Friday, June 27, 2014

The Long Reaching Effects of Bullying

A former employer of mine is taking an active stance on bullying and I applaud their actions. Except I am skeptical. I am so very wary of believing this can change within an institution where I (as an adult) was a victim of bullying in that particular workplace.

In all of the years I have lived, I have never felt so helpless. Me! One who has lived through an abusive marriage. Yet this workplace situation was my undoing.

What happened? Why couldn't I fight back? Why does it still haunt me (almost) three years after the fact? Did the events which preceded my 'incident' set me up to be in a position where I felt belittled to the point of tears most days?

The day prior to my interview for the job-that-I-wanted-the-most, I had been publicly berated and humiliated by my boss (at a job I had taken so I would have a part-time job to help me afford to accept this job if it was offered to me). I was beyond devastated. I was still shaking from the anger and embarrassment from the day prior, while I was being interviewed. My confidence was shattered. During my interview, I came clean and mentioned the incident from the day prior and I was still a little rattled. This revelation may have set the stage for what was to follow. I will never know for sure.

Prior to this, I had another negative experience in the workplace. It wasn't public humiliation but it was a slow and gradual deterioration of my self esteem over the course of a much longer term.

This was preceded by 50 years of life where I lived in a bubble-wrapped world. I didn't struggle with school and had the ability to do well in my studies if that was where I chose to focus my energy. I found work within the financial services industry and succeeded with whatever was put before me. I earned a reputation of being a conscientious and hard worker. It followed me wherever I went. From there, I opened my daycare where I worked for/with parents who liked and respected me. I was becoming confident. Then, I took a chance and decided to try out a new career path.

At the age of 51 years old, I walked into a brand new place of employment (yes, they did hire me after my most-awful-interview-known-to-man) with the confidence of a sixteen year old. Or less.

That is the scenario which preceded the events to follow.

It is a long and tedious tale but it didn't take long for me to figure out my supervisor did not like me. This terrified me just a little bit (a lot) and I continued to become less-of-who-I-was and more of who-she-thought-I-was. It was not a place I would ever choose to be. But I was there.

I knew things were bad so I approached her and invited her to talk with me and let me know how I could improve. I did not expect it to be on the spot, in front of all of the other office staff and for it to be a public humiliation of epic proportions.

At this point, I knew I was most definitely not imagining all that was going on (quite literally) behind my back. I talked to the administrative person who hired me. I talked to my supervisor's superior. I explained what was going on and though I didn't have words to ask, I needed help. I just didn't know how desperate I was. Until things got worse.

And they did.

I unravelled slowly but surely. I had 50 years of success which preceded these events so I used every strategy that had worked for me in the past to succeed, despite the odds.

When my questions were not being answered, I researched my own answers. When I found myself unable to be quick enough to perform my duties, I took work home with me and devised a spreadsheet where I could come up with my own answers easily. I asked questions of anyone and everyone who was happy to supply them. By this time, I was under the impression my supervisor had instructed my co-workers not to answer any of my questions, so she was the one I would have to go to for answers. And then she may or may not choose to answer them.

I focused on the positive I found within those tortured days. There are morsels of goodness in every situation. And I found them. It was a struggle but I was gasping for air so I thought this just might work.

I went to a counselling session which I paid for out of my own pocket. I needed a strategy to get through this. This was the job I most wanted. All I had to do was overcome this one obstacle and I would be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I needed answers. I needed help.

I did not want to approach my supervisor's boss and turn this into a "She said/she said" situation that reminded me of teenage girls. I thought if I just kept doing the next right thing, I would get to where I needed to be to work through and past this challenge.

For days and weeks on end, I came home from work and cried. Time after time after time. All of my strategies were wearing me down and wearing me out. I had the feeling it wasn't working but I was terrified to approach my supervisor by this point because I knew she was not my ally. I was working to succeed despite her best efforts to keep me down.

Two months is all it took for this situation to come to a peak and have to be dealt with. I was given an ultimatum. I could stay in my position, not pass my probation and be without a job. Or I could resign my position and accept whatever fate would hand out to me (a part-time floating position within the organization).

At this point, I knew I had information that my superiors needed to know. I finally opened up to the people within my world and they put a name to what I was experiencing. "You are being bullied".

I was 51 years old and I did not have the vocabulary to describe this situation until someone gave it to me. Fifty one years old! How in the world do children and young teens take control of a subtle, manipulative bullying situation when it doesn't fit the mold that has been provided for them? Bullying takes on so very many forms and (from my experience) the bullying you cannot see is just as damaging than that which is blatant and recognizable.

My supervisor's boss was my boss. He was the one who gave me my final ultimatum. When I described my half of all of the events which had preceded the moment when he invited me into his office, he admitted  he did not know (nor investigate) my side of the story. The verdict was written without a defence.

I was two months into a brand new position in a brand new work place. I was working at a place of employment that I could see taking me through to my retirement. I wanted (and needed) this job. I said the hard words, "I have documentation and I can provide it to you if you need for this to go in (my supervisor's) file". And do you know what his answer was? "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this ..."

This, from a person who was holding a position-of-authority within the very institution that is in a position of trust for preventing bullying to happen to children. And this was his answer?!?

I could have fought this. The moment I mentioned this to the person who was in the administrative position of hiring me, she immediately responded, "We take these situations very seriously. Let me find out more information." By the time she got back to me, I was terrified of the ramifications pursuing this would bring. I was a brand new employee. I was in jeopardy of losing my job. I was vulnerable and felt ill equipped to handle this on my own. So I bowed down and pretended it didn't really happen. For the sake of my future.

This sequence of events unfolded (almost) three years ago. And an announcement in the paper that this very same employer is going to implement a new strategy for the children in their care hit me hard.

If an adult, with all of the tools, resources, coping strategies, vocabulary and willingness to talk openly can't confront a bully when they are in their own 'front yard', what hope does a child have?

I am beyond grateful to see more accessible tools are becoming available and bullying is something that is discussed openly at all ages. But please, please, please give these children the tools to recognize the very subtle forms of bullying. Bullying in any form is dangerous but when it comes in the form even an adult cannot recognize while they are living it ... it is the most treacherous of all forms.

It has taken me over two and a half years to write this out loud. I am an adult, with all of the resources I could possibly hope for, right at my fingertips. I can still feel the whisper of those sequence of events, which haunt me to this day. Let's do whatever we possibly can, to help our children. They need it. More than we will ever know.

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