thanks JJ. I love this idea of making a list of my successes whilst there. Its benefits are two-fold because not only can it help reframe my time in the company, it can perhaps give me the boost I so desperately need now to embark on the job search, which up until today -and reading how many readers have been through this (and survived) and all the truly wonderful advice- seemed like a very scary prospect!

      1. JJ*

        That’s great, make the case for yourself TO yourself! I was surprised how the exercise affected me, and have since heard life coaches and folks like that recommend similar approaches. I hope it works for you! Mine ended in a feeling like, forget those jerks, I’m awesome/outta here!

        Be patient with yourself too, it takes a while to get that sort of poison out of your head, because it feels so personal, even though it really isn’t. Remember: THEY failed YOU. Not the other way around.

        Also, switching to freelance really helped me heal, because it was an easy escape if I found myself in a bad situation again, and people are much more professional/polite because everyone is remote…if that’s an option for you, maybe consider it!

    5. Lizzo*

      Yes! Have done this, and it works. It’s good for a self-esteem boost, but it also gives you good fodder for cover letters and the section of your resume devoted to this job.

  14. Tish*

    The first night after I was fired from a toxic job after 7 months, I slept well. I knew it was coming and hung on since i needed the pay and insurance and also unemployment afterwards. The company hired me to carry out a function but then did not give me the proper software tool (agreed upon before I was hired) to accomplish the job because they said it cost to much. The function was in far worse state than they let on and I was given no help to turn it around. I reported to three different people in that short time; two of them had no good idea of my job and the other had no time for me. In my first weeks, the grandboss called my work “s***” in front of eight colleagues. I was glad to be rid of that place.

    1. 653-CXK*

      Same here. That night, I slept so well because that fear of

      The day I was let go, the toxicity was palpable. I made a concerted effort to keep working, but by then, management had everything arranged, including my final paycheck, and all they needed was a time to bring me to a neutral area to swing the axe.

      I walked out of that building feeling relieved and free. Even though it I didn’t have a job lined up, and took me ten months and numerous job applications to be working again, I never had to worry about being belittled and in a hive of evil bees like that ever again. Best of all – karma came a few months ago when upper management finally chucked the nasty, incompetent VP out on her backside.

  15. Lily Rowan*

    Yeah, that sounds awful. I was lucky that when my bad boss fired me out of the blue, I had already decided to quit and go to grad school, and I was able to move that timeline up. It still messed with my head a LOT, and took a long time to get over — a therapist would have helped.

    I’m sorry, OP, and best of luck to you.

  16. Goldenrod*

    As someone who has been – unfortunately – in more than one situation with a toxic job/boss, I can absolutely tell you this: not only will you recover, but you will be stronger afterwards, and you will carry that confidence and strength into your jobs going forward. You will become bully-proof. These skills are hard won, but believe me – you will come out of it stronger.

    The key, like Alison said, is to get really clear on what happened there, and what you will not tolerate again, and how you will stand up better for yourself next time. (This doesn’t necessarily mean confronting a toxic boss – it just means strengthening your own internal sense of self so that you have stronger boundaries.)

    Also, I recommend you read books about it. There are some really great books out there about workplace bullying. Also about boundaries and narcissistic/toxic personalities in general. As you get more and more clear about the underlying dynamics in these situations, you will see more and more that none of this was your fault.

    I currently have what many people consider a scary boss. I’ve had people tell me they admire me for being able to deal with her! I don’t love having a mean boss, by any means….but I can handle myself in the situation because of all the inner work I’ve had to do over the years with other toxic people. I am so much stronger and more confident now, because of my bad experiences.

    So hang in there! It will get better and this experience will only make you stronger, in the end.

  17. Helena1*

    It also sounds like you weren’t actually laid off, your boss sacked you to make way for his mate. Which is pretty different, and not any kind of reflection on you or your performance.

    Also wouldn’t be legal where I am, but if you’re somewhere with at-will employment I guess they can sack you for any reason.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      “The boss sacked you to make way for his mate.”

      THIS. They got so confrontational when OP called them on it.

  18. LGC*

    And a plug, especially since you lost your job – since Alison recommended therapy, there are multiple options that are lower-cost. If you’re in the US, the NAMI HelpLine and MentalHealth.gov are good starting places.

    I’m wishing you the best of luck and that you’re able to get back out there!

