My Boss Was a Bully With a Toxic Temper

By as told to

Everyone has had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad boss at least once in their lives. In the weekly My Terrible Boss series, people vent about theirs.

When I was 27, I worked as a managing editor for five months at a nonprofit-type company based in L.A. I had been job hunting for several months when I found the job. I had never heard of the company, but when they called me in for the interview, I went.

The first interview was at a coffee shop near their office and John* ended up actually yelling so loud that people were staring. It was sort of a journalism job but he seemed to weirdly hate journalists and he kept insulting me like, “Journalists don’t think critically, they just write down what other people tell them. You’re definitely not smart enough to do this.” I had no idea what was going on. I was sitting there and trying to get it together and saying, like, “Well, I actually think I am for reasons X, Y, and Z.” As we talked, I got the sense that he did want to hire me and that the way he was acting was a sort of test. When it was over, I just went home and sobbed. Then, he hired me.

I was young and desperate and I just was like, “Well, I need a job.” I was 100 percent convinced things would change. “I know I’m smart,” I thought. “I know I can do this.” I thought that I could convince him and that it would all work out.

On my first day, I realized I was wrong. A guy who acted like he had some seniority told me to do something and I did it, and then John started screaming at me about what an idiot I was. He said I had screwed up, and that he was right that he shouldn’t have bothered hiring me. This was on my first day.

John used to tell me all sorts of horrible things about the person who was in my job before me. “She was so incompetent, she was psychotic. She had a nervous breakdown on the job. I can’t believe how crazy that woman is.” But now that I think about it, I really bet it wasn’t true. It was almost certainly his fault if she had a nervous breakdown.

He would tell me I was an idiot at least a couple of times a week. He was much bigger and much taller than me. He was a heavyset guy, and when he was yelling at me about how stupid I was, he would stand above me at my desk. At one point, I said to him, “You’re making me uncomfortable by standing too close to me.” He was really close to me — like spitting on my face — and I was weirdly calm about it. I asked him, “Will you step back?” And that just sent him over the edge. He said, “Oh you think I’m going to hurt you?! You think you’re unsafe in this office?!” He was thundering yelling at me.

After that, he would not speak to me unless this sycophant woman who worked directly under him was in the room with us. He was not afraid to scream in front of her. When I would cry, that would intensify the bullying, where he’d be like, “You’re too weak. You can’t handle it here.”

The thing that triggered my eventual quitting happened over Fourth of July weekend. My parents were in town and we went to the Getty together. There was no cell-phone service at the museum. We were there for two or three hours, and when we left I looked at my phone and I had nine voice-mails and 17 texts from him. In every voice-mail, he was just getting angrier and angrier. Like, Where are you, this is tremendously irresponsible of you. He was mad because a headline needed to be tweaked. I had told my parents that things were not good at work and I played the voice-mails for them. They were totally horrified. “Oh my god, we didn’t realize he was abusive!” I was crying all day long in front of my parents after that. It was really, really horrible.

I made it one more week. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I finally was like, I’m not doing this anymore. My boyfriend’s mother was an employment attorney, so she ghostwrote my resignation letter. I did not say anything about his issues. I didn’t say anything about why I was quitting, I just said I was quitting for personal reasons. I mailed the keys back. He never responded.

*All names and signifying details have been changed.

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My Terrible Boss Was a Bully With a Toxic Temper