Monday, June 9, 2014

Keys to Recovery from Workplace Abuse

As the small plane rose higher and higher in the sky, objects on the ground became smaller and smaller finally fading away as the plane rose too high to see individual objects, giving its passengers a great view of the topography passing by below us.  So it is with memories - both good and bad.  They become smaller and smaller in the distance.  Even those about workplace abuse.  Recalling them distinctly becomes harder as time passes ... IF recovery occurs.
As mentioned in my last post, my thoughts have been turning recently to the topic of how the target of workplace abuse overcomes and recovers.  Without becoming bitter.  Or worse yet, becoming a bully themselves.

As a friend used to say:  a tall order.

How indeed?

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, there are no magic wands.  No quick fixes.  Along with no surety that recovery will ever happen.   

It's a long, slow process.  One step at a time.

During this process, I've often thought of a saying on a magnet I saw years long:  if you can't walk, crawl. 

I've amended that saying to:  if you can't walk, crawl; if you can't crawl, go back to bed; if you can't sleep, pray.  If you can't pray, you're in a bad spot.  During the last three years of recovery from workplace abuse situation #2, I've been in all of these places at one time or another - except perhaps the last one, not being able to pray.

I've been journeying on the road to recovery from my second experience of back-to-back workplace abuse for approximately three years now.  Before that, I was working actively with a counsellor recovering from the first incidence of what I now know to be workplace abuse.  The one that I narrated in this blog in 2013.  The one that happened without my knowing what was happening and, therefore, caused a huge amount of damage.

Ironically, things got so bad in my life because of this first incident that the second incident of workplace abuse started about the same time as I found the counsellor who has been able to help me, who has walked with me steadfastly through it all, who has never belittled or blamed me or shut me down.

And that, dear reader, is the first of a what might be a long list of things which help the target/victim/survivor of workplace abuse recover:  support.

Support in the form of a therapist.  

One well-versed in trauma.  One who also has the same value system as the target.  

Actually, I like to use the word victim at times, because by the time, you're paying for a counsellor, there has been so much damage in the "target's" life that the word victim, to me, is more appropriate than target.

The word "target" just doesn't have the same impact that the word "victim" does.  The word "target" simply cannot convey the pain, the devastation, the destruction that the victim of workplace abuse experiences.

To me, I feel the word "target" can be appropriate when talking about the behaviours that the adversaries i.e. bullies are using against their victim.  For example, I can say that I was targeted for certain behaviours in the workplace by these people, which in my case were isolation, exclusion, gossiping, backbiting, slander, defamation of character, etc.

When it got to the point where I had two back-to-back stress breakdowns and was no longer capable of stringing words together in a sentence, walking in a straight line, cooking, etc., than I think the word "victim" becomes appropriate.  When talking about people who have cancer or have been in an accident.  We don't call them targets of cancer or targets of an accident.  We call them victims.  And rightly so.  When they have passed the crisis, the acute phase of the illness or injury and are carving out a new life for themselves, then they have entered the survivor phase.

We don't want them to linger or languish in the victim mode or mentality, but we want it to be clearly known that it was not their fault that they got cancer or were broadsided in an accident by a drunk or careless driver, etc.

However, I digress.  Let me get back on topic.


To recover and ultimately become a survivor, the individual also needs a support system in place around them.  I had been steadily building one up during the first three years of recovery.  Mine is small - and basically patchwork.  A husband here; a daughter there; said daughter's mother-in-law....  There have been others who come and go or who walk with me intermittently, but these three were the first.  The ones who have stayed around the longest, the ones who have stuck it through - and even learned how to support and encourage me through the process.  (My daughter likes to say that most of what she knows about trauma, she's learned from walking with me during this time.)  These are the ones who have "sat shiva" with me when the hurt was so deep that words could not help.

As the journey progresses, I've gathered more supporters/encourages along the way in various places:  Facebook, church, more assorted extended family members, reconnection with former friends ....

Here a little, there a little....

Research.  

