This blog post continues from part 1 of this story, The Damaging Effect Of Psychological Abuse In The Workplace
According to humanrights.gov.au, Workplace bullying is a form of Psychological abuse which can be physical, emotional and mental including ‘playing mind games’ and ‘intimidation’ which is the worst because it happens slowly and is not so easy to identify when it is happening, until you are able to remove yourself from the situation and reflect back. And by that stage, that’s when the real damage happens as you attempt to pick up the pieces and find the strength again to get out there again and find something better for yourself.
Many years ago, almost 10 years ago now I witnessed a girl being physically assaulted by our then boss, yes he was touching her and being rough with her. I watched in horror, shocked and in disbelief and am ashamed to let him talk his way around it, fabricating the story and manipulating everyone in the office, convincing us all that it was her fault. But this is what happens and how abusers of all kinds get away with it within close doors. Soon enough, I realised he was acting inappropriately with other staff and signs of abuse were becoming more evident.
Most of us who knew, just kept quiet and ignored it. I am so ashamed that I did not say anything or speak up for her and instead chose to turn the other way even though it felt so wrong. When he verbally abused and shouted at me inappropriately in front of customers, I left. His business manager intimidated me into signing something so that I wouldn’t say anything.
Similarly, I have witnessed this happen so many times in varying degrees throughout most of my career but by the time you figure out their game, you are the next prey and they, (usually the boss) will conjure up a very strategic plan to get rid of you and make sure to ‘divide and conquer’. So by the time they’re done with you, you’re so alone and isolated. And you have no choice but to leave (because apparently firing you is more costly for them). What’s worse, is they come out of it unscathed and you’re left with trying to heal the psychological damage caused including the fall out of any good relationship you made through that company.
Luckily, there is more help out there these days. But not enough.
Mostly, It’s clever campaigns and websites but at least there is information and awareness. I’m also happy to see more leaders speaking out about the importance. But it is not effective unless it is put into action which is often ironic especially in the helping profession which I’m in. And have always been in since I was 20 years old in some way or another. I was luckily enough I managed to find the right support I needed because there simply isn’t a lot in place to help staff feel confident to speak up and take steps to hold employers accountable.
You cannot make someone develop self awareness and it takes someone with integrity & maturity to respond positively to constructive criticism and then do something to change things but this is not your job to do this work for your abuser. Some times it takes years for them to wake up, or change deeply seated attitudes, if ever. Instead, you can hold your head up high, knowing you did nothing wrong and everything you could possibly do in your power, to change things.
If it is becoming too much, use whatever leave days you have left to take a break and think seriously about your next steps, take a holiday, go on a retreat to clear your head, talk to loved ones and reflect on what the best decision is for you. If it is serious, and you believe your mental health has suffered as a consequence of the abuse, see your GP and talk about taking out a ‘psychological injury claim’ like I did. I was able to then resign without the financial stress, my income was replaced so I could cover bills until I was well enough to secure work again. At the time, I didn’t even know this existed and was so glad when I found out about it because it meant I could resign and not worry about not being able to pay my rent.
I’m not sure what the long term solution is to address this kind of abuse but this is a growing and concerning problem that affects us all on a mirco (indiviudal) and macro (economicaly as a society) level.
For a long time, I thought my career was over because I believed one of my ex employer’s had a powerful reputation and all it would take is one phone call and a fabricated story to bring me down, and most of these types of people use this against you so that you don’t leave and are forever in the grasp of their control. I knew this person was spinning stories because it is the only possible explanation why I was ghosted and unfriended on facebook by people who I thought cared about me. One of whom who was my friend long before she got a job there because of me, and despite knowing why I left, I was shocked she stayed. This whole experience has given me trust issues when it comes to friendships, something I continue to work on.
This employer even asked me to tell the rest of the team a lie as to why I was leaving. But it turns out, this person’s reputation is not as great as I had allowed it to be in my head. And years later, long after I had moved on, I was shocked to learn I was not the only one to have experienced this abuse at the hands of the same employer. I discovered the same thing happened to at least 6 – 10 others in my position, all in the space of a couple of years. At the time, I felt so alone and isolated, but I wasn’t. Who knows how many times it happened to others before me. You don’t know because not everyone will report it or speak up.
When I was on the look for a job, I thought I wouldn’t stand a chance as a big chunk was missing from my resume and I was not prepared to fill in the blanks when the interview came. What do you say in these situations as most employers expect smooth transitions and positive healthy long term gigs, & if there is a gap, the problem must be you. It’s just not the reality though and Companies need to be more open to the fact that not all bosses and employers or managers are as perfect as they make others believe they are. But still, it is the employee who suffers and often with long term mental health issues and long term damaging effects personally and professionally. .
My psychologist helped me prepare for my next interview and I was surprised to learn it was successful as I was wondering why this new employer didn’t question me about the gap in my resume, turns out she could sense some trauma had occurred and she did not hold this against me and gave me an opportunity because she could see the person I was, and chose not to let my story define me. After several months since that incident occurred, things finally started to get better.
Eventually, my confidence and belief in myself was restored. And I was able to meet the most amazing colleagues who while I don’t work with now, continue to be good friends with.
Please know, if you are going through something similar you are not alone, you did nothing wrong, you are strong and capable and things will get better because you are a good person.
And even though it feels like you can’t see any end in sight, trust that there is because the right people will see you deserve happiness and success and will want to give you an opportunity because they will see you as the person you are and not what happened to you.
If you or anyone else you know is experiencing psychological distress, as a result of your workplace, there is help. Like a physical injury, you may be entitled to compensation through a ‘Psychological Injury’ Claim. Check Fair Work Australia or click here for more information.