Faulty Antennae

I ask myself sometimes, why do I have so many abuse stories? Different men, different periods of my life, child, teen, adult. It’s easy to slide into thinking: I’m such a pathetic loser and never learn. Yeah, I know, not so helpful.

In fact, I think two things have gone on in my life:

  1. I sort of invited it. No, no, I don’t mean I wanted to be treated that way. I didn’t. But I think a certain type of person could sense that I was malleable, that I wouldn’t say anything. Maybe there were behaviors I had (or didn’t have) that let him know he could get away with it.
  2. I was slow to notice something was wrong. My this-is-seriously-messed-up antennae have not worked well. I’ve had difficulty knowing someone was risky until it was too late. Sometimes I didn’t even fully realize what had happened to me until much later.

I don’t know why my antennae are faulty. I don’t think I’m an insensitive person. But it’s hard for me to know when someone is going to hurt me or even is in the process of hurting me.

It might be that I was born with a certain type of blindness. Or it could be that blindness was cultivated in my childhood, when trust and affection were mixed in with violations. Who knows. I suppose it doesn’t matter how it developed.

What bothers me is that I still have it, and it is still playing out in my life. Not in a sexual way, not these days. I’m thinking more of the mind fucking that can happen at work.

Case in point: a close colleague of mine was told a month ago that she needs to be looking for another job. That was bad enough, but at least the company offered severance and some time to transfer her work load. Then last week, senior executives decided she might be a risk to the company. They searched through her work and personal email on her computer and went through her Dropbox folders.

Does that seem right to you? They searched her personalemail too? They read Dropbox files in a folder marked PERSONAL. Is this normal?

One thing they found were two letters of recommendation, one from another colleague and one from me. Completely natural. We have worked with her for years and are in the perfect positions to write letters about her work to potential employers.

The executives called me in for a “conversation” on Tuesday morning. The email requesting the meeting came Monday night, labeled “MUST ATTEND.” No other information. I entered the room on Tuesday with the HR Director and two executives waiting for me. Shall I point out that they have known me and worked with me for about seven years, in which time I have worked tremendously hard, done some really good work, and brought in many new contracts and grants for us? But I met stern faces.

What happened next was an interrogation. The CEO had two single-spaced pages of questions prepared for me, starting with, “did you write this letter?” He handed me a print out of the letter of recommendation I had written. It went on for a while about why I would write that letter on company letterhead, did I think I had the right to use company letterhead (which I have used routinely for 15 years, even before I held leadership positions), was I trying to imply an organizational endorsement, did I consider asking the executive team before I did it, why didn’t I consult with them? It went on for a while, and although I was able to say of course I wrote the letter and naturally I used the letterhead as an indication of where I worked and that at no time did I write that I was speaking for the institution, there also came a point when I said, Look, of course I am friends with her, but I would never intentionally do anything to harm this organization.

Ugh.

Then there was more about did I know she was applying at specific places, did I help her make connections, did I suggest she talk to certain people. All of it was getting at questions of conflict of interest. The CEO kept talking in terms of “serious risk to our organization” and “highly confidential investigation” and even “we’ve lost a lot of sleep over this” (poor things). He would jump forward and backward in questioning like he was trying to catch me out in a lie. He even asked if I had communicated with her since Friday, when she was put on leave (yes, of course; I’m worried about her) and what did we talk about?

At the end, I was dismissed with a scolding. (There may be more to come, who knows). The meeting concluded with, “Thank you for participating in this difficult conversation.”

“Okay, sure, thank you,” I said. Force of habit type reply, but still. I said thank you for being subjected to a very harsh form of questionning that implied I was not a trustworthy employee, that I would collude in wrong-doing, that I had poor judgment and might not be telling them the truth. It was furthermore a conversation in which it was clear that obtaining this letter of recommendation was taken for granted as a normal thing to do. Never mind that I had provided it from my private email to hers. Never mind that she had saved it in the PERSONAL Dropbox folder.

And yet it wasn’t even until this morning that I realized how messed up this was. I didn’t like it yesterday. I felt uneasy. But I went along with it and said thank you, for heaven’s sake. Am I an idiot?!?

antennaeThis is the organization where I have worked mountains of overtime. I have written grant proposals to bring in millions of dollars of research work. I have sacrificed too much of my physical and mental health to them. I have always assumed positive intent and given everything I could. And I was treated like a criminal suspect for things I either do not think were wrong or that I didn’t do or know about.

My colleague who had written the other letter of recommendation was called in after me. He got in an argument with the CEO and stormed out. Nothing wrong with his antennae.

I hate this, that I can’t realize what is going on in the moment. I feel foolish, clueless. I see how I can still be manipulated, how in the moment I can still put my trust in the wrong place. I let people walk right over my (non-existent?) boundaries and behave badly; then I thank them.

