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.