In Part 1 of “Thriving Under a Toxic Leader”, we explored: possible signs that you are under a toxic leader and the effects they may have on you. Now let’s dig a little deeper:
What in you is allowing a toxic leader to drastically impact you?
If we find that the toxic leader is seriously impacting our wellbeing, we need to have a conversation with ourselves. Let’s take a look in the mirror:
1. Lack of Identity: You are probably not yet settled into who and whose you are. This means, the awareness of the amazing creation you are, born on purpose for a purpose. Until you settle this, your insides will always be “wobbly”, blowing to and fro as per whoever is in your space. When you are not settled in the fact that you are of immense value, unique and loved by your Creator, you become a people pleaser as you seek acceptance and belonging everywhere you go and soon you will begin to betray your values to get it. The cognitive dissonance, the internal tug of war, grows and becomes a loud gong within. You will either conform to the external pressure or implode (this is assuming that you are not colluding with the toxicity). No human or role on earth can provide a sense of identity for you. You will not find your identity in your ability to perform, your title or role. All these are moveable, unreliable pieces. Allowing this mindset means the human or organisation that gives you a job controls you, your future and your happiness.
2. Unclear on Purpose and Calling: You may be fearful because you haven’t really begun to function from a “purpose and calling” perspective. You do not know what you are called to do. It’s hard to believe that you are uniquely crafted to provide a specific solution to a waiting people group and place. This means, currently, your job is your purpose and calling. This is dangerous and needs addressing. As you explore purpose and calling, you begin to realize that no human on earth controls your calling. Your purpose and calling is woven into your DNA!
3. Unhealed Wounds, Trauma and Poor Boundaries: Your past hovers steadily in the background and silently runs a program. Question is, what program is running? What narrative is playing? Not dealing with our past and shoving the issues in a closet simply doesn’t work. The following speak and spill over:
a. Trauma and wounding:
i. Narcissistic or toxic leaders experienced toxic leadership somewhere. No child learns to control, manipulate or dominate their environment on their own. Most of us may actually have had controlling tendencies but we grow and mature in this area. Those who haven’t grown in this area were usually controlled and manipulated in their childhood and have never dealt with this trauma. They either become the controller (the toxic leader) or unhealthily submissive and take on victim and door mat status (you?). Both are toxic. Exposure to unhealthy authority in our younger years impacts our voice in later years. Whether through parents or schooling, one may have been taught to shut up, be still and that children never speak back to adults. We carry this wounding and form unhealthy beliefs into how we relate with all authority (bosses, lecturers and maybe even spouses) . Your inability to stand up against a bullying, toxic leader may be rooted in insecurity and fear wounds from the past.
ii. Poor boundaries: Inability to create and maintain healthy boundaries will lead to you being controlled and manipulated. You must investigate what within your belief system and life experiences convinced you to not work on and from healthy boundaries. “To set healthy boundaries with others, you must be able to set them with yourself”- https://humanparts.medium.com/the-honest-truth-about-why-some-people-cant-set-boundaries
Personally, my number one weakness was people pleasing. I cared way too much on what people said and thought. Secondly, my identity was in my performance. I worked to perform “excellently” and “please” my boss. This would not necessarily have been a bad thing as long as my identity was not wrapped up in it. But it was. This became a problem when perfectionism started to take over or when I became too hard on myself and others or when I had a difficult, insecure boss who simply did not and would not value my work. I would feel crushed! I had to learn that my identity wasn’t in my job, thus I can disagree honourably with a leader and have a voice and that if someone didn’t approve of me, that is totally okay too. They didn’t define who I was. Along the way, my people pleasing tendencies have drastically reduced and my reliance and arrogance in “my ability and capability” was drastically torn away though eating humble pie.
It took over a decade to get here. I sit here confident in that there is something amazing I have to offer to the world, accepting that I am not everyone’s cup of tea and that I definitely know very little and always have to be teachable. I am content in this journey of evolving and growing, always surrounding myself with healthy folk that lift me up and call me out when I begin to betray my values, identity and purpose.
Toxicity left unchecked manifests physically. I remember feeling physically sick as I was approaching a building where I constantly sat under an insecure and toxic boss. I would shut my office door when I got in and pray. Then open my door, ready for the assault of arrows fired one after the other. I knew I still had to be there for a while but it was difficult. It did however build me up spiritually and mentally.
So, what is needed going forward?
1. Awareness leading to action: wise up and understand that this type of leader will only change when they are ready. This is simply how they have operated for years, but yes, life will teach them a lesson, it may just not be in your time. So, if you can’t leave yet, you need to face the fact that you have a toxic leader and learn to create an emotional wall between you and them. You do that by understanding that primarily this is not about you. They are simply projecting their fears, wounds and insecurities. This is enough release to keep you going for a while. Begin to build your healthy boundary, test it and stick to it. Don’t answer the phone at 11pm, don’t allow yourself to be bullied, don’t allow fear and intimidation to rule your day. Trust you me, they will not like this game change and will try to trespass. Will you stay the path and hold the boundary?
2. Take a step back: I remember I had been lulled into safety once by an extremely charming and charismatic leader. I could share my thoughts, desires, hopes of the future. This safety only lasted as long as I was a “yes girl”. Immediately I began to question or honourably challenge as I felt I had earned the space to, I was the enemy. I encountered another human. I began to see the full spectrum of their personality not just what they had been presenting.
3. Begin you healing journey: evaluate how much of you has been affected by this leader and acknowledge that there is pain. The first step is forgiveness. This releases you and allows your heart to begin to heal. Consciously begin to detach yourself from them. Don’t seek their acceptance, affirmation, friendship, opinions. Over time there has been an entanglement and you are now disentangling yourself . Get help if need be. I went through counselling through inner healing sessions and forgave, disconnected emotionally and built healthy boundaries. I was a new person after it all; empowered, brave and confident.
4. Acceptance: Accept the facts. Accept that there is pain and healing is beginning. Accept that you were betrayed as you made an emotional investment into a dark and messy soul. Accept to never be accepted by them – that’s the hardest bit for a soul healing from people pleasing and insecurity.
I am not too sure if thriving under a toxic leader is possible, however, surviving healthy is. You will need courage and wisdom. Bullies only back down when someone stands up.