When I first started to realize that I was being bullied in the workplace, I did not want to believe it.  So, I did what my analytical, university-educated mind directed me to do:  research.  In this case, looking up what bullying is - and is not - on the web.  I learned as a university student who had to write many research papers in her time, that I was not looking for the one article or site that aligned with my thoughts, feelings and experiences on the subject, but rather many sites and authors who said similar things.  Who corroborated and supported each other's findings.

This research helped me to understand "the nature of the beast" so to speak.  What bullying is, who does it, who the targets are and why specific people are chosen (most of this in earlier posts in 2013).  It showed me that it wasn't because I was a terrible person that this was happening to me but rather it had more to do with the people who were doing it - even going so far as to hint that at least some bullies are sociopaths - people who are incapable of feeling empathy for their victims or remorse for what they've done.  It showed me that rather than being a bad person, I was chosen because I had the characteristics that these people lacked and wanted.  They felt threatened by my cheerful attitude, strength, resilience. ability to perform my job, etc.

A sense of humour.

My therapist has always remarked that she has been impressed by me as I went through this as my admittedly weird and wacky sense of humour never completely deserted me.  It came close a few times, but I could almost always see the absurdity in what was happening.  Even when it seemed that everyone in the workplace including HR, management, the union on down was intent on destroying me, I could almost always see the fallacy, the irony, the illogic of what was happening and make comments about it that would cause people who were walking with me through it to snort.

Faith:

I don't mention much about my faith in this blog as I want it to be a resource for all individuals who are going through workplace abuse, or have been, and those who work with and support them; however, my faith is an intrinsic part of me.  My faith was the balance, the stabilizer as I walked through that increasingly dark time.  It was one of the major factors which enabled me to survive, which literally made the difference between life and death.  Death in the form of suicide - which I don't mention in this blog at all as it's such a dark topic.  But that thought was there too.  It was my faith, my belief in a God who loves me, who knows me - and loves me anyone, that enabled me to first survive and ultimately to begin to thrive in my new circumstances, my new reality post workplace abuse.


Discovering the Lies:

Workplace abuse attacks the target at the very core of their being - who they are.  As such, it does irreparable damage to the target/victim's view of themselves.  The lies are different in each situation.  With each target.  In my two back to back encounters with workplace abuse, the lies were different both times.  The first time, I was "emotional" because I shed one tear once.  That was not acceptable.  I was incapable of making decisions - because I wanted to know a specific time and date of the expected delivery of a product before I set things up, ditto wanting specific instructions on what my boss expected of me, i.e. what were the parameters of my decision making abilities and getting only vague answers in return.  There was also an element of isolation and exclusion in that situation as well as my immediate supervisor would have no interaction with me at all during working hours - even when necessary.  During my research post that situation, I discovered that her complaints and criticisms were simply a part of my personality make up.  Nothing bad about that.  It's simply what makes me, me.

In situation #2, the lies boiled down to three words which were always in one phrase:  "perceptions and assumptions".  That one phrase was always said in a sneering, demeaning, belittling tone of voice.  I was made to feel like a five year old who had been caught doing something very, very bad - but was never sure what it was.  

In order to fully heal, I've had to not only realize what the lies were but to learn the truth behind the lies in order to be set free from their power.

Discovering your passions and interests

Now for the fun part.  Part of the recovery process involves finding out who you are.  Who you really are.  Deep down inside.  

What turns you on?  What gets your crank going?

For me, my three passions are:  writing, photography and creative arts in the forms of knitting and crocheting.

My interests go all over the place from reading to travelling to gardening to music.

I find beauty in nature - the setting sun, the flowers that bloom, the thunder of the surf on the ocean, listening to praise music or classical ... or ... my all-time favorite ... Celtic.

These are the things that give me relief, that give me peace in the journey.

Multi-facted:

Lastly, as you can see from the above, the process of recovery is very multi-faceted.  It is not just comprised or therapy solely.  Or research solely.  It is a composite of all the above.  And more.  Much more.

Recovery from trauma in the form of workplace abuse is complicated.  There's no "all size fits all" in the process.  


Flying home from Belize, I captured this picture of Placenia and the narrow strip of land which connects it to the mainland.  Having seen it close up during my visit, this view made more sense in the continuity of things as do certain aspects of workplace abuse.  They make more sense when viewed from afar after the fact.  And also contain much less power to hurt.

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