#879: “I want to hang out with my cool former coworkers but NOT my toxic manager:” On bouncing back after leaving a terrible job.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I was just fired after less than a year at a toxic job. I was vomiting from anxiety on a semi-regular basis… it was awful.

My team and peers were amazing, but my relationship with my manager was terrible. After months trying to fix it, I began seeing a new psychiatrist and taking new meds just to manage the anxiety that it caused.

The circumstances surrounding my firing are also extremely shady. I feel so traumatized by the experience that the thought of working again fills me with panic. It will be a while before I can rejoin the workforce.

Needless to say, I’m extremely distrustful of Former Manager and have no desire to ever see or interact with him again. I’d still feel that way even if I had quit.

I’ve blocked both him and his SO on LinkedIn/Facebook. However, I’d really like to see my former coworkers again when some of this blows over. They’re awesome and were devastated by my departure. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a get-together and they seem interested, which is exciting!

Hosting an event is perfect: I have control over the attendees, and Former Manager is NOT on the list. But I don’t have any control over events hosted by others, and this fills me with dread. Coworkers are already planning at least one summer event.

I don’t want to flake out on them, but I rampantly avoid confrontational situations and I’m terrified of seeing Former Manager. It’s not a big group, so I can’t fade into the crowd. They also like board games, so “just don’t interact with him!” isn’t an option.

I could try to determine if he’ll be there in advance, but it’s hard to ask without making things weird or divulging inappropriate information. He’s still their manager; if I say I can’t be around him it could sound unprofessional or even impact their work relationship.

So, let’s say I go to an event and he’s there – I can’t give him the cold shoulder. I’m also terrible at doing the “neutral, yet disinterested” treatment. I always think I can, but then my stupid politeness kicks in and I treat the person like an old friend or even smooth over their awkwardness. This happened even when I worked for him.

How can I navigate this situation, particularly since my anxiety here is so fresh and I’m feeling very avoidant? I don’t want to dodge the group completely – I’d like to maintain these relationships – but I’m so afraid that my manager will be there!

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

Dear PTJD,

I know you would have preferred leaving on your own schedule, but can I start by saying “vomiting daily from anxiety is not normal and I very am glad you are away from that toxic job!” Like, congratulations for not fitting in to an abusive & terrible workplace.

I strongly suggest that you avoid “All my former coworkers are getting together!” events for the time being unless you are the host. Maybe for the rest of the year. There is no way to avoid your ex-boss at them or avoid making things socially & professionally weird right now. Your feelings are too raw, and you need to detox from this workplace and its hold on your life. You’re not “flaking out” on your ex-coworkers if you RSVP “No” to those big events, especially since just thinking about them is causing you major anxiety. Time and distance will heal a lot of it, and it is possible to be friends with these people eventually, just, maybe not all as a big group at this particular time. People sometimes say stuff like “I can’t believe you won’t be there!” or “It just won’t be the same without you!” and when you’re emotionally vulnerable you read it as pressure, like you are SERIOUSLY letting them down by not attending an event. The truth is, they may in fact miss you, but when the event happens there will be plenty of other people there and they will have a good time and not think about you all that much. Try to see those statements as “enthusiasm for my company” rather than “pressure to attend even though the wounds are still fresh” and do what takes care of you. You may run into some Geek Social Fallacies about togetherness, but I believe that someone who is your friend is gonna respond reasonably to a private “I’d love to come but I’m still feeling kind of raw, especially around (Manager). Have a great time, and can  we have lunch the following week and catch up one-on-one?

Plus, deciding to just say no to hanging out as one big (dysfunctional) group is something you can control right now. You don’t have to make a big announcement of such, just, handle each invitation on a case-by-case basis. Host events when you want to. Invite people out one-on-one or in very small groups. Over time, mix a few friends from your former workplace with your other friends and try to keep the conversation from being all about work.

Here, if you are interested, are some overall steps that might make you feel better and regain a sense of control socially and professionally:

Ask your team to recommend you. Ask trusted people specifically to write you positive recommendations on LinkedIn and to be your references when you look for new work. Get documentation of what you do well from people you respect. It will help the wound heal a bit to know that your firing was based on just one person’s opinion and to have your value documented publicly.

Tell the story, selectively. Getting a new job and maintaining a “professional” persona probably requires you tell a story along the lines of “The job was a bad fit for me, and while it was embarrassing to be fired, it was actually a relief because now I can focus on (whatever it is YOU are interviewing me for, Good Sir or Madam!). I learned some very important lessons about (time management, customer service, how to prioritize work, how to handle conflict) that will help me in (this shiny new position).Fairly or not, future bosses & coworkers won’t want to hear the gory details of your old job and might actually judge you on your discretion and ability to gloss over the bad circumstances, since people who come into job interviews full of tales about the suckyness of their old jobs and the extreme personal failings of their former managers give off a number of red flags even if the suckiness verily didst sucketh most suckily (Thanks, Capitalism!).

I believe you that that feels fucking impossible right now, and one way to make it more possible eventually is to find safe outlets to tell the story in full. If you haven’t already, write out a complete narrative of the “shady” circumstances and everything that happened at your former employer. You might not do anything with this besides ritually burn it, but if you can access counseling services and tell the story to a trained person who can help you sort it out, do it. If you can tell a trusted friend, that’s also good. Bottom line: Don’t bottle it up. Lance the wound now and drain the badness fully, so that you can tell a sanitized version when your economic survival or future career goals depend on it.

Look outside your former workplace for social connections. If this workplace became the center of your social life for a while that’s understandable; branching out might mean calling old friends you haven’t talked to in a while or mowing your grandma’s lawn & babysitting your little cousins and having to tell the story “Yeah, I got fired” 1,000 times when people you haven’t talked to in a while ask you how things are going. DAUNTING, I KNOW. Telling people the news has a weird way of getting easier the more you do it and the more time that goes by. Plus, you need some love from other people right now, and you have some love to give other people, and I think you need to do this as much as possible without keeping running tabs on the day-t0-day complexities in your old workplace. Pick up the phone or open that Skype window. Join a choir or a knitting circle or an adult kickball team. If you’re close to your family, let them love on you.

If you are able, volunteer. Volunteer because it fills the gap in your resume with something interesting that you can talk about. Volunteer because it brings you in contact with new people and new circumstances. Volunteer because there are organizations in your community who need what you can do and it will remind you that you are valuable and kind and smart. Volunteer because it will get you out of the house at a set time for a few hours each week and help you keep the routine of the gainfully employed. It will help the story you tell new employers eventually, like, “I got fired from my old job, which was very embarrassing, but I was lucky enough to be able to take a little time to regroup and learn some new skills in event planning & publicity when I volunteered for the local nonprofit’s annual benefit.” See also, when you do go to things with former work people, you will have stuff to talk about: “I’m looking for a new job, so if you hear of anything let me know. In the meantime, I am Furminating all the cats at the animal shelter and it is the most soothing thing ever.” “I am volunteer-ushering at the local theater company so I get to see all the shows I want.” “I taught someone how to read today.

Learn something new. Maybe take a free online class. It could be something that polishes up a professional skill and gives you something to fill that resume gap (“I used the time to take some classes and brush up my (THIS SHINY NEW JOB YOU’RE HIRING FOR) skills…”) or something you do just for the sheer fun & interest of it (for example, I loved the Seeing Through Photographs class). What was your favorite/best subject in school? Is there a way for you to dig into it for fun now? A class can give you routine, mental stimulation, some interaction with other human beings, something to talk about that you did with your day.

Be very kind to yourself. To the extent that you are able, get enough sleep. Eat good food that gives you pleasure and makes you feel good. Unfuck your habitat. Go to the library and read good books and listen to good music. Move your body in a way that makes you feel good. If your local museums have free-to-the-public days, or free summer concerts,(or art shows, or movies in the park, etc.) go to them when you can. Get regular haircuts (the local beauty school can usually give them very cheaply when you’re unemployed) or whatever you do for self-maintenance. Do random acts of kindness for people, like sending thank-you letters to old teachers and mentors. Ignore the advice above about “being productive” and enjoy some fucking down time for a change.  Above all, spend time with people who are kind to you and limit the time and energy you spend on people who drain your energy.

I hope that you’ll get to hold onto important friendships and professional connections in a way that adds positively to your life and doesn’t bring you unusual amounts of anxiety or force you into contact with your enemy. I also hope that you’ll be able to heal and bounce back stronger than before. We’re rooting for you!

