Work relationships are critical to your professional success and your mental wellbeing. But what happens when you work with a toxic person?
Every month, I have several information calls with clients who are looking for help making sense of a work relationship. The story usually goes something like this:
Have You Experienced Relational Trauma?
This behavior that this person experienced is a form of professional relational abuse. Specifically, he was caught in an Idealization-Devalue-Discard (IDD) Cycle of a toxic person (or team).
Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, there are toxic people in the world, including in the workplace. Working with a toxic personality can lead to relational trauma, a form of trauma that is pervasive, insidious and under-recognized, especially in professional settings.
People who experience relational trauma at work can have physical and mental health challenges, loss of confidence, apathy towards or stalling in their career, and an inability to overcome small interpersonal challenges, etc.
Sadly and frustratingly, members of the LGBTQ+ community are often targets of toxic behavior, which can indirectly and directly damage their careers.
Because relational trauma can be insidious and under-recognized, you may feel like you can’t quite put your finger on what you are doing wrong or what is going wrong. This is common.
Are You in a Toxic Relationship at Work?
Here are several questions you can ask yourself if you suspect you may be dealing with a toxic person at work (from Ann Betz, BEabove Leadership, 2022)
- In the beginning, did this person over-compliment you, put you on a pedestal, and/or treat you like you were the savior of the company, department or team?
- Did this person show a great deal of curiosity about you at the very beginning, asking you a lot of personal questions about your life and feelings? Did their interest seem perhaps flattering, but also inappropriate?
- Does this person keep important information/resources (including financial) from you that are critical to your role?
- Does this person take credit for your accomplishments, especially in front of other people?
- Does this person inappropriately blame you for things that were not your fault (or not entirely your fault)?
- Does this person “throw you under the bus” in meetings by asking you questions they know you are not prepared for, shifting blame, or speaking for you (or to you) in inappropriate ways?
- Does this person have difficulty controlling their anger in the workplace?
It can be difficult to navigate a relationship with a toxic colleague. The impact of the experience can stay with you for years, even for your entire career, if you don’t get help processing what happened. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed that you “put” yourself in a toxic situation and that it is your fault. That is normal but it’s not your fault and there probably isn’t anything you could have done differently. Get help from a coach or a therapist to help you process what happened and come out the other side stronger and ready to claim your seat at the table.
THE TRUTH ABOUT NARCISSISM AT WORK (webinar) https://www.beaboveleadership.com/webinar-narcissim-at-work/
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate (book)
What Gaslighting Does in Exploiting Trust, Therapy Can Repair, by Dr Ramani Durvasula (essay) https://aeon.co/essays/what-gaslighting-does-in-exploiting-trust-therapy-can-repair
DoctorRamani YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9Qixc77KhCo88E5muxUjmA
Surviving Narcissism: down-home wisdom from a kind and well-informed therapist and one of his patients who went through her own abusive relationship. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIELB1mz8wMKIhB6DCmTBlw