Anyone familiar with an unhealthy/abusive relationship will notice these indications. Walking on eggshells, not being able to do anything right, rewards/gifts after an attack, and that feeling when you aren’t in “trouble” that things are okay and manageable just because nobody is yelling. You go through that yo-yo feeling that just a few days before was just wanting to hit the ground running and never looking back to “I guess this isn’t so bad.”
Here’s the thing. If you were married to or dating someone who made you feel this way, your therapist would tell you to run like hell. So would your mom, your best friend, your pastor, your second grade teacher, and anyone else who gave a damn about you. But it isn’t them. It’s your job. Or more specifically, your supervisor. I have heard this so many times. And we even raise our children to have good boundaries with family and relationships–or try to anyway–but when it comes to an employer, it seems like those rules don’t apply.
You can’t confide in your coworkers either, because everything you say will just get funneled back to those who already hate you and are making your life hell.
It’s perfectly natural to endure a lot of mental abuse for a paycheck; at least that’s what we are taught. To have little to no boundaries or standards as long as someone is giving you money. This is infuriating. But think of it this way. In the US, we spend around 1/3 of our adult lives sleeping, and 1/3 working. In many cases our family, our leisure time, and the moments that keep us sane every day are not really the focus. We work to live. We live to work. Or at least we are expected to.
We never really expect to be “happy.” That’s what beer and vacations are for.
Stress is one of the biggest killers of people. From the diabetes, heart disease, cortisol saturated moments of anxiety we experience everyday, to self medication such as drug abuse or alcoholism, to prescribed drug abuse so many of us experience all the time. Sitting is the new smoking, I have heard.
So many health problems arise from sitting. Prostate cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, blood clots, etc. But the moment you stand up to take a walk, rather than sacrifice your 15 minute breaks for the privilege of sitting behind a desk all day, you get the side eye. You get bad reviews for not being a team player. You are accused of “not having enough to keep you busy” throughout the day.
The Status Quo
If you tell a lot of people about this, they will say, “Well, that’s just real life. I don’t know what you are complaining about!”
Friday was awful. In the middle of the day, I was left with a feeling that I could do no right at my job. I’ve been working my ass off in an office that jabbering gossip and shopping online is the norm. I don’t participate in this. I put in my headphones to drown out the constant noise and interruptions. I get my job done. And in the last three years, I haven’t gotten a single good review.
By the time I get home, my creativity is diminished. My levels of stress from anticipating conflict, from not playing “Mother May I?” for anything I do at the job, and then having any little detail saved up over the months to use against me in my review makes me second guess everything. I’m walking on eggshells because nothing I say or do is ever right. But more days than not, I’m the only one actually doing anything. I have such anxiety over just standing up and taking a walk. Getting up to take a piss.
Never good enough
I got written up for not taking on another task, even though I have already had my workload increased by taking on a co-worker’s tasks. There will be no compensation, even though I’ve worked at this place for 13 years without a merit increase or any kind of promotion. Even though the job is getting done at the utmost efficiency, it’s never good enough. And it’s not like they are giving out more time to do all of this stuff. Much less paying OT.
Jeez, I thought I already got divorced from a clinical narcissist, but here I am, all over again. And the result is that I feel like I am being dragged back to feeling like the man I was–the man I grew to hate–all those years ago. The man who was congratulated for getting out. But this same man can’t talk about this with most of his friends or family, because it’s the job, and this is how we are expected to be treated at work.
I went home feeling like total shit. Haunted by this feeling I couldn’t shake. This anger that was coming back, which I had put behind me when I got a divorce. But here it is again. I thought, “I need to do something better. Because this place is killing me.”
But, as with any codependent/abusive relationship, I am reminded that I’m not good enough to deserve any better. Even the other day, when my travel-blog, and my story was featured on the campus newspaper, someone in the office said, “Why are you in the paper?” as though my accomplishments, compared to theirs weren’t notable.
So, all weekend I thought. And those thoughts turned to plans. And those plans once again became motivation.
Mike Rowe made a video. It was a speech for a college which said Don’t Follow Your Dreams; Follow Opportunity. It’s a call to young people who might need to hear a differing viewpoint about life. About how you might have a dream, but without any aptitude or talent for it, it might not be your gig. He is a proponent of not necessarily following the higher ed/college path to success, because let’s face it; any of us who still believe that probably either work in higher ed and rely on that lie so that new suckers who are born every minute take out massive amounts of student loans. Or they think the stork brings babies to mommies and daddies. College works for some, but not all. The trades work for some and not all as well. But after over 20 years in the workforce, I can safely say that college has not really prepared me for much.
Other than there are a lot of people in colleges who think their degree means they are better people or harder workers than “less educated” people. There is a lot of entitlement here. And a lot of arrogance.
I have a knack for putting words together and conveying ideas to other people. Sometimes, this talent is a curse, to use the cliche. To process thoughts, I write about them. I didn’t learn this in college. I used it to get through college. And once I got out, I started off exactly where I would have without a four year degree, other than being able to say I have a BA.
You’re Fired (Up!)
This weekend, I got fired up about writing again. About querying magazines, about putting my plan to become a full-time writer into effect. I am already very successful in writing copy for companies, but that only helps pay the bills. I need to get to the next level. I was ready.
Then, I got to work this morning and felt all the wind leave my sails. The supervisor even gave me a nifty little Christmas present, because ’tis the season. It reminded me of those years of abuse with the sweet talking after a completely dehumanizing fight, which was supposed to make everything okay. It made me sick to my stomach. But nobody was yelling, so maybe I can put up with this for a few more years. Maybe I won’t get the bad review in a few months I completely expect to get. Maybe one day, things will change and everything will be okay again?
This and every other lie I told myself when I was surviving a marriage that nearly killed me.
This weekend, it was just about all my wonderful girlfriend and I talked about. She listened and we put our heads together on a lot of things. I’m fired up again. I have ideas. I can query magazines. I can ignore the contempt and push ahead, because the first step in keeping you down by any abuser is to let your crush yourself with your own doubt.
It’s hard to tell people about these things. Even my closest friends and family. “You can’t just quit! Ten years will fly past! What about your pension? What about money? Etc. etc.” It’s like they are saying “Your hobbies are cute and all, but don’t quit your day job.” As if I didn’t have enough of these doubts swirling around my head.
If this was a relationship, they would have offered to help me move. Instead, they are handing me a piece of steak and telling me “Sorry about that busted lip. Maybe a plate fell out of the cabinet?”
I think of all the times I have seen people mourn the loss of a loved one. They always talk about what they did for a living in some reverential way. Even if that was what killed them. How many funerals give praise to the thing that murdered their loved one, I wonder.
Just suppose I can make a go of this? Suppose I can use my talents and follow opportunity, like Mike Rowe says? Rather than just feel like this is all I deserve. My career is at a dead end. Not only will I never advance further than where I am, I am in the process of being attacked on a daily basis, and my reputation in my job is being smeared. Suppose I find validation through my own actions, rather than some sadistic person who wants to take the wind out of my sails?
Anything is possible.