A part of me is a little embarrassed to post this. I realized however that there are probably others like me that have been treated horribly at work. It’s rarely physical – but a form of psychological warfare that ignorant, weak-minded managers use to intimidate others in the name of achieving their goals.
I used to believe that workplace bullying was mythical, the product of overly sensitive individuals attempting to file lawsuits to profit from their employers. Then it happened to me. I admit, it took me a while to define what was happening. I had been bullied as a kid but to experience it as an adult was something entirely different. When I was a kid the bullies were more defined, more blatant. In the workplace it is more of an issue of abusive torment.
My abuser was female, which made it all the more emasculating at the time. Having only been bullied by males in my life it never dawned on me that a female might exhibit such behavior. (In fairness, I only assume she was a female – it was hard after a while to think of her that way, let alone human.)
This contemptible harpy-from-the-infernal reaches didn’t just mess with me, she unleashed a never-ending barrage of abuse and degradation on most of the members of her team. Demeaning others was her drug of choice and she was more addicted than any Meth dealer ever was. She threatened me, my job, my co-workers, and in turn, my family and career. She did it for grins…I think she wallowed in others anguish. Her sick, twisted mind-games filled my days and destroyed my sleep. This satanic-demonspawn-summoned-from-the-Ninth-Plane-of-Hell reveled in my misery and sought to make me want to leave my job so that she could simply bring aboard one of her faceless/spineless minions.
I know, you think I’m exaggerating or joking around; I’m not. On almost every level conceivable, this individual personified and embodied Workplace Evil. She was not just abusive, she was sinister and threatening. That was how she “motivated” her team. She was like a female Lex Luthor and Loki rolled together. This witch tried to play off people who had worked together for years, just for grins. Her depth of psychological warfare made water-boarding appear benign as a stroll in the park. Our counterterrorism folks could learn a great deal from her as a case study.
Her place in the corporate food chain was all that mattered. Position, power, dominance, authority…these were what she fed upon and drove her actions. The depth of her deformed insecurities boggles my mind. She didn’t see people in shades of gray, only black and white. You were either a pawn for her to use, or were a target for her to minimize or eliminate. I have no doubt that she kept a list of people with little coded check-marks next to the names. Like Richard Nixon, I’m sure she maintained an enemies list and I am sure I was pretty high up on it.
I have had a career (outside of my writing) and I’m proud of. I have done some remarkable things and met some fantastic leaders along the way. In the months we worked together she shattered (and stomped on) my confidence and belief in myself out of the pure thrill of the cruelty she inflicted. The CIA should have used this crazy witch as a means of torturing others at GITMO.
As you may have guessed, she’s left me with some pretty deep emotional scars.
There were physical problems too. I broke out in pimples for the first time in decades. I got hives for no reason. Sleep? Forget that. I tossed and turned for months. I started working longer hours, on weekends, foolishly thinking that would help. This hell-spawned succubus ripped my life apart.
Friends and colleagues told me to go and get another job and I did go on a few interviews. Ultimately I hated that. Why should I leave a place I have worked for decades at; a place where I have great friends and have accomplished many things I’m proud of? Why should I screw up my retirement and alter my career for someone I loathed? I hadn’t done a damned thing wrong. Why should I do what she wants me to do? I refused to walk away because that’s exactly what she wanted. Her lust for power over me would have been complete. No – this was going to be a bloody fight to the bitter end.
I prevailed. An important lesson she never mastered: Never screw with someone who has a Masters in Human Resource Administration who is willing to go the distance. I had nothing to lose, and you never want me in that kind of mental state because I become fucking dangerous. I knew the law, the policies, and had our organization’s values as my shield. I documented every twist of the knives stuck in my back. I informed senior leadership (something that I felt I was risking my career doing) and HR. I made it clear, I would not go down without a fight. It took long months but eventually matters were set straight. My organization did what was right.
There was no parade. No apologies. Just a return to the work that I used to enjoy doing.