 

 

 

91 comments
  1. asj said:

    LW, I worked for a toxic place for just over a year. I wasn’t fired; my temp contract ended. It was toxic enough that, at the time, when they screwed me over for a job, I actually cried. Looking back close to two years later, it was actually a good thing. All of this to say, be very gentle with yourself when you find your awesome new job. I went into a new job expecting things to be amazing because yay! I was away from toxic place! But it was actually very hard mentally and emotionally. I had a lot of anxiety and nerves, and I had to retrain myself out of expecting bad things to happen / bad habits (something I still struggle with over a year later).

    • SaeniaKite said:

      I went through a similar thing. I was on a training contract working in 3 departments and while one was lovely, one was stressful and the third was downright toxic. We were getting phone calls from bailiffs after the manager who was absolutely horrible. When she left for the day everyone celebrated. I don’t mean everyone relaxed in a ‘managers gone so we can slack off a bit’ but the mood noticeably brightened because she was that bad to be around. I cried 4 times in a year, not including when I found out I wasn’t accepted onto the next part of the training. I had realised I didn’t particularly want to carry on there as soon as I left the interview but I still felt horrible when I found out. I am now in a new job and, outside of being ill, have not cried once in two and a half years. But yes, it was hard to see the good in it for a while, and the good in me because my confidence had been shaken that much. Every time my new manager asked to talk to me I expected the worst. The important thing I found was to take constructive criticism as just that, constructive. The people in this job genuinely try to build me up whereas before the upper levels would only get involved to tear you down.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yeah, the moment of dread when realising you have a new email in your inbox can persist for a loooong time.

        • Anije said:

          Oh geez, the email terror. It took me a year to get over that! But get over it I did, and I’m so much happier.

  2. attica said:

    “Lance the wound now and drain the badness fully” is exceptionally good advice, both emotionally and practically. Down the road, you’ll surprise yourself with how little this one firing matters to you.(Speaking from experience!) Keep that in mind: there is a future out there for you in which this won’t matter. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself in the now, and be brave enough to look ahead.

  3. Lilac said:

    LW, your letter strikes so close to my own heart. I had similar circumstances (a boss I hated, a job that filled me with unimaginable anxiety and stress), but I got out about six months in, leaving with 3 days’ notice. I couldn’t work after that either, and found that it was really hard to participate in many events.

    Let me tell you, the shell shock and blankness you might feel right now will persist for a while, and that’s gonna be tough. One of the most important things you can do is participate (as Cap said) in events that leave you feeling positive, refreshed, and capable.

    I back up Cap’s advice 100%. Steer your own ship for a while and don’t feel bad not making it to events. You need to heal. You wouldn’t stress your foot after a bad fracture, so don’t stress your brain trying to please coworkers who already like you and understand you need some space.

  4. Tluv said:

    I feel like I wrote this letter, except I wasn’t exactly fired. And my friends from work were incredibly supportive and happy to act as my references. You are so far from alone from in this situation, my workplace literally made me clinically depressed and when I finally went back to work, I still over react to the stupidest thing. Please keep seeing your psychiatrist, if you can, for as long as you can afford – I wish I’d had more time with mine.

    It’s been two years, and I finally have a new job. I liked my supervisor from the start (I was temping) – she is everything my old toxic waste bag of a boss isn’t and always makes me feel at ease. I wish you the same happy ending and comfort.

  5. Jodiwadi said:

    Jedi hugs if you want them dude.

    I’ve just been through a very similar situation (I quit rather than being fired as I was feeling so anxious all the time). I only finished at my old job at the end of last month, and am trying not to pressure myself to do anything right now (all the Captain’s self care advice is amazing as always and I’ll be utilising a lot of it!) but it’s haaaard. Sadly society teaches us that our value is based on our “economic productivity” which is obviously bullshit, but who doesn’t feel pressured when meeting someone new and they ask you “what do you do for a living?”.

    Just try and be really kind to yourself. And the advice about lancing the wound is also excellent.

  6. Zandaya said:

    Hiring manager here – I second the Captain’s advice about how you frame the firing in future interviews (when you are ready to work again).

    It is SO important to say the words over and over until “fired” starts to lose it’s meaning and emotion. Say it to yourself in the mirror in a bored voice or a funny voice. Try dropping it into conversation with people you’ll never see again.

    Work through the details in a letter/counseling/good friend setting.

    By the time you get to the interviewing stage it should feel like old news and that you are in control of the story. You want to treat it seriously and show how you moved forward from it, without FEELINGSBOMBING the interviewer.

    Also, remember that an interview works both ways and try to get a good idea of how your prospective manager will mesh with you. Especially your first job back, consider avoiding anyone that reminds you of old boss in style/personality/mannerism, no matter how appealing the position. Just like dating, you don’t need to be fair in your assessment – if they rub you the wrong way at all, take that seriously. You can’t guarantee yourself a good boss, but you have the benefit of experience sharpening your instincts, so trust yourself!

    You can bounce back from this, so be good to yourself and reconnect with what makes you awesome.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the affirmation and the advice to repeat the story a lot in a lot of different ways. Talking about your old job on a job interview is like talking about your last breakup on a first date. There’s the “We were in love, and it ended, and I was sad for a while but now I’m good” answer and the “And let me tell you ANOTHER THING this motherfucker did…” answer. When you can tell story with some detachment that’s one of the ways you know you’re ready to move on.

      • parParenthese said:

        “When you can tell story with some detachment that’s one of the ways you know you’re ready to move on.”

        Welp, looks like there’s a whole lot of shit I’m completely not over. And looks like I’m starting my mindfulness exercises in earnest today.

        • Mindfulness exercises for the win. 🙂

      • Oh, god, yes, this.

        LW, I’m almost a year out. I did not quit or get fired – my monsterboss finally, FINALLY retired, although I left that job a few months later for unrelated reasons, no fault of her (absolutely delightful) replacement.

        A couple of things that I went through in getting back into the job arena, which you may experience some of when you’re ready to take that step. (And GOOD ON YOU for taking your time and doing some heavy-duty self-care and recovery first!)

        I was absolutely terrified I would not be able to stop myself from doing exactly that thing. I was terrified that my bitterness would come out in an interview, especially in those “tell us about a time you had a conflict with a coworker” or “tell us about a time you received criticism, and how you acted on it” questions. So I practiced, just as Zandaya said, and it helped, really a lot, not just with being professional in interviews but with letting go of some of that anger. But I also let myself have plenty of opportunities to safely vent. (I have one colleague who had some of her own, ahem, experiences, with this woman, but who never worked in the same organization, and one good friend who is in a profession with some similar dynamics and who had been in a similarly awful job, who were my “That horrible bitch! Tell me more!” gossip besties during my purging/grieving period, and thank goodness for them.)

        When I did get hired, into a position I adore with amazingly wonderfully *normal* and *professional* coworkers and managers, I felt absolutely unmoored. I was fairly forthright about this with my new immediate supervisor – I didn’t tell her about the verbal abuse (although I think she drew the obvious conclusion) but I did tell her about the extreme micromanaging, and that I was having a little trouble self-assessing in the absence of feedback. We struck a nice balance where I trust her to tell me right away if I’m egregiously screwing up and she gives me two or three minutes of unsolicited feedback about once a week, mainly just to reassure me that she actually noticed I showed up. 😀

        I moved two hundred miles away, and I still have nightmares and panic attacks about my old boss “dropping in” to “see how I’m doing” and “advocate for me” in my new place. (There was a very strong dysfunctional-family vibe to the abuse.) I remind myself that this is simultaneously completely irrational and *totally okay and normal*. I acknowledge the fear, sit with it a little, and let it go. It happens less often now than it did at the beginning. I think there’s a little bit of this going on in your anxiety about social events with your former coworkers, and that’s *totally okay and normal*. A statement that “I like YOU and would like to have a social relationship with you in the FUTURE, but I need a little distance from reminders of THAT PLACE right now” would be a completely reasonable thing to deliver to these people, and if they are at all reasonable and quality potential friend material they will take that in the spirit in which it’s offered.

        I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but there is a future in you look back on this experience and reflect on the learning and growth you took away from it, but it does not define you. The fastest and easiest way to get to that future is to just take care of yourself and let it unfold at its own pace.

        • rhythla said:

          I want to reiterate how important it is the you communicate with your new boss if you are finding negative habits/feelings bleeding over into your new position. It’s understandable how they developed, but without communication, we do not know why you are acting/reacting a certain way (and it can make us worry!).

          My office manager came from a super abusive job (a field known for it) and now that we have become friends and talk more, I am finding out just how bad it was. Since I am constantly working on myself and generally self-aware (thanks CA!), I quickly realized that her behavior was clearly from the abuse at her last job (aka, nothing to do with me!). She was always hyper-critical of herself, second-guessing constantly, and just generally insecure. It was exhausting to deal with as her boss.

