10 Signs of Psychological Abuse In The Workplace.

Are you aware of the signs of psychological abuse in the workplace?

[AD] This post was written in association with CICA UK. Please see the disclaimer.

Are you aware of the signs of psychological abuse in the workplace?

All you need to do is tune into the news or switch on the television to spot stories laden with abuse. These can sdbe stories in regard to sexual abuse, child abuse, abuse of power, domestic violence and many others. Psychological abuse, however, is grossly underreported and can go undetected for years. It’s usually slow and subtle, breaking away at the victim over a long period of time. It might even manipulate their thoughts and memory to reflect the abuser’s needs.

What is psychological abuse?

Abuse can be found anywhere and everywhere. Everyone has the potential to be either the victim or the abuser. The abuse can become so much a part of someone’s life that they find it difficult to spot it for what it is.

The only person who benefits from such acts is the person who is responsible for inflicting the abuse.

What are the effects of psychological abuse?

  • Psychological abuse negatively impacts a person’s self-esteem & self-worth. Abusers feed off pre-existing vulnerability by increasing feelings of self-doubt, inferiority and lack of self-confidence. Repeat exposure can have a somewhat hypnotic effect, leaving the abused open to the belief that the abuser is right in everything they say. The abused can start to believe that they’re incompetent, ‘stupid’, unfit for their jobs, etc.
  • Psychological abuse often leaves the victim shouldering the blame. Victims tend to shoulder the blame despite often being completely blameless. This is due to lowered levels of self-esteem and manipulation from the abuser.
  • Psychological abuse can result in lifelong trauma. The abused may end up suffering from mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, social anxiety, stress, etc. Trauma can’t be easily treated or cured. It can take years of therapy in order to fully accept and move past trauma depending on the level. Some may even suffer permanent psychological trauma, preventing them from pursuing different areas of work or even working at all.
  • Psychological abuse can lead to other serious conditions such as; Depression, anxiety, PTSD, acute or chronic stress, etc. Stress in and of itself can cause a multitude of ailments and physical illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening if not treated such as stomach ulcers and bowel complaints. Sometimes, the severity of the abuse can be so bad, some victims may even experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

The case against Blizzard and how it relates to psychological abuse.

One of the most recent cases of abuse comes from Blizzard, the company responsible for the Warcraft series, Diablo and Overwatch. However, many employees are coming forward to out the company for the sexist, ‘frat boy‘ environment. Unsurprisingly, the majority of victims are female and have had to endure years of sordid and sleazy behaviour from male colleagues. Now the company have found itself facing a lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for upwards of 10 violations of state employment law.

While these allegations are largely in relation to sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment, psychological abuse is very much a core component. Numerous complaints were made to the HR department over the years, however, nothing was done. Victims were left to endure such actions, or forced to leave of their own accord to avoid further harassment.

Youtube’s Bellular has been following the situation since the beginning. As an avid gamer, I’ve been following along in an effort to educate myself further on the impact of abuse in the workplace.

10 Signs of Psychological Abuse in the Workplace.

1. Gaslighting.

Gaslighting is possibly one of the biggest ways in which we can be psychologically abused. It’s become a popular term for various forms of ‘emotional and psychological’ abuse and refers to one person’s attempts to manipulate another’s reality. It’s commonly found within romantic relationships, however, it can occur anywhere; A parent, a friend and even in the workplace. 

Gaslighters aim to make the victim second guess themselves. They warp the truth and manipulate the other’s memory in order to exert power over them in a very slow manner.

Signs of gaslighting include; 

  • They twist information to their advantage. Perhaps using it against others or taking credit for themselves. 
  • They gossip. Watch out for a boss or co-worker who gossips to you. Don’t tell them anything you might later regret because chances are they’re doing the same thing to you behind your back. 
  • Abusers appear to listen to you but never engage fully enough to show that they care. They could be gathering bits of information that you tell them to perhaps use against you later. 
  • They lie and make you feel as if you’re the one who has lied to them. You’re the one at fault because you forgot about that email you were meant to send that they DEFINITELY told you about. They may also make you feel at fault because you made them lie. This tactic is often used when they get caught lying. 
  • They make you feel like you’re not good enough, and changes are you’ll never be. 

