Jessica Jones on Overcoming a Toxic Boss

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I recently binged watched the Netflix series Jessica Jones. Let me begin by saying “Wow!” I can’t remember the last time I was so addicted to a show. If you haven’t seen it, the simple premise is that Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a former minor superhero suffering from PTSD.

We follow Jessica as she deals with the source of her PTSD, a sadistic adversary named Kilgrave (David Tenant). Kilgrave has the power to control minds. If he tells someone to do something, they will do it without hesitation regardless of how vile the suggestion may be—sticking their hand in a blender, tossing hot coffee in their face, punching a stranger, etc. With his power, Kilgrave held Jessica captive for a year against her will. Pretty sick stuff.

To a much lesser extent, how many of us have been “mind controlled” by a less-than-favorable boss? Like Kilgrave, they tell us how to feel, what to think, and how to behave. However, since they don’t have Kilgrave’s superpower, these “leaders” control through such tactics as manipulation, fear, and isolation (emotional and physical) until you are ultimately browbeaten into submission.

To deal with her trauma, Jessica resorts to drinking heavily, working obsessively, and bouts of insomnia. I’d like to suggest a few more constructive ways to help you work through your situation.


If you can swallow your pride, present ideas in a way that allows the boss to feel the idea was theirs and/or take partial credit.This will allow the boss to feel important and your ideas will be able to flourish. Be sure to give the boss credit and compliment frequently. It may not feel dignified but self-preservation is not always pretty.

Be selective

Choose your battles wisely. Think before you act. Make rational, purposeful choices as to which battles are worth fighting and which you need to let go.

Form a coalition

If it’s you versus someone in a higher position of power, you are going to need support. Finding others who are willing to go out on a limb may be tough, but power in numbers is effective. Get the team together to provide constructive, non-threatening feedback to the boss. Maintain frequent contact with these other courageous individuals and ensure that you are not being played against one another.


When you are dealing with an unethical, vindictive boss, CYA (Cover Your A–) is a necessity. Maintain written records of every meeting, conversation, and incident. Avoid commentary, just write the facts. You may also want to send frequent emails to your boss summarizing assignments and seeking clarification on tasks. Not only will this clear up miscommunication, but it will provide a paper trail if needed.

Move up the chain

In the same way you need a supportive team, you also need support from those at the upper echelon of the organizational hierarchy. Make sure other department leaders are aware of your situation, speak with your boss’ boss, and keep HR in the loop.

Make a run for it

No one should have to work in a place that is so toxic, so once you’ve done everything you can to try to improve your current situation, it’s time to consider an exit strategy. Save yourself and find a healthier work environment.

It took Jessica Jones a year to break free form Kilgrave’s mental grip…and she had superpowers. Don’t wait around with the hopes that your situation will get better. Unless you do something, it won’t. Avoid succumbing to the mental warfare. Remind yourself of your value and don’t let others treat you as less.

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