Given the law of averages, you would think that the incidence of jerks who become bosses is roughly the same as jerks in the general population. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Jerks seem to be well over-represented in the ranks of bosses, as if some karmic force is at work to punish people for the laundry list of bad things they have done in their lives. You bullied that freckled-faced kid in third grade and your comeuppance is to be tortured by your megalomaniac boss. Wow. Don't you wish you could just do detention after school instead?
But maybe, just maybe, your boss is not such a jerk after all. Perhaps he is just misunderstood. Really. I'm serious. Perhaps you find yourself caught up in a strange dance whereby you "listen" your boss to be a jerk and therefore find ready evidence of it. In the course of your workday, maybe your boss says five affirming things and five jerk-ish things. But since you "listen" him to be a jerk, only the jerk-ish things stick. You at least have to consider this as a possibility.
If you think that you may be "listening" your boss this way, even just a little, consider it good news. Why? because you control how you tune your ear. It is natural, particularly in this uncertain economy with the ubiquitous news of job losses, to be concerned about negative feedback. You should be. But you do yourself and your boss a disservice if you are only listening to the negative stuff. It is hard to be objective about ourselves, but this is an area where objectivity will serve you (and your psyche) well. Keeping a running list of feedback from your boss may help improve your objectivity. Give it a shot.
Of course, reshaping your listening of your boss will have no effect if he actually is a jerk. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, do not make the mistake that many people do of trying to manage your boss from afar. It may feel tempting to minimize your frequency of contact as a coping or survival mechanism, but it makes for bad strategy. On the contrary, you want to get in close and manage him with frequency. Improve your understanding of his hot button issues and his pain points. If you can figure these out, you may be able to adapt your behavior to do your job in a way that enrolls your boss and reduces his jerk quotient.
I am not talking about "kissing up." Many bosses can see right through that and it may backfire. The problem with "kissing up" is that it does not involve thoughtful consideration of the aforementioned pain points. It is simply garden variety Eddie Haskell stuff and of little value to your stressed-out boss.
If a change of listening and a change of proximity with your boss do not have an impact on his jerk-ish behavior, there is one last change that can happen. A change of scenery. You can either hope that he gets one, or you can make one happen for yourself. I suggest that you take the bull by the horns and plan your exit strategy, either inside or outside your company.