9 Things to Do If Your Boss Is a Psychopath

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020

There's no healing a psychopath, so what happens when your paycheck depends on one?

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Figure out if it’s true psychopathy

People tend to throw around the word “psycho” pretty casually, but a clinically diagnosed psychopath is a very serious animal. There’s a big (and rather scary) difference between someone who is kind of mean or a little off and someone who is void of feeling and only wants you to suffer. According to Judy Rosenberg, PhD, an LA-based psychologist and author whose valued professional input has appeared on major outlets like CBS News and CNN, a psychopath is someone who can severely threaten your well-being, physically and/or emotionally. (They’re not all serial killers, contrary to what Hollywood would have you think. And they’re not easy to spot, either—many of them are normal or even quite charming.) “There’s a quality of the worse you feel, the better he feels,” she says. “Somebody who’s a true psychopath has absolutely no empathy at all.” Some marked features of a true psychopath, as she explains it, are severe paranoia, a high degree of narcissism, intense projection of rage or insecurity on others, and a general penchant for sadism. To put it bluntly, Dr. Rosenberg says, “They don’t mind cutting your jugular.” (Here’s how to tell the difference between a sociopath vs. narcissist.)

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Analyze the workplace dynamic

There are plenty of bad bosses out there in the workforce who make their employees unhappy or uncomfortable, but psychopathic bosses go well beyond that. If you think your boss is psychopath, don’t just observe him or her, but observe how she affects your coworkers and the general workplace environment as well. “Corporations can become like dysfunctional families,” Dr. Rosenberg says. A workplace that functions underneath the command of a psychopath will be very hostile and will seem very personal. Psychopathic bosses can turn employees against each other, allowing the abuse to pile up. This is because they don’t care about their employees as fellow humans. “You become a function, not a person,” Dr. Rosenberg reveals. “You’re just a thing to be used and if you have needs that’s not OK because they’re not his needs.” If you’re feeling used and abused by your boss, there’s an excellent chance that your coworkers are feeling the same way. In these circumstances, some individuals will bond together while others will become nasty or conniving in order to trump their coworkers in an effort to win favor with the big man. Now you’ve got to watch your back from all angles. Find out the signs your boss actually hates you—and what to do about it. 


Accept that your boss is not going to change

Psychopaths don’t stop being psychopaths. As Dr. Rosenberg said earlier, they are fundamentally devoid of empathy, and nothing is going to change that. You may keep trying to please your boss by performing well, but no matter what he will remain the same person. The question then becomes, can you stand it or not? The eventual outcome, Dr. Rosenberg says, is completely empty and destructive. “They keep using people up until nobody wants to be around them,” she explains. Their psychopathic behavior may even eventually lead to the destruction of the company itself. If your boss is a psychopath, he/she will push you to your absolute limit until you break down mentally. So if your boss isn’t going to change, something else has to, and inevitably, you’re the one who is going to have to make that change. Here are some more signs you have a terrible boss

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Recognize that situation won’t ever be positive

Though you may think that your horrible job is just a challenge for you to surmount, there is no such thing as winning in this scenario. No matter how much you try to ingratiate yourself to bosses like these, there will never be a lasting positive outcome. “If you please them,” Dr. Rosenberg says, “you’re good for a moment. If you can’t, you’re not good and if they can replace you they will because you’re just an object.” When it comes to psychopaths, you are utterly disposable. They will treat you and your coworkers like pigs to a slaughter; they don’t anticipate you to last, but while you do they will squeeze every bit of usefulness out of you that they can. Psychopathic bosses will make incredible demands of you and berate you whether you meet them or not. They will emotionally and physically exhaust you. You have to realize that either you will continue to suffer or you will be fired/quit. These are 14 secret signs you’re about to get fired

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Check your mental health

Once you accept this unfortunate truth for what it is, you have to decide how you’re going to proceed from there. You’ve evaluated your boss and your work environment and have come up with nothing pleasant, and now it’s time for you to evaluate yourself. You’re down to two options: stay or leave. In Dr. Rosenberg’s opinion, if you stay, it means that there’s something not quite right with you either. “Codependent people would love this dynamic, for example, because they’re trying to get the holy grail; the star on the report card. [They think], ‘If I please this person then I’ll finally be loved.'” If you keep trying to work hard for this person and make this person happy, it’s reflective of your own psychological need to please and to seek approval. These are the signs your difficult boss is a micromanager. 

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Don’t make excuses

If you really need this job, you might start to convince yourself that the situation at work isn’t actually as bad as you think it is. Everybody has a tough boss, right? Well, yes and no. There’s a difference between a tough boss and a psychopathic one. While your peers may have a tough boss and be able to get by, that doesn’t mean that your situation is the same. Dr. Rosenberg explains, “A tough boss is just somebody who blows up at you, but they don’t cross those lines. Tough is playing fair. But playing threatening, playing mean—the four D’s: demean, devalue, destroy, discard—that’s just another level.” If your boss is consistently demeaning you, devaluing you, and destroying you, that’s not normal. Don’t pass it off as just part of what it takes to be a boss. See it for what it is. Don’t miss these signs you can’t trust your boss. 


Solidify your boundaries

You may be lucky enough to be able to put some distance between you and your psychopathic boss if you work in a large company. But if you constantly have direct contact with your boss, it’s pretty much impossible to survive and thrive. Being exposed to a psychopath for a prolonged period of time can disorient you and confuse your values and your sense of self-worth. “It’s like a relationship,” Dr. Rosenberg remarks. “If you’re a healthy person and somebody tells you to shut up or beats you or ignores you, a healthy person will just say, ‘No thank you, bye, nice knowing you.’ An unhealthy person will stay because their low self-esteem says, ‘I’m not worth anything. I’m not good enough.’ So they’ll stay on lack of belief that they deserve any better, or they’ll stay because secretly, unconsciously…[they want to] become victorious over these patterns and they won’t.” Keep your wits about you. If your boss is devaluing you, don’t give in and devalue yourself, too.

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Start looking for another job

“If it’s that bad, don’t [stay], because the poison is too thick,” Dr. Rosenberg advises. If everything described up until now matches your boss and your workplace, then it’s time to seek employment elsewhere. Even if you’ve been there for less than a year, don’t worry how leaving might look on your resume: You have to realize that finding a new, better job is worth far more. This is a special situation that you just need to get out of. If you can stand it, keep working this job until you can secure another one. And this time, when you interview with a prospective future boss, be sure to look out for the classic signs of a psychopath so you don’t end up recreating the same situation for yourself.

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If you have been pushed to your absolute breaking point and you feel that your mental health is plummeting, you might need to quit regardless of whether you’ve found another job yet. “I do get that we need money and we need a job,” Dr. Rosenberg says, “but it comes to a point where your mental health is worth more than that job. At that point, you need to leave.” That’s not to say that you should storm out and quit on a whim. Take your time to properly think about it before you make your move. But you know yourself better than anyone else. If you feel that you can’t survive in this work environment then you need to get out and preserve your sanity. If you’re worried about finances being an issue, take a part-time job until you can find something that you would like to do permanently. You have options. Don’t let your psychopath boss make you feel like you don’t! Just make sure you don’t work for any of these 25 bosses no one ever wants to work for.