Flag Watching

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I recently took on a new gig, which was a big step for me. My employment is mostly freelance and project-based, and I often work with many repeat clients whom I’ve known for a long time. Most of my referrals are from the same network of people. But this job is all new. It’s not the usual freelance. It’s new, unvetted people, a new boss, a new supervisor, people completely unrelated to anyone I’ve worked with before. They don’t know anything about me, and I don’t know anything about them. Given what I’ve been processing as a survivor of abuse, it’s both liberating and extremely scary.

I have no doubt in my ability to do the work. I have all the confidence that I will rise to whatever challenge is placed before me and handle it well. I have proven to myself many times over that I am good at what I do. What terrifies me is what kind of people I will have to work with. How toxic are my co-workers and supervisors? Will all my energy go into pleasing an unpleasable narcissist (again)? If so, will I catch it in time before I get sucked in (again)? Will I keep my tendency to people-please in check? When I voice my opinions, will they treat me with respect? Will I self-advocate effectively, or will I fall back into old patterns?

In taking on this work, I am faced with all the emotional flashbacks of my past toxic work environments. Understandably, I don’t do well with aggressive, egomaniacal bosses. I also don’t do well with passive-aggressive bosses who neglect and avoid. They are opposite ends of the same coin. They are the tormentor and the enabler. They are my father and my mother.

I have survived abuse mostly by getting away from it.  I know from experience when it’s time to cut bait on toxic people. Even so, there is a waiting period to find out whether I will need to, and it’s anxiety producing. Any small red flag could potentially turn into a big one. Right now, I’m waiting for feedback on an assignment from my new supervisor, who is several days late in getting back to me. There could be a reasonable explanation for the delay. It could be a fluke thing, not a pattern. In person, he seems like a good guy so far. But with each passing hour, I am reminded of all the other times I was left waiting on other people who failed me big time. For most, a late response is not a big deal, but given what I’ve been through, for me, it is. Of course, he has no idea that I am comparing his one late response to years of toxic abuse, and of course, I am trying to stay cool and reasonable. But I am realizing the importance of honoring what triggers me so I can understand it better, heal it, and prevent future issues. Honoring is not over-reacting or under-reacting.

I love the kind of work I do. I love working with (non-toxic) people in a collaborative way. I hope this new job works out, because it’s a great opportunity to share my gifts and talents with others, and I’m excited about the potential. But I also know that if a small red flag turns into a big one, it’s necessary for me to move on. Will this job be the tool for healing and growth in a healthy work environment that I’ve longed for, or will it go on the slush pile of disappointing experiences? I’m watching closely.


One comment

  1. I am looking to get back into the work force. I actually have no choice. I have to do this. I have a BS in Ecology (grad2003) I haven't worked in 8 years tho. I am worried that the narcissist/sociopath who is hell bent on destroying me is going to put slandering/character assassination things about me online. This has happened before about 5 years ago. And if my name was googled it was on page 1. But it was a webpage with my fullname.com. It was impersonating me, pretending to be me. The page title was “Join me on my road to healing from Borderline Personality Disorder and Insecurity”I was mortified when I saw this. And at the time I wasn't even looking for a job. I just knew this person did these things to their target. Any advice you can give me on this?


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