  19. Been There Done That*

    I worked in a toxic small office for FIVE years where I bore the brunt of the bullying/gas lighting/bizarre behavior- I left on my own at age 30.
    I had no idea how messed up in the head I was until the day I was sure his car was at a store I was going into. I sweated and had deep breathing issues and realized I was panicking. For the next few years at my new, much larger place, I mostly avoided my wonderful boss’ office (subconsciously mostly) out of anxiety.
    Once you can please take Alison’s advice about counseling (3-4 sessions should do) and get thee to your family doctor for some anti-anxiety meds.

  20. Confused*

    This happened to me and rattled me so much that I left a field I had been working in for nearly 10 years, have two degrees in, and am really passionate about. Nothing was worth the constant feeling that I wasn’t good enough and I do think there was some racism and sexism too. I love love love my current job but I often feel angry and resentful that something I loved was poisoned beyond repair for me. I see my peers and former classmates succeeding and it’s just another slap in the face. I’m also angry that I’ll never know why I was treated so unfairly.

    You are not alone. Workplace PTSD is real and it can impact your career forever.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      This is so awful, I’m sorry! I watched a friend get pushed out of the field they were doing a stellar job in through a case of horrendous, ghastly scapegoating (also inextricable from racism), and none of their colleagues ever checked back in when it came to whether they were doing okay, either.


    Hugs! Toxic environments can really mess with your head. I know you feel shaken, but this is on them not you. I hope this was just the door opening you needed and you land in a job where you are appreciated.

    I was in a similar situation late last year, but I only stuck around for 4 months. During my last two weeks, my manager only said Happy Birthday to me in front of the rest of the group the day I brought in treats. My direct supervisor more or less gave me the talk about “being professional” that you got from HR. I ended up leaving one day early…because I was just DONE….there was no need to stick around one day longer just to be mistreated.

  22. Cheesehead*

    OP, you can probably take some solace in the fact that #1, the person who replaced you will now have to put up with the boss’ toxic crap, #2, that person was hired for their relationship with the boss, so will likely be some level of a train wreck; after all, how many times do we hear about people who were hired because they were friends with the boss and they’re astonishingly inept at the actual job? And if that’s the case, well….your boss will see karma at work. What goes around comes around.

    I was at a company for 9 years, and was part time for the last few because I had small kids. Well, it reached a point where they wanted me gone. So they told me that they needed a full-time person in my position. They gave me an end date for the part time position, unless of course I wanted to go back to full time. I didn’t. I knew that the story about needing someone full time was a bunch of BS, so I offered to stay until they hired someone, because OF COURSE if they need someone in that role so desperately that they need me to go full time, then surely they would want me to work at least part time until someone is hired for full time, right? Well, they said no, I expressed the reasoning that after all, a part time person who knows the job is better than nobody, right? My manager got a little uncomfortable before muttering that “It just wouldn’t work out.” And then when I filed for unemployment, they actually DENIED my claim, saying that I had quit. I tried to appeal, but it didn’t work so they got away with it. I brought up in the appeal that they never actually hired anyone else for the position that they said they needed so badly, but it didn’t matter. My coworkers took me out for lunch, and it was great (and they all agreed that the company was shitty for doing that.) My last day? NOBODY from management or HR talked to me. Nobody had even followed up with me on my projects (you know, for this position that was so important that it needed someone full time?) I ended up leaving my badge on my desk and walking out. I don’t have good memories of them, but I did get over it. And you will too. Karma has a way of working out, and boss has a LOT of bad karma ready to slingshot right back to him.

  23. Antrobus*

    OP, I’ve also been in a situation where I clocked some dysfunction but thought “Oh, I can handle this for a couple of years to build my resume”.

    It seems you and I both learned a hard lesson there, and I’m so sorry. It’s awful. I echo Alison’s recommendation to talk to someone about it. It helped me so much to have someone else validate that what I experienced was not normal or OK, and to assure me that I was not a bad person or employee for not being successful in that environment (I was also pushed out in favor of someone who was a particular friend of the Boss).

  24. Abogado Avocado*

    OP: Congratulations on surviving your toxic bully of a ex-boss. It may not feel like it, but you are better off being out of that environment. Being laid off is tough, but I would ask if you could accept that the layoff was for financial reasons, as you initially were told? I ask because this is NOT your failure. In fact, if anything, your work for this horribly toxic boss was a personal triumph. After all, you worked for two years in a regime that many of us readers could not have endured for a day, let alone two years. You put your head down, you found sympathy in yourself for a boss many would have just called a jerk, you applied yourself, and you got the work done. Which is amazing! You wouldn’t have been laid off if the pandemic hadn’t caused financial problems for your employer. In other words: you are not only a survivor, you are someone who performs under very difficult conditions. As you go forward, please remember these strengths as they are awe-inspiring and will serve you well with bosses who are not jerks.