          I finally had to sit her down and say, “, you are doing GREAT. I am so happy I hired you – you have helped me out more than I realized I needed. BUT, I really need you to /believe me/ when I say you are “doing fine/well.” If I have a problem with you or your work, I promise I will /tell you/ with words immediately. But constantly reassuring you is really stressing me out and I don’t know how else I can convince you.” She finally told me more of the story, explaining how she was constantly criticized and second-guessed at her old job and how one of her not-quite-supervisors went behind her back to try to get her fired; so all of her behaviors made sense to me.

          It’s taken time, but she finally does feel more comfortable here and these negative behaviors are disappearing/gone. Any problem I have had with her, I have told her about immediately along with /constructive/ feedback. Honestly, as long as she does what I ask when I ask her to, that’s all I want! If I had to repeat myself ad nauseaum (like I did with my last OM) with no improvement, /that/ would be an actual problem.

          So I know that it is hard, especially if you don’t have a boss like me (I’ll toot my own horn a little) – but you have to realize that this experience is going to color your new experience regardless of the work you do. However, you can mitigate the damage by following the advice the Captain gave (and some of the commenters). Good luck, LW!

    • I had a situation similar to LW’s, in that I was fired from a very toxic environment after only two months there. (I say fired, but it was “do this 30 day PIP that you’ll definitely fail, or leave with severance,” so it was obvious they wanted me gone.)

      Luckily for me, the company has a reputation for being aggressive and unpleasant, so I was able to say that I left due to “culture differences” and leveraged it into the following statement, which might help LW:

      “I left [company] because culturally they weren’t a good fit for me. Luckily, from that experience I learned a lot about what is important to me in a workplace, particularly [A, B, and C], which are values that I think [shiny new company] embodies.”

      Good luck, LW!

    • msmess said:

      Omg, yes! Zandaya’s and the Captain’s advice is so good. Adding my two cents: I dropped out of college (at the 4 year mark, so I was always worried about people assuming I had my degree and/or having too many questions) and when I started looking for a full-time job, I had to really focus on my “script” around that. Which was hard. It took a few months to really be able to do it–anxiety was one reason I had to leave school, and being asked to look directly in the eye of dropping out (something I had a lot of shame about) was really hard because of my anxiety. Being asked about or having to talk about my lack of degree in an interview was the thing I feared most. So I figured out my answer. I wrote it out, talked it out, and really got it down so that the worst case scenario question wasn’t so scary anymore.

      And when this happened, it was amazing. Because not only did I not have big weird scary unpleasant feelings about talking about college to potential employers, but I also developed a whole other sense of what exactly went down and where I decided to go from there. The fear, the anxiety, the general discomfort about dropping out sort of melted away–not just in the interview/professional sense, but in many aspects of my life.

      It was work. It didn’t happen quickly. LW, it’s great that you know that you’re not ready to go back to work, and I commend you on taking the time you need (something I personally struggle with a lot). And I’m pretty darn sure that you’re going to feel a whole lot better about this sometime down the road than you do right now.

    • johann7 said:

      Related, but more generally than to LW’s specific issue:

      Also, remember that an interview works both ways and try to get a good idea of how your prospective manager will mesh with you.

      This is such an important thing to keep in mind when it comes to job interviews in general! Sadly the power dynamics in the labor market tend to favor employers, so many people interviewing for jobs feel like they can’t have boundaries, preferences, or even ask question because that might turn the potential employer off. Still, any employer that objects to the job-seeker interviewing the manager, HR person, and whoever else is involved as much as they are interviewing the job-seeker has just thrown up a big red flag. So if you are in a position where you are able to pass up any given job offer, the possibility of a potential employer reacting badly to questions can be viewed as a feature, not a bug. Workplaces that are not utterly dysfunctional and operate in a manner promoting the well-being of employees tend to WELCOME questions from interviewees, as they demonstrate that the person is concerned with making sure the position is a good fit, is thinking and behaving proactively, and is secure/self-assured enough that ze is able to ask questions.

      One doesn’t HAVE to ask questions if one doesn’t have any, of course, though it can also help to repeat the important elements of the job and workplace that have already been discussed such that one has no questions in order to demonstrate that one is still thinking about various elements of the job and has been paying attention in the interview. For example:
      INTERVIEWER: “Well, that’s everything we have. Do you have any questions for us?”
      INTERVIEWEE: “No, I think we’ve covered everything I need to know. Just to make sure I’m understanding everything correctly, the primary job duties are [primary job duties], the reporting structure is [reporting structure], the pay starts at [pay], we start work promptly (or not?) at [start time], my best transportation/parking options are [options], the dress code is [dress code], and every other Friday is casual day. [Beat to allow for corrections if necessary, “Ah, that’s right, thanks.”] That’s everything I need to know!”

      One can also ask questions that are tangentially related if everything about the job itself has been covered: parking or bus stop options, places to get lunch or refrigerator availability to bring one’s own, policies on furniture/equipment replacement (depending on the job – this might sometimes come off as an expectation of new stuff, so be careful with phrasing, demeanor, and context), whether there are usually birthday or holiday celebrations or other situations in which people can/do bring in snacks to share, whether anyone in one’s possible working area has any food allergies about which one should be concerned, etc. The point is to get useful information and also demonstrate that one is conscientious of how people interact in social environments like a workplace. I’ve interviewed people who didn’t even seem to know what the job was insofar as what was put in the advert, and it’s not a good look. Again, forcing questions just for their own sake when you really have nothing you need answered isn’t what you want to do, but demonstrating at least basic awareness of what you’re doing – interviewing for this particular position at this particular company – is a really good thing to do.

  7. MoSaurus said:

    Hi LW! Some of your experience is familiar to me: toxic boss, fired, feeling overwhelmed afterward. I also took some time off between jobs in order to regroup and in retrospect it was sorely needed. The Captain’s advice is spot on, and I’d like to highlight a few things that worked for me. I put more time and energy into creative projects and found a volunteer placement oriented toward helping others. The volunteer position looked great on my resume, helped me learn new things, and connected me to more new people – and I didn’t have to put tons of time in, maybe just a few hours a week.

    Also, not sure if you were joking about Post Traumatic Job Disorder; it sounds like you identify this as something traumatic which pinged to something I’m currently reading (The Body Keeps the Score). The author (Bessel van der Kolk) talks about things that are helpful to people overcoming negative experiences. This may or may not feel relevant to you but you might be interested to know that choir, theater, and different kinds of physical exercise (dance, yoga) have been shown to be helpful for different kinds of trauma, according to van der Kolk. I know that for me, yoga was very helpful after my own difficult job experience.

    Best of luck to you in the future, LW. Here’s hoping you get as much down time as you need to rebuild.

    • Trudy said:

      Chiming in on this book recommendation! I found it validating and useful.

  8. Laura said:

    Great advice from the Captain as always! Now is not the time to hang out with coworkers, who might be triggering to our dear LW. Toxic workplaces are the WORST. You will suffer from this down the road, which is why you absolutely need to be gentle with yourself. I strongly recommend therapy, especially with a therapist who deals with work-related stress. This was so helpful to me after I escaped a toxic workplace. Try to turn to gratitude whenever you can. Be grateful that you got out, and focus on rebuilding your life, away from your former coworkers.

  9. Spud trooper said:

    *Sending jedi hugs* If you’d like them LW.

    I went through a very similar experience, mine included a week in the hospital, suing my employer, and not being entirely sure if manager was just astronomically stupid or just didn’t care that handling certain things could, and almost did, kill me (no joke).

    But I made it through all of that, and you will too! Your fear of a new job is a totally
    valid one– of course you don’t want to be in that position ever again! The Captain’s advice is spot on for dealing with this. Especially in regards to volunteering. Helping others is what helped me through when I felt the most helpless. You meet really great people volunteering, so you won’t have only work related friends, and you get new skills!

    I know not everyone has the ability to take time off between jobs, but if you can, it will really help. You’ll remember all of those things about you that are so awesome.

  10. Fantastic advice–I definitely second the advice to manage your hang-outs scrupulously. One-on-one stuff or small-group things that you organize, great. Going to big amorphous “all of us are going to…” events organized by someone else? AVOID AVOID AVOID. 🙂

    And yes, frame the heck out of that firing. Sometimes you just get fired. It’s good to contextualize that for yourself as well as for other people. “I am tenacious and I have a hard time admitting defeat, so even though that workplace and I were a bad fit, I was too determined to make it work. While obviously it’s tough to be fired, I now have a chance to focus on what I liked best about that job, and pivot into a role where I can do more of that. I think I have also learned some important things about how to recognize when something just isn’t working for me.” (I wouldn’t necessarily say this in an interview, but maybe if you say it to yourself in the mirror it’ll seem more like a recognizable story of a thing that happened this one time and not Your Deepest Shame Which You Keep In A Shame-box Like A Loathsome Pet.)

