Recovery from the Trauma of Bullying
anonymous Asks ...
Dear Mr. Johnson: I was bullied for over 3+ years after we got a new supervisor. After the supervisor was hired, 5 employees before me quit because they knew what was coming. I tried my best to stop this. I went higher up and attended a Grievance Meeting, which was no help, and at the end of the meeting, I was accused of false incidents. I finally filed with the EEOC/ERD. I had to get an attorney. This woke up upper management. Eventually, upper management stuck together, and I was terminated. The company I worked for had their own attorney who then tried to stop me from getting unemployment (2 hearings). I am considered protected class, which my supervisor knew and the supervisor before her (who was very nice). They even made accommodations without my consent, which would have made my protected class symptoms worse. They never included me in these accommodations and called themselves "The Team". I am glad to be out but the stress of this all has changed me. I stopped the EEOC/ERD case because it was actually making me worse (having to continually go over the past). I lost a great job that I loved and had for almost 24 years. Of course, there is no bullying law, and there was probably nothing to come of the EEOC/ERD case. After I told my attorney and the EEOC/ERD investigator I quit, the investigator still wants me to answer 12 questions to close this up (the ERD end of the case). I will be glad for this to be over after I finish the questions. I still try to fight for the Healthy Workplace Bill becoming a law. I am getting help from Job Service through Vocational Rehab. It is hard for me to think about working again - I am 55 and just want to stop. I have worked since I was 16. Unfortunately, I was told I do not qualify for disability. I did win the unemployment hearing. This whole thing has sucked everything from me. We have no insurance, less money, were able to get heat assistance, and I had to cash in my 401K. I am trying so hard to downsize. Do not buy clothes unless from a thrift shop, use coupons. I have to pay cash to see my Psychiatrist and pay cash for medications. It will take a while for me to get myself back to my old self. I snap at my husband. I feel crabby often. I sleep poorly. I am seeing a counselor (you pay what you can afford). At this age in my life, I cannot believe what this bullying did to me. One thing I wondered, isn't bullying like harassment? If you say "bully" it doesn't go too far. I did feel some peace when I quit the EEOC/ERD case, but still do not feel complete. Feel like I am in a box and cannot get out yet. I was always well liked and funny at work - now co-workers ignore me. It is so upsetting. My counselor said I am like a sponge and take on too many feelings of others too. I have too much empathy (which I believe is good). I love to see others happy, just too bad there are those out there who love to see people unhappy and enjoy watching them suffer. My counselor now is a Nun and she is doing a pretty good job. Do you have any other suggestions? I am worried about my marriage because I take it out on my husband. Sometimes I do not like him for not understanding me more. He is strong-minded and like a duck, where the problems roll off of him. Thanks for reading this.
David Johnson Says ...
I feel your pain. Bullying can cause a traumatic reaction. That is what you seem to be describing. Trauma can have long term effects, changing your sensitivity to stimulation, the level of background anxiety you feel, and your tolerance of that anxiety. Too much stimulation makes you irritable.
You need to learn how to manage the stimulation around you as well as your reaction to it. You can lower your sensitivity and tolerance over time by lowering the background anxiety you feel. Now that you are not working, it seems likely that your thoughts and feelings about your past experiences and the stresses in part created by your unemployment are haunting you daily.
One thing that you can do is to learn better control over your thoughts and feelings. The skill that has proven to be highly effective is called mindfulness. In simple terms, mindfulness is the skill of allowing your thoughts and feelings to flow without grabbing hold, judging them, thinking through them, or picking them apart. You are more aware of your thoughts and feelings than ever, but you sit back as an observer try not to intervene. Rather than feeling like your thoughts and feelings are out of control, you instead feel a profound sense of peace, an awareness of everything is temporary, especially your thoughts and feelings. This is what I think people call peace of mind. Imagine feeling at peace with the world, comfortable with your ability to cope with whatever happens and be able to let it go without judgment until it fades away.
This is a skill that requires a lot of practice. It's hard to imagine what it's like without experiencing it's essence after lots of practice. Learning mindfulness requires daily practice over many months before you will see significant progress. The best way to learn is to take a class and/or to practice daily using training CDs like those found here. I particularly recommend this one because it is a complete course of mindfulness training. Here is another one that might appeal to someone who would rather listen instead of practice.
Another method I'd suggest is described in an article I tripped over today. You will need the help of your counselor, so show her this article. Trauma has its greatest effect when it activates your emotions intensely and triggers the creation of emotional memories. These memories are different from thought based memories. These are the memories that drive our nightmares and our automatic emotions that are routinely evoked by our experiences. Some of your worst emotional experiences have been written into your emotional memory such that whenever you are reminded about what happened to you, your emotions are triggered again. That sends your thoughts whirling again as if the trauma of that moment is happening again. You need help managing the reaction you have to these memories. Then by experiencing the presense and support of the counselor. Your memory can be permanently changed, at least by adding the recollection of the support you received. At some level, we all know that telling our story to a supportive listener is healing. It is often very effective, sometimes over only one experience, sometimes over many.
I suspect you've already told your story to your counselor and it didn't work as well as it might. That is probably because of your difficulty managing your reactions, thoughts and feelings. You may need to increase your mindfulness skill before the counseling will be as helpful as it could be.
I encourage you to talk to a lawyer who specializes in getting people qualified for Social Security. You may find you have more of a chance than you think to get disability.
I wish you the very best.