  25. LogicalOne*

    Ugh. I am so sorry this happened to you. I hope you move on strongly and find a new job with more respectful and kinder humans. Ugh. People. Best of luck to you!!

  26. Pretzelgirl*

    I too had an incredibly horrible job. I could go on and on about how awful it was but it would be so long. That in combination with being a failing non-profit, that couldn’t afford to pay us at one point. I also had a newborn and 2 other small kids. The time is such a blur to me, I can barely remember the first 6 months of my 3rd babies life.

    I went to therapy to deal with it. It helped tremendously. I found a great job, with a good boss and a team that is wonderful. Good things away OP, I hope you get move past this eventually!

  27. WantonSeedStitch*

    I feel for you so hard, OP! At my old job (almost 14 years ago now!) I had a bully of a boss too. It was my first permanent job, and it was incredibly traumatic. I left three years after starting while on a PIP (my nerves were shot and my work had gone to hell) , and was worried I’d never be able to find a real job again where they wouldn’t want to fire me. When I finally got a job, I kept panicking every time my manager asked me to come into her office, because when my old boss did that, it was a sure sign I was going to want to cry in about five minutes. It took a while to get used to the fact that she just wanted to give me instructions on a new assignment most of the time. And it was even longer before performance reviews stopped making me feel like throwing up. But eventually, it hit me that I was good at my job, I was appreciated, and I was not going to be fired. Almost 14 years later, I’m still in the same place, after five promotions. Finding a new job with a good work environment will be SO HEALING for you. I wish you luck with it.

    1. Lizzo*

      Same. I LOVE my boss now, and I’ve known her a long time and have been in my job for long enough to know that I’m not going to be treated poorly (ever), but when I get messages about “do you have time for a chat” I practically break out in hives. And my last terrible boss was 5 years ago, though there were a few before that.

      The trauma is real.

  28. juliebulie*

    I’m so sorry, OP. Keep reminding yourself that this is just a thing that happened to you. It doesn’t define who you are.

  29. notacompetition*

    It is certainly a blessing in disguise that you were cut free from this toxic environment. I am so, so sorry this happened to you. I spent over two years in a job with a boss just like yours. She would routinely go out of her way to insult us, not give us information we needed to do projects (and then get angry and refuse when we asked her for the info), cut people down in staff meetings, etc. Once we all spent nearly a year working on a HUGE fundraising campaign launch and she got us a small box of assorted muffins as a thank you. There were not even enough muffins for the entire staff and she offered them at an all-staff meeting. Once I had two family members die in a month which interrupted my focus. I received a ridiculously negative performance review as a result. I so feel for you. How awful.

    I think your compassion for your stupid, bad, mean, horrible person boss is very kind and well-placed and I think therapy will help. In my next job, I was FLOORED with how regular everything felt, with how it was OK to say no, with how my new boss protected her people. Sometimes I still relive the traumatic moments of being in that job. You will be ok. You will meet new professionals who would never dream of acting like this, and you will heal. And you deserve some time to take space and heal and be validated. You never deserved any of that and it was never about you.

  30. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I left a toxic job (on my own) five years ago and landed straight into my current one. My current job is great – my current boss has been amazing from day one. Even still, I would say it took me the better part of a year (if not sliiightly more) to recover from my old job. My current boss almost had to prove to me that he was a reasonable human being who would treat me well, over and over, during my first year on the job. And even now I sometimes slip back into the pattern of thinking that I might lose my job if I make a mistake – where, logically, I know that won’t happen.

    Anyway, this is all just to say that there are better things out there and that you will get past this. It will take time, as recovering from any traumatic event does, but it will happen. Good luck! You deserve better.

  31. KuklaRed*

    First of all, this does NOT sound like a Covid-related lay off to me at all. It sounds like there was a plan to bring on the buddy of your manager and basically give that person your job. They used Covid as an excuse.

    Second of all, they suck and you need to get angry. Don’t turn this on yourself and let it destroy your self-confidence. This is all on them – they were sneaky, underhanded and just plain mean. Get mad and use that anger to fuel your energy for your job hunt.