    • Mel Reams said:

      I am tenacious and I have a hard time admitting defeat, so even though that workplace and I were a bad fit, I was too determined to make it work.

      That framing is brilliant! LW, I totally second the idea that you should tell yourself you got fired because you refused to give up. That’s actually a huge asset in some fields (programming: if I smack my head against this wall enough times, it will definitely come down).

      Also, getting fired suuuuucks even if you got fired from an objectively terrible company (something is super wrong there if the higher ups haven’t fired a manager who makes people anxiety vomit) and reported to an objectively terrible person. You are not weird or wrong if you feel awful about being fired and then glad you don’t have to interact with former manager ever again and then terrible again because oh god fired.

  11. FlyBy said:

    “I know you would have preferred leaving on your own schedule, but can I start by saying “vomiting daily from anxiety is not normal and I very am glad you are away from that toxic job!” Like, congratulations for not fitting in to an abusive & terrible workplace.”

    I just want to stress this point. I had a horrible toxic boss who got fired before he could convince upper management to let him fire me. I felt bad for a long time, because many of his complaints about me were valid. Then I realized they were all things I was doing to try to protect myself from him! And they are vastly diminished now that I have a good boss. Congrats on resisting the terriboss enough to piss them off. You did well.

    For me, the terriboss was an order of magnitude more harmful because they replayed crap that I dealt with in childhood. If that’s what’s going on with you, please be extra nice to yourself. “Normal” standards of what it would take for the hypothetical healthy, well-adjusted adult to recover from something don’t apply at all. I’ve been able to make progress with the help of medication and a good therapist. It’s hard and takes a lot of time, but it is possible to heal.

    • Neuroturtle said:

      …you just made some things make a whole lot more sense to me.

      Of course I was a “lazy” postdoc… when trying something new (that he refused to teach, even though that was part of the agreement), and hell comes raining down for not being perfect even before the first try, it’s normal to put procedures off until the day he doesn’t come in. And not getting along with an unethical macho jerk is kind of a point in my favor.

      • TootsNYC said:

        “things I was doing to try to protect myself from him”

        I worked with a woman as my dept’s No. 1 who had a reputation for holding on to things she was supposed to review and pass along the chain, when she worked in a different department where she was No. 2. Our new department’s “chain” was going to run late, so I went to alert the people that I passed us off to, since I was in charge of workflow. The head of that department came and said, with some heat, “Is Georgia holding onto things? Is THAT why you’re going to be late? Tell her she needs to stop doing that!”

        I was so surprised–Georgia moved things along promptly! So I defended her. But later I asked her why Other Dept Head thought that. Georgia said, “I did hold onto things, and was afraid to pass them along. But that’s because I was being second-guessed by someone who always made me feel that I was never good enough, so I was scared to do so. Now that I only need to please myself, I can make decisions and move things smoothly.”

        Very instructive!

        (I also did the “too tenacious” thing–it never occurred to me that I could just quit, or even that I should look for a new job. Or, I tried to look for a new job, but it didn’t come as soon as I hoped.)

    • LW said:

      Ex-Manager had some traits that reminded me of my narcissistic, authoritarian, emotionally manipulative parent. So, yes, definitely he was beginning to replay some things that I experienced as a kid and I was starting to feel like I needed to enforce the same boundaries on him as I did on my parent in order to “survive”.

      I think it’s entirely possible that some of the things he saw as issues with me were survival tactics – ways I was both trying to protect myself emotionally and trying to get work done without interference.

      • Cactus said:

        Oh, ugh. That’s awful. My own toxic boss from a few years ago reminded me a lot of the Toxic Babysitter from my childhood, both in her behavior (extremely petty and hyper-critical, oversharing personal shit, favoritism, micromanagement) and when it came to superficial stuff like her hairstyle and voice. It dredged up a LOT of old feelings.

  12. RSVP said:

    I sympathize. I had The Boss From Hell and it made me extremely depressed. As luck would have it, I was just the latest in a long line of employees that he had bullied and jerked around, morale in the department was rock bottom, and they got rid of him instead of yet another employee from the department. If your former manager does this stuff enough, upper management at that company may make the same decision.
    In the meantime, just be coldly polite if you run into him. He might be overly friendly in an effort to prove that it was you, not him, that was the problem. Don’t react, he won’t fool anybody who really knows him. Chance are he’s developed a reputation within your industry because you’re not the first person he’s treated this way.

  13. Ellen said:

    Maybe “toxic workplace” explains it all, but why is a manager hanging out with direct reports? Or was Manager just your manager? If I were one of your coworkers, I feel like I would be perfectly happy to attend social events without my manager, and framing it that way somehow might help.

    • JenniferP said:

      The idea of a manager hanging out with direct reports socially didn’t faze me so much, considering the corporate culture in some companies (tech, finance, media, consulting, retail) – “It’s a constant happy hour, everyone is like a family here!” – where young & young-ish people work very long hours, there’s a cool bar cart in the shared kitchen, and “fitting in” with “corporate culture” is prioritized. There can be a lot of bleed between personal social spaces and work friends. I guess one takeaway is, “Even if you start working for one of those WE ARE ALL A BIG DRUNK FAMILY WHO LOVES VIDEO GAMES AND MATCHING T-SHIRTS companies, keep some social relationships separate/don’t let it become your only social outlet.”

      • zaracat said:

        “don’t let it become your only social outlet”

        +1000. Never, ever, put all your eggs in one basket socially, whether it’s socialising predominantly with workmates, having your social life revolve around your partner’s family, or spending all your free time playing NerdGamesRUS. These connections can and do go sour, potentially leaving you with no support group at all when you most need it. The pain of rejection and isolation can feel far worse than the toxic situation you are in/ are attempting to leave/ have just left, which is why so many people stay in or return to abusive relationships or end up in an equally toxic situation on the rebound.

        • johann7 said:

          Seconding: I’ve noticed that some employees at my workplace seem to have no social groups outside of work. This is especially bad for them when they retire and lose their only social sphere, but it’s also a problem at work sometimes because it means people overshare personal stuff and make others uncomfortable, and workplace politics/drama or stress tends to hit them harder because it’s not only their professional sphere that it impacts but also their personal social sphere, because they are the same.

      • LW said:

        “Big drunk family with matching t-shirts” is exactly the environment I was in. It isn’t until you’re on the outside looking in that you realize the family is willing to backstab you and isn’t a family at all (or, at the very least is a highly dysfunctional family). They can pretend it’s a family, but it’s still a corporation with corporate interests. They also try to pretend it’s a meritocracy, but it isn’t. My work sector is well known for those sorts of dynamics and managers trying to act more like peers.

      • TootsNYC said:

        In some small towns, workplaces end up being social in a pretty broad way, too.

        • WilhelminaMildew said:

          This was my experience. I lived in an area that was fairly small, somewhat isolated, *and* primarily for retirees. The pool of people in their 20s-30s that shared my interests was VERY small, and almost all of them ended up working at the same place I did. The ones that didn’t were still part of the same social circles-as in if I hung out with them, I also hung out with friends from my workplace. When I was promoted to a management position, I would have had to drop every friend I had made in that area so as not to fraternize with my employees. Or drop friends I already had that hired in later. All my other friends lived in Big City And It’s Suburbs that were a 2+ hr drive away (on a good day with no traffic) and while I visited them when I could, it wasn’t the same as having friends nearby that I could watch a movie with, go thrifting, or get coffee/tea/food with. And some of those people I’m still close to nearly 20 years later!

    • I work for a smallish company where it’s super common for all of us, higher-ups included, to hang out in the common area and have a beer after work. It’s not unusual for that type of stuff to happen!

    • Anne On said:

      Ellen, I scrolled down to say the same thing. Alison Green has mentioned the unprofessionalism of friending direct contacts many times on Ask A Manager.
      Keep this in mind, LW, as you distance yourself and heal.

