Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"You Don't Own Me": Reflecting On Workplace Abuse One Year Later

Long time readers of this blog will recall how, around this time last year, things were not going well for me at work. I was being bullied by my manager, as I had been for years up to that point, and I’d reached a breaking point. Things came to a head, and my time with that company reached an end rather unceremoniously. At the time, I was both glad to be gone and terrified for what the future held in store for me. What if I wasn’t being bullied? I mused to myself. What if I actually did suck at my job? Who would want to hire someone as clearly incompetent as me? How long would it take for my new employer to realize the kind of person they’d hired? These were all thoughts that swirled through my mind as I faced the uncertainty that came with a significant chapter of my life ending.

It’s almost been one year since all of that happened, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

During the past year, I’ve found success at work, and experienced the appreciation and praise of my managers. I’ve made new friends, and even been promoted to a higher-level sales position complete with office, desk and 9-5 Monday to Friday schedule. By all accounts, leaving my old job was the best decision I made in a long time, and it frankly amazes me how far I’ve come in the time its taken Earth to complete one full rotation around the sun. There is one thing, however, which still gives me pause; why has everything that happened back then still stuck with me? And why did I put up with it for as long as I did?

My therapist has told me that, when faced with any abuse situation, the human mind focuses solely on surviving and doesn’t let us realize how truly bad a situation is. It’s only in retrospect, once the fog clears, that we come to see the truth. I can safely say that this was exactly what I’ve experienced over the past year. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m annoyed that I put up with my old boss’ abuse for as long as I did. Logically, I know that the years I spent there helped me gain the experience I needed to achieve my current success, but somehow that feels like cold comfort.

I think, more than ever, I now understand what abuse victims go through, because in so many ways I was one. My boss controlled my livelihood and finances, along with my prospects for career advancement, and never hesitated to use those to dominate me. He was a narcissist and an asshole, and the scariest part of it all is that I actually started to internalize the things he said. I genuinely began to believe that I was incompetent and pathetic, which is part of the reason I stayed in that job as long as I did. If this company had so many problems with me, I thought, how could I honestly expect to go anywhere else? It’s only now, after having moved on as much as I have, that I see this for the insidious bullying tactic that it was.

I may never fully get over what was done to me. When I look back on it, it’s clear to me that I would have experienced a breakdown had I stayed. At the same time, the scary thing about abusive situations like these is that, when faced with the prospect of leaving, I was both scared and not even sure I had it that bad to begin with. Even now, I keep expecting the other foot to drop; for my new boss to come into my office, screaming and berating me for making a mistake with a client. Despite the fact that I know he would never do such a thing, it’s taken my brain a while to re-order its expectations of managerial behaviour. My old boss’ actions were so normalized in my mind that I still find myself having to re-learn what it means to be part of a healthy team. On some level, I know this sounds ridiculous, but that’s what it feels like to have survived workplace abuse. The anxiety he gave me still haunts me, though I do my best to not let it rule me.

At the end of the day, I not only survived, but thrived, and I like to think of every new success as a stab against the man who, for so long, kept me down.

You don’t own me Steve. You never did, and you never will.

As always yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

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