How to Survive Workplace Abuse

It’s a common experience.  You get a job that seems to promise great things.  You work for a manager who seems to have your best interest at heart.  You work with a team of like-minded individuals, and they all seem to be people you can really bond with.  It seems like all is right in the employment world… until it isn’t. The fact is, sometimes a breakup is necessary for both the company and the individual.  It’s not unusual, nor unfair, for things to change within an organization, or in management, or within teams. These changes can directly impact our ability to stay employed with the organization.  Often, it’s the way this all happens that is unfair.

Poorly run organizations, and badly trained managers, may frequently take the cowardly approach of trying to coerce resignations, rather than firing individuals. There are any number of reasons for this.  It could be jealousy. It could be the tormentor is struggling with his or her own failings. It could be you remind the tormentor of someone else. It could be financial and an attempt to limit unemployment claims.  These reasons and more can create an environment of abuse within the workplace. This abuse can manifest itself in different forms, such as:

  • Excluding individuals from deserved opportunities.
  • Changing responsibilities, and setting impossible work deadlines.
  • Creating a hostile work environment.

In turn, this creates a form of emotional abuse which can manifest itself in verbal abuse, the constant rejection of thoughts and ideas, and making the employee doubt his or her own thoughts and feelings.  It can even… dare I say it… affect your sanity by manipulating the truth.

I am doing you no favors by just harping on the cruelty that exists in this world.  The fact is that abuse occurs, more often than any of us would like, but it’s what we do with the experience that matters. Wallowing in self-pity is not a solution.  Having survived my own abusive situation in the workplace, my intention is for you to survive this by focusing on real solutions. Here are some examples:

  • Change how you view the experience. The universe is not against you.  These situations can provide powerful lessons.  Learn from these valuable lessons, embrace them, and move on.
  • Accept some responsibility. This is a tough one while in the throes of abuse, but it’s an important one.  I’m not asking for much here, but you don’t want to be a professional victim.  Ask yourself this: “What’s the one thing I could have done better?” Don’t leave without an answer.  You’ll find it a whole lot easier to move on.
  • Forgive your tormentor. This may also sound like a difficult one, until you stop and think about who exactly you’re punishing when you don’t.  It’s not your tormentor you are punishing but rather yourself. This anger can only inhibit your ability to heal and move on.
  • Forgive yourself. Take a moment to rediscover who you truly are, and not who your tormentor claimed you were.  Once you accept responsibility for your actions, you can avoid blaming yourself for the abuse you suffered.  No one deserves to be abused. It’s never appropriate, and it’s not your fault! Shift your focus, put the past behind you, and move on.

Despite these suggestions, abuse of this nature creates wounds, and these wounds leave scars. These scars will heal… but never completely.  That’s okay, because I don’t believe these scars are supposed to heal, completely.  They don’t have to be perceived as ugly; they can be beautiful.  They serve as a reminder – not of the pain you experienced – but of the lessons you lived, and the positive changes you’ve made and will never forget.

Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.

Related: You Can’t Just Teach Bias Away