November 23, 2022 at 8:07 am #410568
I’m having a very hard time dealing with a sudden flashback to being witch-hunted at work 7 years ago, and it’s taking a toll over my self-esteem, which I spent so long building up from scratch all these years. I’m not understanding how to deal with all this sudden rush of intense feelings of guilt, pain and loneliness, so would appreciate some help. Please excuse me if this is all over the place, because I’m quite muddle-headed right now.
I was around 21 years old when I became the target of a witch-hunt at my first workplace. I was a very naive, emotional, socially-awkward girl with a low self-esteem and trusted people too easily. I used to wear my emotions on my sleeve and sometimes came off as weird when put in stressful situations. In my first-ever Project at work, I became a target of a witch-hunt gradually over a period of an year, and this fuelled my terrible anxiety and depression and absolutely messed up with my sense of self. It all started because I was a non-conformist and “not a team-player”. There were also a few misunderstandings between me and my bullies in the starting, due to me being a non-conformist, and I always apologized immediately, whenever it was my mistake(though sometimes I had to apologize for no mistake of mine just to keep peace). Though we had few disagreements, never once did I cross the line to bully anyone. But, my teammates were pretty vindictive and held deep seated grudges for small misunderstandings and resorted to bullying me.
One of my colleagues did see what was happening to me and did admit that what was happening to me was not normal and that the bullies were going too far, but she kept blaming me and told me that I was to be blamed for it. I do agree that I was not the smartest and couldn’t stand up for myself in the best way possible. But I tried my best to defend myself, though it was very sloppy and sometimes just made matters worse. I did make naive, stupid choices which sometimes worked against me, but those were the only choices I could make at that time, in intensely stressful situations based on what I felt was right at that time. Her words always made me enter into a spiral of self-doubt and made me question my own sanity and feelings. She made me feel like my feelings were wrong and that I was not supposed to feel that way.
One of the bullying incidents was as follows – My teammates(bullies) once went through my bag and make-up products when I was away from my desk. When I went back to the desk, they started mocking me for using make-up products and said that I spent my entire salary on them(though my make-up products were very basic). They then started comparing me to her and said that she was beautiful without make-up and that I wasn’t. I tried to tell them to stop doing so in every way I could, but it all fell on deaf ears, so I had to stop talking to them completely. I vented to my other colleague(who saw what was happening) about them as I trusted her(I used some colourful language about my bullies because I was venting), but she recorded me without my knowledge and sent it to them. What’s worse was, she probed me to talk more about them by asking me leading questions trying to get me to speak out of turn so that she’s got it on record. Upon questioning, she confessed that they had asked her to record me, but she didn’t have an ounce of guilt for doing so and literally probing me to talk about them. When I called her out, her response was, “I’m on team’s side”.
These incidents left me feeling emotionally unsafe and extremely anxious to the point that I often shivered and felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had to see a therapist because I was too traumatized to go back to the office after getting out of that Project. Unfortunately, I couldn’t continue my therapy due to my circumstances at that time. When I shared this with my then Manager, he invalidated me saying that what I went through was nothing traumatizing. When I told him that my therapist thought differently, he asked me what my therapist said. I told him exactly what my therapist had said to me, “You feel what you feel, your feelings are valid”. His response to that was, “Therapists always say that”. This made me again enter into a spiral of self-doubt and pain, making me question my own sanity.
As time passed, I have healed from all this, or atleast I thought I did so, but recently, I had a sudden flashback to all of these incidents from seven years ago, and I’m struggling again. So, I would gladly appreciate some help here. Did I deserve to be bullied? Is my trauma “not” trauma?November 23, 2022 at 8:46 am #410586
“Did I deserve to be bullied?” – N O !
” Is my trauma ‘not’ trauma?“- Your Trauma is Trauma !
“One of the bullying incidents was as follows – My teammates (bullies) once went through my bag and make-up products when I was away from my desk. When I went back to the desk, they started mocking me… I vented to my other colleague (who saw what was happening) about them as I trusted her (I used some colourful language about my bullies because I was venting), but she recorded me without my knowledge and sent it to them… When I called her out, her response was, ‘I’m on team’s side’“-
– the bullies going through your bag- your private property- without your permission was Wrong#1. Mocking you was Wrong#2, and tricking you into venting so to record you- again, without your permission- was Wrong#3.
You were bullied by your work colleagues, reads to me, because you were somewhat different from the rest, or different from the dominant few of them. Unfortunately, people- and some species of animals as well- bully individuals who are different.
