Are You the T in Toxic?

In this blog post, we discussed the telltale signs of a toxic work environment. But how do you know if you’re contributing to the negative atmosphere? What can you do if you’re the “T” in toxic?

The Desire to Control

According to Swiss psychologist Ellen Miller, everyone has experienced some degree of neglect, disappointment, unkindness, or pain as a child. In our adult lives, we have two choices: pull it up to our conscious awareness, or repress it. Most people choose repression, because the process of becoming aware of the associated “bad” feelings is upsetting.

Controlling, improper, demoralizing, and sometimes violent behavior can be the result of the repression of a childhood trauma, especially when combined with pressure at home or work. You may be the T in toxic if you’ve developed a misguided belief that rigid standards and controlling behavior leads to better performance. Have you blurred the line between being demanding and being an ogre?

Signs You’re a Super Controller

Do any of these statements ring a bell?

  • You’re greatly bothered when people seem to get away with not doing a job right.
  • You go to great lengths to force co-workers or subordinates to maintain the highest standards at all times.
  • New freedoms in the workplace irritate you.
  • You tend to wither, tune out, or get angry when people complain about what’s wrong.
  • Disorder of any sort bothers you immensely.
  • You often find yourself impatient and easily angered.
  • You want things your way.
  • People tell you you’re too much of a perfectionist.
  • You think it’s right for people to learn lessons the hard way.
If you’re seeing yourself in this description, you’re likely a source of stress to others at work. In other words, you ARE the T in toxic!

Fix It!

Separate the negativity around you from the person you truly are. Never justify your bad behavior by blaming your difficult work situation. You can’t control what other people say and do, but you can control yourself.

How to Distance Yourself from Negativity

Implement as many of these new behaviors and routines as necessary to help you deal with your feelings more appropriately.


A daily regimen of inspirational quotes, scriptures, poems, or self-help books specific to your needs provide guidance and positivity.


Find assessments online, like this one from TalentSmart, or invest in a professional evaluation. Take stock of your interests, values, personality traits, and skills. The process of getting in touch with who you really are enhances employability, boosts confidence, and leads to a higher quality of life.


Share your feelings with your partner, a family member, trusted friend, or HR representative at work. Just speaking up is therapeutic, but you might also find that it’s easier to brainstorm solutions with someone else.


When you can’t talk, write in a journal, or blog (but don’t trash-talk anyone publicly!).

Seek a Professional

Get help from a professional counselor.

In addition, you can revitalize your career and self-confidence by negotiating new hours (and flexibility), building a relationship with a mentor, becoming a member of a strategic support group, or asking for more supervision from someone you admire. Do what it takes to enjoy your work again!

This article is adapted from content in Shawn McVey’s presentation titled, “Take the Test: Are You the T in Toxic?” To schedule Shawn to give this presentation to your group or team, contact Cindy Oliphant at 888-759-7191 or by email.