And then, I freeze

I don’t like it when the rules change. I don’t like it at all. And it triggers something very visceral in me. I get activated, and I can’t come down. A even noted that in our last session – that it wasn’t the boundary itself I had issue with, but the change. 

This happens when I’m being blamed for something and I feel like I did nothing wrong or I’m not being listened to. It can also happen, like with A the other day, when I perceive blame even if it doesn’t exist. I have no problem if I agree with the assessment or if I feel like I’ve been heard. It’s not the accusation I take issue with. I get triggered especially hard if somebody is treating me differently than they would others in the same situation. And its worse still if they’re sharing something with me that they’ve “heard” from someone else. Someone else’s opinion on the matter.

Today, someone nailed the trifecta.

I will fight, a bit, if I feel it’s unfair. More so now than ever before. I will fight harder and longer if it’s a woman levelling the accusation. But I have a lot of trouble standing up to men.

However, the fight will die. If at some point it becomes clear that no matter what I say, I am not going to be heard, I acquiesce. I freeze. I will do or say whatever it is I think they want to hear to end the situation. No matter what my thoughts are, they won’t come out. I become a robot, albeit a coldly aggressive one, saying “yes” and “of course” and “whatever you want”.

I work at a relatively flexible advertising agency where what you do with your time is generally your business. It’s supposed to be outputs focused. I rarely take lunch and I work my ass off because I like it there. I like my boss, who is also one of the owners (as I am a higher up). We will call him Owner1. He witnessed my mental breakdown last summer. Not only did he take me to the hospital, he told me to take all the time I need, because the last thing I needed to worry about was work. He paid me, for the time I took off. And the next time I came to work, he treated me as if nothing had happened. Not only that, nobody else found out. In an advertising agency, in the world I live in, this is virtually unheard of. I have a lot of respect for him, and a lot of trust in him. Usually.

Essentially, I trust him not to hurt me.

But I guess I made his partner, who we will call Owner2, mad with a Facebook post I put up during a work hour (aka. in between 9-5. I was on break). It’s become a thing. I don’t really care about the post itself but my reaction was worth noting.

Okay, I care about the post. Here’s the thing. Either you are allowed to post on social media during work hours (which has been the rule the multiple years I’ve worked here), as long as your shit gets done. Or you’re not. But thats not the focus of this piece.

Owner1 explained that he didn’t have a problem with it (then why the hell were we having the conversation) but his partner (Owner2) did. That he just wanted me to consider the perception of my post, regardless of if it was right or wrong.

(For context, I shared, during a break, about a sale that was going on at a place I teach at – outside of work hours. I also didn’t take lunch that day).

I argued that this was the first I had heard of these rules, that I was on break when I posted, and that I can point to at least 50 other posts from OTHER people in the company.

It didn’t matter. I was in trouble.

This felt too familiar. This was yet another situation in my life where the rules have suddenly changed, and where they aren’t the same for me as for other people. It echoed of my entire childhood. I only found out rules changed after breaking them. And to top it off, one adult was upset with me but acting differently to my face, and the other one was telling me about it.

After a brief protest, I shut down. I was triggered and activated and losing it. My whole life, my brother had different rules from me because “he couldn’t help it” and “they expected more from me”. My Mom would get mad at me, but not tell me, and later my Dad would deliver the message that I was wrong. I lived in a constant state of trying to figure out the rules, and not being safe.

This was an identical replica of that situation, just in the workplace. The conversation continued. Me, cold as ice – but not passive. I’m visibly angry, but acquiescing with my words. It is a very aggressive, hostile acquisition. It is the protector version of adult me.

Owner1: “Do you understand where I’m coming from?”

Me: NO! “Yes”

Owner1: “I always think, if I was in your shoes, would I want to be told this? I think yes. What do you think?”

Me: That this is against everything that you’ve ever said your company culture stands for. That its ridiculous that Owner2 can’t just come talk to me directly and that just this morning he was complimenting me. “You are right.”

Owner1: “It’s rarely a good thing when you’re silent. You’re thinking something, yet your face is blank. That means there is something going on.”

Me: I am sitting here trying not to cry as a leader in this office and the only woman in a role of power in a male dominated industry and you’ve already told me I’m wrong. “Nope. Nothing. I understand and appreciate what you have said.”

Owner1: “Okay, well, this is your opportunity to tell me what you think about this. I’m not telling you you  have to change or do anything differently than what you were doing. I’m just giving you a suggestion, and trying to get you to see it from my point of view.” 

Me: Are you fucking kidding me? You are telling me to do something different, to fall in line. “Ok.”

Him: “What are your takeaways from this?”

Me: That this isn’t a safe space, like I thought. Like you aren’t a safe person. That I definitely need to get all my coworkers off Facebook. And that I really don’t understand why I am here or why this conversation is happening and WHY does this keep happening to me. “I don’t know yet. I should take time to think about the lesson you’re trying to teach me.”