    I really sympathize with you. I lost my job at the beginning of April under different but slightly similar circumstances. Someone I worked with wanted to bring on a friend of hers from her previous company. Since he was in my field of expertise, she decided my job was just perfect for him and laid her plans to oust me and bring him on. It all happened, just as she arranged. It was ugly and wrong and now she is suffering the consequences because many people figured out what she did and are very angry with her. Still had the same result though – I had to do some fast job hunting right as the world was falling apart.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  32. Roja*

    I sympathize, OP. I was fired from a really toxic job last year. They had a pattern of firing people out of the blue for ridiculous “reasons” so I knew it was coming, but it still did a number on my confidence. It’s too recent for me to have much meaningful advice, just that I can feel my confidence slowly being restored now that I’m in healthier environments with really good management. I think the same will happen for you too. Good luck.

    1. JustA___*

      Re: rebuilding confidence. This! I was in a similar situation, and finally managed to change jobs in January (thanks, AAM!) to a place where my boss sets clear expectations, sticks to them, doesn’t yell at or play employees off each other and is, well, a rational person who acknowledges my humanity.
      I’m still working on confidence, since, although it burned me out, I was objectively very good at my last job, and I completely changed industries to get away from it, so I am basically starting over and I am recovering from a “your best isn’t good enough, give us more” environment.
      My friend told me his trick. He has a special notebook, and whenever he does something that is standout at work, he writes it in this notebook. Then, if he’s feeling down on himself, or if he has to do a self-evaluation, he can look back at these accomplishments and recognize his achievements. I’m a stationary addict myself, but you could also just do a spreadsheet or word doc if you want.
      I’ve started doing this, and it helps to have it all written down. On the front end, it makes you take a moment to recognize your success, and write it down, on the back end, you get a list of achievements to help boost your confidence when you’re having a rough day.

      1. Lizzo*

        This is a super helpful technique to gather self-data for the purpose of asking for a raise, preparing for an annual review, and also having a defense of your contributions to your department/team at the ready for your jerkface boss.

  33. Coder von Frankenstein*

    If you left on excellent terms with all of your clients, that strongly suggests they thought you did a fine job. Your boss is the exception, not the rule, which means the a**hole here is him, not you.

    In fact… I don’t know if this is remotely possible or permissible in your industry, but if it is, have you considered reaching out to some of your former clients? If nothing else, they might be able to serve as references. It’s even possible that one of them might say, “Hey, *we* have a job you’d be perfect for.”

    When you do good work, you build credit with many people. Your boss is not the sole arbiter of your value as an employee.

  34. LifeBeforeCorona*

    You toughed it our for 2 years with a crap boss. You finished off your projects in a professional manner and left on good terms with your clients. That is pretty impressive and something to be proud of. Not many people can last that long with that level of toxicity. You are much stronger than you realize. Good luck, you will land on your feet.

  35. Dasein9*

    Wait–you put up with a bully for years and even had the internal resources to have compassion for him?
    OP, you’re a badass!

    Yes, it’s really hard to get through a layoff, especially when you know there’s some skullduggery involved. (Been there.) And you’ll probably need time to mourn. But I suspect your investment will pay off: you got the resume builder from the job and the excellent relationship with clients. As you move forward, these are the things you’ll highlight in your job search.

  36. Han shot first*

    Everyone at my last position was a bully. Account executives harassed me at all hours of the day (inside and out of work), people listening in on conversations and taddling to the higher-ups, and even the president of the business got into shouting matches with the vice president. Knowing that I was being listened to at all hours was mentally draining.

    I knew for a fact that I was hired because I made such a good impression on the vice president. Well, he left right before new years and the company quickly decided to hire someone to help with my team (after nearly six months of dragging their feet). Two months later, right before the pandemic, and a few weeks after jury duty (initially refused to pay me for the week, until I showed them legal documentation), they fired me without fully explaining why. I told my coworker right after the new guy was brought on, that he was my replacement.

    It’s a terrible time to get laid off or fired. Not a lot of people are hiring. And don’t get me started on the mental side of it. Keep your head up and keep busy in one way or another.

  37. ProudDuck*

    Dear OP,
    I’ve been through what your going through and it’s awful. But it WILL get better. Alison is right, this is all on your ex boss, this is not who you are. Hold onto that.
    And please please see a counsellor. I would not have got through my toxic employer with out the emotional support of a professional.
    But I did get through, and I am now in a job I’ve always wanted, and loving it. It’s tough, but believe in yourself, because the person you were before this piece of crap person got his claws into your self confidence, is still there and you will find her again.
    Good luck OP, you’ve got this and you will get through.