You wrote: “There were also a few misunderstandings between me and my bullies in the starting, due to me being a non-conformist“- I don’t understand and I am curious about what you mean by “non-conformist” in the context of your employment of 7 years ago. Can you explain it to me?
anitaNovember 25, 2022 at 12:32 am #410683
Thanks a lot for your input. I am having even more painful memories rushing back to me, so please excuse me if this is all over the place. I was a non-conformist in the sense that I didn’t conform to the existing cultural standards of my country(I’m from a conservative country) and the established status-quo of being a “team-player” in the company. Being a “team-player” in my company meant – apologizing to the whole team even for things which were not completely my fault just to satisify everyone’s ego, taking sides and recording people if asked to. I had no idea about this “team” culture as it was my first job, and the whole thing didn’t make any sense morally to me. I was pressured to apologize and take the blame for things which weren’t completely my fault. The biggest problem was, though I apologized several times to them, they still held deep-seated grudges and emotionally abused me every chance they got. They expected sincerity from me, and though I was as sincere towards them as possible, they never once treated me with basic respect or sincerity. They first made me trust them but back-stabbed me time and again. When I called them out on their behaviour, they didn’t like it. One of the bullies, before leaving the team confessed that she deliberately hurt me because she felt that my initial apology towards the team was “insincere”. All this hurt me deeply and pushed me into a spiral of depression and eradicated my self-esteem slowly.
I was also forced to share my personal details like info about my family and my then boyfriend, and constantly forced to share my opinions on controversial topics, which made me feel extremely uncomfortable. When I tried to set boundaries and refused to speak about a certain controversial topic or share my personal info, they used to get extremely offended and even start mocking me for wanting to keep my personal info private. This behaviour of theirs forced me to always just give up in the end and share my personal info or my opinions on controversial topics with them, in the hopes that they might stop harassing me, but their harassment just got worse. Whenever I shared my personal info upon being asked, they used to probe even deeper into it, forcing me to give even more info and then make comments about my personal life. Whenever I shared my opinions on being forced to do so(which were different than theirs because they always supported the status quo and I was most of the times against it), they often used to give glances towards each other in a way ridiculing me, or downright make mean, hurtful comments and try to tear down my values and opinions. They were also pretty hypocritic with the way they held me to unreasonable standards and nitpick on everything I said or did, but patted each others’ back when they made the same mistakes I made. For ex: They didn’t like the way I spoke to my family or friends(yes they used to over-hear my phone conversations with them and I normally spoke bluntly with my family or friends), but used to be very lenient towards someone else from their group who used curse words at their parents.
I was growing exhausted by all this and started standing up for myself, and when I reached my limits, I lashed back too. Their constant mocking of me made me misunderstand some of their words and actions towards me too, and one time I lashed back with small insults towards them because their mocking was getting unbearable and I partly misunderstood some of their words. They didn’t like it and my lashing back was seen as “disrespectful”. I immedaitely apologized that I was wrong for lashing out and that the misunderstanding was on my side(though it was on both the sides), but they were unwilling to hear me out and made me out to be the bad guy. I felt like my perspective would never be heard and doesn’t matter, but still, I apologized several times.
One of the bullies(more like an enabler who emotionally abused me by being in the sidelines) had the “good guy” image and he was very convinced and confident that I was the one in the wrong and refused to listen to anything I said. When I asked him why they treated me this way, his response was, “If we treat everyone well and not you, then you must be in the wrong”, implying that I was in the wrong and deserved to be bullied. Though, in a later incident, when I’ve had enough, with them name-calling me as “retarded” and called him out, he did kind of apologize, but still refused to acknowledge that I was being bullied and believed that I “made” them act that way.
All this made me enter into this never ending guilt-trap of constantly feeling that I did something wrong and always wondering what I did wrong. I lost my self-esteem, was burdened with intense guilt, always walked on egg shells around them and felt that I deserved to be treated the way they treated me because they made me convinced that I was in the wrong. Because I was all alone throughout the whole situation, and it was a one against a group situation, I also have this fear that if something ever happens in the future, my perspective will never be heard by anyone and no one would be on my side. So, please tell me, was I not bullied? Did I deserve to be treated this way even if I made some unintentional mistakes but immediately apologized for them? Do I deserve to live constantly feeling guilty and not knowing why? Don’t I deserve to lead a happy and confident life?November 25, 2022 at 8:55 am #410705
You are welcome! The company you worked for reads like a company from hell.
