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What do toxic bosses and toxic spouses have in common?

A “toxic” boss can be described in broad terms as being self-centred, controlling (or micro-managing), manipulative and threatened by initiative. Toxic workplaces are generally characterised by in-fighting, mistrust, lack of communication and high turnover. A mis-manager enjoys pitting employees against one another, making empty promises, stealing the limelight and blaming poor performance on their employees.

A “toxic” romantic partner can reliably put “selfish” at the top of their list of character traits. They enjoy controlling their partner’s actions, denying them financial autonomy, making derogatory slurs and preventing them from connecting with their family and friends. Toxic households are unsafe, unpredictable and unhealthy. Family members are treated poorly and punished if they attempt to stand up to the abuser or leave.

Sometimes it’s also hard to leave a toxic work environment, not only because it provides financial security, but because a toxic boss convinces the worker that the fault is theirs and they are unlikely to succeed anywhere else. A really effective mis-manager can make an employee believe that this is not abuse, but a by-product of a robust working environment.

That’s the key commonality between a toxic boss and a toxic spouse. Their effectiveness lies in chipping away at the target’s self-esteem until he or she feels there is no choice but to stay. Convinced that the problems in the relationship are their own, the target then works harder and becomes more compliant, to prove their worth to the abuser.

Are you in a professional or romantic relationship where you feel, on a daily basis, confused, disheartened, undervalued or actively undermined? If so, you may wish to consider leaving (if you can do so safely and with financial stability). You deserve better, even if you’ve been led to believe otherwise.

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