  38. audenc*

    Oh man OP. My company had layoffs in June and while I was spared, I legit think you could be one of my departed colleagues due to your description of the toxic boss. Hang in there, I know your confidence has been smashed but I can say with certainty, one of my colleagues who was laid off was one of the best people I worked with and a lot of us were baffled when she was axed. Wishing you the best in your job hunt. One day you’ll look back on this time with amazement of how much you put up with.

  39. Colorado*

    I’m so sorry OP. I was fired once, first time ever, with no real reasoning, and it broke me for a while. I downright bawled in the fetal position on my kitchen floor for hours, then continually cried for weeks on end. They fought unemployment and I won, despite being fired. This is a sad, little man and I hope for your own good you can just feel sorry for him and leave it there. Living well is the best revenge. You got this!!

  40. Whyblue*

    A toxic job can really mess with your sense of self-worth. I had a boss once who was a perfect psychopath…ever so subtly setting his team up to fail and then berating them in public. He was also an expert at gaslighting. At the end he had me convinced that I was completely worthless as an employee. Luckily, when he pushed me off his team in a pretty painful and humiliating way, another team in the same company wanted me. In retrospect, the first couple of weeks on the new team were like rehab. Every time I turned in an assignment, I stood there cringing, waiting to be told all my terrible mistakes. To my surprise, there hardly ever were any. Took me a while to regain my self-confidence. Took me a year to figure out that my boss was a bully – I really thought he was a good guy and it was mostly my fault and coincidence / bad communication until one night when the whole thing was keeping me awake, I made a list of all the incidents I could remember. That really brought it home that this had to have been on purpose. So really, you are one step ahead of me – you already know your boss is a jerk. And there is a silver lining: It was a really tough time, but I grew a lot in the aftermath. I learned to assert myself, recognize toxic behavior (I kept the list as a reminder), and be aware of the value I bring to my employer. I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but since you have to work your way through it anyhow, see if there isn’t an opportunity for personal growth in there for you as well.

  41. Dancing otter*

    I’m sorry you had to put up with this jerk. I also had a toxic boss, who took two years to make up reasons to fire me. (I had gotten fives across the board when previous bosses did my reviews, and was very well regarded by everyone but him.) You know what, my blood pressure went down forty points after I got out of there, even without a second income in the family.

    Money concerns aside, I found temping very helpful in resetting my expectations of how normal offices behaved – and temps aren’t at the top of the pecking order by any stretch of the imagination.

    I didn’t necessarily *like* my temp assignments, or find them a match for my skill level, but they did a lot more for me than pay the bills. Highly recommended.

  42. MissDisplaced*

    “I received an email that evening from HR informing me that I was expected to carry out the rest of my notice period in a fully professional manner with clients and colleagues.“

    Or what?
    I mean really, not like they can hold you prisoner if you just want to go immediately.

    1. Stingray*

      Hi Missplaced. OP here. I’m assuming what they were worried allowed to voice my dissatisfaction to my clients or other colleagues in the company over how it was all handled, and the situation with the hiring of the ‘friend’, or my boss’s behavior. I had very good relationships with my clients and was well-liked in the company. Most people in the company seem to know he is a bully, and tend to stay clear of him. The HR manager (his only ally and BFF) guards him like a sick child. The dysfunction here runs deep.

      1. Stingray*

        Yikes! My first sentence should read “I’m assuming that they were worried I would voice my dissatisfaction…”. Predictive text fail.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Thanks for clarifying this Stingray.
          I asked because most places in the US are “at will” employment, which means you can leave at any time. It is not illegal to force a two week period, though some employers and bad HR department will try to lie and threaten to make leaving or laid-off employees feel intimidated. Unfortunately, most ARE because they need the money or the reference. But technically, they cannot do shit if you talk, or walkout.

          Ideally, yes we should all be professional. But that term is used so often to coerce employees into accepting poor outcomes upon discharge, and to continually enable bad behavior from terrible managers employers because no one will take a stand or call it out.

          Of course, there are a few instances of employees who do have non-compete agreements or non-disclosure agreements or contracts, where the employer could take legal action, but it’s not as common.

          Sorry you’re going through this. The place sounds like a real mess. You deserve better.

