Your working relationships can be affected if the personalities of your boss or co-workers closely approximate someone in your past who emotionally abused you. Your boss could be just like your dad. A supervisor could treat you just like your mother did. A co-worker could remind you of the way a sibling used to talk to you.
Cindy was already seeing me for depression when another problem cropped up. Work had been one of the few places Cindy felt good about herself. Her home life might be a disaster, but at work Cindy felt like she knew what she was doing. Lately, however, the thought of going to work sent her into a panic.
As I reviewed Cindy’s work situation, she explained that although she was doing the same job, she had a new supervisor. The previous one had been a friendly, laid-back man who enjoyed jokes and gave Cindy a high degree of freedom to do her job without interference. Her new supervisor was completely different. Rarely smiling, he seemed to Cindy to hover over her desk, alert for anything she might be doing wrong. It wasn’t just her; he was like that with the other women in her department.
Soon after he had begun supervising her section, as accounting error had been found. Not a major one, but enough to raise eyebrows. Everyone was understandably nervous about tracking the cause of the error. To Cindy’s horror, one of her co-workers intimated to the new supervisor that Cindy was responsible. Instead of asking her about it, he immediately assumed she was at fault. Though the error couldn’t be traced back to her, he now treated her as if her work product was inferior to the others. Not only was she working under a suspicious boss, but she had found out just what kind of friend she had in her co-worker.
This would have been a difficult situation for anyone. As Cindy said, “You know, I felt just like I did when my dad used to get mad at me. I was always the one to blame. I could never do anything right. And Mom used to let Dad think that I was at fault. She never stood up for me. I was the scapegoat. That just how I felt at work when that happened. Like I was a kid again. My boss was my dad, and my friend was my mom. There I was again, taking the blame for something I didn’t do!”
Cindy was able to confront her friend about how she had acted and to learn to work for her boss without feeling guilty about doing her job. She had to pull herself away from her past patterns and deal with her work situation in the present. It wasn’t long before her boss was transferred to another department where he wasn’t responsible for the work product of so many employees.
Our family relationships are the foundation for how we interact with people in the future. If the foundation is shaky, it needs to be shored up with healthy models of positive relationships.
No amount of money is worth staying in an abusive work environment. There are laws now to protect workers from what is known as a hostile work environment as it related to outright harassment. If you find yourself in a hostile work environment with an abusive person, you should consider looking for another job, even if the law isn’t on your side. Is it fair that you should have to leave your job? No. But it might be better for you in the long run.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.