Toxic Authority


As you move through different phase of life, you will meet many authority figures such as parents, teachers, seniors, coaches, work supervisors etc. Every figure in your life plays a significant role in shaping your values, and experiences. While some may inspire and motivate, there will be some who may not be good for your well-being.

However, unlike friends and peers where you can disengage and remove from our lives, figures of authorities will be there for a while.

Let’s find out strategies to protect our emotional well-being and personal growth as we co-exist with these people


Types of Authority Figures

Authority figures hold positions of influence in your life, guiding and shaping your path. These figures can take on various roles, each contributing to your growth and development:

  • Parents: They lay the foundation for your values, imparting life lessons and support for you throughout your life.
  • Teachers: They act as guides who expand your knowledge, encourage curiosity, and inspire learning who may be with you through a phase of your life.
  • Seniors: Companions who may be your “team leader” or someone who is supervising you in a project or group.
  • Mentors: They may be superiors or even a senior that you look up to, they offer guidance and their experiences to provide insight to your journey.
  • Coaches: Trainers who focuses on discipline, teamwork, and the pursuit of excellence in helping you through your barriers in life.
  • Social Media Influencers: Someone you look up to via platforms of Tiktok, Youtube, Instagram etc. They play a certain influence over your behaviour and beliefs.


Identifying Toxic Figures of Authority

While many authority figures offer guidance, support, and mentorship, not all relationships are beneficial.

Here are some signs of toxicity that may affect you emotionally and mentally.

  • Manipulation Techniques: Attempts to control or influence your thoughts, emotions, or actions through threatening or negatively impactful words.
  • Behaviours of Exclusion: Creating situations that deliberately leaves you out, or ostracizes you from activities, information, necessities or a sense of belonging.
  • Emotional or Psychological Abuse: Practice tactics like humiliation, guilt-tripping, verbal degradation and gaslighting.


What are the elements of healthy and unhealthy relationships?

  • Mutual Respect: Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, valuing each other’s opinions and feelings.
  • Positive Impact: Evaluate whether the relationship contributes positively to your overall growth and happiness.
  • Alignment with Values: Consider if the authority figure’s values align with your own values and beliefs.
  • Stress and Discomfort: Identify if you are constantly stressed and walking on egg-shells when this person is around.



How to manage unavoidable relationships

At times, you may be required to form forced relationships with authority figures that you don’t like. For instance, being forced as a member of a team where you dislike the assigned superior.


Find common ground to connect with this person.

Try relating to this person outside the scope of work to understand this person. When you do get a bigger picture of this person’s life, try reframing the situation that you are in. If it’s a familial relationship, find a good time to have a conversation with this person to better understand what this person is going through.


Is it just you?

If the person is naturally nasty, other people will feel it too. However, if it’s only you that feel this way, ask your peers if they notice the discrimination against you. Get feedback from trusted people if your actions have contributed to the unwanted behavior of the superior. Find ways to prevent such triggers.


Keep it official

Be polite, respectful, responsible and keep all interactions official. Do not provide reasons for this superior to find legitimate fault with you.


Abuse from Authority Figures

Abuse from authority figures, whether physical or psychological, is never acceptable! Know these signs:

  • Physical Abuse: Intentional harm or threat of harm, including hitting, pushing, or restraining.
  • Psychological Abuse: Manipulation, humiliation, threats, and efforts to undermine self-esteem.
  • Sexual abuse: sexual grooming and advances.


When abuse is imminent or experienced, you need to take protective actions.

  • Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, counsellors, or even helplines for guidance and assistance (e.g., SOS). (See https://shadee.care/helplines/)
  • Documenting Evidence: Keep records of major incidents, which can be crucial for future actions when necessary.
  • Enforcing Boundaries: Communicate your needs and limits clearly to the abuser, emphasizing your boundary for respect and safety.
  • Report: If the abuse persists or escalates, consider reporting it to appropriate authorities.
  • Self-Care: Prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical well-being through self-care practices. (See https://shadee.care/self-care/)
  • Creating a Getaway Plan: In cases of imminent danger, have a route in place for quick action to protect yourself and get away from the danger.


Empower yourself and prioritizes your well-being. Remember that you have the choice to remain victim or emerge a victor, stronger from every experience you encounter.



Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment And Loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52(4), 664–678. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1982.tb01456.x

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Social Science Information, 13(2), 65–93. https://doi.org/10.1177/053901847401300204

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