Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Female boss yelling at male employee

How to Deal with a Toxic Bo ss, Part 2

by James Porter September 01, 2023

Last week I wrote about how to deal with a toxic boss. I gave tips for doing this including: 1. Seek Constructive Feedback, 2. Set Boundaries and 3, Focus on Self-care. What I didn’t mention in the last blog was my own PERSONAL experience with this problem because, quite honestly, back then, I was fresh out of college and had no tools for dealing with it. I didn’t even know what a toxic boss was.

The Relaxation Response But I knew I was dealing with a difficult boss within weeks of arriving when, during a meeting with the office manager, my boss said to her (and this is an exact quote) “You’d be pretty if you weren’t so fat.” When I later asked my boss, “how could you say something like that?” She responded: “I was only giving her a compliment.” Over the next eight years I would learn that my boss was a micromanager, a narcissist, always had to have things her way, was NEVER wrong, and of course would NEVER apologize.


The day she fired me was an eventful day. That was the day I ALSO learned that my wife was pregnant with our first child. Two months later, my boss tried to prevent me from collecting unemployment which, due to State law, she was paying out of her own pocket. We met for the last time, at the state unemployment office. In the waiting area, outside the office, where I was nervously hoping I might keep these unemployment checks coming for at least a little while longer, she sat down on the bench next to me. It was an awkward moment.

 She leaned over and I suppose in an effort to be friendly asked: “Is the baby kicking yet?”

“You’re kidding me,” I replied. “You’re trying to prevent me from collecting unemployment and you want to make small talk?”  Luckily the adjudicator came out right then, invited us into his office and after hearing both sides of the story, sided with me. It was the only argument with her I ever won!

Knowing what I know now, would have definitely helped me to deal with the situation at the time: 1. I was terrible at taking criticism (and she was good at giving it!) 2. She was actually GOOD at setting boundaries. I didn’t appreciate this at the time.  She rarely contacted me outside of business hours, 9 to 5, five days a week. And 3, MY JOB was to learn about self-care in every imaginable form. This is what I was getting PAID to do.

While I was there, my boss gave me books from her library and encouraged me to read them like The Relaxation Response, by Dr. Herbert Benson, 90 Days to Self-Health, by Dr. Norman Shealy, The Way of Zen, By Alan Watts, Love, Medicine and Miracles by Dr. Bernie Siegal and Beyond Biofeedback, by Dr. Elmer Green. These were all seminal works that in different ways led me to all the work I’m doing today.

Coping with Stress at Work book

In 1982, she sent me over to the Pepsi World Headquarters in nearby Purchase, NY to check what was one of the very first corporate Wellness Centers in the US. While I was there, the head of the Department, Dennis Colacino gave me this book. There was a chapter in it about his wellness center. And I can leave it to you to conclude what it started me thinking about over 40 YEARS ago.

And finally, what I now know about practicing gratefulness and cognitive restructuring surely would have helped me then because 1. I truly DID NOT have the “world’s worst boss” even though I had that thought running through my head constantly. And 2, there really was MUCH to be grateful for: I learned how to run a small business. I learned how to type. I used my first computer. I took a graphic design course. I edited film and video. I learned how to make high quality educational films on a very low budget. I got introduced to mindfulness and wellness, when those concepts were so new, we were still calling them Buddhism and Holistic Health. And while I was there, I got to meet many of these authors, like Benson, Shealy, Siegel and Elmer Green.

But of course, when I was in the trenches, I didn’t appreciate any of this, but I do now. So I will leave you with the advice that practicing gratefulness and mindfulness helps you find the good in a bad situation and it forces you to focus on the big picture, rather than being trapped in so much “little me” thinking. I should also mention that the thing that got me through those eight challenging years was the dream of some day starting my own business. And quite honestly I don’t think I ever would have if she hadn’t fired me! So now I’m grateful for that, too.


James Porter
James Porter