Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Workplace Abuse: Similarities in the experience

On one of my walks along the banks of the nearby river, I came across this tree which has been bowed and bent by winds, by storms, by high water levels, by currents.  Things it has absolutely no control over.  Nor does it have any control over the fact that it is at the river's edge.  Directly in the path of all of the former.  However, it is a survivor.  Although bent and bowed, it has not succumbed to the forces which impact it.  It is still there, providing shelter for the various birds to rest in and nest in.

Getting ahead of myself, as I've been writing this series on my first experience of workplace abuse, I've begun to see it, really see it for the first time, for what it was.  An experience I wasn't able to recognize for what it was at the time.  Workplace bullying.  The literature states that it takes the average target appoximately two years to recognize that they're being subjected to bullying behaviour in the workplace.  My first experience only lasted a period of some four and a half months; therefore, I did not recognize it for what it was at the time.  I only knew that it was excruciatingly painful.  I felt that it was my fault.  I was too blame.  If I'd only been ... prettier, smarter, (you fill in the blank), it would not have happened.  It was not until AFTER the second experience had ended, more than five years later, that I started connecting the dots.

It was not until I started recounting this first experience of workplace abuse for the purposes of the narrative, the story behind this blog of recovery from complex PTSD, that I finally recognized how well it fit into the parameters of workplace abuse.

During this piece of the journey, I've discovered that it's not the length of time that defines the damage; it's the intensity.  These were an incredibly intense four and a half months.

Writing this up, I've realized the similarities between the two experiences (which will hereafter be referred to as #1 and #2 in this particular posting).

Both were well-known, local companies started in the late 1800s by German immigrants.  Both in food production.

Both were in a period of transition at the time of my employment.  #1 had just employed the first non-family CEO in its history.  #2 was initially in the process of having been bought out, or taken over (whatever), by a huge multimillion dollar conglomerate.

Both were crying the "money" blues and were imposing stringent cutbacks.

Aside from corporate similarities, though, there were similarities in the patterns of the abuse which took place.

First, one person (myself) was targeted.  Someone who was different from the others.  In the first, case  I was on contract which made me an easy target.  In both, I was extremely good at what I did, well-liked and well-established.

Secondly, there was the phenomenon of isolation/exclusion.  Although the scenarios within which the isolation took place were completely different, the phenomenon remained the same.  In #1, the isolation was imposed from above by my manager and, possibly, by her manager.  It was imposed on me internally by rules, regulations, prohibitions which none of the other employees had, rather than externally. Restrictions such as being forbidden to reveal that I was on contract.  In the second, it was external isolation.  Isolation imposed on me by my co-workers.  Exclusion from conversations, meals, etc.

Both used words/terms that are vague, not easy to qualify and which had nothing to do at all with anything work-related.  In #1, I was constantly accused of being "unprofessional" and "loud".  Also "emotional" because of that one tear that one day.  In #2, I was accused of being "rude" and again "loud".  As time went on, they came up with more vague, undefinable, unqualifiable terms.  But nothing concrete.  None of the complaints had anything to do with my job or the way I handled it.   It had nothing to do with my accomplishments or anything work-related in either case.  Nor, in either case, was I given a chance to make amends.  The judgement(s) had been made.  Period.  They were irrevocable.

The most glaring similarity between the two, though, is that both attacked me at the very core of my being.  My self-concept.  My self-esteem.  In both cases, I was judged - in one by my superiors; in the second by my peers - and found lacking.  Nothing I did to change, to pull up my boot straps was  good enough in either situation.  By the time both were finished with me, there wasn't much left of my self-concept.  In fact, with #1 the destruction was so complete that for all practical intents and purposes there wasn't anything left.  I had been hit so hard and so often with all the negatives about who I am, that I could not see any positives.  I felt I had no value at all.

As I write this, I cannot seem to find the words to describe the incredible attack on my self-esteem, on me as a person, that occurred in workplace #1.  It was an on-going assault, levelled incident by incident over a period of time.  It wasn't just a one-time incident in either case, but something that was on-going.  It started small as in #1 with the supervisor treating me differently from the others originally and then escalating over time to become more and more obvious and damaging.  More focussed.  More targeted.  Until there was no other way to resolve the issue but termination - or leaving voluntarily.

Leaving me resembling this tree I'm featuring for today's posting.  Bent.  Bowed.  Damaged.  However, in workplace abuse, the damage is not physical.  No broken bones.  No external bruises.  Nothing anyone can see - unless they can see straight into a person's soul.  That's what makes it so devastating. We are the walking wounded.

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