Addendum: The Question of Intent

Does your boss really mean to be mean? Even in the most obvious cases of abuse mentioned above, you may have a hard time believing your boss is out to hurt you. The fact is that people will often make excuses for their abuser. It is easier to accept abuse if there is some way to attribute a cause that neither the abuser or abused have control over.

Worse yet, people may find such excuses in themselves. They will hold themselves responsible for their employer’s actions, perhaps validating feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness they held long before their current difficulties.

The issue of intent relates to self-control. Some people think that because the abuser seems impulsive, they lose their sense of reasoning and their ability to engage in purposeful behavior. They therefore cannot be held accountable for what they do. But as Denham and Gillespie (1993) point out, abuse is not about loss of control; it is about getting control of someone else.

The question of intent can be framed in absurd terms: Does it matter whether the boss sits down and carefully plans their itinerary of abuse, or if they improvise and humiliate someone on the basis of their whims or emotions for that day? The first situation seems premeditated; the second has an implication of irrationality and arbitrariness. The fact is that abuse is often part of a pattern of intimidation, and a pattern in itself implies a measure of deliberate intent.

In short, you should make no mistake about the question of intent. The boss’s actions are intended to hurt you. They are intended to make you feel vulnerable and susceptible to control. The bottom line is that you are in psychological danger. It is survival of your ego that is at stake. Not the ego that is commonly understood as related to one’s vanity or conceit, but the ego that upholds the integrity and security of your character.

Hence, the question of whether the boss means to be mean is irrelevant. Much more important is what is his/her behavior doing to you? How does it make you feel? Why are you taking it? What can you do about it?

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