Saturday, April 22, 2006


I've been thinking a lot recently about power.

The power we give and are given.

The things we're entrusted with and have taken away.

What it feels like to be disenfranchised, overpowered, voiceless.

I've felt a lot of that recently and I'm stunned by it. Not by the fact that it's happened to me, because I'm not immune or above it, nor do I think I'm better than others and shouldn't be subjected to this. Rather, I'm amazed at the intensity of the feeling of helplessness and victimhood.

Intuitively I know I'll rise above these feelings and move forward, but it's just so amazing how they feel. And how overwhelming they can be. Even debilitating...

The frightening part about it--for me anyway--is how these feelings represent the continued empowerment of the person who left me holding my integrity, my intelligence, my ability, my person like a gloppy, pulpy mess in my hands. By wallowing in this depression, I let those who have hurt me continue to hurt me.

Somehow I have to figure out how to get that power back and how to not let the bastards win.

So tell me, bloggers of wisdom, how do I do that? (And fast! I know there's value in mourning a loss, but I have to pay my bills and get back to the old, capable, productive me.) When faced with a similar situation, how have you bounced back?


Mary Ellen said...

I'm the one who avoided my advisor for 9 months after she told me to rewrite my thesis, so maybe I'm not a good one to ask about bouncing back.

That said, there came a day that I was just READY to buckle down, rewrite the damn thing and get the Advisor outta my life. Though I hated to admit it, thesis #2 was WAY better than thesis #1.

I think there will come a day when you, J dearest, will say "F*ck, this powerless wallowing! I'm driving and I get to decide where this bus goes!" Heaven help anyone in your way at that moment.

Grieving what you lost unjustly may take time. Maybe more time than your wallet will allow you to remain unemployed. Nevertheless, you are a resourceful woman and I have no doubt you will land on your feet and in a job that beats the pants off your last one.

Swizzies said...

I would be much more explicit with my advice and experiences, but your blog doesn't allow anonymous comments, so...

I have been thinking a lot about this question since you posted it. I am still trying to answer this question for myself. I have been victimized at least twice (in this particular vein/severity, at any rate; I would say in general, the workplace is a playground for bullies - so you learn to watch out for them, but not until you've been burned a few times), in similar ways that you have. Frankly, taking some official action after the first time it happened was *very* empowering, but it was a pretty clear-cut situation and I had a very strong legal leg to stand on. Now that I work in the legal/ethical wilderness of a Western country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, the leg to stand on *feels* even stronger than the first time, but unfortunately *appears to others* to be a mere toothpick of a thing. Now I have learned that victimization and boundary crushing...and who comes out the 'winner' at the end of the day...have to be self-defined. *You* know what's happened, but others will not - even friends and family. You are the one who lived it, and you will be the one to survive it.

Problem is, we've all been trained to be Nice Girls, so we would *never* do that to someone. And frankly, it's a big shock to find out someone else would do that to us. It's not a nice way to find this out, to say the least. Lesson learned: *You* will not become a bully, or an aggressor, but you will be better at recognizing them and keeping them at a minimum safe distance (lots of strategies for this one). And you'll be stronger for it (cold comfort, I know, right now - but later you'll be glad you have it).

How do you bounce back? Find ways to do things you're good at, AND that you care about/have a passion for. Bonus points if you can find someone else who values it and will pay you for it, but that's not a prereq for this process. And then live through every day, because, like most very painful processes, time/psychic distance seems to be the only thing that makes it better. And listen to your friends/loved ones, because they will remind you who you are until you remember it again yourself.

And I second ME on this one - you will find something better. (I also second ME on being an avoiding loser in grad school, but that's a whole 'nother story...) Somehow, just give yourself space and time in ways that you can, and Things Will Get Better.

verniciousknids said...

Spend a week doing everything you want to do and never get to do when you are working! After that, you can start to think about the next step.

Swizzies said...

Oh, I should add one more thing - and this is actual, do-it-now advice. While you have this time off, truly, truly try to enjoy it. Carve off allotted time each day (or every other day, or two days a week, or whatever - if you can't give yourself flex time NOW, you have no excuse to moan later...;-) for the 'job' of finding a job. And then spend the rest of your time studiously NOT thinking about getting a job, not thinking about the job(s) you had previously (unless it's productive and helpful) and only enjoying yourself, getting your feet back under you, remembering how to breathe, etc. Taking time off work was the best thing I have ever done. Enjoy it, enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, now that some time has passed and you are starting to come back up for fresh air, I have a question for you. And think back and be as clear as you can be. Did WFB say *you* were tedious, as in, "Janet, I find you tedious/tedious to work with, OR "Janet, I find it tedious to work with you," OR "Janet, I find it tedious to work with you in that way/on that process," OR "Janet, I find your approach/process tedious," OR something else altogether. Really, can you remember what she said - exactly?

I think this process is key to getting some distance, and getting ourselves out of the victim/powerless state. I *know*, believe me, how context is everything - I truly believe it matters what kinds of facial expressions people use, the *tone* with which the say things, the level of conversational formality at the time, the power (formal, not personal - well, I guess both really) differential between speaker and listener, etc. And in the conversation where 'tedious' came up, well, that one one hella loaded conversation - context all over the damn place.

So, now that you've had a couple weeks to reflect, was it *you* that was tedious, or rather, was it a work-style/process/approach that you suggested/espoused/favored that WFB found a tedious *way to do things*? I know this is pointed and stressful to think about, but one way to get your power back is to not let WFB be The Monster anymore. She may not be "nice" or "the queen of tact" or "a person you'd like to have drinks with," but did she *really* say that you, Janet K, *are a tedious person*? It may have *felt* that way, but was it said that way? Take the context out, or scale it back, and put yourself in her shoes - go ahead, do it - you lay off Janet. What would you say, and how?

If she really called *you* tedious, or any other negative feedback about you as a person, that is inappropriate (yes, a case where I think that word applies) and makes her a smaller, meaner person. But it also pretty clearly indicates that she was feeling powerless in some ways herself, and was trying to make you smaller so she could deal with you. If she said something about you/your approach was a process she found tedious - well, that's different altogether.

In the end, looking at it as clearly as possible (easier said than done, I'm still working on this!), and equalizing your relationship w/ WFB in your mind, replaying that conversation with some emotional distance, is a good idea. I'm not saying forgive and forget - although it's a version of that - I'm saying, glean what you can from that conversation, learn what you can, equalize yourself and WFB in your mind, and release it all.

If she's still The Monster in your bad daydreams, she is *still* powerful in your present...far more powerful than she deserves to be. Let her be another flawed human being, who happened to have the power over your paycheck at the end of the day, and leave it at that. Don't let her have any more of your time, thoughts, emotions, etc.

Does this make any sense at all? I feel like I'm just circling around my point without actually getting to it...