  43. LabTechNoMore*

    Wasn’t expecting a post on here that spoke directly to my situation. I’ve been planted on my couch for the last 5 months after losing my last job. I was thinking I just needed some time to recharge before seriously looking for a new job, but now it’s clear that my last job took a larger toll on me than I’m willing to admit. Thanks for the kind words, AAM, and LW I hope you’re able to move on from your former manager’s abuse.

  44. Emma*

    I had a similar situation and even now 5 years later it still affects me but is not an everyday thing like it used to be. In fact today is 5 years to the day I made my grievance formal and if I allow myself to think about it I get upset over the injustice of it all. I had counselling at the time paid for by the employer (with 2 extra from the counsellor because of the state I was in) but went back to work for another month so it wasn’t enough. Anyway, early on I read the book Recover Your Balance: How To Bounce Back From Bad Times at Work which helped. Might have to revisit it again. All the best.

  45. Diatryma*

    My best suggestion is to keep yourself busy with something (ideally paying, but volunteer works) different and with measurable outcomes. I left a horrible job and lucked into a position assembling test kits– nothing like people being impressed with what I put together in a day. It was different enough that I didn’t dwell on my old job and I could see what I was doing and how it made a difference. In other stressful times, I’ve hung shirts at a local thrift store; again, it’s ‘I can see what I have accomplished’ with a side of ‘people praise me’. For at least a little while, avoid the intangible goals.

    This kind of job really hurts, and it will continue hurting for a while. But you will find something better, and your boss still has to be him. Imagine spending your entire life being that guy!

  46. Tracey*

    I am so sorry. Please know it is not you. And Count your lucky stars you are out of there. I know it is hard but try to take care of yourself and see if therapy is an option for you.
    I’ve had talks with many Ex-coworkers who are now friends and realized that it wasn’t me – my old grand boss is a bully.
    I was able to move to a new role in a different department and am so Much happier. You’ll find something that suits you with a good boss and culture. Hang in there!

  47. DapperDev*

    I know where you’re coming from. I had 2 jobs that were toxic. Tons of workplace bullying in front of supervisors who deliberately ignored it. It was horrible. In one job, for example, at a work event, there were two senior staff members who picked the food off of my plate. I was young and new, and too afraid to say anything. There was another colleague who gossiped about how lazy and incompetent I was, very loudly, with her door open during my entire tenure. She deliberately spread lies to try to force me out (it worked). Several executive staff members were within earshot, and no one intervened. I used to cry at those jobs, on-site, once a month. I’d usually cry on the metro-ride home once a week.

    I wonder how many of those people ready AAM and exercise cognitive dissonance over their role in workplace bullying..

    It’s affected me deeply. I saw a therapist for a while. But even then, when I started my current job, I was suicidal. It was hard to try to do a good job because I didn’t think I deserved to even be alive. Now, at my new job, I keep to myself. I keep it professional, but stay away from people. Somehow it makes me feel so much better.

  48. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I went through a brutal firing 20 years ago after I was in an accident at work that left me disabled. I still have nightmares.

    But, years on I’ve learnt that since I survived that, moved on, continued my career, then I’m a lot stronger and more resilient than I ever thought I was before. Ironically from fracturing my spine my former employer gave me a solid backbone against standing for this mess in future.

    I’m not going to to say anything about things happening for a reason (because it’s toxic and false and damaging as heck). You have, however, lived through a horrible situation and should know there is healing and success on the horizon.

    You’re a survivor. Or a warrior. Or a champion. Or however you feel best describes your feelings. But you’re a hero in my eyes.

  49. Scarlet*

    OP, I used to think the same way about toxic people – how they must be so miserable to act this way. But at some point I realized that yes, if I, MYSELF were to act that way, it would be because I was miserable, because I had no friends, because I was projecting my own life frustrations out on other people – but some people in this world are just bad people. They don’t think the same way we do. They act this way because they’re selfish a-holes who only care about themselves. Maybe they enjoy making people suffer, maybe they just like people being afraid of them because it makes them feel powerful, maybe they’re just straight sociopaths- whatever. There’s no helping people like that, we just need to avoid them; to draw the line in the sand that while we can’t control what they do, we can control how it emotionally affects us.

    Just my 2 cents I wanted to add- it really changed my perspective on things when I realized this. It made it much easier to just walk away from these people when I encountered them. Bad people aren’t worth your time in even trying to empathize- if you see them for who they are sometimes it’s easier to shut off your emotions towards them and the situations/problems they cause. I hope this helps. Good luck OP! You’re on to bigger and better things for sure.

