When Your Boss Attacks Your Self-Esteem
by Rick Brenner
Your boss's comments about your work can make your day — or break it. When you experience a comment as negative or hurtful, you might become angry, defensive, withdrawn, or even shut down. When that happens, you're not at your best. What can you do if your boss seems intent on making every day a misery?
Rachel finally gave up trying to work. She stood and looked outside at the snow. Deciding it wasn't too bad yet, she put on her coat and headed for the elevator and outside. Just to walk. A little early for lunch, but nobody seemed to notice. She needed some alone time.
Out beyond the parking lot was part of an old canal, and the geese wintered there. "Maybe they'll be there," she thought. "I need to calm down."
Eric hired Rachel two years ago. In the past year, she's noticed that he "constantly belittles everything I do." She becomes emotional and tries to defend herself, but often overreacts. This time, she's done something different, something much more effective. She's seeking a place and a space where she can calm herself.
When we're calm, we can use other tools to help recover our self-esteem. Here are a few suggestions.
- No one can actually belittle your work
- The result of your work stands — it is what it is. People can say things about your work, but they can't change your work. They can't belittle your work with words.
- Only you can belittle you
- People can say things about you, but you remain who you are. People can't belittle you with words.
- When you feel belittled, take responsibility
- People can say things
about your work,
but they can't
change your work
- The feeling of belittlement is real, but what's being belittled is your own acceptance — your esteem — for your Self. Others do play a part — they supply the words you need to make yourself feel belittled. But you control your emotions, so you play a part, too. Your part is that you believe the words just enough to feel bad about yourself. That's good news, because if you control what you do, you can change it.
- Remember those who love you
- When the swirl of feeling bad begins, it's easy to fall into the pit. You can hold onto your self-esteem a little tighter if you remember the people — including yourself — who love you. Decide in advance to focus on some small object — a locket, or a ring, or your badge (if you wear a badge at work), or even your right pinky fingernail. Imagine that it carries all the love that the people in your life feel for you. When your boss gets going, connecting with that object can bring you back from the pit, and if you remember soon enough, it will keep you from falling in.
Whatever you hear from others, you remain the same wonderful, unique human being that you've always been. To the people who love you, you mean a lot — maybe everything — and they'll keep loving you, no matter what others say. You can do the same. Top Next Issue
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 2: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part II
- When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap. Available here and by RSS on September 2.
- And on September 9: Holding Back: Part I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior? Available here and by RSS on September 9.
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