2. Shame & Guilt.

A workplace, boss or individual who constantly makes another employee (or employees) feel that they are the problem. You’ll find that there’s an aspect of shaming the victim for no real reason, which in turn makes them feel inadequate and unworthy.

For example; A friend of mine (‘A’) recently took annual leave. He never uses his annual leave in full, and by right, the company should be pushing him to do so to remain within the law. ‘A’ took a grand total of seven days off to relax and unwind from what is a very stressful and hostile work environment.

Upon his return, he was informed of everything that went wrong while he was gone. They informed him that he shouldn’t have taken off because it had left them understaffed or with inadequately trained personnel.

Looking at this situation from afar, and having been in the same position in various workplaces, I can see the problem right away. The company hasn’t trained the appropriate people to the appropriate level, therefore they couldn’t keep up when my friend was off. It’s not his fault; It’s theirs for being unorganised and inconsistent in training. Yet they’ve pushed the blame onto him.

3. Undermining another’s work.

An employer, boss or fellow co-worker who deliberately blocks another person’s success by undermining their ability is committing psychological abuse. Repeatedly passing work to others instead of the victim despite the victim being perfectly capable, serves to reduce confidence in themselves and their work.

The abuser may constantly belittle a colleague’s work, criticizing them unnecessarily harshly and consistently. It can be directed to a group of people or to one person in particular.

The act of belittling or undermining keeps the victim bound in a cycle of “I’m not good enough, I can’t do my job properly, I need to try harder, I’ll never be good enough.”

4. Setting impossible or ever-changing expectations.

By setting near-impossible or ever-changing expectations, employees are doomed to fail before they even begin. A prime example of this would be a manager or supervisor expecting an employee to complete a mountain of paperwork within an unreasonable amount of time, or then changing what they expect and in what time frame constantly. This leaves employees confused, stressed and less likely to perform well.

The abuser may also display inconsistency of words and actions, meaning that they fail to follow through on things promised or previously stated by them. (I.e promising to train an employee or help them with a task, and then constantly failing to do so.)

5. Rationalisation of their words or actions.

They constantly try and rationalise certain words or actions that others may find inappropriate or abusive. As an attempt to justify their behaviour, they may even blame the victim. Most abusers will blame anyone or anything other than themselves for their behaviour because they’re unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.

6. Seduction.

This doesn’t necessarily have to refer to sexual abuse or sexual misconduct. It can be as simple as the perpetrator seducing the victim into trusting them enough to lower their defences. This is often done through means of flattery, compliments, and building the other’s confidence to leave them more open to manipulative behaviours down the line.

7. Diversion.

Abusers can be found dodging issues or playing dumb like it’s going out of fashion. They’ll often change the subject in order to distract from the issue such as cancelling meetings, dodging phone calls, claiming ‘lost’ emails and even avoiding people altogether.

Of course, this can also be a sign of nervousness or anxiety in some cases but coupled with other traits, this is seen as an attempt to ignore the situation or issue until someone else can deal with it (which usually won’t be to their liking, which will then be the other’s fault, creating a cycle of avoidance and blame).

8. Intimidation.

Creating a sense of fear through actions or words. It could be physical violence, but it’s more than likely verbal and creates a sense of unease in the victim.

9. Deceit.

Abusers may repeatedly lie or knowingly conceal the truth from others. in order to get the desired result or pass the blame onto others when things don’t go right.

For example; Something may have gone wrong because important information wasn’t adequately passed throughout the department. The abuser may be a manager who forgot to pass on a message to their supervisor. Instead of the manager owning up to their mistake they may feign innocence by claiming the message was passed on but not acted on by the supervisor.

This would shift blame from the manager to the supervisor, who in reality had nothing to do with it. The abuser may twist the truth so much, and deny their mistake so strongly, that the abused starts to doubt their own memory and capabilities.

Deceit can also be translated by the abuser creating false hope only to repeatedly fail to follow through.