“Being a ‘team-player’ in my company meant“- it meant having one’s soul sucked out by abuse, didn’t it?
“I was also forced to share my personal details like info about my family and my then boyfriend“- a workplace does not own any rights for such personal information!
“I was growing exhausted by all this… when I reached my limits, I lashed back… with small insults towards them…Did I deserve to be treated this way even if I made some unintentional mistakes but immediately apologized for them?“- you were a victim in the context of this company. There is an unrealistic expectations that people have- when looking back at times when they were victimized- that they should have been Perfect Victims: zero aggressive behaviors on their part. This is an unrealistic expectation because hurt people automatically and instinctively react, sooner or later, with some form of aggression (minimally by raising the volume of one’s voice and tensing the facial muscles, appearing threatening). It is not human- nor is it humane- to take ongoing abuse quietly, nicely.. and forevermore.
“One of the bullies… his response was, ‘If we treat everyone well and not you, then you must be in the wrong’“- what he said was wrong. I am guessing that he knew that what he said was wrong, but he said it anyway because it was convenient for him to say it.
“All this made me enter into this never ending guilt-trap of constantly feeling that I did something wrong and always wondering what I did wrong. I lost my self-esteem, was burdened with intense guilt, always walked on egg shells around them.. it was a one against a group situation“-
–two row times/group bullying in the workplace cause significant long-term health impacts: “In its worst forms, group bullying — also known as ‘mobbing’, can have devastating long-term health impacts on targeted victims and organizations. What is mobbing? Mobbing is very aggressive form of bullying — where a targeted individual will be bullied by a group of people. Often times the group will have a mobbing ringleader who is the primary aggressor of the bullying mission… People who have been targeted by mobbing have described it as a campaign of terrorism, or toxic work environment where they feel ganged up on… Mobbing tactics can vary but they include a long list of behaviours: dehumanize a person to embarrass, diminish, humiliate, mischaracterize, and intimidate the targeted person. Verbal aggression includes the way a person is spoken to with an aggressive or dismissive tone, subject to insults or sarcastic comments… Gossip and slander can occur where ringleaders are initiating malicious rumours or untrue stories… Mobbing has one goal: to remove the targeted person from expressing an opinion or talent outside of what the mob ringleaders will allow… Mob ringleaders will dominate the work environment either by silencing diversity or pushing targeted individuals out of the organization because of maltreatment..”.
“I also have this fear that if something ever happens in the future, my perspective will never be heard by anyone and no one would be on my side“- when considering future employment in any company, check if they have an established policy in regard to workplace bullying.
“So, please tell me, was I not bullied? .. Do I deserve to live constantly feeling guilty and not knowing why? Don’t I deserve to lead a happy and confident life?“- you were bullied, you do not deserve to feel guilty, and you deserve as happy and as confident a life as you can have!
In the resource I quoted from, it says that PTSD is one of the long-term impacts resulting from workplace mobbing. In your very first sentence, in your original post, you mentioned flashbacks in regard to the workplace bullying (“I’m having a very hard time dealing with a sudden flashback“). Did you seek professional help on the matter?
anitaNovember 28, 2022 at 4:02 am #410883
Sorry for the delayed response. Thank you so much again for your input and validation! Yes, I did see a therapist back then, but unfortunately, I couldn’t attend more than a couple of sessions due to my then circumstances. Those sessions did help a bit, and all the while I thought that I’ve healed, but I don’t know why, these memories have sudenly resurfaced after years now.
Regarding that company, it’s a well-established one, but the same rules of “team-culture” applied throughout all it’s branches. Though a few anti-bullying Laws existed, not everybody followed them well. What you shared regarding mobbing was exactly what I felt – it felt as a campaign of terrorism against me, for my unintentional mistakes or their percieved “mistakes”of mine, despite my constant apologies towards them everytime.