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Faulty Antennae

  1. Ugh!! That is so horrible! I’m sorry they put you through that! And boundaries??!? What are those?!?! I feel you on that one… I so relate.

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  2. I’m sorry this happened – I’m guessing you feel pretty hurt and betrayed, comsidering everything you have given to your work. I do this too – my interpretation is that we get fixated on just dealing with what is coming at us and it doesn’t occur to us that we can escape it (by pushing back or storming out) because escape wasn’t an option in the past. We focus in and we don’t see the bigger picture, in the moment.

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    • I think this is a really good description of what happens: we get fixated on dealing with what is coming at us. A lot of my strategic thinking dissipates, and instead I’m functioning in a more primitive (and younger seeming) mode. I hate it because I feel weak and incompetent.

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  3. Oh no. I am so sorry to hear that this happened at work. I understand about having an antenna that doesn’t always calibrate correctly. It’s hard to feel in the moment when something is wrong or off – I’m usually focused on making it through the situation, not assessing whether the person is necessarily treating me fairly. I only notice afterwards. It’s terrible that they treated you like that – I imagine it feels awful. You were doing the best you could in that circumstance and you didn’t do anything wrong. And your CEO is a dick.

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    • Thanks, Sophia. I continue to feel that I didn’t do anything wrong (including using company letterhead for my letter of recommendation, although I won’t do that in the future, I guess).

      Anyway, I feel from your response that you get it. In the moment, I can’t think, “why are they talking to me this way?” I am thrown off balance and just trying to keep from falling over. It reminds me of course of a certain horrible night with a certain horrible person (wrote about it earlier this spring). Yuck.

      I am more aggravated with myself than with them, which is probably also not right. But it’s how I feel right now.

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  4. I think you acted exactly as you should have, very professional. Men get away with much more, a fact. Of course he stormed out. If a woman does that she’s nutty, not all there. You did great.
    I think anything at work belongs to them, so one has to keep that in mind with all correspondence. Type out recommendations at home for others next time. But of course after that burn, I’m sure you will. They were harsh, overbearing, and asking things of a personal nature that didn’t belong to them. They don’t own your thoughts or personal conversations, and those things you didn’t have to disclose, those jerks. But I think you handled yourself with great dignity, much like my most admired politician, Hillary. You did good under great duress and I hope you can give yourself credit for your grace, and professionalism.

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    • I did write the recommendation at home, sent it from home on my home email to my colleague’s home email. But she stored it in her Dropbox, which was accessible, among other places, on her work computer. My mistake evidently was using the company letterhead–even though in my mind, that the is the norm in our profession. I don’t think they would normally care but they are really out to punish her and make sure no one things our organization likes her.

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  5. Well, your antennae are faulty because you were brutally attacked over and over as a child by someone you were supposed to trust, and some of needed to fool yourself into thinking you could trust. Children have to attach to their parents for survival, even extremely shitty and abusive parents. So it completely annihilates our ability to feel or find safety in our lives.
    I’m sorry Q, that experience sounds awful. I just want to hug you (and I am not that affectionate, but I really would give you a hug).

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    • I would take that hug. 🙂

      I think I overrode my own instincts in order to trust family members, neighbors, people in the church I babysat for, etc. I got lots of messages that I was supposed to trust them, so I stomped down my own perceptions and intuition. So now I have trouble sometimes knowing what I really think. I need quiet and time to process to figure it out. And I still make the mistake of trusting people who haven’t shown themselves to be worthy of trust. I wonder if/how I can learn to do something differently, especially in the moment, when I’m faced by some aggressive man gettting in my face.

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  6. I am sorry Q. I think you should call another meeting, one on your terms, and give them the 20 questions back…. Somehow I don’t think that is really your style but it would be nice to call them out on their behaviors and give them what for! I just was on a hiring panel and interviewed more then 20 people. Everyone’s reference letters were from individuals on company letter head Never would I think those people represented their company, just an individuals experience. They seem so petty and frankly unbalanced. I am sorry this happened. Your post made me thing that I sort of go through life on edge, expecting something bad to happen, but then when it actually does, I’m just not really that prepared. Seems like the hypervigilance is rather pointless.

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  7. What Rachel says is so true. Abused and neglected children do not learn appropriate ways to trust or maintain boundaries. And predators know which kids don’t have someone really watching out for them. I feel the same way about my multiplicity of stories, sometimes. As if maybe I am perceiving them wrong or remembering them wrong or making a big deal out of nothing, because how else could one person be targeted so many times? I think part of the answer is that we have been groomed and trained to be victims, to not trust (or even know about) our own instincts, and we’ve been through so much gaslighting and crazymaking that we can’t see the warning signs.

    Or maybe part of it is that when the people who are supposed to protect you (family members and family friends) are the ones abusing you, it just feels normal to be hurt. It just feels like that’s what life is, and that in order to get some approval and affection (or just plain safety from active harm), you have to put up with the things that happen when nobody else is watching.

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