10. Ignoring, isolating or excluding.

Psychological abuse such as the above can be displayed in many ways. The abuser may intentionally exclude the abused or make them feel socially isolated from a group of people. They may also purposely exclude them from major decisions, key conversations and maybe even work-related projects.

[AD] Can I claim for psychological abuse?

Yes, you most certainly can. No one should have to suffer through abuse, especially in the workplace. Although human resources are usually on hand to deal with the majority of issues, it doesn’t necessarily stop them and often psychological or emotional abuse is hard to prove, especially if the abuser is higher on the ladder than the victim (which is often the case).

For those who have ever suffered psychological abuse at the hands of a manager, supervisor or colleague there are measures you can take in order to seek compensation.

“The CICA, short for Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, is a government organisation that was created to compensate the blameless victims of violent crime. People who have been physically or mentally injured can apply to the CICA for compensation ranging from £1,000 to £500,000.”

CICA offers the following services;

  • Provide fast and efficient service with no complications and no hassle.
  • CICA handle the case as sensitively as possible so you don’t suffer any more needless trauma.
  • They liaise and make CICA contact which takes a lot of the pain and stress away.
  • High-quality service guaranteed. All solicitors have years of experience.
  • Solicitors work tirelessly to make sure that they get the highest amount of compensation possible for you in your situation.
  • They help gain justice for the pain caused to you.
  • All cases operate on a “no win, no fee” basis.

In order to make an abuse claim, you can get in contact by following the link.

Have you had experience with this type of abuse in the workplace? Maybe you’ve experienced emotional or psychological abuse elsewhere.


  1. Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog jump out.
    Please let me know where you got your design. With thanks

  2. I’m so happy to hear this. Thank you so much for sharing this all with me. I wish you all the best in the future and hope you continue to do well.
    Thank you for stopping in and reading.

  3. I have actually never had to put up with this in the workplace. Maybe because I just didn’t put up with any crap with superiors and they knew it. Or because I already dealt with it in my childhood home as well as my 29-year marriage. Something somewhere had to give.
    I am no longer under psychological abuse (at least not directly) for the first time in my life! My counselors, friends, and others said they can’t believe what a different person I am after healing!!! And you know what the funniest thing was that I discovered the other day? Several people have been telling me that I even stand taller and straighter physically for a year now. And I had proof of it when I went to reach for something on the top shelf of my kitchen cupboard and I could reach it! I had been trying to do that for the 15 years I have lived here and almost always had to get a chair or a taller kid (all of my kids are taller than me except for my oldest daughter) to get it. But now I can easily reach! Life is good!

  4. The workplace could arguably be one of the worst places for psychological abuse! It’s worth looking out for. Thank you for reading 🙂

  5. I hadn’t thought of psychological abuse extending to the workplace before, but having read your post, I can definitely see some of these traits in coworkes and even family members. It’s so important to take note of the warning signs.

  6. Unfortunately I find that gas lighting happens a lot in the workplace. It is really hard to communicate that someone is gaslighting without looking bad yourself especially if that person is a manager.

  7. All these are the same in a toxic relationship. The only solution: get out of there as fast as you can. No job is worth it.

  8. It’s disgusting the way some people are treated, especially young people who are vulnerable. They’ll grow up thinking that’s the way you deserve to be spoken to in the workplace, when it certainly isn’t the case!

  9. You say it’s not your place to intervene but i’m glad you did anyway. Sometimes, personally speaking, we don’t have the confidence to stand up for ourselves. Especially against someone who is intimidating. So we need advocates like you there to help us out. Your place or not.

  10. That’s typical tbh. Honestly, sometimes you have to just leave a place like that. The good managers and people are few and far between I find.

  11. yep psychological abuse in workplace is very common these days. No matter what is causing it, IT IS NOT OKAY!!!

  12. This is such an important topic. I feel like everyone should be made aware of these signs so that they can be on the lookout. We have to work together so solve problems like these in the workplace! No one should ever have to feel alone.

  13. Some things are passing unnoticed and you mention it here which makes total sense. An eye-opening article.

  14. It is so very important for everyone to know how to spot these signs! Thank you for posting this!

  15. This is really timely for me because it’s happening it my workplace. Unfortunately in my workplace the people that are supposed to be fixing the situation aren’t.

