Home » Bullying resulted in me having to change jobs. I feel helpless that the perpetrators are thriving – The Guardian

Bullying resulted in me having to change jobs. I feel helpless that the perpetrators are thriving – The Guardian

by Arifa Rana

What happened to you wasn’t OK, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. Perhaps creating a record of what took place might help
I have been bullied, laughed at and been at the receiving end of various (probably unconscious) biases that resulted in me having to change jobs multiple times. I consider myself fortunate that every job change has proven to be the right step upwards in my career, but I can’t reconcile myself with the facts that those perpetrators are carrying on and thriving as if nothing has happened.
I regularly wake up at 3am with a pounding chest as all that trauma comes back to me, and feel sheer anger and helplessness against what seems to be a real injustice.
Eleanor says: Once when I was in a lather about the fact that Very Bad People can move through the world more or less unpunished, someone who was trying to be helpful said, “you know, the best revenge is to live your own life well”. I said, “No, the best revenge would be they go to jail.”
I’ve come to think we’d both said something true.
They were right that indefinite anger does not by itself do anything to correct the moral score. Anger that goes unexpressed, anger that isn’t harnessed, anger that wakes up without warning somewhere behind the sternum – can curdle inside the wrong person so the victim of an unfairness just ends up getting hurt twice.
But I was right that the scales of justice can hang tilted for far too long. Sometimes the reason we hunger for punishment or recrimination isn’t just bloodthirstiness or a wish to strike back, adder-like, at something that threatened us. It’s a way of demanding the acknowledgment that the original insult denied. Of course, it would be preferable if they had an epiphany all on their own and agreed we deserve acknowledgment. But if we can’t have that, at least getting them to face consequences for their actions forces them to experience what they should have known all along: that what they did wasn’t OK, that we matter, and so does what they did.
It seems to me that the task for moving past this injustice is to chart a way between these two truths: to find something that sates the desire to feel acknowledged without consuming you and keeping you awake.
I don’t know the details of what these people said or did to you, nor how egregiously it violated anti-discrimination laws and policies where you live. I don’t know whether you have access to any formal remedies, or whether it would pragmatically be worth pursuing them. But the fact that this took place in a workplace adds indignity, and I wonder whether righting that indignity could help make this feel closed.
You could use your skills and professionalism – the very things these people impugned – to make a formal list of what happened, when, and with whom, in as clinical a way as possible. You could leave that paper trail with a friend or former colleague, or even HR at a former company (though treat this one with caution, and know what processes will be triggered if you do). This may give you somewhere to put the intrusive memories when they appear, in a way that feels like harnessing them, rather than letting them harness you.
You don’t need to send it to anyone implicated, and even if you do, don’t hold your breath for an apology. Ransoming our happiness to a wrongdoer’s reaction is a sure way to be disappointed. If you find that these feelings don’t pass with time, professional therapy can be a wonderful tool for acknowledging past trauma while keeping it in the past.
But perhaps using your professionalism and equanimity to create your own record of what happened here could mean your own anger is not the only witness.
Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.
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