Anna’s attempts to seek help from her manager to deal with an abusive colleague proved futile. “My boss said to me, ‘He’s an idiot – wait until he’s ripped off.’
Being relatively new to her work, she lacked allies to give her perspective to the marketing company to which she was affiliated. Feeling unhappy and alone, he contacted me for a psychological coach to try to find a way to deal with his situation.
Like Anna, many people struggle to find the clarity and confidence needed to extract themselves from abusive circumstances at work. Instead, they tend to think, “What have I done wrong?”
In a highly volatile situation, it’s too easy to overestimate your part in what happens when it may be either a product of the dysfunctional organization, or simply down to individual behavior: a head of bullying or a toxic colleague. Often the culprit is successful and charismatic and this only adds to the confusion.
Also, if your impressive work ignites envy, then attempts to solve things by improving your performance can only fail. Similarly, if attempts to defend yourself are interpreted as a question of the culprit’s competence, then you will not be able to get your point across. Expressing your feelings to a co-worker who makes your life miserable is only sensible if they can control their emotions.
Anna, who is a thirty-year-old American, feared for her job when her aggressive colleague broke into her job, attacked her character, complained about her and threatened to fire her. Things were going badly because the situation triggered traumatic memories of the bullying she experienced as a child.
She explains: “I had a vision of how one was behaving and started to question it. Which made me wonder, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ And because I didn’t have a sense of where the calibration was, it created a huge degree of fear and constant fear. ”
I explained how her colleague’s behavior was almost certainly designed to make Anna feel bad for not feeling inadequate. It also seemed clear that the colleague was not on hand and that the company was unlikely to take any action. Once Anna was able to face these realities she was able to let go of the hook and plan her exit.
She says: “What was useful in our conversations was to break down the culture of the organization, its psychology, its DNA – it was clear that the organization was not interested. There is a CEO who is very controlling. and sees all others as completely replaceable and of zero value. “
Transforming her perspective has not only diminished her fears, but her confidence has also returned. He is no longer allowed to be a target for his partner’s unfair projections. With this intuition, he could respond to what was actually happening, rather than reliving childhood traumas.
“I don’t like dealing with yelling and‘ BS, ’but I do [now] understand that it’s just unpleasant in the way that being caught in the rain is unpleasant. It doesn’t mean anything to me, it just means I’m bathing. ”
At work, there is rarely the time, experience, or motivation to solve ingrained psychological problems. It is often easier to absorb negative projections from others than to accept that your organization is not interested in you or that it protects you from harm.
However, the risk of a serious stroke from self-esteem, burnout or depression is high. Such states of mind think cloud and decrease concentration, causing one’s self-belief and performance to decline. The optimal goal, therefore, is to protect yourself. Practice damage limitation by challenging them when possible, moving to another position in the company or looking for another job.
While the prospect of partying may be daunting for some, especially if their confidence is dropped, it is much easier to leave a toxic situation than to recover from its harmful effects in the long run.
Michael, 35, a communications officer for a manufacturing company, also initially assumed responsibility for a conflict with his manager. But in reality, his boss was envious of Michael’s exuberant personality and imaginative ideas. When he did well, his head flashed.
“I feel deeply demoralized,” Michael says. “There’s a certain madness – I started to think that there must be some sort of private language or way of doing things that I hadn’t read and for which none of my skills were relevant.
“Now I realize it’s not up to me.” My manager was deeply insecure and projected his own anxieties onto his team. ”
Michael’s psychological trick was such that he was always trying to accept it and work harder when things got tough, but this only got worse. The learning curve for him was to recognize that, regardless of his commitment, drive, and integrity, he would never thrive in this particular organization. Eventually, he was able to walk away knowing that failure was not his thing.
“For years I assumed that the work was here to validate you, but here I found that, although I worked, this validation did not come. It was a funny experience, it certainly made me mature. ”
The knowledge that not everything is resolvable can be frustrating, but it is also a relief to know that not everything is in you.
“I had a significantly excessive sense of my own ability to form organizations,” says Michael. “As an abusive relationship, it’s hard to take courage aside – in the end it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
If you find yourself demoralized, depressed, or burnt out at work because of an abusive relationship or toxic culture, find a trusted person – a former mentor, a close colleague, or a coach with psychological experience – to give you a perspective. They may be able to interrupt the self-destructive monologue in your mind and offer more realistic explanations and solutions to consider.
Also ask if the circumstances are just difficult and need work or if they are symptomatic of a difficult individual or a larger cultural issue that is unlikely to change.
Moving away from a toxic environment is reinforcing and almost always a relief. The sense of experience allows you to not only leave the bad work behind, but also the bad feelings. The ultimate goal is to part with your self-esteem intact.
The writer is a business consultant and psychotherapist. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Man Who Wrong His Work for His Life.”