Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Much is Too Much

I wrote the following a few months ago, in the midst of the turmoil at my job. Rereading it, I felt like it was worth saying. PLUS if I'm ever going to put it up, it should be now - before I finish my redesign and such. So - now that's it's actually safe to post it without fear of legal action - here it is:


In our daily lives we make sacrifices. We make compromises. Because the world doesn't always work the way you want it to, because sometimes your needs outweigh your principles. Because there are often more people effected by a decision than simply ourselves.

Right now I am deciding whether or not to remain at my job.

There are little things, but there are always little things. Every job has imperfections and these are acceptable, because every environment has it's faults.

But there is also a very large problem. One that I can no longer ignore.

Last Friday a co-worker confronted me in a threatening manner over a minor misunderstanding. The essentially one-way conversation involved an angry tirade and an implied physical threat. This is not the first time this person has exploded at someone. He has yelled at me before. He has cursed out our receptionist. Attempting to intimidate his co-workers is a part of how he interacts. This past Friday is the first time I have seen him actually go so far as to threaten someone.

I have formally lodged a complaint with my employer. Due to the serious illness of a close family member of my employer's, I am trying to understand his need for a few days to sort this out. It has not yet been addressed. I cannot imagine there being any sufficient response other than the firing of this man. I cannot understand why this man still works here, other than the fact that he simply has a great deal of knowledge that we need access to. I do not know what my employer is going to do.

I cannot afford to be unemployed. There is little available in my field in town. I don't really want to move, at least, not right now.

Every moment I sit here, waiting for my employer to do the right thing and worrying that he won't - I feel like I'm sacrificing pieces of myself.

People who know me would be surprised that I let someone rip into me. More surprised if they saw the way I cowered, mumbling agreement with anything he said, just praying he would leave if I didn't argue. Hoping that if I agreed with him he wouldn't hit me. I tend to be an aggressive person. I've learned to be that way. Most of the time it works, most of the time it kicks in when I need it and it protects me. But sometimes another person's aggression crosses a line, a threshold of tolerance for me and I find myself in a familiar but long-absent place - frozen by my own fear. I've gone over this incident again and again in my head, trying to understand my own reaction to it. Why I feel so depressed. Why it's difficult for me to be in the building right now, as I type.

I was physically abused as a child, I've talked on here about being raped in my late teens, years ago I had difficulty with being harassed in the workplace at another job (all of which paints the picture of a perpetual victim, which I must assure you I am far from being). I have stood up for myself significantly more often than not in life, but in some instances, in THOSE instances, I failed to or was unable to protect myself. I cannot stand the idea of sitting idly by and letting myself be stepped on. Not now. Never again. I can't stand the idea of working for someone who would allow that.

Friday afternoon, I found myself cowering. Me. Cowering. For the first time in so very many years. That which does not kill us does make us stronger, right? Anyway, it lowers the threshold of what we are willing to tolerate. I am quickly reaching zero. I am not angry (I should be angry, why am I not angry?). I am just longing to do what I must to take care of myself. To look myself in the mirror and feel secure that THIS time I didn't let myself down.

Does everyone go through this, this strange self-knowledge? Learning the point at which you break, and at what point you refuse to be silent? I thought I knew this about myself, but here I am again. Trying to see my way through.


It took almost three months to find another position. The whole time I struggled, wanting to just walk away. When I was told that I had to tolerate the situation because, "Every workplace has someone like him. That's just how it is. We can't get rid of him and anyway, it's his word against yours." I consulted a lawyer and there really isn't very much you can do when you work for a small company and you live in a right-to-work state. It wasn't discrimination because of my sex. He didn't actually hit me. My lawyer told me, with no intention of offence, that if I HAD stood up to the man and he HAD hit me - well, then I'd have a case.

Sometimes doing the right thing for your long term well-being and doing the thing your principles and dignity demand... sometimes those things aren't compatible. So I did my best. I left as soon as I was able. I never said it was okay. I tried to maintain some level of dignity in spite of the fact that I felt intimidated walking in the door every day. And now I'm free and it's over. And I'll never work somewhere like that again. But I hate thinking about it. Because, when I do, I find that in some small way I still kick myself for cowering. Because I feel I let myself down. Sometimes the only person you can count on to stand up for you is YOU... it's important to know you can at least count on that to kick in when the chips are down.

I don't think it's a male-female thing, but I do think that women haven't always been taught to stand up for themselves. And we want to take care of ourselves. Maybe not all of us - but many of us want to be our OWN knight in shining armor. We want to save ourselves. I feel a responsibility to do that for myself and somehow feel incomplete when I don't.


  1. I feel bad for the people who still have to work with him. Your employer's behavior seems absolutely shameful to me but I will one day have to accept that businesses cover themselves legally and prefer ignore things rather than do the right thing.

    I'm so glad you found a new job. I hope all is well and that you never have to go through something like this again.

  2. I agree with Jonathan; your former employer's behavior was inexcusable. So glad you're out of there.

    But you know, Marisa, I feel that you managed the entire situation the best you could. You kept your dignity in the face of indignity. You kept yourself from being hit. AND you got out. That had to send a message to the people you worked for -- "this isn't okay." I admire the hell out of you for how you handled this whole thing. It took tremendous self-control to do what you did. Don't sell yourself short, Marisa. You're smart and resilient and able to see clearly when you need better.

  3. The lack of response from your old employer is really upsetting to me. He left you out to dry. Horrible. He should be ashamed of himself.

    I think it's amazing that you extricated yourself from the situation - Kudos.

  4. Thank you for all the support you guys!

    Yes, my former employer's response was a bit shocking. I always thought a lot of him, but I guess when the fear of legal bills and the inconvenience of looking for a new employee came up - he wasn't comfortable doing the right thing.

    I was most surprised when I turned in my resignation and he said, with a straight face, that he was surprised because he hadn't realized I was looking for another job.

    I almost lost my composure at that point.

    But now I'm fine. Working somewhere I love. All is well. Further proof that if you aren't happy in life, you just need to work toward change. Because things can be so different in such a short period of time. It's amazing.

  5. Sometimes, in absent of any compromise, we just have to move on!
    Most fear that kind of change, specifically the "unknown" afterwards.

    I also have had to make that uneasy choice as well.

    If only I had witnessed this, there would have been a completely different story in holding that individual responsible for those actions. Even if only that I could have quit that place with you!

    Good Luck to you in all that you do.