  14. Sal said:

    I’m currently in a Toxic Boss situation myself (which is hopefully being rectified by my filing a grievance against them but we shall see). I just want to say a coupla things:

    – I get that you have some good friends from your old job; they’re probably super awesome people and everything but… did they know what was going on? What was their sense of the situation? Did they comment on how things were between you and your manager? Because if they knew you were so sick to the point you were vomiting daily and they weren’t really saying anything about it… does that not create some weirdness? I have a similar situation in that I have a great team who ALL acknowledged my boss’s cruddy behaviour and yet when it came to filing the grievance, they were all of a sudden like “Oh good for you! I hope it improves YOUR situation” and just wanted to distance themselves from it (while also continuing to complain about Boss through emails to me obvs).
    – Have you explored any legal options? Now that you’ve been fired, it may be tricky (and I hear employment law in the US is not great to say the least…) but it sounds like you were constructively dismissed, which is a whole load of Nope. I know how you feel – until recently, I’d been in many cruddy, life-destroying job situations and never once filed a complaint. But now that I have, I know it was the right thing to do. I don’t know if anything will come of it but it cemented in my mind that what happened was Not OK, which has worked wonders for my self-esteem.

    Take care of yourself.

    • Trudy said:

      If LW is in the US, there are time limits on starting legal action.

    • parParenthese said:

      Re: your first point, I wondered the same thing. I’m trying to figure out a dynamic where “awesome former coworkers” are actually awesome despite having (maybe?) not noticed LW’s crazy anxiety/the toxic managerial situation and despite still being there — like, are they all still dealing with Toxic Manager? Or do they report to other people? Or…? Not as a criticism of LW’s desire to hang out with them, just as an exercise in trying to work it all out in my head!

    • LW said:

      Great questions, thanks for asking them! I can see that by trying to stay within the word limit I may have left out some details, but first a clarification – in my original mail I wrote I was throwing up semi-regularly. So, to clear the record, it wasn’t daily, but probably about 6-7 times over the course if several months (let’s call it once a month.)

      1) Did my coworkers know what was going on? No, my direct peers who report to the same manager had no idea about any of it. A few trusted mentors and advisors knew what was going on. One mentor knew everything and one I looped in many months in because I needed someone else to stay sane.

      My peers also have no idea I was fired. They literally can’t fathom it. I’ve gotten messages and texts asking why I left – they all thought I was doing great. I also don’t know how much I can really say to them about what happened. For now I’ve just told them that I will miss them a lot.

      2) Have I sought legal help? Yes, and that’s also why I’m unfortunately a bit close-lipped about some of the details right now. The day it happened I called an employment attorney for a free consult and met with him the following week. It feels a bit unclean, but they were so shady and I have to protect myself now from their shady dealings. :/

      I’m sorry to hear about your toxic work situation and unsupportivr coworkers. I hope things get better for you soon!

      • MK said:

        Eh, LW, if you are going to take legal action against the company about this manager’s behavior, you really should avoid socialising with him in any way. And maybe reconsider how you will relate to your former coworkers after they find out about it; even if they support you 100%, their position will be awkward to say the least.

      • LW Ah I see, that sounds really hard that they didn’t know about any of it. Their endorsement of your work sounds great but it must bring an extra sense of injustice about the whole thing too. I’m glad you feel able to take some action and I hope something good comes out of it 🙂

        • LW said:

          Thank you! Yes, injustice is the perfect word. When you have peers following up and asking why you left (because they can’t fathom that you were fired), or IMing and saying you’re one of the best they ever worked with, it’s even worse.

          Because then it’s like… well, if I was the best they ever worked with, then why did this happen? Answer: because it’s not likely actually about my performance, but political. Also, newsflash: life isn’t fair, and workplaces aren’t true meritocracies, even when they like to loudly trumpet that they are. :/

          • Oh totally, sometimes it’s the places that shout the loudest about how well they treat their staff that are the most miserable places to work. It’s ludicrous that they’ve let you go when you have multiple people telling you what a great job you did. If they know what’s good for them they’ll be kicking themselves soon, but by that time you’ll have found something better and won’t care. It must be rough to have to keep quiet about taking action. Is there any way you can at least not have to lie, by saying something like “I thought things were great but sadly they did not agree which is disappointing.”?

    • MK said:

      Constructive dismissal means that your employer made your work life so intorelable that you were forced to quit; the LW’s situation has nothing to do with that.

      • Can it not also mean being put under an intolerable workload so you’re more likely to make mistakes and give them so-called grounds to let you go?

        • TootsNYC said:

          No–you have to resign. (and your resignation has to be because of how badly they’ve behaved, or by how much they’ve changed the parameters of the job—like, moving it more than 50 miles away, or changing the wages, or changing the duties significantly.) “Since the resignation was not truly voluntary, it is in effect a termination.”

          It doesn’t get that label if you’ve been fired.

          • TootsNYC said:

            so if the LW had quit, she might be able to claim that–but she really would have needed to consult a lawyer to explore the legitimacy of that claim BEFORE she quit, instead of just assuming her argument would hold up in a court of law–because it’s law.

  15. No Monicker Just Best Wishes said:

    Hi, LW, what happened to you is awful. Do take of yourself. It usually does get easier with time.

    Now, when you’re ready to job-hunt again (in your own good time), I cannot recommend Ask A Manager highly enough. askamanager dot org There’s a ton of advice in her posts, and several which deal with toxic bosses/workplaces.

    • Donna Mason said:

      Came here to say this, too. Following the advice on Ask A Manager led to me getting the amazing job I have now, and has led me to realize that some of my slightly PTSD reactions were from past instances, not only in workplaces, but in family, too. Being raised in a red flag factory makes it harder to determine that your interviewer is waving them in your face. I had my share of bad workplaces, and it does take quite a bit of work to really start reacting to the constructive positive criticism you’re receiving *on its face* instead of with all the feelingsbombs of yesteryear.

      Good luck! You’ll do great.

      • LW said:

        Thank you! I love AAM. Her advice has helped me improve my resume immensely. I also was raised in a “red flag factory” – that is a great way to put it! I ignored my gut and a whole bunch of red flags when I first got this job. Hopefully I do better at listening to my instincts in the future. :/

  16. Anna Sthetic said:

    Hi LW! I’m sorry you ended up in such a horrible place.

    One thing to bear in mind is that as there was enough tension with Former Manager that you were stress-vomiting, it’s likely that you won’t need to explain to people who were around at the time why you don’t want to hang out with him.

    Coworkers pick up on stuff like that, even if The Corporate Plausible Deniability of We’re All Friends Here prevents them from talking about it.

  17. Dear LW,

    I feel for you. Getting fired is and toxic workplaces are debilitating.

    I want to emphasize the advice to create a non work social life.

    Leaving a job becomes more bearable when your life is not subsumed under Work

    Jedi hugs if you want them

  18. Emily said:

    I understand why you’re anxious about going to a group get-together and I agree with Cap’s advice to avoid them for now.

    You’re also afraid of NOT going. By skipping an event you might be scared you’ll be severing social ties and isolating yourself, and the fear of isolation and being left out can take on phantasmagoric proportions when you’re already experiencing uncertainty and change.

    But not-going will be okay. Not going will NOT mean being cut off from a rich warm stream of positivity and connectedness and stranding yourself on a barren island of loneliness, it will just mean skipping a party or two with your former co-workers. It will be fine.

    In my experience, hanging out with a bunch of former co-workers is fun to do occasionally (“look, Letter Writer is back!”) but is unlikely to become a regular part of your life. The way you will maintain some ties with this group of people is probably, like the Captain said, by choosing some people to have ongoing relationships with and not by hanging out with “the whole gang”. By all means, go hang if you feel comfortable, but if you don’t go you’re not missing much or rending the social fabric of your life.

    Thanks to both JennP and LW! I feel my soul is nourished by touching yours.

    • LW said:

      “In my experience, hanging out with a bunch of former co-workers is fun to do occasionally (“look, Letter Writer is back!”) but is unlikely to become a regular part of your life.”

      You’re so right. Thanks for putting this in perspective. Anxiety makes things so much bigger than they actually are!

  19. Ookling said:

    Hi, LW!
    I’m ten months out of a job that, by the end of it was causing me anxiety to the point of vomiting/being signed off sick with stress, on a semi regular basis too. I feel your pain, and send you Jedi hugs, if liked.
    I heartily second the Cap’s advice to be gentle with yourself, and be good to yourself. Healing is a productive activity, too.
    Can you find an inexpensive new hobby? I’ve experimented a lot with jam and pickle making, and I’ve found bread making very therapeutic. (I took out my anger and stress on the bread dough, which benefited from it.) And then I found I had tasty bread, too.
    For me, therapy has also helped somewhat in helping me see why and how the place I was in and I reacted so very badly against each other. And to see while what happened wasn’t my fault, at all, I could learn from the grim experience.