    Oh and by the way, Karma is a thing and it will definitely come back to these jerks in one way or another. We can only hope they realize why when it happens.

  50. Elizabeth Bennet*

    It’s not your fault and they don’t have power over you any more. Repeat after me: they don’t have power over you any more.

    I’ve had a toxic boss like that. Write out what you witnessed there and how you were treated if it helps you get it out of your system. Burn it if that gives you a better sense of closure.

    Then get mad. You say business was busy and ticking along, AND they hired someone else just before you were laid off due to finances? Whatever. Don’t try to analyze why you were laid off. It’s done, it seems unjust and the best thing you can do is realize is that you’re free from them. They cannot bully you any more.

    Block their phone numbers (or just let it go to voicemail but don’t feel obligated to listen to their messages), their social media and anything else that reminds you of him. If they need you for something, they can write you a letter. Cut off the relationship entirely from your manager. He has no authority over you any more. Use your former clients for references.

    Take some mental health days if your finances can afford it. Then get to job hunting to prove that they can’t keep you down. Reflect on the satisfaction of your clients and remember that you are worth more than that jerk’s mere opinion.

  51. Ms. Cellophane*

    How does freezing vacation time save a company money? I’m not clear how that works. They are paying you to work or they are paying you to be off. The numbers are the same, right?

  52. Onward + Upward*

    I left a toxic role with a bully boss and their cut-from-the-same cloth minion TWO YEARS ago and am just now feeling truly over it. In hindsight I should have left sooner (it took a while to understand what was happening) and gotten some therapy so I could have come to terms with it sooner. Lesson learned for next time.

    1. Windchime*

      Yes, this is something that I should have mentioned in my comment below; it did take a little time to get over it. I was very wary at first; I was polite and friendly but also determined not to make close friends or get involved in any office politics. The friends part didn’t last long; they were just so darn nice and such a close group, yet they warmly welcomed me in and made me feel at home. But I stuck to my guns about the office politics; I have made it my firm rule to not engage in any gossip or negative talk about coworkers. I don’t want to contribute to anyone feeling bullied or disrespected.

      Yes, it will take time to recover. But being around normal, non-toxic people will really help you to see that you are fine; it’s your previous workplace that is the sh*t-show.

  53. Screen Name TBD*

    I left a toxic job a few years ago. I muscled through the worst of the fallout and left most of my papers packed up in the basement. I recently looked through these things and realized that I’d actually done very good work—I’d only thought my work wasn’t good because of how toxic the environment had gotten. After that realization, I developed a mantra to help out the toxicity into perspective: what happened to me wasn’t my fault, I didn’t deserve it, and it wasn’t okay. Sometimes, you just need to hear that. OP: what happened to you wasn’t your fault, you didn’t deserve it, and it wasn’t okay. I hope this helps you!

  54. Windchime*

    Oh OP, I am so sorry you’re going through this. I went through something very similar; I was able to jump ship before being let go but they were most definitely building documentation to fire me. I just beat them to the punch.

    I had the bullying manager and director (they had fired or bullied out a half-dozen people before they got to me), an unsupportive CIO and a useless HR who just rubber-stamped everything that the bullies did. Like you, I thought I would probably never be able to work again; I just felt so defeated and upset and anxious. I did end up seeing a therapist and it helped so much to hear her say, “Oh yeah, they are definitely awful. It’s not you; it’s them”. Just having that validation from a third party helped so much. Even so, I was thinking about just selling my house and moving to a little camper in the woods and just living the rest of my life that way. I was so sure I would never be able to work again.

    And then I found my current job. I won’t lie and say that I knew it was the right job right at first; I didn’t. It was less money and it was a much longer commute. I just pushed forward despite my fear and anxiety and guess what….it turns out that I *can* work. I *can* produce quality results when the people above me are not cruel gaslighters. It really WAS them and not me. Just like it is for you. They are toxic and horrible and no wonder you are upset and worried.

    Please know that there are decent, supportive employers out there. My current workplace couldn’t be any different from the prior one. The lower salary is made up for by the kick-ass benefits and the kind, organized people who run the place. I love it and I plan to retire from here.

    Hang in there. It’s not you. They handled this whole thing wrong and you will come out stronger on the other side. Even though I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, I do have to say that I learned some really important lessons about how to treat people. I’m much more conscious now of my words and actions, especially at work. So there’s a silver lining.

