My Greatest Disadvantage and How I Overcame It
My name is Dennis Hart and I am a toxic workplace survivor. Not too long ago I read a submission about what you should do if you were terminated as a result of personality conflicts, negative office politics, and other negative workplace events.
I feel like my last employer wrote the book on effective workplace abuse techniques, psychological torture and toxic work environments. All this occurred while human resources rubber stamped the actions of the worst abusers as “routine business policy.”
Despite the fact that I knew all of this, I could not escape the negative effects the abuse had on my self confidence, and even my mental stability. Eventually I lost my job and found myself out of work for over a year. This submission, however, is not about the abuse I endured. It is about how I overcame the detrimental effects, restored my confidence, and found a new job.
I remember the day I lost my job and the last meeting with my former manager and human resources. It was if they wanted to make sure that the abuse I endured would have a lasting psychological effect. On the drive home I felt a strong desire to run my car off the road. I thought my employer had so damaged my reputation that I would never work again.
Fortunately common sense took hold…
I made it home and stared blankly at the TV screen for hours. I was beyond tears, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. Eventually I fell asleep. The next day I noticed that the refrigerator was empty. I decided to go to the supermarket. Little did I know, I was about to take the first step to rebuilding my self confidence. On the way, I noticed that a local church was sponsoring a car wash. It must have been over six months since I had the car washed; I never had time to take it to the car wash while I was working.
While my car was being washed, one of the pastors was talking to a young woman who had just lost her job. I found myself drawn to the conversation. Before I knew it, I was talking to the pastor. I mentioned the abuse that I endured at my last job and the pastor immediately invited me into his office.
“Dennis”, the pastor spoke in comforting tones, “I can sympathize with what you have gone through. The fact that you are here talking to me shows how strong you really are. Listen, the church is sponsoring a workgroup to help people who have been in your situation. Here is my card. Please call me on Monday and I will make sure I get you into the workgroup. I know it will help you.”
Attending the workshop was the best move I made. The woman who ran the group was also a toxic workplace survivor. We started off by telling her about our former employers and the abuse we suffered. It was very comforting to know that I was not alone. I did not expect, however, that we would each have assignments. My assignment was to purchase a shirt I did not like, bring it to the next meeting, and then return it to the store for a refund. I didn’t know the purpose of the exercise (I’ll mention that later), however, I knew I felt much better after leaving the first meeting.
The subsequent meetings were critical in restoring my self confidence. I went to each meeting, took notes, and carefully reviewed them when I came home. The process of restoring my self confidence did not occur overnight. Here is a summary of the steps I went through to overcome the abuse I suffered. I have also included some suggestions to any readers have suffered through similar abuse.
1): You are not alone! The most important thing I needed to realize was that I was not alone. The workplace bully flourishes by making his victim feel isolated. There was a great deal of discussion as to whether to report the abuse to Human Resources. We concluded that it depends on each individual workplace. In my particular case, the head of Human Resources was aware of the abuse and actually supported the abusers. For me the healing process actually began with my dismissal.
2): Realize that losing your job in a toxic environment is not a catastrophe. Although it did not seem like it at the time, getting fired was the best thing the company did for me. As stated in the previous point, I could only begin healing after being removed from the toxic situation. Once I left the company, I was able to start putting past events into perspective; I knew that I had to find a way to regain self-confidence.
3): Take a proactive step by seeking out “silent supporters.” When I held my previous position, there were several individuals who wanted to help, however they did not want to put their jobs in jeopardy. They became a valuable resource once I left the job. I used my silent supporters as references, and networking sources. They were a critical resource in helping me find another job. If possible, consider using a former supervisor (preferably one who has already left the company) that you had a positive relationship with as your chief reference.
4): Start with a simple exercise in an effort to regain confidence. The purpose of buying the shirt and returning it was to re-start interaction with people. I actually took this exercise a step further by purchasing an item where the store had a “no returns policy.” I went to return the item, and while the sales clerk would not honor my request, I was eventually able to get a credit for my return by seeking out the store manager. I felt my negotiation skills returning as I successfully convinced the store manager to give me a credit for the item purchased.
5): List your accomplishments. I made a list of all the goals I accomplished while I was in my previous position. This exercise made me realize, that despite the abuse I went through, I was able to complete extremely complex tasks during the worst times with my previous employer. Reviewing this list also helped me regain self confidence.
6): Do something to help resolve your greatest job search fear. In one of the sessions, we were asked to state our greatest fear during job search. My greatest fear was not rejection; it was cold calling. One of my last assignments was to make some cold calls and report on the results. The first “cold call” took a great deal of courage to make. The woman I spoke to told me to check their website instead of calling. Sure enough, the website had a position open that I was qualified for, and I applied. I felt my initial phone call lead to an interview.
7): Stay Positive. When I went on interviews, I made sure never to mention anything negative about my previous employers. We learned in the workgroup that employers will quickly disqualify candidates that discuss abuse endured in previous positions. Although it may be difficult, do your best to be positive about your previous employers.
8): Make sure you interact with other people. Let’s not forget that the healing process started with interacting with others. My trip to the car wash and subsequent conversation was the first step in a process that helped me to recover my self confidence. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it is imperative that you talk to a sympathetic family member or, in my case a group leader at a local church or synagogue. You will not regret it.
9): Allow yourself time to heal. My “healing process” took several months; it did not happen overnight. Four months after I started attending the workgroup, I went on my first job interview. Eight months afterwards I was offered a position and accepted the employment offer. In many ways, I am still healing from the abuse I suffered at the hands of my previous employer. I feel, however, that I am much better equipped to handle stressful situations.
10): Look to the future and believe in yourself. Keep on telling yourself that things will get better. Every time you think about the abuse you have gone through, you are giving the people who have abused you more power than they deserve. Now is the time to take that power away from them! By believing in yourself and looking to the future, you are taking power away from your abusers and giving it back to yourself. Keep telling yourself that your abusers are worthless; once you have taken back your self confidence, they are nothing!
Finally, here is the most important point I need to make. If you are a victim of sexual abuse or most any type of discrimination, you have legal recourse; however in New York, as well as most other states, there is no law against workplace bullying. I urge you to write to your senator or congressman and tell them it is imperative to pass a law against workplace bullying. Although I still suffer from an occasional anxiety attack, I am able to work through them without the use of medication. I have a new job, a new level of confidence, and I look forward to the day when anxiety attacks are far behind me.
- Submission by Dennis Hart