Getting Out

One thing that has surprised me when I’ve talked to friends about setting up this blog is how many begged me to include verbal abuse at work. Having experienced workplace verbal abuse I had planned to discuss the subject, but I didn’t realize how many people I know have also been in that situation. In some ways it can be harder to deal with, as leaving can do career damage and some fields are gossipy and have restricted opportunities.

A friend recently told me about an incident she had at work. The team Shari’s been working on has lost several people recently and her boss, we’ll call him Greg for now, has been expecting the rest of the team to take up the slack on the project. Greg informed Shari this week that he was giving her all the responsibility of one of these open positions, in addition to her own work. When she told him she was willing to try and help out while there is a gap, but that she cannot do the work of two people, and she doesn’t have training for part of the other position’s work he got angry. Greg told Shari that he owned her and she would do as she was told.

Seriously! Big mistake on his part! Shari stayed calm, restated her position, and went back to her office. She got over the initial shock, then she went to Greg’s supervisor, Bill, and later let his supervisor, John, know what was going on. She also learned another coworker had overheard the conversation and would back her up.

Both Bill and John handled the situation well. They assured Shari she would only be held responsible for doing her actual job. They also thanked her for coming to them. In this case both Bill and John were aware there was a problem with Greg because so many people left his projects. They either transferred within the company or left completely. But neither Bill nor John had been able to take action about Greg’s behavior. Why? Because not one of the employees that left Greg’s projects had filed complaints. Bill and John weren’t sure what the problem was, just that people kept leaving Greg’s projects.

Documenting and reporting workplace abuse is always the first step. Document, so you’ll have a record of what happened, when, and who else was present. Report what happened. No, not all supervisors handle verbal abuse well, many of mine were part of the problem. But you have no chance of resolution without reporting. It also creates a trail and establishes patterns if you have to take stronger action later.


Once you’ve decided to leave an abusive relationship there are a few things you need to be prepared for. Because abuse is about control, having the victim leave is threatening for the abuser. A victim leaving is the ultimate loss of control. It’s not something an abuser can cope with and he/she will usually try to regain control of the situation, which can mean a dangerous escalation. It doesn’t mean you should stay and be abused but you should be prepared. Here are the common responses I’ve seen.

The Penitent

The abuser may or may not admit to having a problem but he suddenly becomes attentive and there is a drop in the daily instances of abuse. The changes will remind you of why you entered a relationship with this person to begin with. This can be confusing, as it seems like the abuser is trying to change and save the relationship. Unlike someone who truly wants to change, however, the Penitent will go right back to the abusive patterns as soon as he or she feels secure again. In other words, once you decide to stay and give the relationship another try. The Penitent will often try to woo a victim back after they leave as well.

The hard part of dealing with the Penitent is that you end up leaving while he’s being attentive and wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Don’t wonder. Look at the history of the relationship and keep going.

The Sulker

Guilt is the key to the Sulker. He or she is trying to regain control by making you the bad guy. By expecting child or spousal support you are going to put him on the street. You’re taking the furniture and making him sleep on the floor, even when you’ve split everything evenly. You’re lying and accusing him of things he never did. He or she has done everything to make you happy and there’s just no more he or she can do. You end up feeling like a horrible person. Either that or you want to put him in time out and tell him that whiners don’t get treats.

Each little complaint or accusation the Sulker makes is supposed to trigger your guilt response and make you feel like you are doing something wrong so you will stay and the abuser regains control. Just think of what it will be like to live without someone always trying to make you feel bad and keep going.

The Enforcer

This is the scary one. The Enforcer considers you property. You will leave over his dead body. Any hint of leaving and the abuse gets more intense. The Enforcer may very well escalate into physical violence in order to regain control. If your abuser has ever threatened you with physical harm, it’s likely he’s an Enforcer. Don’t think that because he’s never actually hit you he won’t. Don’t think that because he hasn’t hit you before he won’t land you in ICU the first time he goes that far.

Take every step a woman running from physical abuse has to. Unfortunately many shelters only accept victims of physical violence, so call and ask before you make your plan. You may need project submission until you actually make your move and get out. If that’s what it takes, do it. But get out safely.


Here are some precautions to take:\