(FORTUNE Magazine) – Got a bad boss? Just imagine working for Henry Ford. When he wanted to fire a loyal officer, Ford is said to have had every stick of furniture moved out of his office; sometimes he ordered it all chopped into tiny pieces and stacked in a neat pile. Now, that's bad.

Or take Henry Kissinger. He famously ordered an aide to write draft after draft of a report, critically inquiring, "Is this really the very best you can do?" Only after the third or fourth version reached him did Kissinger allow, "Okay, now I'll read it." That, too, is bad.

The lessons of such history notwithstanding, more and more of us are struggling and suffering under some kind of bad boss. Whether the beast be an insecure bully, an incompetent wimp, a duplicitous dweeb, a petty perfectionist, or a Napoleonic nincompoop, the pain is an all-too-real element of the workplace.

While the bad-boss species has long been with us, there does seem to be a new twist to this old and ugly ogre. According to Harvey Hornstein, professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of Brutal Bosses (Riverhead, $19.95), the current wave of downsizing has given the boss broad, blunt, often unrestrained power to burn jobs: "Nearly half the cases of abusive bosses that I've uncovered can be attributed to the Nineties work environment."

You'll find brutal bosses everywhere in business, but they're particularly plentiful in get-rich-fast fields like financial services and show biz, where a boor can earn big bucks for the company and rise high without being a decent manager. And you'll find their victims everywhere, though many women I spoke with for this story say that females are especially vulnerable. Says Dee Soder, president of Endymion, an advisory firm for highly placed executives: "Women tend to take the boss's insults personally, while men know it's not personal, it's just his cruel streak--or blind ambition." Her solution: "Don't try to change the boss. You won't succeed. Try to understand what motivates him, what irritates him, what his style is--play to his motivations."

It can help to form a support group with other victims. You'll probably find plenty of them because, Brutal Bosses' Hornstein notes, bad bosses tend to be equal-opportunity abusers. Share your experiences and learn if others have found better ways to cope. Often it pays for three or four of you to go to the boss and tell him your grievances. After all, he will find it hard to dispute or discipline all of you.

Stand up to the abrasive boss. Armand Hammer, the late CEO of Occidental Petroleum, was nasty and brutish. His public relations director, Carl Blumay, wrote in his memoirs: "Armand could shout longer and louder than anyone I had ever known. I made a promise to myself that he would never shout at me. The first time he tried it, I yelled back. His response was stunned silence. Later he approached me and said, 'Dammit, Carl, I'm beginning to like you. You're one of the few people I've met who doesn't scare easily.' "

One caution: Choose your opportunities carefully, and don't blow your stack every time the boss has a temper tantrum. As Hornstein told me, "Accusing the boss does not always work. The boss has all the guns. The good-faith response--focusing on the content of his message, not the curses--works well because it catches him up short."

If your boss won't listen, counsels Hornstein, head to your human resources department with as much documentation as possible. Companies of all sizes have HR experts who will hear your complaints in confidence and--if they ring true or are repeated by others--channel them to top management. Getting your gripes on the record may help protect you.

Some top execs are listening. CEO Jack Welch says he is on a crusade to purge General Electric of bosses "unable to abandon big-shot, big-company autocracy." He calls them Type IV managers who "deliver short-term results, but do so without regard to values and, in fact, often diminish them by grinding people down, stifling them."

What if your own Type IV remains in place? In Crazy Bosses (Pocket Books, $10), FORTUNE columnist Stanley Bing suggests working so hard that you become irreplaceable. Though the goal may be tough, it's worth the effort. If you don't do quite that well, at least you can learn from the experience.

But let's face it: In the end you may have to get out--by arranging a transfer if you're lucky or quitting if you're not. That's because a persistently bad boss just can't teach you very much.