    • LW said:

      Are we the same person? I also love bread making and haven’t had a chance to do it since Toxic Job took over my life. I’m about to restart a sourdough starter and work on some creative projects. My psychiatrist and I also worked through some of the details and really arrived at it not being my fault, either.

      Do you have any favorite bread books or recipes? I would love to trade!

      I’m so sorry to hear about your awful experience as well. It sounds like you’ve found some really great ways to heal.

    • Jackalope said:

      Yes, this! I love making bread too (although I don’t get to do it often enough because I have to be around for enough hours — or come back home after enough hours — to let it rise and then roll it out), but have found that it’s MOST satisfying when I’m in a bad mood or angry. I can get my anger out constructively and then have bread! Because at least in my life, fresh-baked bread is always a plus.

  20. shulamit-shoshanna said:

    I had a very similar experience about a year ago.
    I was fired from a job I loved and told on my last day that while my peer-level employees had nothing but good things to say about me, a number of my supervisor-level colleagues had been giving negative feedback to my boss… without ever telling me about it. I was threatened with the dreaded “blackball” since I work in an area where reputations & gossip get around. The whole experience was very traumatic and it took me about 6 months to talk about it without being upset. It also left me very mistrusting of bosses & supervisors, since they’d been complaining about me behind my back.

    What did help, however, was two things:

    1. When it first happened, I cried. I sobbed the whole way home on the metro train, probably making the lady next to me very uncomfortable. It was helpful to acknowledge the shittiness in the most open way possible.

    2. I found some people who were on Team Me that I could talk with. They were people who were (a) entirely unaffiliated with my situation and my career area AND (b) older than me. I needed their perspective on the whole event. It helped to hear a resounding “wow, what a terrible situation” from them. It validated my read on things and my original emotions. It was also good to hear when I was blowing things out of proportion.

  21. Space Pants said:

    LW, I’ve been there, too. I wasn’t vomiting, but moved from occasional, manageable anxiety to having horrible stomach pains on the regular and needing to take anti-anxiety meds. Though I was honest about how overworked I was, my manager wasn’t willing to shift some of my tasks to another employee or hire a part-time admin or intern to assist me, so I ended up quitting after eight years there (not all of it was bad; just the last few years when staff cutbacks meant I was doing the work of two people). It took me a LONG time to get past it. I had a lot of bitterness to work through, so I continued to keep tabs on the company (some of my friends were still working there and had similar feelings about the manager) and felt perverse glee when I learned that the turnover had only increased after I left and things were even worse there. It took me a while to realize I was grieving for this job, which had been the most formative of my professional career thus far, and that I was feeling betrayed and hurt by a company that I had invested so much time in. So I endorse the call to be good to yourself and seek out things outside your former company’s social circle. It’s so important for your mental health to detach from it all. When I saw my friends from the company, we would constantly vent about the terrible manager and keep reliving all the horrible things that happened to us. That need ultimately faded, and I’m still friends with some former colleagues without needing the shared trauma to bind us together. So I know you’ll get past this! The Captain’s advice is spot-on. As a former toxic workplace survivor, I wish you loads of luck!

  22. I’m so sorry for your traumatizing job experience, LW. I was fired from a nightmare job with a devil boss. I only had a few friends I really wanted to keep in touch with, and we chat sometimes on Facebook and occasionally meet for lunch. Dude, my evil boss keeps trying to friend me on social media. Lol. Like I’d ever want that. Good on you for blocking the boss.

    I do have a similar situation with my social circle that involves avoiding a toxic person who hurt me (missing stair gone horribly wrong). I would definitely avoid parties where you A) Have no real knowledge or control of the invite list, and B) May be around people who will ask you about the firing. The Captain’s comment above is right.

    “When you can tell story with some detachment that’s one of the ways you know you’re ready to move on.”

    It may seem unfair, but it’s better this way. Not only will these work get togethers possibly have Crap Boss appearances, they will likely have conversations, interactions, and gossip that will send you on a toxic trip to trigger town. Get together with that hand picked group of trusted friends on your own terms first, maybe just one on ones or small groups to test the waters. Even that may be a lot after your experience. Good luck & Lots of Hugs!

  23. LW, I feel for you. I’ve had 2 jobs like that, although I didn’t get fired. That said, I was either left with no alternative but to quit or was strongly encouraged to leave. (The one where I had no alternative was where a co-worker kept making a certain food that I learned the hard way triggers anaphylactic shock in me. Company’s response was to 1) tell me they couldn’t tell her what to eat, and 2) give me a ton of paperwork I had to get filled out (probably taking 2-3 weeks) before they would make any sort of accommodation. Perfectly legal. I quit the next day saying that I wasn’t going to spend every night waiting to see if I had to be rushed to the ER or not.)

    Anyway, I would add one thing to the Captain’s excellent-as-always advice. Now, I’m somewhat more plain-spoken and direct than many people for a variety of reasons, but if your former co-workers start bugging you about going to events with them, where Evil!Boss may or may not be present?

    Tell them the truth. In detail.

    Tell them that Evil!Boss drove you to regularly throwing up due to stress and anxiety. Tell them you’ve had to seek psychiatric help and be put on meds to cope.

    They’ll either likely think one of two things: 1) They didn’t realize it was that bad, and of course you don’t want to be in the same zip code as Evil!Boss, or 2) You’re exaggerating an being a prima donna. For those who go for the second option?

    Screw ’em. These are probably not people you want to be friends with anyway.

    Hang in there. It will eventually get better.

    • LW said:

      I’m so sorry about your work experiences. That sounds terrible and horrifying.

      I wish I could tell Coworkers what happened, but I can’t. When all is said and done, I may have to sign some anti-defamation papers. If so, they are very strict on the matter of not badmouthing the company to anyone, including on social media and definitely not former or current employees. I am pretty sure that the truth, no matter how true, would count in this instance.

      • kat said:

        hi, i’m not sure how relevant this is to your situation, but i have not seen my brother for literally years. the rest of my family do see him. so, most of them do know that i will not see him, but in some cases i can’t trust that they’ll respect that, so i just ask who is going to be there. that would be my suggestion for you, when someone invites you, ask who will be there.

        if they ask you why you don’t want to spend time with evil boss, just say you don’t feel comfortable discussing it. if they won’t stop pushing, that will teach you a few things about them. (as i have learned to my chagrin.)

        now, i do miss out on a lot of family events, and i suspect you will miss out on a lot of social gatherings, but i think it’s worth it. i could not bear to be in the same room with him, and i suspect you would not have an easy time being in the same room as e!b. better safe than sorry.

        good luck.

        • LW said:

          Thank you, that is helpful!

          • leaky faucet said:

            Note of caution, I just heard on the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast by Emily and Dan Post that it is considered poor manners to ask a host who is invited to an event, and even worse to make your RSVP contingent on the answer. This is probably why CA advises staying away from group events entirely for the time being, instead of gaming out who is going to be there before you decide to go.

            Take that information with a few grains of salt: that very few etiquette rules are universally recognized and followed, and that etiquette is defined disproportionately by people in very privileged positions who probably are not well versed in living with issues such as poverty, disability, structural discrimination, or abuse, so YMMV. Even the Posts always say that safety trumps etiquette. Thought you should know, though, in case the people with whom you want to keep your social ties hew to such standards.

  24. Part-time Jedi said:

    This has nothing to do with your questions about hanging out with old work friends (I think Captain’s advice is excellent) but rather to reassure you that when you do rejoin the work force, this firing is not going to be the end of you. Depending on what your industry is, and how small it is in your area, there’s a reasonably good chance that it is common knowledge that your former company/boss have some shadiness and dysfunctionality going on, and you really won’t be judged for it.

    I am in something pretty close to your situation. I just finished a year working at a school that can only be referred to as a complete fucking trainwreck. Over a quarter of the staff were fired under extremely sketchy conditions that pretty much were only able to happen because there is no union. At least another quarter (including me!) decided to quit. Staff members were being escorted off school property by the police in front of their students a month before the school year ended for nonsensical reasons. It was insanity.

    When I went out to the graduation ceremony for the school I had previously worked at, the first thing one of the teachers asked me was, “What the hell is going on at [School’s Name]?!?” despite the fact that these two schools are on opposite sides of the state, over 150 miles apart.

    My point is, most industries are actually pretty insular, and most people know most other institutions and major players by reputation. This will not haunt you, and if you simply say, “I wasn’t a good fit for X company, and we unfortunately parted ways on unpleasant terms,” people are going to be able to fill in the blanks for themselves.

    • Excellent point. In the last job I ever interviewed for, the president asked me what it was like to work for my (terrible) boss two jobs ago. He asked casually, but he obviously wanted to know—he didn’t ask the same thing of my more recent job. Fortunately I’d already cooked up an answer that would hint at how toxic that workplace was without saying a single bad thing about anybody.