That doesn’t mean I don’t bear the mental and emotional scars of the battle. A month doesn’t go by where I don’t have some sort of anxiety attack as a result of her prolonged abuse. The moments are less frequent over time and are triggered by little things. Usually after them I realize what happened, why suddenly I was gasping for breath and unable to control myself. She is dead to me, but her evil poltergeist still occasionally rips through my psyche. In some ways it mirrors PTSD, but I struggle to adopt that label out of respect for men and women that have faced battlefield conditions. I don’t want to be thought of as a victim, I want to be remembered as a survivor, a person that fought the good-fight and won. Yet I struggle through those times when my anxiety flairs, straining to get back in mental control. I hide it from most people pretty well, mask it with an awkward joke or two.
I learned that beating a workplace bully comes with a price. While I vowed I would never let some other bully pull this kind of shit with me again, I knew that every such conflict was going to take a piece of my soul. I promised myself I would fight the good fight, but that mantra means I have to wade into battle now and then.
I found that a lot of people out there face the same things I did. When I was girding my loins for battle with this black-hearted succubus. I prepared a list of things that helped me maintain focus. (I toyed with putting them to music like a Gregorian chant, but let that slide for the benefit of mankind). When things got darkest, I would pull up this list and use it to galvanize my thoughts and calm. I thought I’d share it with everyone out there that has faced workplace bullying.
- I am the target of a workplace bully.
- This is not something I caused or invited.
- The person abuses me uses intimidation and threatens my job to demonstrate his/her power and control over me.
- This person’s own deep-seated insecurities and inadequacies are reflected in his/her verbal and mental abuse.
- This person is not just threatening me but my family since I am their provider. I must be strong for them.
- This person gives me contradictory feedback and directions that set me up to fail. I know to watch for it, and document it.
- This person uses misleading questions to test me rather than educate me.
- Ultimately, I believe he/she hopes that I simply kowtow to her or leave the organization. I will not grant him/her that satisfaction.
- He/She will not beat me. I cannot be defeated unless I allow it.
- I will document his/her attacks and my responses without emotion – keeping to just the facts.
- I believe in myself.
- This is not about brains or expertise but is about professionalism. I AM more professional than him/her.
- I have a proven track record both as an individual and a manager. It is my sword in this struggle, my weapon in battle.
- I cannot out produce him/her to make this make this go away. If I worked 24×7 he/she would still find fault with me and torment me for his/her own sick satisfaction.
- I have fostered a network of people to encourage and support me on those days when he/she has pummeled and abused me.
- I have let others know what he/she is doing so that, should I waver, I will not be the lone voice against my abuser.
- I have contacted others he/she is bullying and am there to support them.
- I provide value to the organization each day I work here.
- I have the values of the organization on my side. Her behavior is against those values. They are my shield against her attacks.
- I have let leadership know there is a problem and I trust that leadership will do the right thing. This is my armor.
- He/She will attempt retribution – I will fight not bow to intimidation.
- I will maintain my stand on the moral high-ground. I’m not doing anything wrong and don’t deserve this.
- I do not want her to be defeated – I want the negative unproductive behavior to change.
- I recognize that the issues with a bully extend beyond the workplace. His/Her issues are not me or our team but deep-rooted in his/her persona and psyche.
- I will recognize verbal traps and do what I can to avoid them.
- I am the master of my emotions. I will not give her the satisfaction of making me react.
- Time is my ally.
- He/She will never see herself as being in-the-wrong. He/She will never offer a sincere apology for her words and actions and I will not seek one from him/her. I will not waste time hoping for him/her to realize the errors of her ways.
- I will not respond to abuse when I am weakest — when he/she’ is unleashing her abuse on me.
- This person does not care about our corporate culture or our history – they are Machiavellian in their actions…believing that the ends justifies the means. I will not corrupt my organization’s culture to make things easier for this person.
- This individual will lie and deceive to advance their cause. I will rely on the truth.
- He/She can only win if I let him/her win. I will not do this.
I decided after several years now, to publish this. It’s my hope that it helps others out there that have dealt with workplace bullying. To my virtual colleagues that are facing these issues, you are not alone – you will prevail.