The Three-Headed Snake
I worked in a lovely, small nursing home for 12 1/2 years. For many years, I loved it. I had my own staff and could create programming however I wanted. It was a lot of work, but I was happy except... that there always seemed to be somebody who was verbally abusive about something. And there was another big issue. The boss had divorced his wife to marry one of his subordinates. They "claimed" that this did not affect their work relationship, but the truth was that she ruled the place. If she had a fuss about somebody, it was believed 100% no matter how crazy it was or if it was detrimental to the people we served. Because of the fear, the culture of the facility deteriorated. Not only was bullying protected (because he couldn't call out anyone who did the same things as his wife) but it was rewarded.
The real beginning of the end for me came when I asked for more staff and one of my co-workers forced a claim on the position I was asking for. I did get the position, but to make it fair (Huh!) I then had to hire the person she wanted into my department. This was someone I knew and had learned to trust (She came from sales. What a mistake!) so I thought it would be alright. Little did I know that those two were "best friends" and there was a plan.
Everything was fine until the end of this individual's probationary period. Then the isolation and the picking, the passive-aggressive behaviors began. I didn't realize until later, that whenever I was out, they would hold gripe sessions against me to get everyone else mad at me. Even my supervisor manipulated me. The funny thing was that I thought the problems were being caused by one of my other staff -- a very narcissisitic sort of person, but previously very harmless. I didn't realize it was my newest employee (who has the same degree as I do by the way). Her goal was to convince everyone else how awful I was, while she would be seen as the nice one who everyone could get along with. She was setting me up as a bad guy (her projection) while she positioned herself to take my job and my 12 years of work and development for herself.
I have a journal from that time. There's an entry about how I was holding my weekly staff meeting one day and wondering who this person would show up as... By this time, I was on to the game. Here's the way she played it: First, she would do something that made a problem for me. This was a passive way of picking a fight because I would have to respond to it. Then she would have a temper tantrum and act in a completely irrational way. Then, she would go to my superiors and act innocent about the "horrible things" I had done to her and the other staff. Because she had gotten the bosses wife on her side, no one would question what she said.
Back to the staff meeting. This employee had 3 outward personalities. It was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this case, there were two Hydes. She would show up at meetings as one or the other. Hyde #1 was a "sullen teenager." She would sit off from the group and not participate, staring at the floor. If asked her thoughts, she'd just say "That's fine" in a whiny voice. Other meetings she would show up as an "angry 5-year-old", sitting right up front with the other staff with her arms folded across her chest and this smirky grin on her face. Anytime I would ask for the feedback of the group she would call out "no" as sharply as she could to shut off all communication. (I have a 5-year-old granddaughter by the way and I can tell you that there is a 6-month period where kids do this EXACT behavior.) How bizzare to see this in a 40-year-old woman!
So, on this particular day I thought, who will she show up as? And, how can anyone in their right mind behave like this and have any self-respect? It was then that I realized that I was dealing with someone with no conscience. Just like Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Despite the fact that they were manifestations of the same person, Jekyll used Hyde to do his dirty work but then took no responsibility for him. My God, what do you do as a manager in a situation like that? Well, I decided my only option was to report it to the higher ups, which I did with plenty of documentation. When I showed it to the administrator and asked for his assistance, he said that he would have to talk to this other employee. Well, apparently she had a laundry list of complaints about me...none of it substantiated. In fact, the list really wasn't even complaints, but vindictive judgments and projections.
Well, when it came time for me to meet with the administrator again, he said that he was taking this employee away from me. With an "I gotcha" smile on his face, he listed her judgments against me and stated that they had to be facts because there had been "complaints" about my management style the entire time I had worked there! (Wow! Thanks for telling me a little late.) Of course, none of this was about me. It was about his wife who wanted me to be replaced by "Dr. Jekyll", who was more "popular". It had nothing to do with work or the well-being of the people we cared for. It was about his wife.
Well, of course, then everyone knew that I had had an employee taken out of my department for my supposed "incompetence" as a manager. (But I knew who the REAL incompetent manager was.) Then, everyone wanted to take a chunk out of me. The authority and the respect I had garnered over the years was suddenly up for grabs to whoever could be the meanest or could get others to believe that my work should be dismantled. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to start looking for a new position several months before. After a particularly bad interaction with my narcissitic subordinate who cried and cried because I didn't make her needs #1 and didn't treat her like she was more special than everyone else (another person in her 40's, by the way), I looked up at the sky and said, "God, get me out of here, these people are insane." Two hours later I got the offer for the position I wanted! When I left, only a couple of people said good-bye, but, you know what? I didn't care. Who wants to be someplace where people are insane?
But the story doesn't end here. Several months into my new job, I had an experience with post-traumatic stress. Fortunately, I recognized what it was and was able to get past it with help from the right professionals. Hypnotherapy was particularly helpful.
I also was led to start reading the literature about workplace bullying. I had no idea that my experience was so common. Words like mobbing and serial bullying really hit me between the eyes. It was such a relief.
I also started meeting people who had worked with my "three-headed snake" in other jobs. No one had had such a bad experience, but the stories about childish behavior were the same. One guy even called her a "bizarre freak". Boy, I had been so fooled.
So, now its almost 2 years later. I'm realizing that I have many opportunties at my new job to build something else new and exciting. And I work in a healthy environment. Its not that there aren't bullies. The difference is that when they show up, it is stopped right away. If the bully is then not happy, they are not fired, but offered an undesirable transfer. That usually shapes them up or they ship out.
I have also realized that workplace bullying is not caused by individuals. My "3-headed snake" was not the cause of the bullying. Rather, it was the culture that allowed her to manifest bullying behavior and even rewarded her with more money, prestige and the fruits of my 12 years of hard work to develop that department. (Alright, so do you still detect a bit of bitterness?)
I'll admit that I'm not done with resentment, but I did have an experience earlier in the week where I realized that I was not mad at the snake, but at my supervisor. After 12 years, she completely betrayed me. I reported to her on numerous occasions that I was being assaulted. She not only did nothing, but manipulated me into believing that she liked me and that she valued me as a friend. Then, when the big boss came down on me, she took no responsibility, despite the fact that I had carefully gotten her feedback on all my managerial decisions. I didn't really have any choice because she had taken away my ability to "write staff up", the only tool we had for disciplining staff. And guess why? She was afraid of being fired because the boss's wife liked my subordinate better than she liked me -- for more irrational reasons, I might add. Yeah, I did know I was being fed to the wolf, but had really stopped caring by that point.
So, tomorrow I am going to a session on "radical forgiveness". My goal is to be able to see this situation through the eyes of love. And why not? I do know that I am better off. And that's the truth. Thanks for listening.
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