leaving abusive work relationships

we’re heard about how hard it is for an abused person to leave their abuser. in many cases, as some of us have seen first hand, the abused leaves in a body bag or the abuser leaves in a body bag. in other cases, as portrayed in TPs adaptation of For Colored Girls, the innocents, the babies leave in a body bag.

i can’t testify to this because i have never been abused by a loved one physically – though i have been mentally/emotionally abused but a family member (a story i will tell one day not just yet). i can testify to being abused by people i work with, being abused in the street by strange men. what i want to talk about is the decisions that the abused has to make if the abused has to get out of the situation alive.

right now, i’d like to talk about abuse at work.

let’s talk about work for a moment, seven years ago i worked in events for a small husband & wife run company. the boss was a highly creative, high-strung abusive individual. an awesome individual when things go right. aweful when things aren’t going right. i had joined that company as a partner but you’d swear that i had been bought in the slave market if you’d seen how we operated.

it wasn’t the hard work or crazy hours that were the issue, it was his abusive outbursts, his verbal attacks, his scape-goating and general trauma that just made it hard for one to want to go to work. i came into that environment excited about learning new things, creating spectacular work and making money. but when i left, i was an insecure, temperamental, territorial, shattered individual.

i had lost myself.

this boss is what i call a spirit vampire. these type of beings feed on our enthusiasm, creativity, willingness and surrender but what they really thrive on is our tears, fears, confusion, trauma, depression and souls. they suck us dry. at first we excuse their behaviour saying, “no they’ve earned their right to be tough”; then we say “no, they are like that just don’t provoke it.” soon we say “no, it’s my fault, i’m stupid.” eventually, we don’t know shit from cake. we don’t know whether we are coming and going. we become stunted in our growth, in our emotion and in our careers. if we don’t become drones, rat racing on a wheel, we succumb to our lost selves and curl up and die. either why, our spirit has been killed. we are no longer alive within ourselves. something/someone dies.

it took me a year to find my creative spark again and i grew confident as a creative human being. it has taken me even longer to not be temperamental, territorial and defensive in work situations.

you know, it’s easy to talk about lessons learnt but hard to implement the lessons. just when i thought i’d recovered i went back into the same kind of work situation. now it’s not easy to escape these situations because it has become the norm to spend life in a jobs we hate.

we’ve been conditioned to accept that work will never be fun but will always be excruciatingly painful. we’ve been conditioned to escaped into booze and sex on weekends. we’ve been conditioned to think we have to suffer for a pay cheque. we’ve been conditioned to say “as long as i get paid at the end of the month, can buy food, pay bills, buy a car, buy a house or pay rent, i don’t have to enjoy my work or enjoy working with these people.”

what are we giving up our joy for?

a salary?

i don’t think so.

research into abuse has shown that the abused will repeat the pattern. so i like many, i have worked for a few spirit vampires. while enduring the abuse, i’ve told myself to be patient. i’ve told myself to work on a exit plan – a new job, a rich husband, till the company collapses… whatever. i’ve told myself that i can’t leave this job. convinced myself that if i leave, just walk out, then my life will crumble. the scary stories i’ve told myself just to stay in an abusive work-relationship are likely to make freddy kruger look like the tooth fairy.

a few times i’ve escaped. a few times i had an exit plan – a new job or something. when i escaped the spirit vampire mentioned i above i had absolutely not plan. all i new was that my parents would understand if i needed to move back home. so i typed my resignation letter and ended that bad relationship.

the times when i’ve had an escape plan like another job, it actually turned out to be a very bad idea – the cycle of abuse only continued.

these power dynamics in the workplace really fascinate and sadden me. the damage done is often dismissed and painted as ‘paying dues’. yet i bet ninety per cent of people abused in work situations won’t rise to the top of their industry. the abusers will always stay on top – this is why they abuse us. our blood, our tears, our skeletons make the ladder on which they claim on their ascent to the top.

so now here’s my exit strategy for everything: decide what is the worst that could happened if you just quit? most importantly, decide what it is that you want to do with your life. chances are that like me, you want to work for yourself, or you maybe you actually don’t want to do what your are doing.

so how are going to end this abusive cycle? it my not be a physically abusive relationship but this work relationship is one on which you’ve staked your entire existence on. why stay? i know it’s hard to leave. But i’m not telling you to just run and keep running from your problems but i’m asking you to make a decision.

make a decision. what is your breaking point?
make a decision. when is enough, enough?
make a decision. is your salary making up for the abuse you’re enduring?
make a decision. are you willing to lose yourself for pennies? in most cases you aren’t even making that much money.
sometimes we need to forget the exit/escape plan. if that plan isn’t coming together fast enough. if you are losing yourself faster than you can send out your cv or type your job application then you need to abandon it.


to put it in a different way. you are standing at the edge of a cliff and there are three options. close your eyes and visualise it.

1. you will lose yourself, that is to say, you are going to fall off into the dark and never land on solid ground again.
2. you will be pushed over the edged by the spirit vampires. you will still lose yourself, fall into the dark crevice never to land on solid ground again.
3. you jump, spread your arms out and discover that you have wings to fly. see your abuser tells you that you are a useless fuck up they are only trying to convince you that you can’t fly that you can do better than what you are doing now.
3a you find your plan b, the exit/escape plan and put in place; or
3b you have no plan b but with your intelligence, skill and ability (the same stuff that got your this job) you will land on solid ground.


like i said, i’m not saying it’s easy. all i know is that some things become easy once you resolve to get them done.


i urge you take the third option. make the decision about which one of option three will work for you. My point is if plan b is not happening fast enough then you need to save yourself – because you will either fall (1.) or you will be pushed (2.).

do you want to leave alive or leave in a body bag?

forget loyalty. it’s wasted on these spirit vampires. loyalty is a two-way street.

make the decision. act on it. you are capable of a way more than what you abuser wants you to believe.


some reading that inspires me. there’s much more but let’s start here:

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris – these book speaks about how you don’t’ have to wait for retirement to enjoy your life. read it.
The Happy Black Woman blog – ” I invite you to join me as I explore what it really means to be a Happy Black Woman. For me, it’s the ongoing journey to be successful, happy and whole in your life and business.” ~Rosetta Thurman
workisnotajob. – “we deeply believe in inspiration as the magical power to change the world.
Five Manifestos for Life at Brainpickings – “How a numbered list can start a personal revolution.”
Seth Godin – “Seth Godin…writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.”

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