In my experience as a career coach, as well as a corporate executive prior to my coaching career, I have discovered a phenomenon that I call Post Bad Boss Stress Disorder (PBBSD). It is the stripping of your confidence as a result of having a bad boss. A bad boss can be defined as an abusive person who strips you of your confidence and self-worth. Why they do it is not important. What is important is that you recognize it and deal with it.
Many people come to me oozing the negativity and reduced confidence that PBBSD causes. They feel silly that their career could have affected their psyche so severely. Well, your career is personal, so it’s hard not to take the effects of it personally. I’ve been there myself. I can still feel the steam coming from my ears when I reflect on my experiences with bad bosses. It’s hard to get over because it's personal and hits you where it hurts: your livelihood.
Don’t be ashamed by your feelings and how hard this experience has affected you. People experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a variety of reasons. Your PBBSD does not need to be compared with the experiences of conventional PTSD sufferers, such as victims of assault and our brave military personnel. If you have an experience that is negatively affecting your life, then it is okay to acknowledge that you have PTSD. Acknowledging it will allow you to seek help and make a complete recovery. You deserve to restore yourself to happiness and confidence.
The problem is that most people don’t recognize it in themselves -- and they certainly don’t realize that it shows. Let me tell you, it smells like bad cologne. I work mostly with people via telephone, and I can still smell it. It can’t be ignored -- you must deal with it. It’s clouding your judgment. You will settle for anything better than what you had, which is a low bar. You will sell yourself short, and you don’t deserve that. You’re just letting your abuser win.
Six months ago, I had an initial conversation with the founder of an investment firm. He called me because he was being terminated. That’s right, a founder was being ousted. (Think Steve Jobs’ first stint with Apple). I mean, that’s got to stink, right? How is that possible? Well, it was because he was a co-founder and not the president. One thing led to another, and he was the one to go. Let me tell you, he was angry -- and understandably so. Fast forward six months, and he called me to get his job search started. After speaking for a few minutes, I asked: “You’re not over it yet, are you?” He replied, “No, I’m still really pissed off.” It showed, and there was no way he was getting another job (or at least one of his caliber) no matter how much he thought he was hiding this anger. He needed to deal with it before he could move on.
PBBSD is no different than any other traumatic experience that causes PTSD. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “People with PTSD continue to have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended ... People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”
I’m not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV. But I recognize these symptoms in people who have experienced an abusive boss or a toxic work environment. So, regardless of what we call it (although I like the term PBBSD), labeling how you feel is less important than how you deal with your feelings.
I’ve compiled some strategies that have been successful with my clients in overcoming PBBSD:
• Write a letter to your abuser. Get it all out -- don’t hold back. Tell them how you really feel, and use all the bad language you want. But don’t ever send the letter. Simply the act of writing it is cathartic.
• Speak with an old manager or other colleagues who truly value you.
• Write a list of your accomplishments to remind yourself of just how awesome you are.
• Do something outside of work that you are good at.
• Find a mentor.
• Speak to a therapist.
• Use relaxation and meditation techniques to restore your balance.
As I said earlier, PBBSD is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not your fault. But it is your responsibility to deal with it. So, seek the help you need, because you deserve happiness. You are awesome.