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Find out 7 steps to recovery after workplace abuse and get on the mailing list to learn more about my online class: what's worked and hasn't worked for thousands of other targets along with group video chats.

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12 Steps To Healing from Workplace Abuse

Heal one step at a time.

The first step in healing from your experience is telling your story without fear of judgment.

You ask yourself: What just happened? Why I am feeling so numb? How did I just get abused and lose my job? How could this happen to me? And why? Why I am feeling so depressed and angry at the same time? What will I do now? What did I do to deserve this? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad person?

Sound familiar? Intuitive Healer Carolyn Myss says losses are sudden changes that we did not want to happen to us. It’s fine if they happen to other people as long as it’s not us. We spend our time trying to figure out why the trauma happened to us and what we did to deserve it. We believe it’s unfair and become angry and stuck in the past. Our intense emotions get in the way of rationally thinking about how to move forward.

Instead, focus on the present. What can we learn from these painful experiences? How do we find hope during these difficult times? Dr. Judith Orloff recommends taking a breath and closing your eyes. Think about removing your sadness and depression and listen for insights, not results. We can find hope and meaning after suffering and inhumane treatment. We make choices on how to respond to suffering. We can learn lessons from our suffering as opportunities to awaken and heal our souls.

In her book The Art of Extreme Self-Care, Cheryl Richardson created the “Extreme Self-Care First Aid Kit” for facing trauma:

  1. Who can I turn to for support when I am feeling afraid, sad, and angry? Who comforts me, makes me feel safe, and allows me to have my feelings?
  2. Who do I need to avoid? Who overwhelms me with questions or has a tough time just listening without interrupting or offering advice?
  3. What does my body need to feel nurtured, strong, and healthy?
  4. What responsibilities or commitments do I need to let go of to clear some space so that I am able to feel my feelings and do what’s necessary to honor and support my needs?
  5. What unhelpful coping strategies or activities should I avoid?
  6. What spiritual/religious practice connects me with the higher power of my understanding?
  7. What do I need to feel comforted at this time?
  8. How will I best express my feelings?
  9. What object can I use as a cue to remind me to breathe and relax my mind and then turn back to my awareness at the present moment?
  10. What can I do when I need to take a break from the emotional stress? What are my top healthy distractions?

 

The rug has been pulled. You feel alone in the arena with your face smacked down in the center of the ring. You don’t know where to turn or what to do. “Like Humpty Dumpty, we have fallen off the wall, broken into a million pieces that cannot be put together again. We can never be resembled in exactly the same way. We are forever changed,” states Dr. Neimeyer. Survivors adapt after their loss and contribute to developing a new identity that has a sense of meaning to them, according to Susan Berger, author of The Five Ways We Grieve.  

Here’s how we form new identities:

  1. We learn nothing stays permanent in our lives. Only temporary experiences last for set times beyond our control.
  2. Time has new meaning. While we either lived in the past or future, we now realize how precious the present time is.
  3. Our values and drives change. We might make sure workplace abuse does not happen to others by advocating for a law to outlaw severe workplace abuse.
  4. We learn to focus more on supportive people in our lives. We create new purpose in our lives to make the world a better place.

When we lose a job, we refocus on what really matters in life. We experience grief through non-sequential stages: shock, denial, anger, depression, and anger. We may decide to see a counselor to process the loss.

Scarcity is a combination of shame, comparison, and disengagement.

Shame. “The intensely painful feelings or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore, unworthy of love, belonging, and connection,” defines Dr. Brene Brown in Dare to Lead (2018). Do you believe you aren’t good enough due to blaming, finger-pointing, and name-calling? These are shame-based behaviors that make us want to hide.

Shame example: “I am bad.” We internalize it.
Guilt example: “I did something bad.” We feel regretful over the behavior.

Define what shame means to you. Did you feel shame while growing up? Can you name a situation when you felt shame? How did your parents react to you? Did you feel shame while abused at work? Describe the situation on paper or verbally.

Vulnerability. The emotions we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure aren’t about winning or losing but rather the courage to show when you can’t control the outcome of the situation, according to Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Brave.

Remember what your family taught you about vulnerability. Was it OK to feel or suppress and ignore? Describe feeling vulnerable at work and in your personal life now. How does it feel? Do you put the armor on as you soon as think about it? Ask yourself:
Is feeling vulnerable easy?
Does vulnerability make you want to self-protect with armor? Does it make you feel anxious?
Is courage required to show up for these experiences with a whole heart?

We can decide not to get sucked into the negative feedback at work by learning from comments but not ruminating about them afterwards. Let the comments drop to the side of you and take deep breaths. Grow from them.

