I was over the moon when I received the email from the CEO of the charity that I worked for, congratulating me on a project I had just completed. She had copied in my line manager, and I was so pleased to get some positive feedback from the head of the charity. My relationship with my line manager had been a little bumpy, but I was 21, fresh-faced and excited to be working in a field that I loved. The lady I shared an office with congratulated me on a job well done and I got back to work with a smile on my face.
Five minutes later, all that changed.
I was called into my line manager’s office as she said she needed a quick chat.
Her quick chat lasted 15 minutes!
I know the exact timing because I stared at the clock for most of it, resisting the temptation to run out of the room and willing it to be over.
For 15 minutes she listed, in meticulous detail, every fault that she believed I possessed. Just when I thought it was going to end, then she would start again with a different selection of faults that I wasn’t even aware I had. I have deleted much of it from my mind but phrases like, “you have a psychological problem” and “addicted to praise” stayed with me for a long while.
It was a defining moment for me and after enduring this type of bullying on many occasions, it simply reinforced what I already knew…I was worthless.
There’s a saying that’s often linked to bullying that I’ve always struggled with…
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but calling names won’t hurt me.”
It’s never really rung true for me. When one of the girls at secondary school pulled the crash mat out of the way when I attempted my high jump, it physically hurt but the experience in that office is the one that has stayed with me the longest and caused the most damage.
I can’t speak for others who have experienced this kind of bullying, but for me, there has been a lot of shame attached to it. I haven’t really talked about what happened as I know that many would struggle to understand why I just stood there and took it. They would wonder why I didn’t tell her what I thought of her or why I didn’t walk out and immediately look for a different job. They would struggle to understand that there were many small incidents leading up to the moment when I allowed her to speak to me that way.
On one occasion I was handed a file by my line manager and was asked to photocopy the contents. I put the file in my in-tray and went to make a coffee. When I returned, the file wasn’t there. In a panic, I searched my desk and eventually went to ask my line manager if she had taken it back. She denied moving it and said that she was available for a chat if I felt that I wasn’t coping with my workload! At various intervals during the day she came back to ask if I’d found it and as she left for lunch she pointed out that this sort of thing just wasn’t acceptable and that she was “finding my inefficiency challenging.” After she’d gone, my colleague in the same office asked me to describe the file so that she could help me find it. I gave a description, she walked into my line manager’s office, opened the filing cabinet and removed the file that she had watched my line manager take back off my desk while I was making coffee. I had been set up!
The character attack in the office was the final straw, and within a month I had left the job that I loved and moved onto a different career.
I have no doubt that this experience, and many others like it, have shaped me to be the kind of person that I am, both good and bad. The type of bullying I have experienced has generally aimed to make me second guess myself, lose confidence and take on the belief that anything negative said to me must be the truth. I’m pleased to say that many of these things do not hold true for me anymore.
Although I was not responsible for the bullying that I experienced, there is definitely some truth in the idea that we teach people how to treat us. I’ve often given a lot of power to other people and accepted comments and behaviour that others wouldn’t stand for. At 21, I wasn't aware that's what I was doing.
If I could go back in time, this is what I would say to my 21-year-old self!
When people behave this way, it’s not your fault.
If someone genuinely has an issue with you, then there are many constructive ways they can let you know about it. It is not okay for them to humiliate you or use personal insults. Don’t believe the lie that you deserve to be treated this way.
Just because someone else says it, doesn’t make it true.
You don’t have to own everything that people say to you or about you. You can evaluate whether there is truth in their comment and make a choice about what to do with that information. You can also decide whether their opinion is one that you value.
“Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”
Don’t apologise for existing or for being who you are.
It’s not okay for you to spend your life shying away from the gifts and talents you have been given just because you are scared of what other people will say if you shine! Don’t buy into the idea that God got it wrong when He created you, as every single one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Stand up for yourself while keeping your own integrity.
There will always be people who think that this type of behaviour is acceptable, but behaving the same way as them is not the solution.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Learn to like yourself, you’re not as bad as you think. Spending all day, every day analysing your faults is not helpful. Once you stop bullying yourself, you might find the courage to stand up to others.
Finally, remember you're loved...like, REALLY loved.
For those of you who personally relate to the story I have shared then I leave you with this prayer.
"My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."