This was another meeting that confirmed Ed’s opinion. As daylight faded and they all sat tensely around the table, she cut across him again. He felt his stomach clench. Why was it that whenever he expressed an opinion of value, she immediately dismissed it and turned to her favourites?
He stared into the half-drunk glass of water and felt a surge of a mix of anger and shame. He knew he was confident in his work, but this drip, drip undermining was really getting to him.
After the meeting was over, he packed up his notes and laptop, and quickly left the building, avoiding conversation with anyone and everyone.
He found it hard to meet his partner’s eye at home. He was still burning with indignation at how he had been treated. But there was a deeper concern.
Maybe she saw something in him, that was true. That he didn’t belong. That his expertise was a sham. That there was no value.
It seemed to confirm his worst opinion of himself. Part of him just wanted to disappear. It was easier to pour another glass of wine and throw on a box set than sit with this intense discomfort.
I’ve frequently come across Ed in my work. Or Edwina if you will. I’ve been them too.
In the face of a toxic boss or culture, the temptation can be to turn the gun of judgement on yourself. To make yourself the problem.
The self-shaming and judgement then ripples out into other areas. You get less present. You start hearing conversations through the filter ‘I don’t matter’ and either withdraw more or lash out at those you love for confirming what you already knew.
It can be a painful downward spiral which eats away at your confidence and self-worth.
What’s the solution?
There are two key parts in my experience.
Firstly, you want to acknowledge that your perspective is clouded. Not about your self-worth but about the toxicity of the environment. That your gut feel is actually correct. Little about this boss or the culture she promotes is ok or acceptable in any way.
Maybe it’s too scary to speak up and challenge but in your heart you know this isn’t ok and is unsustainable.
Recognising that truth is the first key to liberation because it reaffirms your boundary and sense of self.
Secondly, and this is the deep work, we want to address the root of the repeated story about whether you matter or not.
Often this story is buried in early childhood experiences. By seeing them for what they are - outdated and irrelevant, and bringing an energy of kindness and self-forgiveness to yourself, you start to free yourself from the conditioning and repeated behaviours that are driven by that underlying feeling.
On the other side of this work is more clarity, a sense of what is true for you and a reconnection with both your agency and capacity to do what is right for you.
For Ed, this meant leaving this role and finding one more aligned with his values. The benefit of the deep work was that old unconscious patterns of finding himself work for bosses who were first charming and positive but then became toxically critical, were no longer pulling him into making choices that didn’t serve him.
His nose told him when he was face to face with someone who couldn’t be trusted and he was able to act on that before saying yes.
If you find yourself in a situation where you continually self-blame or self-shame, that’s a good indicator that there is some space and opportunity to go deeper and clean up something which is holding you back.
As you do that, you see that those toxic interactions happen less and when they do, you don’t make them about you. You see the struggle and insecurity of the other parties and from there, you have space to make a clearer decision for yourself.