Psychological Abuse At Work Is Real — 5 Signs It's Happening to You

Sad woman


Profile Picture
AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
June 13, 2024 at 6:46AM UTC
Think you're being psychologically abused at work? The sad reality is that, if you are, you're likely amongst a heap of others who are silently suffering, too. 
If you're feeling bullied or emotionally abused in the workplace, you may also deal with symptoms of gaslighting — questioning whether your feelings are valid or if you're being overdramatic, too sensitive or unprofessional. This may be especially true if no one else at your company (especially HR or higher-ups) seems to take it seriously. (Read: Your feelings are valid!)
An anonymous Fairygodboss member is currently struggling with that exact same situation.
"Bullying — this is what I am going through right now," she shared with the Fairygodboss Community. "My company will not take it seriously, and I cannot be without income. I am looking for another job but, in the meantime, it’s torture. My job performance has slipped, and I hate that I’ve become a professional who doesn’t care. Why is psychological abuse dismissed in the workplace? It’s so frustrating and sad and I don’t know how I can ever trust a company again."
Unfortunately, 75% of workers are affected by bullying in some capacity, according to 2016 research from Dr. Judy Blando of the University of Phoenix. Tons of Fairygodboss members support this research in coming out with their own stories in response to the aforementioned post on the community board.
Here's how to tell if you're among them...

1. The bully acts with aggression that causes you distress.

Are you stuck dealing with an angry employer or colleague who is always acting out in the workplace?
"I recently left a job where the manager literally sat at her desk and would yell and curse and call employees horrible names if they made an error," says an anonymous Fairygodboss member. "This is not how an office should function. And this was a law firm, as well — the most unprofessional place I have ever seen. She's been with this company 30 years, and I have no idea how. HR did absolutely nothing about this. I was nauseous every day before work as I had no idea when this manager was going to explode. I sat one desk away from her and heard it ALL. Unbelievable. If this wasn't a hostile work environment, I don't know what is."
Sadly, many workers face aggression in their workplaces.
"Going through the same thing myself;  there is no documentation, just a lot of door slamming, ignoring work-related conversations and giving my workload to a co-worker," says an anonymous Fairygodboss member. "Depending on the mood of the day, you never know if you're the target or not."

2. The bully gaslights you.

If the bully is making you feel crazy for feeling, well, bullied, that's called gaslighting! 
"I was told that I just have 'emotional bullshit,'" says msook, who was told that her feelings aren't valid. "It is totally gender-related as the other female in my team experiences it, too. But everyone just says they need their paycheck and cannot get involved. In a way, I don’t blame them. This has affected my entire life and consumed me, and I don't wish it on anyone... I’m mad that HR and leaders let it even get to this point and have made me feel as though I’m just emotional or crazy."
Others have had similar experiences.
"I’m an HR leader and recently raised a concern to my boss about what I had heard an executive say to a woman of color," says PeopleGeek97. "My boss told me that I can’t be more offended than the offended and that I’m sensitive. Feeling really disgusted about how this is all going down."
Fairygodboss member lizzis5566 has been dealing with it for two years.
"For two years recently I was bullied by a coworker — she was insanely rude, undermined me every time she could, and gaslighted me until I thought I was going insane," she says.

3. The bully undermines you with no evidence.

A bully might undermine your work, even when you know you're churning out a successful performance — and you have the hard facts to prove it.
"I have done my job for 30 years getting excellent reviews; [a new woman] has been my boss for the last two years, and I have worked harder and longer than I have ever worked — and she has given me the worst reviews I have ever had," says Ladyboss867455. "She just recently demoted me and told me that she could hire and train somebody to do my job in 30 days, but there wasn't any way she could tell me what I needed to do different to please her.  She is the CFO and I am the VP Finance.  None of the other senior staff members want to stand up to her.  She just talks and talks until she wears you down and you give her her way.  I have a pension here and don't really want to leave, but she has demoralized me and really our whole department."
This has happened to others, as well.
"My new female boss became unbearable," an anonymous Fairygodboss member adds. "I had been successful in my managerial role for 20 years, and then she came in and I was suddenly not good enough. I put up with her until it began to impact my health, and then I resigned.  Lost a good-paying job and an employer match to my retirement, all because of her bullying. Now the new manager is experiencing the exact same thing, and yet nothing changes because no one in senior leadership or HR wants to put in the effort to address it.  The impact to me has been profound. Suddenly found myself having to accept a lesser role, basically starting over again. Needless to say, I am depressed and feel beaten down at this point."
In fact, it's happened to tons of others...
"The worst and most-bullying boss I ever had was a woman who was very insecure, and if you didn’t totally agree and follow, she made your life hell — and the worst part is she was the HR manager," says an anonymous Fairygodboss member. "She was an expert in manipulating her staff against each other, gaslighting and never taking responsibility for her actions and cutting you out of all communication that you needed to do your job.  I finally had enough and chose to take an early retirement."

4. The bully retaliates against you.

A bully might retaliate against you in a variety of different ways.
"It is not ok to talk down to someone or be insulting when addressing another co-worker," says Fairygodboss member Tamiam. "Retaliation in the form of ignoring, making fun of or excluding someone from a group event such as a conversation, meeting or project is unacceptable."
Fairygodboss member A.N. adds that additional types of bullying include inflicting the following on the target: heightened criticism (beyond criticism given to other employees) for small errors or for not following obscure rules not adhered to by other employees, demotion without cause, pay reduction without cause, taking away perks, taking away meaningful work or promotion opportunities, ostracism/isolation/the silent treatment, exclusion from meetings or social events, turning colleagues or senior management against the target, reassigning the target to less favorable office space and criticizing the target in group meetings.

5. Your employer throws around buzzwords instead of taking bullies to task.

Is your employer just throwing bandaids on situations or actually taking care of the bullying?
"Employers are afraid to take difficult employees to task for their behavior," says Fairygodboss member BeaBoss105337. "It's all about buzzwords and phrases, but it doesn't fix the problem. Why is it OK for you to psychologically demean and undermine me, and I have no recourse to fight back?  Whether or not they want to believe it, that is the message they are sending."
If you're experiencing any of these situations, you may very well be a victim of psychological harassment in the workplace.

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice on dealing with psychological abuse at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always