The Workplace Worries of an Abuse Survivor

Shortly after a new employee started at a local insurance company, the veteran staff members agreed that he was “very nice” and “would go out of his way for you.” They knew nothing about what motivated these behaviors in his workplace nor the fact that he subconsciously viewed it as his home-of-origin.

The ground floor serves as the foundation upon which all others in a building rest. So, too, does a person’s upbringing-except that it becomes the foundation upon which his life rests. If it has entailed abuse, dysfunction, or even alcoholism, it is weak and can easily crumble, often requiring a person to compensate for it with inflated and sometimes virtually scripted behavioral characteristics others fail to understand. He sees the world the way no others do.

This foundation often requires a person to camouflage his deficiencies by portraying an image opposite to that which he feels or believes about himself. He may, for example, be perceived as being outwardly friendly and easily getting along with others, but inwardly he churns with fear and insecurity, engaging in silent conflicts with others as he chews on the things they do that retrigger his own untolerated ones.

Insecurity, fear of mistakes, an inability to perform the functions for which he believes he is incapable, and internal employee conflicts may spark frequent and workplace performance plus.

Conversely, this continual need to mask these insecure aspects can transform a person into the super-worker, as he acts out his childhood need to obey and comply with every rule and hence prove his capability and self-worth by volunteering for projects others avoid, overworking and -achieving, people- and boss-pleasing, working overtime with or without additional compensation, assuming increased responsibilities, and even taking work home, in the process becoming the quintessential “company man” without others ever understanding his motivations.

Ironically, this performance and loyalty may lead to ever-higher positions for which he is not emotionally equipped, causing him to compensate for and cover up the increasingly terrified feelings with even greater dedication and effort. In their extreme, these endeavors can replace his nonexistent personality until it becomes his personality, as he is transformed from a human being to a human doing.

Most of his misbeliefs about his inadequacies result from his continually replayed critical parent voices, which echo the real, but seldom satisfied reception of his achievements during his upbringing. Like a computer, his brain can only return what has been downloaded into it.

Long striped of boundaries at home, he is easily used and exploited by coworkers and supervisors alike. As a victim cultivated by his upbringing, he can be taken advantage of and knows no other means of survival. If his actions and responses could be voiced, they would likely say, “I’m less than you, not worthy, and flawed. So do what ever you wish and use me however you see fit. I’ll never protest or complain. This is what I’m used to.”

But, unless he has begun recovery or therapy, he is ironically unlikely to be in touch with this voice or even understand why he submits himself to such using conditions. Aside from the fact that he has been so cultivated, he subconsciously views these people as present-time representatives of past-time parents who were never satisfied with what he did. The more, in fact, that he submits to such behavior, the less worthy he feels, only supporting his misbelief.

Similar workplace incidents unknowingly regress him to his childhood when he was powerless and his parents were perceived as flawless and incapable of error, creating the fundamental misbelief that any mistreatment of him was due to his own shortcomings and not their own.

To compensate for this dysfunctional and most likely abusive upbringing, he adopted virtually scripted roles, which he may subconsciously continue to act out in his employment venue, as the only believed methods of survival.

The first of these is “hero,” whose origin and purpose are perhaps the most difficult to decipher, since he becomes the “perfect person,” performing according to the manual-prescribed regulations. Indeed, he may represent the standard by which others can only aspire. He is independent, needs no one, is often the one others consult concerning procedures, overachieves, and is flawlessly reliable and responsible, thus masking the inferior and insecure feelings that motivate him.

Since the current to his emotions is little more than a trickle, he turns on the juice to the productive side of him as if it were a gushing fire hose, unsuccessfully attempting to replace one with the other.

Skating on thin ice, he attempts to do everything in a perfect manner until his pursuits become the equivalent of his self-worth. But any error may shatter this fleeting feeling. This work immersion, furthermore, may be the totality of his life. While others may perform within company specified parameters to earn their paychecks, for example, they most likely also have families and other activities to whom and to which they return in the evening. The hero may not.

Riddled with childhood-originating resentment, the “scapegoat”-the second role-was created by the person who was continually forced to accept the blame and burden his parents or even other siblings would not, thus persuading him to take responsibility for the errors or infractions of others now. So acclimated is he to carrying the weight of them, in fact, that he may subconsciously create the circumstantial catalysts which impose the burdens on him, enabling him to act out his countless similar childhood episodes and then lament about their unfairness and injustice.

While the scapegoat passively plots his childhood reenactments, the “lost child”-the third role-silently slinks from them, as he had during his developmental years, now barely present. Perceived as an unnamed, personality-devoid silhouette–whose form, at times, may seem little more than the shadow it reflects on the wall and just as dimensionless–his identity may be reduced to little more than, “What’s his name?” Sadly, he is recognized by his lack or recognition. His nonexistent presence often reflects how he feels about himself inside.

“Laugh, clown, laugh” can be used to describe the fourth role, the “comedian” or “clown,” but, in both cases, that laughter is most likely the veil that camouflages the person’s internal sadness. Tapping into his spontaneous ability to find humor in most situations and entertain his coworkers, the child-turned-adult comedian turns lemons into lemonade for others, transforming personal internal unhappiness into external joy for them, enabling him, in the process, to attain a perceived level of safety by weaving a web of acceptance around him.

These four roles, all adopted as defense mechanisms against childhood danger, evolve into a lifetime of survival traits aimed at self-protection, since the person once again subconsciously views the world as an extension of the one established in his home-or-origin, forcing him to pave a path with the strategies that proved safe for him.

Therein lies the reasons behind an abuse survivor’s behavior in adulthood and the worries he brings to the workplace-his virtually programmed, but unchallenged belief that the adult world is a transplant of his childhood one, leaving him fearful and hypervigilant of parent-resembling and -retriggering authority figures.

Despite his ostensibly bonding traits and activities, such as his sense of humor, socializing at lunch, and holding the same or similar-level titles as his coworkers, he continually feels as if he is not part of them, as if he were on the outside looking in, because physical presence does not necessarily ameliorate or replace emotional absence and isolation. A person can, in fact, be in a room with a dozen or more others and still feel alone, since his distrust of them renders it difficult to connect with them on a social and hence soul level.

Indeed, sensing a person’s distance and emotional disconnection, others may exclude him from after-work or weekend social engagements, as if he silently conveys his lack of desire to join them, but this can ironically leave him hurt and further solidify his misbelief that he is not worthy of their friendship.

Accumulated, but unresolved childhood infractions, abuses, and traumas can retrigger and rekindle at employment venues, as people and incidents replay in the person’s mind, progressively “removing” him from the present and immersing him in his past, his mirror neuron-stored tapes attempting to convince him that the environment and those in it are not safe and somehow detrimental to him. So powerful can these negative emotions and fears become, in fact, that they may ultimately control him until he either releases them by means of spontaneous anger outbursts or resigns

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