  16. Work stress and anxiety are tough, and its not good to have them. When we know the fact the cause of these, it is wise to move away (quit your job if needed!), and prioritize yourself. Money and work aren’t worth it when we already ill.

  17. I think everyone experiences gaslighting one way or another. But I really hate when colleagues use manipulating others for their own benefit. I have seen couple of examples during my job.

  18. This is such an important topic to cover, and I’m so glad you went into it in depth. When things go bad at work, a lot of people have the mindset that, “It’s just work; it’s nothing personal,” but it is still important to establish boundaries for your own well being.

  19. I don’t understand these people sometimes. Rather than be adults and practice effective communication, they’d rather manipulate others. I’ve noticed this in my workplace about 6 years particularly gaslighting and ignoring. Some workmates weren’t really in good terms with our fellow workmates. I know it’s not my ‘place’ to intervene but I hate seeing someone being oppressed so I stepped in and tried to resolve the problem.

  20. I experienced some kind of abuse at my work place some 5 years ago. I would not wish it to happen to anyone. I am happy that I work from home and will not go through the abuse any more.

  21. This is extremely helpful! I have never experienced anything like this before but I’m sure so many people have.

  22. These are helpful tips. I will keep these in mind when I have to go get a job outside of my home.

  23. HAving these things happen to you at work must be incredibly traumatizing. I am fortunate that I haven’t encountered anything like that before. Thank you for sharing this!

  24. My daughters very first job was at a local ice cream place across the road from the HS, a customer heard the way the owner was talking to the employees (mostly kids from the school) after placing a long order.. Told the girls they should quit there jobs that nobody should talk to them like that ever, cancelled his order, walked off and the school had a meeting with them all the next day… Not acceptable.. Kelli A

  25. It is not to be underestimated even if we often hear people say “it is just work” no it is not when you destroy the psycho-physical balance and the ability to live normally and be happy.

  26. This is absolutely horrible for sure and no one should have to suffer any kind of abuse in the workplace… especially this kind because psychological abuse to me is one of the worst due to the lasting scars that it creates and they do not heal like a physical injury can.

  27. Wow, that Shame and Guilt example is something that could happen in Japan. It is eyeopening that the UK could have the same workplace abuse as Japan.

  28. Such an important thing to raise awareness of! I completely agree that psychological abuse can be found anywhere and the majority of victims don’t even realise it’s happening to them. Psychological abuse can be just as severe and damaging as physical abuse.

  29. It’s unfortunately common to see this behaviour in a lot of work places and it can be devastating. Thanks for sharing, sure people will find it helpful.

  30. While I don’t think I’ve been psychologically abused in the work place, this post was very informative. Now I know what to look for!

  31. Thank you so much for sharing this Nyxie. This has been quite the eye opener for my current situation! I’ll say no more but this has been rather cathartic to read. An ex-colleague of mine experienced a similar situation to your friend and it was horrifying to witness. You’d think this sort of petty and childish behaviour would stop when you reach adulthood but it’s disgusting to know that it goes on for so many people in the workplace. I hope this post gives people experiencing this kind of abuse the courage to speak up. Xx

  32. My brain going so fast is why I often handwrite instead of type because it’s the only way I can come close to keeping up.
    I’m not sure if that’s also part of my difficulties with losing words and speech – especially on the times when I stumble and mix words together and then am really confused that I’m not understood.

    There is so much more to be done in the workplace. I’m so tired of witnessing this in cafes etc.

  33. It’s a horrible thing. I’m glad you’ve gotten yourself into a better place though. Gaslighting is by far the worst as it seems to reflect a lot of other abusive qualities.

  34. I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s infuriating that a workplace has driven you to want to take your own life. I can understand it though as I’ve been in similar situations before, although moreso in regards to sleepless nights, worrying all the time and suffering physical impacts.

    Thank you for stopping in and reading. x

  35. I’m so glad you’ve found a place that doesn’t shame you for having time off. We all need it, and I’ve even worked in companies that push you to use it up before the new tax year!

  36. No, they certainly shouldn’t be treated like this. The workplace is to work and earn money to keep a roof over our heads, we don’t go there for the fun of it. So why should we be abused as well?