I hope I’m not bothering you too much and that it’s okay to share some more painful memories which I’m struggling with. Back then, I struggled with low-self esteem and had insecurities regarding my looks, and my colleagues deliberately picked on my insecurities repeatedly to hurt me more. They used to ask my other office friends(outside of my Project) about why they were even friends with “someone like me”, implying that I didn’t deserve to have any friends. Also, when I refused to share any personal info about my then boyfriend, they interrogated me like a criminal and made sarcastic, hurtful comments saying that I was “lying” about having a boyfriend. These interrogation sessions were traumatic and dehumanizing to say the least. This forced me to reveal all info about him. They went through his Facebook profile trying to find clues of our relationship and kept up with their “You are lying” taunts when they didn’t find any traces of it. When it was finally revealed that he was indeed my boyfriend, one of them, made a comment, “Your boyfriend really loves you”- which, to me then seemed sarcastic, and I percieved it as, “Your boyfriend must really like you to love someone like you”. We kept going back-and-forth and I finally lashed out at one of them, say X, saying, “My bf looks better than X”. X got angry, and I stated the reason why I said what I said. They said that they didn’t mean it in a negative way and they actually meant what they said. I immediately apologized sincerely to them for misunderstanding them and explained them that I didn’t really mean what I said, and that I was just emotionally hurt by their behaviour and lashed out. They refused to accept my apologies at first, and after apologizing a couple of times more, everybody else accepted, except for X. I felt unheard and hurt that they felt entitled to think about me the way they wanted and treated me less than human, but a single event of misunderstanding on my part was treated as a crime even after sincere apologies from my side.
Things started getting even worse after this incident. Though they said that they accepted my apologies, they still bullied me by making aggressive and sarcastic comments about my character and looks at every chance they got. All this intensified into other bullying events which I explained in above posts.
During my last days in that Project, I tried one last time to have a conversation with X to get some closure. I shared that I had insecurities and that their repeated verbal attacks on my insecurites has traumatized me. To which X replied, “I too have insecurities, you were mean to me too” referring to the one time I lashed out at him. I apologized again to him, but he said that I deserved all the bullying.
Now, I completely agree that I was in the wrong to have made a mean comment about him, but I feel that he was being very unfair in equating the magnitude of effects of a one-time occurence(to which apologies were already issued multiple times), to the magnitude of effects of repetitive harassment, and saying that I deserved it. Could you please your thoughts about this?November 28, 2022 at 8:10 am #410894
You are welcome and no, you are not bothering me at all. You are welcome to share about your painful experiences as much as you want to share.
“Could you please (offer) your thoughts about this?“- yes:
“I struggled with low-self-esteem and had insecurities regarding my looks“- I did too. I wonder where your personal low self-esteem and insecurities originated. Maybe if we talked some about that, what happened at the workplace 7 years ago will hurt a bit less, or it may not resurface again.
“and my colleagues deliberately picked on my insecurities repeatedly to hurt me more“- this is the.. job description of a bully: to attack where it hurts.
“they interrogated me like a criminal… These interrogation sessions were traumatic and dehumanizing to say the least. This forced me to reveal all info about him“- as you revealed more and more info about your then boyfriend, your interrogating bullies experienced more and more success, and were encouraged to achieve even more success. It’s like a mountain lion chasing a deer. The deer slows down=> the mountain lion is encouraged and increases its pace, running even faster toward the deer.
“I finally lashed out at one of them, say X… I immediately apologized sincerely to them… after apologizing a couple of times more.. Though they said that they accepted my apologies, they still bullied me“- the male deer turns around and pokes (lashing out at) the mountain lion with its antlers. At this point, the lion, hurt and scared of getting more hurt, may turn around and away from the deer.. but alas, the deer apologizes repeatedly, so the lion thinks: deer is sorry, deer will not poke me again, so better complete the chase and feast on this deer.
“During my last days in that Project, I tried one last time to have a conversation with X to get some closure. I shared that I had insecurities and that their repeated verbal attacks on my insecurities has traumatized me. To which X replied, ‘I too have insecurities, you were mean to me too’, referring to the one time I lashed out at him. I apologized again to him, but he said that I deserved all the bullying“- the deer, wounded from multiple attacks, but alive, and soon to be safe, tries to get some closure with the mountain lion, so it approaches the lion for an honest conversation, telling the lion: it traumatized me when you inflicted these wounds on me, to which the lion replies: you poked me that one time and it hurt! The deer then apologizes for that one time, and the lion attacks the deer yet again… because that’s what lions do.
“Now, I completely agree that I was in the wrong to have made a mean comment about him, but I feel that he was being very unfair in equating the magnitude of effects of a one-time occurrence (to which apologies were already issued multiple times), to the magnitude of effects of repetitive harassment, and saying that I deserved it“- yes, it was unfair of him, of course it was unfair, but you can’t reason with a bully because a bully (be it a primary bully or a secondary bully, like X) doesn’t care about fairness and honesty. To acknowledge your mistakes and wrongdoings in the context of interacting with people who are interested in honesty and betterment is the right thing to do. It is the wrong thing to do (wrong to you) when interacting with bullies.