Posted by: Kate | May 16, 2008

Work-Related Injury

It’s not about me.

My work-whine from yesterday, about feeling misunderstood and disrespected and degraded: it’s not about me. I’m disappointed that the group mentality is one of defensiveness and quick assumptions, of each-man-for-himself and watch-your-back. But not shocked.

I’ve been at the job for two years, and I can say with perfect honesty that I love my work. I really do. I love the interactions I’ve had, even with the people who have made me angry or sad or frustrated, because it feels important. It feels useful. I wouldn’t consider myself to be “saving lives,” but I am touching them. That feels good. It helps to balance out the basic unhappiness I have at not being more available to my family.

But while I love my work, I hate my job. Seriously hate it. The politics are slimy and corrupt, with miscommunication and vague unfulfilled promises as the rule rather than the exception. What management we have is not to be trusted to look out for our best interests, because our direct manager is also the COO of the company; our best interests are not always in line with the financial bottom line.

I’ve known that for a while, but it took until yesterday to realize that there’s something else going on, something that predated me and therefore is somewhat beyond my ability to comprehend. About three years ago, there was a major change in the scheduling policy for the department. It wasn’t handled well, and even those who got what they wanted remained unhappy, so you can imagine the morale of those who ended up on the losing end of the negotiations.

I knew about that in a tangential way, but I’m just now understanding that this event was something bigger and more insidious than a simple schedule change. It was, to be completely objective and accurate, a trauma.

I can’t explain why, any more than I can explain the Schrödinger’s cat paradox. But I see the results: the tendency to get anxious at the mere mention of certain topics. The automatic creation of assumptions and beliefs based on past interactions rather than on present circumstances. The reflexive fight-or-flight reaction to a perceived threat even in the absence of an actual threat. Know what we call symptoms like that, in the mental health field? We call that PTSD, particularly when the symptoms stretch more than a reasonable period of time after the triggering event. Three years after a scheduling change at work is too long to still be anxious and miserable like this.

I don’t have work-related PTSD, myself, but I’m the new guy, the one who came along after all that drama. Not having fully understood the trauma, I underestimated its impact for a long time. But once the idea occurred to me, I pulled out the DSM-IV to review the diagnostic criteria. It’s not in the traditionally expected causes of PTSD (war, abuse, rape, disaster) but it does fit.

So now my task is to take a step back and stop personalizing the situation. I didn’t cause the trauma, and I didn’t experience it alongside the others, and I can’t make it better. I need to view the managerial staff as potentially abusive, in a relationship which has already proven to be unfair and insensitive. I’m trying to think of it this way: if this was a relationship with a man, and he was consistently showing unconcern for my feelings, disdain for simple requests, discourteous ignoring of regular communication, then it would be a bad relationship. Whether I stay or go is my choice, but pretending like it’s a good relationship, pretending like I can make it better all by myself, is just a waste of energy. I can either live with it or leave, and I cannot let my guard down. If I know all this, and yet let it hurt me, it’s my own fault for staying.

And I have to stay, for one more year. We need income and health insurance and stability. So I need to shift my attention back to the stuff that matters, the interactions with clients and their caregivers, and learn to minimize my engagement in the politics and such.

Shutting up during staff meetings would help.

So would Ativan.



  1. What a fabulous insight! To understand the situation you’re in makes ALL the difference in what you choose to do. Yay for psychiatric analysis of your work environment that pays off in new awareness!

    I was once in a job where I hated the boss, hated the work, but it was hugely well-paid and I knew I was leaving after a specific amount of time. I’d grit my teeth, mouth off when pushed, manipulate the boss to the nth-degree (I worked for him 3.5 years when no previous person had made it longer than 6 months–Human Resources LOVED me for staying.) and look back on that time as highly profitable in several ways!

    Play the game with a bit of distance, and *everything* changes for the better.

  2. Kate change is absolutely terrifying for some people and they bear resentment towards suggestions for change. I have THREE bosses all partners and owners in the company but only one makes sense to me and has the attitude “I don’t have all the good ideas” The other two are pathalogically afraid of change, positive suggestions etc. I bite the bullet knowing that I’m paid well, do a good job and at the end of the day have other things to distract me. It’s frustrating I know but Nita is right, unless it’s intolerable, just play the game. Save your sanity because at the end of the day, you do good things in a job that can potentially save lives and you have a rewarding career.

  3. I totally feel for what you are going through. I just received my masters in social work and have finished my second internship doing outpatient therapy with kids. The agency was a mess, and it seems it will be for a while. My direct supervisor was overworked and also had financial responsibilities for the agency, so she tended to push the financial bottom line, rather than to be looking out for the therapists and the clients best interests. The agency is very close-doored and has an “every man for himself” aura.

    I admire your insight on your circumstances and hopefully can learn to play the game well enough to get along in this field. Good luck!

  4. Hi there I’ve started reading your blog from finding you on Taras. I find you interesting because you have the career im working towards. The only difference is that i specialize in substance abuse me being in recovery for nine years now. I really get a kick out of your blogs and i just wanted to say hi and thank you for telling how it is in this field i would love it more if the politics weren’t involved.

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