Undo the armor we wear when we feel hurt, angry, and sad. Lean into vulnerability with courage. Feeling vulnerable can lead us become creative and innovative. Vulnerability is the beginning of feeling love, joy, and belonging.

Brene Brown encourages us to:

  1. Recognize shame and understand our triggers. When we feel shame, what happens to us? What shame shields do we put up? Do we move away by withdrawing, hiding, and keeping secrets to ourselves, move toward by pleasing people, or move against by being aggressive back, using shame to fight shame?
  2. Practice critical awareness. Do we feel we’re the only ones in the situation seeing our mistakes? When we realize we’re not the only one feeling shame, we start to reality check our shame triggers and their corresponding expectations that grew the shame.
  3. Reach out and find the courage to share our experiences and/or have the compassion to listen to other’s stories. Sharing removes the sting of the fear, blame, and disconnection.
  4. Name the shame and speak to those we trust who will empathize. Empathy is the antidote to shame. We want someone to reflect back what they heard and tell us we are not alone.

We’ve fallen down and scraped our knees. It’s time to get up again, move on from our mistakes, and face the hurt.

We’re filled with intense emotions from feeling humiliated at work. The feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness cloud our abilities to make sense of what happened to us at work. We can get curious about our emotions. What do we experience when we get triggered?

I feel______ (fill in the emotion). Examples: My stomach is in knots. I want to kick or punch someone. I feel embarrassed. I feel hurt. I can’t stop playing that scene over and over in my head.

Take deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose for 5, hold for 5, let it out for 5, and hold the exhale for 5.

Walk into your story. Get curious.

The Rumble
You own your story and you can rewrite the ending. After feeling curious, write your first draft. Bird by Bird Author Ann LaMott recommends writing your first draft from the mind of a child. Dump all of the raw emotions out on paper. Make sure no one can see it. Our brains look for patterns and receive dopamine rewards when we see patterns, regardless of whether the story is correct or not. Out of fear, our minds fill in gaps with made-up information to develop conspiracies and/or add false information to complete our stories.

The Recovery
Margaret Atwood says to move from a story of mixed-up pieces to the real story, ask ourselves three questions:

  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation regarding my assumptions? What do I really know about what’s objectively going on?
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about other people in the story? What questions might help? What additional information do I need?
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself? What part did I play in this, if any? What am I really feeling?

As we rumble through these questions of owning our stories, remember we can rewrite our endings by believing that we’re still loveable. “Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.” — Dr. Brene Brown

The Revolution
Have the courage to face your vulnerability and transform to live with worthiness, love, and the knowledge you’re an imperfect, authentic being.

You probably feel confused about the values your former company espouses in terms of integrity, hard work, and productivity. The abuser and the organization did not operate from a place of integrity and compassion. The employer failed to live up to their values in promoting a healthy work environment and instead showed their true colors of practicing greed, deceit, and unprofessional behavior toward their employees.

It’s time to redefine and practice your own values moving forward in your journey in life.

We admit we’ve been hurt, betrayed, and traumatized from abuse at work. We ask ourselves “How can I trust myself again? How will it get better? What was I thinking by staying and making believe it was not happening to me?”

It will take small steps to built up trust again in yourself. Learn from your mistakes.

Dr. Brene Brown uses the acronym “BRAVING” for developing trust again in her book Dare To Lead.

B is Boundaries: What are my boundaries? Did I cross a boundary or did I feel my abuser at work crossed my boundary? What is OK and not OK?

R is Reliability: Can I count on myself to protect my boundaries?

A is Accountability: Did I hold my workplace abuser accountable for what was done to me? Did I hold myself accountable for accepting or not knowing was going on at work?

V is Vault: Did I properly share information that was meant to be shared or not?

I is Integrity: Did I choose courage over comfort? Did I operate on my values? Did I do what I thought was right or opt-out instead?

N is Non-Judgment: Did I ask for help when I needed it? Did I practice non-judgment with myself?

G is Generosity: Was I generous with myself? When I made big mistakes, did I say “I gave it my best shot?” Did I say “It’s going to be OK” and stop beating myself up over it?

We experienced trauma and harm from workplace abuse and want to do something about it. As advocates, we can make proactive changes to outlaw severe workplace abuse in our states. We want our state legislators to hear our stories so they can understand how we suffered from workplace abuse. We don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

We can advocate for change on the systems and/or individual level:

Systems Advocacy: Join statewide grassroots campaigns to outlaw severe workplace abuse. Research current campaigns in your state on social media. Join the movement at EndWorkplaceAbuse.com, get involved, and connect with fellow survivors who have turned their pain into action. You will learn tips on how to lobby your legislators.

Individual Advocacy: Share your story in the media (blogs, magazines, newspapers, podcasts, books, social media videos, etc.) to help others learn they’re not alone.