Him: “Well, this isn’t the ideal ending.

Me: Stay calm. Don’t lose it in the boardroom. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Him: “No.”

Me: Just breathe. “Okay. Thank you.” And I left.

At some point he realized he had touched a raw nerve but it was too late. Once I’m frozen, and in acquiescing mode, I’m too far gone. I can’t talk about my feelings on a good day. I feel like I’m giving away control when I do. Partially because I usually cry, and I hate crying at work. Partially because I feel like any insight I give into my life gives the other person power to use my feelings against me. If life has taught me anything, its that the sharing of your feelings leads to inevitable hurt.

I went home, and I drank. Not too much, just enough to dull the ache inside of me. To quiet the little girl on the stairs. Sometimes, alcohol is the worst idea ever. Other times, like tonight, it keeps me from making even worse choices.

It feels impossible. Healing feels impossible.



12 thoughts on “And then, I freeze

  1. You handled that beautifully. But, sadly, there will always, always be that power differential in the professional/corporate world. I was assertive wait a boss last year and was immediately terminated. I was not emotional in any way, just coldly assertiv, but his pathetic fragile ego was affronted, and he made my very good friend do the deed. Freaking chicken poop!

    Anyway, I found out later he told my other comworker that he was totally shocked that I didn’t beg for my job back, that he didn’t actually mean to fire me and that if I’d come back, I would’ve gotten my job back in a heartbeat. That was a familiar theme to me in my life…..I laughed my ass off and spread this experience like wildfire with my peers. I successfully prevented at least 8 of my peers who might’ve applied for that job from even going there. His loss, haha! To this day, he never filled the position.

    It wasn’t fair to you what happened. Is there an employee handbook that you signed? Is social networking covered there? If not, you were clearly singled out at Owner 2’s whim and owner1 was the messenger, unfortunately. I hope he’s worth forgiving if you haven’t done so by now. I’m behind the curve on your blogs, playing catch up since we just “met”. Bear with me, PD… hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: All of the things – Paper Doll Therapy Blog

  3. This situation really resonates for me. I am also in a senior position (well, in the process of leaving). Our CEO is someone I used to like and trust quite a bit (though it was never as personal as your relationship to Owner #1), but since then a number of things have happened to change that. One was being called in for what literally felt like an “interrogation;” he objected to something that I had done that was 1) normal behavior in my field and 2) only upsetting to him because it helped someone he didn’t like. In front of the VP an HR director he “confronted” me and acted as though I had betrayed the company.

    Anyway never mind the exact situation. The point is that inside I was both frightened and outraged. On the outside, I was calm, polite, even pleasant (as in trying to reduce the awkwardness of the situation for everyone). I loved your dialogue that included what you thought and what you said, because that’s kind of how I reacted as well. Except unlike you, I didn’t go back the next day and speak up about the lousy treatment (as I saw in your next post that you did). Instead, I suppose it was just one more contributing factor in my decision to quit. I admire how you handled it.

    And really, fussing about a FB post during work hours? Is he clueless?!? Where I work, there is all kind of FB posting and messaging and stuff going on all the time, and yet, people are working hard and get their work done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment – it was a weird and tough week and honestly I wish it was done with!

      What a situation you had – so similar. And yes, the whole Facebook thing was really frustrating and quite unnecessary but I am glad in the end I got my point across – and especially glad I didn’t apologize.

      Of course to top it all off the day after that, on Wednesday, both owners jumped to my defence against a client we really cannot afford to lose – without making me feel like I was being overrun or like they didn’t trust me to handle it.

      Yes, owner1 and I are close. Sometimes it’s an issue but more often than not it’s been a blessing in this environment. His response to my vulnerability was so helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s definitely super hard. I think you handled this so well. This is a ridiculous situation. I don’t think I would have been able to stay calm at all. I tend to just burst into tears when I feel threatened or cornered. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I believe they are in the wrong for backtracking on their social media policy and I think it’s a good idea to only have contacts on Facebook who are not from work, if they’re going to be this inconsistent.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s really upsetting – I understand the need to keep a poker face in a professional environment and the amount of iron effort it takes to do so, when you are feeling extremely emotional. He is not being fair and is acting differently than you anticipated, which is distressing. And the gender imbalance is also skewed (although sadly somewhat typical in an upper management corporate environment)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is upsetting. I think the worst part to me is I had him in the friend and supporter column. The second part that sucks is I can’t even tell logically whether or not I had a right to be mad – once I feel attacked, that’s it. And the third thing that gets me is that this environment they created was meant to be flexible and “non-corporate” and that’s why it has worked well for me, but that appears to be changing now.

      I had hoped sleep would help but it appears I’m still agitated this morning, which should make for an interesting day.

      Liked by 1 person

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