      Later on, after I got the new job, I asked my new boss why he’d inquired after the old one. Turns out it was part of the reason he decided to hire me. The person I replaced had a friend who used to be an employee of terrible boss, and and she got an earful. She told my would-be new boss that if I could work there, I could stand any kind of pain.

      • I got that too! My awful ex boss is LEGEND in our (very small, close-knit) profession. Someone in the application review team saw where I had worked before, and for how long, and flagged my resume as “grace under pressure potential,” and I got the discreet but unmistakable questions about her in the interview, which, as I said in my longer comment above, I was specifically afraid of happening and so had carefully practiced tactful responses.

        My new place is an absolute pressure cooker; my new boss said, rather obliquely, that part of the reason I was placed there (I was part of a hiring group; a bunch of us were hired in an organization-wide expansion and then placed with our best-fit sites, and my site is the largest and most demanding) was because they felt I wouldn’t crumple. But the people I work with make what could be a draining, miserable grind instead a fast-paced exciting delight. I arrive and leave every day with a smile on my face. I just have so much love and gratitude for these people and this organization, and it’s been so healing. I wish this for the LW, when she’s ready.

    • MQ said:

      Yikes, I think I work there now! Would love more info…

      • Part-time Jedi said:

        Is the school you’re talking about in the state of Washington? That’s where mine is.

        • MQ said:

          Now I don’t know whether to be relieved, or depressed that there are two of them. Thank you anyway.

  25. resili0 said:

    I had a job like that. It meant enough to me that I was very conscientious in trying to please the monsterboss and despite it being a toxic workplaces of grievances and walkouts before I arrived; I took my failure to make it work VERY personally. I lasted six months and then quit to senior management who had all kinds of odd missing stair justifications for keeping monsterboss and in retrospect, the waiving of my contractual notice period and insistence on giving me a good reference was their desire to avoid a tribunal. I was utterly convinced that had I been tougher/smarter/quicker, I’d have found a way to make the job work. Resignation felt awful.

    Shortly after I left, the entire organisation got restructured, senior managers replaced, turns out there were big problems there that I had no way of knowing that confirmed that I was not at fault. Some of the good work I did at that job got noticed and I found a new role elsewhere.

    I now work in the same town, in the same industry in a place that partners with this old organisation. I used some diplomatic but truthful talk to explain why I left. It turns out that my new boss loves the work I do and I love working for him because the difference between a good manager and a monster boss is huge. It’s so different that I can’t fathom why I stayed at the old place. Turns out, when I work for a reasonable person who follows employment law and has basic people skills, I flourish.

    It’s natural to be working through the adrenal exhaustion that is being stuck in a traumatic workplace. In time, you might find that the story of Why It Didn’t Work gets fleshed out and you can stand back and appreciate that you did your best in an impossible job. That is a success. Seeing the impossible job for what it is, that’s a success.

    Occasionally, I have to interact via brief phone call or email with my old monster boss. A year ago, seeing her in the street would fill me with panic. Now she is a big old ‘meh’ because I know that what happened was her failure and our work conduct has been reflected in our fortunes, I am in a great job where not even her bad attitude can influence others, most of whom know if her bad rep without me having to say a word. She got demoted. Taking the moral high ground feels good. Monsterboss only felt good when she humiliated others to get an ego trip. She now has to hope that I am tactful about her.

    Your fantastic work ethic will speak for itself. All you need to do is show up to the good opportunities and release the shame, there is no shame in losing an unfair fight.

    • LW said:

      Thank you for sharing your experience! A lot of what you said really resonates with me. I definitely agree that I need to get to that place of seeing surviving the impossible situation as success. Thank you.

  26. Portmanteau said:

    I’m a contractor and a couple of years ago I had two gigs, and both of them featured a Monster Boss. They were both masters of gas lighting and it was exactly like my upbringing, with a woman in authority criticizing me constantly, setting me up to fail and sometimes raging at me. I was the equivalent of fired from both of them when, a week before Christmas, both places didn’t renew me.

    I had tried hard to make both situations work, and I’d gone into therapy to help me deal with these two personalities. I loved in two states of dread: of going to work and also of getting fired. After that happened I got really depressed but then I gave myself permission to spend January recovering and not thinking about getting work. I ended up launching a creative venture that I’d been fantasizing about and although it remains a passion rather than a profession, giving myself permission and space to pursue it has changed my life.

    Then I spent February redoing my LinkedIn presence and getting references. I visited people who love me the next month, and that was super important for my sense of worth in the world.

    I ended up getting another contract about two months after that. I was skittish there for at least the first six months because I didn’t feel I could trust anyone or count on stability after those last experiences in Crazyland. It’s been a year. I’m constantly told how much people love working with me and although the my manager the opposite of me in terms of personality he’s respectful of those differences and, well, nice. Most of the people I work with are nice, and professional, and none of the toxic shit inexperienced would be tolerated where I work now.

    So take time to be good to yourself and know that there are lots of great places to work, and when you connect with one you’ll be appreciated for the great person and professional that you are. Also, I recommend saving up some money so you have a healthy Fuck You Fund. That way you can leave such situations before they start making you throw up every day.

    • LW said:

      “although my manager the opposite of me in terms of personality he’s respectful of those differences and, well, nice”

      Holy crap. I think you just helped me realize some of the issues with my old job. I knew my old manager was really dogmatic that his way was the Best Way and he just didn’t get it when I did things differently… But you just perfectly articulated some of what happened. We had different personality types and styles but instead of respecting that, I got the feeling that he viewed it as an inherent flaw about me.

      There were a couple situations where he turned things around and made them my fault because I hadn’t done them the “right” way – but I had just done them differently than he preferred to do them. I especially felt horrible when this happened during moments of feedback – like, I’d ask him to do something differently so I could be more effective; he would respond with, “but I would have expected you to do X.” He would turn it back around on me and make it my fault! It felt like retaliation whenever I provided gentle feedback.

  27. Frances Hurd said:

    One great thing about CA (and similar safe spaces) is that someone who’s been in a bad place discovers they are not alone. I did a job for six years which I took because it had every potential to be my dream placement. The work itself should have been but the management was truly terrible, a climate of absolutely awful. I didn’t realise what a state I was in until my teenage daughter got out of bed at 2 am, came and found me lying sobbing on the floor and said ‘Mom, you need to leave that place’. She was wonderful, so were the rest of Team Me, but I needed to see a counsellor before I could get halfway back to normal. A big Yes to learning to rephrase how you describe how and why you left. I resigned, I wasn’t fired, but that can be just as difficult to explain.I was working in a small industry and my ex-employer is one of the major players. Leaving them evidently looked nuts to some people. I haven’t managed to find another job, but I am doing a lot of volunteering and it’s been a huge help in slowly learning to put myself together again. And yes, as someone has remarked above, the difference between good and bad management is enormous and crucial. Until you experience a toxic work environment it’s hard to believe the effect it will have on you.

    • That should have posted with my WordPress avatar! If it can’t be changed then just delete it. Sorry!!

  28. LW: Sympathy on the Post-Traumatic Job Disorder, I understand entirely. In fact, I’m worried about similar things myself. My current supervisor is the most discourteous person I’ve ever met, she’s caused multiple of my co-workers to break down in tears on various occasions, and she’s rampantly egotistical and overbearing and also highly micromanaging. So I’m worried that even if I find another job, I’ll still feel at odds with work.

    On the topic of the letter, I think all of your work friends will understand if you were to ask if Former Manager is going to be at a given party. I think they will grasp why you wouldn’t want to run into the guy that just fired you. Then again, the Captain’s advice to just avoid such gatherings probably works pretty well, too.

    Best of luck recovering, at any rate. 🙂

  29. Serin said:

    How much do I agree with the advice to tell the story in various ways in different contexts? So very much!

    TEN YEARS after being fired from my toxic job, I very hesitantly told the story to my current co-workers (I had bounced so hard out of the old job that I was now in an entirely different field). I was expecting judgment. What I got was: “You’ve seriously only been fired once? And that was a really stupid reason, too. Wow.”

  30. TootsNYC said:

    A thought for the rest of us, instead of the OP:

    Regarding this: ” People sometimes say stuff like “I can’t believe you won’t be there!” or “It just won’t be the same without you!” and when you’re emotionally vulnerable you read it as pressure, like you are SERIOUSLY letting them down by not attending an event. The truth is, they may in fact miss you, but when the event happens there will be plenty of other people there and they will have a good time and not think about you all that much. Try to see those statements as “enthusiasm for my company” rather than “pressure to attend”

    I’ve taken to saying to people, “We’ll miss you! Not enough that you should feel guilty, but certainly enough that you should feel flattered.”