    I wish you all the best. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

  55. Hazard Pay*

    OP, I have been there. Please read “The No AssholeRule” and it’s follow-up, “The Asshole Survival Guide.” If you’ll let me, I will gift them to you. And no, I never read business books or self-help books.

  56. Beebop*

    I was in a situation much like this. My boss bullied me into giving 2 months notice instead of the normal 2 weeks, and when I did leave, there was no card, no farewell lunch. Just cold silence and pretending I wasn’t there for the solid last month or so. It took moving and starting a new job with a healthy, respectful environment to realize how messed up my old job was. It does take time, but it’s possible to relearn what a healthy workplace is.

  57. Salsa Verde*

    Your letter sounds so familiar to me. I am so sorry this happened to you, and it really can leave a lasting scar on you.

    This part of Allison’s advice really hit home:

    If you find you can’t get your former boss and former job out of your head, even just a few sessions with a therapist can probably help. (And if this ties into struggles you already had — like if you grew up with a bullying parent, and this is tapping into that wiring — I’d definitely push you toward a therapist to help untangle it.)

    My last employer developed enterprise software for an extremely niche market and had doubled its customer base over the past year. It had also just been acquired by a venture capital firm and had gotten an infusion of cash so that it could add enough staff to handle this new increase in business, and I was hired during this time. Unfortunately, they did not have a very structured onboarding plan to bring in all these people to this very specialized environment, and the CEO and CTO were extremely toxic. They had completely unrealistic expectations for what could be done, and when the project managers tried to show what was realistic, they were berated and belittled.

    I was put in charge of a brand new product and tasked with rolling it out to 10 customers over one year. In February. The product was not fully functional until July, the CTO kept pulling people off the project to work on new customers, and sales was way overselling the product. Needless to say, I could not get 10 customers to go live with this product in one year. I did get it installed into test at 6, which I felt was a win.

    My supervisor, a VP who was hired less than a year before I was, was fired after I was there for 7 months, and then the CEO decided they would head our department on top of all their other duties (red flag), and that we PMs would report directly to them. After that, the only one-on-one meetings I had were to get berated by the CEO. There were no regular one-on-ones, in fact, the CEO said they thought those were unnecessary (red flag). Starting in November, it seemed like the CEO was laser-focused on me, and called out everything I was doing as wrong, which was so noticeable that my coworkers all commented on it.

    Anyway, I got a written warning in December and was fired on the first day back to work in January. I have never been fired before and pride myself on doing a good job, so this was devastating. I grew up with a mother who I believe suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and the CEO definitely brought back feelings of how I felt with my own mother – unrealistic and constantly changing expectations, reactions disproportionate to the circumstance, tone of voice dripping with outrage. I was actually relieved to be fired, I had already put out feelers to recruiters, but still, being let go really hurt my image of who I was as an employee and a person. I was already in therapy, and we immediately pivoted to dealing with this. Now, eight months later, I still have stress dreams about that job, and wake up in the night replaying some of the low points and how I should have handled them. Therapy is helping, but I totally understand how you can get bogged down in these thoughts.

    Anyway, thank you for letting me get my story out, and thank you for writing this letter so I could see Allison’s advice for this situation. The only advice I would add is, focus on the fact that YOU were planning on leaving anyway. The relief I felt while walking out of that office washed over me like a cool wave, and staying focused on that feeling of relief really helped anchor me. You were already planning on leaving. They just helped make your decision faster. You already knew it wasn’t a good fit. They just affirmed what you already knew, and helped you become free to pursue new opportunities.

    Captain Awkward addressed this several years ago, and I found that reading that, including other articles she links to, very, very helpful: https://captainawkward.com/2011/03/22/reader-question-26-how-do-i-bounce-back-after-being-fired/

    Good luck, stay strong, please take care of yourself and take whatever lessons you can out of this. You will get through this!

    1. Goldenrod*

      ” I grew up with a mother who I believe suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and the CEO definitely brought back feelings of how I felt with my own mother – unrealistic and constantly changing expectations, reactions disproportionate to the circumstance, tone of voice dripping with outrage”

      This perfectly describes my current boss. I am positive she is narcissistic (in addition to other possible mental disorders).

  58. MamaSarah*

    LW, I hope you’re feeling a bit better. Lots of us have been through similar experiences…something good is coming out this experience. Maybe a new job, or a true friend. Perhaps you’ll discover a new passion or pick up an old project that brings you joy. I wish you all the best and second the post advising one to eat well and stay hydrated. That can make a bit difference.

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