  37. Whether we know our own capabilities or not I’ve found that you can be completely stripped of knowing anything. Self-doubt is so easy to set in just from a nasty comment or an incorrectly handled situation. It’s so embarrassing.

  38. We certainly all have at some point. Sadly I’ve seen a lot of comments about previously workplaces being abusive. It makes me angry because who, in their right adult mind, thinks that’s okay!?

  39. It’s by far the worst because there is really no proof unless other people have witnessed it or are going through it. Unlike physical violence, it leaves no external scars.

  40. Sadly this is often the case. Although some would argue, I feel that the majority of abuse comes from the people above you, male or female. Sometimes a lapse in pay is worth it for the peace of mine. I hope you guys find the answer. Financial trouble is never easy and I’m so, so sorry you’ve had to go through this. But your husband will be better for it mentally in regards to going to work and not having to endure abuse everyday. Sending positive vibes xx

  41. This sounds so familiar. Social cues sometimes get lost on me, especially when I’m experiencing a depressive or exhausting episode. Often my brain was too foggy to catch up on what people were saying, and I ended up getting lost somewhere in my own head rather than in the conversation. It’s like I could hear them talking but it was muffled by ringing in my ears. I always thought I just needed my ears cleaned out, but there was no evidence of that at the doctors office. I now know through research and speaking to my therapist that it’s due to the brain fog and the fact that my head is often going 100X faster than my mouth can keep up. It’s weird, but it meant I often got let behind in conversations or mocked for not listening to people or being ‘deaf’ when really I could hear them, I’m just not present.

    Abuse of any kind is what’s scaring me about going back into the workplace and even the world. I’m sensitive at the moment, I know I am and there is no sugar coating it, and I’m afraid that any wee comment will set me off.

    I’m so sorry about your last workplace love. That’s totally not on at all and can really make you feel excluded. x

  42. It certainly isn’t and can be more harmful to other people’s health than you realise. Thank you for reading, and feel free to pass this onto your friend 🙂

  43. Oh, I get you 100%. The fact that it transitions from the school yard into the work place and even universities is shocking. You think we all would have grown up enough to realise that abusive behaviour of any kind isn’t called for. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting pet. I appreciate it. xx

  44. I’m still at college, so I haven’t experienced any of those at a work place. But, I believe that those things do not only happen at work, schools also have those types of phycological abuse. I’ve been minimized by teachers in the past, and it is really sad, cause school is supposed to be a learning space, not a damaging space. It is so sad to see that people has this kind of behaviour. Also, it was so kind of you to mention CICA, its always important to speak up. Great post!

  45. I worked in a horrible work environment years ago and it drained me so much. It was a group of women that did a lot of what you mentioned here. I eventually had to walk away from the job because it became too toxic. A good work environment makes all of the difference.

  46. I know someone who is experiencing this kind of abuse. No matter kind of abuse it is, totally not acceptable!

  47. These things have happened in both of my adult jobs. One thing that always flagged up to me was in the meeting where I got fired there was the statement that I’d told the senior TA I wouldn’t be back until after Easter, whereas in the (private) text exchange it had been her that suggested I didn’t return to work until after the easter holidays and I tried to insist to her that I was sure I’d be back after the disciplinary meeting once I was off the benzos I’d been prescribed for the week to get me through it.

    In hindsight it was a toxic workplace generally. Maybe because I didn’t realise that I was Autistic and working with Autistic students while most of the staff were NT.
    Not quite getting a lot of the social cues from other staff meant I got left out of lots of out of work group activities. I used to feel sad when I heard that the others from my class all went out for a drink after work and didn’t invite me, but I understood it as well. I was weird and too busy trying to keep up with all the work that other people didn’t do. It was so important to me that the students had their communication cards and books and their daily schedule strips; and because so many symbols got lost or damaged I would dedicate so much time to making new ones because it was so important that they were able to communicate in their chosen way. Yet to other staff it was just another admin task at the end of the day, and skipping lunch breaks because we were short staffed meant they wanted to leave work early.