    I think we can all try to be aware of that pressure.

    But, like the OP, we should all assume that people actually -mean- what I said–be flattered, don’t feel guilty.

    • Mel Reams said:

      I’ve taken to saying to people, “We’ll miss you! Not enough that you should feel guilty, but certainly enough that you should feel flattered.”

      I think that phrasing is delightful and intend to steal it 🙂

      • Same! As an introvert, I am always wary of pressuring people (even extraverts) and it might come off as me not caring one way or another. This phrasing clarifies that I do care, but I also understand if someone isn’t up to doing something.

  31. Lallyzippo said:

    Man this…Did I write this 3 months ago? This feels like me from 3 months ago.

  32. Poor LW! I’ve had my share of bad bosses (the boss who chased customers out of his restaurant with a huge knife when they had the temerity to complain that the expensive bottles of red wine he stored on top of a hot refrigerator had turned to vinegar, the boss who told me his wife didn’t understand him and that he didn’t like his infant daughter and then tried to sexually harass me, the boss who fucked up by not putting return labels on the huge cases holding necessary convention supplies and blamed me when they didn’t come home promptly, the Tea Party boss who hung a huge picture of Dubya right over MY desk even though I made it a point to be quiet about politics and religion at work, the religious boss who insisted on everyone holding hands and being prayed at before every company-wide event despite not everyone being of his faith, the boss who failed to give clear instructions and refused to put anything in writing and then gaslit employees when they failed to read her mind, the boss who embezzled from the company and tried to get me involved but I was too naive and constitutionally honest to even understand what he was asking and foiled his plan, the boss who held illegal floating poker games in the business after hours, the boss who paid everyone under the table and failed to report income properly to the IRS, the racist boss, the bigoted boss, the competitive with all other women female boss, the downright mean boss, etc., etc., etc.) and all I can say is that the best revenge after dealing with a bad boss is to get a new job and a (hopefully better) boss.

    I hereby hope that your next job pays you more, comes with fabulous benefits, has great co-workers, and, most of all, that your next boss is a good person. That last hope is actually a prediction. It’s rare you go from pretty horrible boss to worst boss ever. 🙂 Also, you will have new ammunition when you job hunt, and can ask some questions about work culture that you might not have thought to ask before.

  33. Dear LW, this is an extraordinarily difficult scenario. The Captain’s advice is spot on, especially the part about taking care of yourself and getting out of the house to do *something*, whether it be classes or volunteering (or both) or whatnot. You’ll heal much faster and get your head in the right space to go find that shiny new job.

    I was generally lucky in the bosses I dealt with. There were a couple who were difficult, but not toxic. But after 11 years working for the same company, and becoming a very senior design engineer, I had the rug pulled out from under me when the company decided it was too expensive to continue running their facility in my city. I was offered the opportunity to move to the other coast of the US, or I would be laid off… and in the six months between this announcement and the layoff, I was expected to train my replacements who flew out from there to learn from me. I had poured my heart into my work for several years, and the current design I was working on was the culmination of a lot of people’s effort, not just mine. I stayed those six months and trained my new students. I might never see the results of my work deployed, but dammit it would be deployed.

    When Layoff Day came I was devastated. I went home and hauled in the boxes that represented 11 years of residence in a company: awards, coffee mugs, photographs, books, technical manuals. I was incapable of looking for a job. I was too devastated. I had given too much of me away. I went to my local community college and enrolled in art classes. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done for myself. It got me out of the house, and gave me the opportunity to meet lots of people who weren’t engineers. (Engineers tend to be a bit tribal.) It opened up the parts of me that I had stifled over the years. And when I was ready to go back to work, I could do it with enthusiasm.

    Now, I’m not recommending art or even classes in particular; I’m just recommending getting away from the devastation by doing something positive. It heals like nothing else.

  34. Jackalope said:

    Just wanted to chime in as well as someone on the other end of an experience a bit like yours. My bosses weren’t toxic — in fact, they have many wonderful traits that I admire and are great human beings — but it was a nonprofit organization working in another country, and they had poor communication skills and little respect for boundaries, and when your staff is entirely composed of people who are deeply passionate about their job and want to pour themselves into their work, then this can lead to a toxic environment because it’s already hard to create boundaries and when the having of boundaries is discouraged, well….. Add to that the fact that half of us came from overseas (the other half being nationals), and so leaving the job meant not having a visa anymore, not being able to get local employment, and having to make an international move if we left the job (there were a few other options, but they were hard to find), and it was an exhausting and difficult situation.

    I finally was so burned out that I left, and spent the next few years recovering. I was lucky to spend a couple of years working at a part-time seasonal job that was SO much less exhausting, and that helped me get to where I was able to function again. I now have a job that has good boundaries AND lets me help people professionally, which is a good fit for me!

    How this will work out for you, LW, remains to be seen. But I found that once I’d been away for awhile and had managed to process some of the toxicity (and by “awhile” I do mean “a few years”), I found that it had been helpful. I have a much better idea of what I’m looking for in a supervisor, and am no longer willing to work for someone with no boundaries. I know what I’m looking for in a job, and have been able to avoid or neutralize a lot of what I disliked about that position (by “neutralize” I mean going in with a firm sense of specific boundaries that I will enforce from day 1 because it’s easier to start as you mean to go on than to go back and put in new boundaries in an old relationship, although the latter certainly is possible). Most of the people I was particularly close to in the first job have also left, and I am free to continue relationships with them as I choose; for some this means just seeing each other’s posts on Facebook and knowing that we’re both still alive, for others it means talking on a regular basis, but we can CHOOSE that now that we’re out. And not too long ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days around the former bosses and realized that we have little in common but I still appreciate them as human beings, and now that they have no significant control over my life (as long as I still want to visit the other country at times they will still have some control over me visiting my old work sites, for example, but that’s only a week or two every few years) I can enjoy that part of them and not have to worry about the other bits.

    tl;dr: It gets better, and hopefully you will find that down the road you will have good things that will have come even from this horrible experience, AND you may be able to do some of the things you care about like staying in touch with the people that matter to you.

  35. Jackalope said:

    (Note: Not sure if this got eaten by the internet or just caught in spam filters; please feel free to delete if this is a double posting.)

    Just wanted to chime in as well as someone on the other end of an experience a bit like yours. My bosses weren’t toxic — in fact, they have many wonderful traits that I admire and are great human beings — but it was a nonprofit organization working in another country, and they had poor communication skills and little respect for boundaries, and when your staff is entirely composed of people who are deeply passionate about their job and want to pour themselves into their work, then this can lead to a toxic environment because it’s already hard to create boundaries and when having boundaries is discouraged, well….. Add to that the fact that half of us came from overseas (the other half being nationals), and so leaving the job meant not having a visa anymore, not being able to get local employment, and having to make an international move if we left the job (there were a few other options, but they were hard to find), and it was an exhausting and difficult situation.

    I finally was so burned out that I left, and spent the next few years recovering. I was lucky to spend a couple of years working at a part-time seasonal job that was SO much less exhausting, and that helped me get to where I was able to function again. I now have a job that has good boundaries AND lets me help people professionally, which is a good fit for me!

    How this will work out for you, LW, remains to be seen. But I found that once I’d been away for awhile and had managed to process some of the toxicity (and by “awhile” I do mean “a few years”), I found that it had been helpful. I have a much better idea of what I’m looking for in a supervisor, and am no longer willing to work for someone with no boundaries. I know what I’m looking for in a job, and have been able to avoid or neutralize a lot of what I disliked about that position (by “neutralize” I mean going in with a firm sense of specific boundaries that I will enforce from day 1 because it’s easier to start as you mean to go on than to go back and put in new boundaries in an old relationship, although the latter certainly is possible). Most of the people I was particularly close to in the first job have also left, and I am free to continue relationships with them as I choose; for some this means just seeing each other’s posts on Facebook and knowing that we’re both still alive, for others it means talking on a regular basis, but we can CHOOSE that now that we’re out. And not too long ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days around the former bosses and realized that we have little in common but I still appreciate them as human beings, and now that they have no significant control over my life (as long as I still want to visit the other country at times they will still have some control over me visiting my old work sites, for example, but that’s only a week or two every few years) I can enjoy that part of them and not have to worry about the other bits.

    tl;dr: It gets better, and hopefully you will find that down the road you will have good things that will have come even from this horrible experience, AND you may be able to do some of the things you care about like staying in touch with the people that matter to you.

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