Fill out the Seven Dimensions of Wellness Self-Assessment. If you score less than two in any area, write down the following in each category:

  • Steps I need to take to reach my goal
  • Who else might be involved
  • By when I want to accomplish this goal

Engage in other soothing activities such as photography, dance, meditation, and nature walks that make you feel relaxed and provide comfort.

What will you do now as your livelihood has been disrupted? What are your options?

Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Attend a local career center. Speak to an employment counselor to help you tweak your resume and/or attend classes on going back to work or exploring a new career.
  2. Start your own business. Research resources in starting your own business. Your local community college may offer continuing education classes either online or in person. Your local library may have information about online programs for possible career exploration and/or training.
  3. Attend a support group for people looking for a new job. Your local workforce development office may have information on their website.
  4. Figure out how to answer questions about your last employer. What’s OK and not OK to share?

Self-reflect:

  1. What did you learn about yourself from each step? Did you feel empowered during a specific step? If so, how?
  2. What step would you like to review and/or continue discussing?
  3. What takeaways can you use to make you more self-aware when you feel triggered?
  4. Are you interested in seeing a therapist?

The Art of Extreme Self-Care. (2009). Cheryl Richardson. 

Berger, S. Five Ways We Grieve. (2011). Trumpeter Press.

Dare to Lead: Brene Brown. (2018). UK: Penguin Random House. 

Daring Greatly: Brene Brown. (2012). New York: Penguin Random House.

Emotional Freedom: Judith Orloff. (2019). Harmony Publishers. 

Why People Don't Heal and How They Can. Caroline Myss. (1998). Harmony Press.


Live Support

Get help from those who get it.

You're currently in a workplace abuse situation or struggling to move on from it and want some help to feel strong again. Currently, the stress is overwhelming. You might keep replaying the situation over and over again in your head or not see a way out. You may suffer from physical symptoms of stress and feel isolated.

I offer confidential workplace abuse coaching by Zoom or phone. I offer strategy ideas and support for navigating your workplace abuse situation based on what's worked and what hasn't worked for hundreds of other targets. (Online coaching is a short-term consulting option and should not replace therapy or counseling to understand the issue in greater depth, especially for those in crisis. For options for therapists trained in workplace abuse, see the Workplace Abuse Therapist Directory on this page.)

Cost
Each 60-minute session is currently $80. Payment is required before the call through PayPal

Logistics
I will call at our scheduled time. At least 24-hours advanced notice are required for appointment changes, and you may be charged for missed sessions that don't include 24-hour notice. 

Success
You are responsible for your choices and change, and I will help guide you. You are free to not take advice I offer. I honor confidentiality so long as you do not communicate that you intend to harm yourself or others or have done so.

Preparation
Prior to the first session, organize a brief summary of your work background and abuse situation. Include what you've already tried to address the abuse and the results. Add your thoughts, goals, and questions. Time spent reading documents will also be included in your session time or billed at the same rate once you've booked your session. 

Monday – Thursday
9am – 9pm ET

Schedule a session.

Dignity Together announces in-person free peer support groups for targets of workplace abuse with a vision of hosting them nationally.

ONLINE
Tuesdays (starting on August 27), 7-9pm
Thursdays (starting on August 29), 7-9pm
If you'd like to attend, RSVP to [email protected].


IN-PERSON
Massachusetts
Cambridge
Bi-weekly
Upcoming dates:
Monday, August 26, 7-9pm
Monday, September 9, 7-9pm
Monday, September 23, 7-9pm
If you'd like to attend, RSVP to [email protected].

Natick
Monthly
Upcoming dates:
Tuesday, September 10, 7-9pm
Tuesday, October 8, 7-9pm
Tuesday, November 12, 7-9pm
Tuesday, December 10, 7-9pm
If you'd like to attend, RSVP to [email protected].


New Jersey
Rutherford
Monthly
Upcoming dates:
Wednesday, September 25, 7-8pm
Wednesday, October 9, 7-8pm
Wednesday, November 13, 7-8pm
Wednesday, December 11, 7-8pm
If you'd like to attend, RSVP to [email protected].

Sign up to find out more about starting one in your area (volunteer basis).

In the meantime, join my closed Facebook group for support from other targets.

Workplace abuse therapists you can contact for help (not officially endorsed by Dignity Together but recommended by other targets and/or are known therapists for workplace abuse targets):

Colorado
Denver
Sarah Lincoln, 303.691.6140

Massachusetts
Northborough
Robbin Miller

Norwell
Marguerite Wood

Norwell
Marguerite Wood

Washington
Seattle
Jessi Eden Brown
Pam Raphael

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