Toxic Workplace: The Problem Isn’t Your Boss

We’ve all been there. We’ve all worked for someone who is horrible or where the office politics was out of control and the whole environment just felt toxic. It can feel soul-destroying having to get up every morning and face what feels like your own personal hell.

You want to desperately change jobs but nothing seems to be happening. Instead you feel stuck. Stuck in a daily monotony of having zero passion for your work.

It’s not a fun place to be. At all.

Warning: the following paragraph contains a reality check so fierce that it will transform the way you think about your current situation and possible force you to act ASAP.

We need to understand that we are responsible for our own feelings.

100 per cent.

We control how we feel about other people, we control the meaning we place on events and we control how we chose to behave and act.

This means that your boss isn’t horrible at all but that it is just the meaning you have chosen to believe.

This doesn’t mean that other people don’t act immorally and inappropriately. What this means is, instead of learning something from the way your boss behaves, you have chosen to blame them for how you feel.

I’ll give you a personal example. At a previous job, I had a boss who would micromanage me, be extremely irrational and demanding. As silly as it sounds, I was afraid of her. After a while, though, I got sick of feeling afraid and like a victim of this ‘tyrant’. Instead I chose to focus on what I was doing to contribute to this situation.

Was there something I could do differently to counteract her behaviour?

What could I say that could change this situation?

As soon as I looked at what I could be responsible for, there was a shift. She stopped being overbearing and we started to have a better working relationship. There were times when her behaviour was inappropriate but I didn’t let that affect me and my approach to work.

We need to acknowledge where we have chosen to be the victim and blame other people or circumstances.

Symptoms include: fear, procrastination, focusing on a problem, using excuses, feeling stuck and hopeless. This type of thinking can be referred to as ‘below the line’ thinking. It is disempowering. Having this mindset does not help us create positive and transformational change in our lives.

When you have recognised that you are engaging in ‘below the line’ thinking, it is a great opportunity to move above the line.

Here are some simple action steps and questions to empower yourself with a better mindset:

  • What responsibility do you have in this situation? How can you turn it around?
  • Get clear about what results you want to have – where do you want to be?
  • Embrace the belief that things can, and will, change.
  • Take inspired action to change your thoughts, beliefs and behaviour

So now over to you – what are you struggling with right now in your workplace? In the comments section below, tell me 3 things that you can do to change how you think and feel about this situation.

For more insight into the best mindset to adopt in a toxic work environment, visit me at

Michelle Furtado

  • Michelle great comments. I am an executive business coach and psychotherapist. And understand projection, thought patterns etc. It is a challenging situation when we and my clients have tough bosses. I learnt in years of personal therapeutic work and psychotherapy training that it was all about me yes.However I believe in many situations that this is to be honest incorrect, e.g. in bullying situations. In the workforce. I have sat in therapeutic groups globally around this topic and had some of the world’s best teachers. And we all get to the same place, you have to make up your mind whether to put up with it or go.
    And for many women this is tough and difficult. They have a family to support, mortgage etc. I work with many women leaders in this position who have challenges from younger women and their board or bosses. We work on an exit strategy when a situation cannot be resolved. And some of the bullies are psychopaths which as a therapist is one of the character structures hardest to work with.
    Yes in my life I am responsible for my feelings. I have met some of my client’s bosses and to be honest could not work with them. They put a shiver up my spine and I am one tough woman, compassionate too.

  • Hi Sally,
    Thanks so much for your feedback. I totally agree with you that workplace bullying is a different kettle of fish. In this situation, whilst it can help to develop an empowered mindset, it is never the victims fault or responsibility.
    I acknowledge the fantastic work you do and it is with the support of yourself and others that women in those situations can work towards a solution.
    Again, thanks for your feedback!

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