  48. My husband just went through this…and at a company where he has been a top performer for almost 20 years. They wanted to “farm out” his position to their office in India (where they pay their employees next to nothing). The people over my husband made his life a living hell for close to 2 years. He finally couldn’t take it anymore and accepted a new job at a 60% reduction in pay. At 65, we don’t know how we are going to survive {sigh}.

  49. All forms of abuse are horrible…. but psychological abuse is the worst as it can have lasting effects on a person but having it to deal with at work…. crazy!

  50. It’s amazing how reading this post I feel like all of us have at some point gone through some sort of emotional abuse, if not at the work place, at home of by some friend.

  51. No. 4 is true as per my experience. Well, it depends on the perspective but we are the ones who do it and most of the time we know what the capabilities of the work we can do.

  52. Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to know the signs to look for. No one should be treated badly and knowing the signs will help me to recognize when some one is in a bad situation and in need of help.

  53. I’ve never really noticed that this actually happens in the workplace!! Looking back, however, I can recall some instances where this had happened to me. Especially being made to feel bad for taking (earned!) time off of work.

    Luckily the place I’m at now doesn’t do that. 🙂

  54. Well that happened to me and it did lead to depression and a suicide attempt.. and a very long lasting trauma to my psyche and self-worth that I am slowly repairing.

  55. Good information in this post. When I held my temporary job I was getting teased and bullied because I couldn’t work fast as my co-workers and because of my visual impairment. Even my supervisor didn’t understand my visual impairment. I felt horrible about myself.

  56. Horribly, it’s really true that jerks at work can break you down psychologically and emotionally. It may seem tough when we have bills to pay, but there’s no greater reward than finding a way to stand up for ourselves!

  57. Sadly I was in a cohersive relationship for a while and fully understand the gaslighting. It is a shame to read that the same thing happens in the workplace too.

  58. Honestly, before I opened this I thought I have no concerns here but some of this rings serious alarm bells to me!

    A brilliant post that has left me with much to think about x

  59. I can relate to this so much. As a nurse, older more “seasoned” nurses, love to “eat their young”. I once worked with a nurse who belittled me to the point that I dreaded going into work and actually starting becoming quite depressed over the situation. Thank you for sharing- great read!

  60. Sadly I would say that the majority of us have been through something similar. I still think about it, and its one of the biggest barriers (bar mental health) that is stopping me going back into the industry. Thank you for reading. x

  61. Sadly that’s what happens in a lot of workplaces. I’ve been in a similar situation. It got to me, and I ended up dreading going into work. I’m just too accommodating and welcoming to this sort of behaviour. Thank you so much for reading. x

  62. Thank you for stopping in and reading. Honestly, there was so much to this subject that I could have written more, but it was running on ALOT so I had to narrow it down.

  63. Thank you very much for reading. I’m sorry you’ve been through this. It can be so, so difficult to keep yourself mentally (and physically) well when you have to go into a hostile work environment 5 days a week. x

  64. It’s something I didn’t realise I had been through until I got asked to pick up the post. It’s amazing how you can become so used to something that it doesn’t even register as wrong. Thank you for stopping in and reading 🙂

  65. This is such a tough issue – you spend so much time at your workplace and the benefits it provides are so needed and then to have this kind of thing in play….. UGH!

  66. Very informative post. I’ve experienced a hostile work environment and it does take a toll on you psychologically and emotionally. There’s the pressure to get work done while you’re battling your own self doubt about your performance. Thank you for writing about this topic.

  67. Thank you so much for your informative post. It made me thankful for my own work environment, which is not toxic, but it’s good to know what to look for, just in case that changes. Thanks also for giving an actionable step which may be taken to fight back.

  68. Long time ago, I worked for a company where others would constantly hound me for things. They expected me to do ALL the work and I honestly would go above and beyond. The boss didn’t care because she would just leave to go shop or give the title of manager to someone who doesn’t even do what I do or have any knowledge about so she wouldn’t have to deal with anyone and let the other person figure it out.

  69. Wow. I can relate to this on literally every level. I had an employer just like this. I still find myself feeling guilty about leaving, when I know I shouldn’t. Thank you so much for the reminder and putting things in perspective.


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