Going through an emotional abuse isn’t easy and quite often, it is spotted and addressed when it’s way too late. It took me over 8 months to realise I have been emotionally bullied at work and another 6 months to accept that it was not going to change, and no matter how hard I tried I would never be able to prove myself, because whatever I said or did, simply wasn’t good enough. What’s worse, I was the only person directly under constant attack, which meant a lot of people didn’t see the issue and if they did, they couldn’t really put a finger on it and they would prefer to stay oblivious to it.
Now, I don’t want to get into the nasty details of my case, but I would like it to serve you as a cautionary tale of how to spot and address the issue before it affects your wellbeing.
Please note that if you think you are being emotionally abused or harassed at work, first and foremost, start recording everything that’s happening. If there are face-to-face meetings and things are being said, do write an email afterwards asking for confirmation of what was said.
How to spot abuse:
- You feel something is off – you don’t necessarily know what it is but you feel it, you know you are stressed out and put off by going to work, you get anxiety attacks thinking about major projects or meetings with the certain person.
- You are expected to work overtime or do things that are outside of your scope of responsibilities and when you refuse you are facing a personal attack on your personality, integrity, skills…
- You’re a victim of gaslighting. When I shared my experiences with a good friend of mine she labelled the behaviour as gaslighting. It was the very first time I heard the term and since I was seeing understanding and solution, I’ve researched what it means. Gaslighting (term taken from a 1944 movie titled Gaslight) is a form of emotional abuse in a form of being manipulated into questioning and second-guessing your reality. This article mentions what it means in a relationship setting, but it applies to any interactions really.
- You’re being patronised, criticised or talked down to in person or in front of others. When you’re asking for support, you’re being turned away.
- Your work is never good enough and remarks are personal and made about you and your skills rather than the work you delivered. You don’t get any guidance on how to improve
- You are being shouted at and ignored. This is a highly unprofessional, however still common behaviour.
- You are not being involved or invited to working on projects within your remit – a lot of it is happening behind your back. You’re still expected to be accountable for it.
When I first realised my performance and mood were significantly down, I blamed it all on myself and took the following steps:
- I went to see a therapist. My therapist was THE person that opened my eyes and defined what’s happening to me as I thought it’s normal and my boss just has a difficult behaviour. She also helped me mentally prepare to leave as I was not ready. It is very important to get a support when you go through difficult times.
- I collected every piece of communication to support my case (as mentioned previously). It helps you support your case and stand up for yourself when necessary.
- I read my contract and company’s code of conduct to understand my rights and what the next steps were i and what they have to say about situations like mines.
- I reached out to ACAS. ACAS is a free advisory body that helps in employment law and employment disputes. Read their website as there’s a lot on unfair dismissal and harassment at work. You need to understand that your position really varies depending on how long you’ve been working there, who the abuser is and the reasons for the inappropriate behaviour. Also the difference between bullying and harassment.
- When I was equipped with information I went to HR. If you feel in a position to go to the person’s manager, do so first – HR would probably advice to do so.
Before you speak to HR think about the outcomes you want for yourself. Often, changing one’s behaviour is not possible. I was going through an emotional break down so for me the only acceptable option was to leave ASAP without having to interact with my abuser ever again, and getting paid to support myself while I look for another role. I only asked for 3 months which is how long my notice period was. Looking back, I know I could have thought for myself, but since I wasn’t capable it was OK to settle for minimum.
I hope these steps will help you understand your situation and give you the courage to take next steps. In the meantime, to stay sane:
- Turn to meditation and mindfulness. Get away from the rumbling thoughts in your head and conversations being played on repeat. Find quiet space and try to switch off.
- Focus on exploring other options, brush up your CV, write down all the awesome projects you have worked on and carried out, make sure your CV mentions them. Sign up for job alerts – it helps you see that there are many amazing things out there. Make a list of companies you’d like to work for
- Try to detach yourself emotionally from work, make sure you don’t work overtime and you don’t check your emails as soon as you leave the building. Do awesome stuff instead – to keep yourself occupied.
- Set boundaries. This is an important one. You need to know some behaviours are not supposed to be accepted and you can politely refuse to take part or listen to what is being said…
- Book a holiday – in case of emergency, travel. Always.