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  • Writer's pictureJaye Gaff

On Being Abused at Work

I currently work at a wonderful company where I feel safe and protected. Where everyone is professional but I'm still allowed to be myself. This wasn't always the case.

In the past I worked for a company where I was abused by the two brothers who owned it. Physical. Emotional. Verbal. No abuse should ever be encountered at work. Enough said right?

I was one of those naive people who truly believed work was safe and, so, when the abuse started I didn't even realise it. In fact, as I've since discovered in therapy, the abuse started before I'd even begun my first day and then it progressed. There was physical violence. There was gaslighting. There was outing of my private medical history to other employees. All of this resulted in me being forced out of my job, an income my family and I needed, and left with a psychological injury and then, finally, a physical one too.

I have never really announced this fact: I am on worker's compensation, over 3 years later, for the residual effects of what happened to me there. There has never been an apology or an admission of guilt on their part. There never will be. Here's what I've learned from this time:

  1. Don't expect your abusers to apologise. They don't think they did anything wrong. Yes, even though their insurance company continues to pay your medical (and, for a time, living) costs.

  2. Gaslighting is, quite possibly, the most traumatic thing I have ever encountered. When my first therapist (I had a few) told me what it was, and I Googled it, I felt disgusted. I wanted to vomit. But, also, and most importantly, grateful that I discovered the term. Finally, an explanation for the endless barrage of written and verbal assaults. A word for what they did and how they spun. A reason for why, during that time, I felt as if I was spiraling into insanity.

  3. Standing up for yourself, informing your employer that what they're doing is illegal, isn't for everybody. Fair Work will not stand by your side so only fight if you can handle it. I could not (and I regret trying to make them see reason). Money isn't everything even if you really are owed a hefty sum. My mental health declined to such a point that I couldn't be left alone. I was scared to check the mail by myself. For two years I was babysat by my Husband. Hindsight is a bitch and there is no shame in walking away.

  4. If therapy isn't working find a new therapist. I saw a counsellor, two psychiatrists and then, finally, a psychologist who changed everything. If you find "your" doctor first go, that's wonderful. But, sometimes, it takes work to find that person who you click with. My last one was instantly perfect for me. The way she worked, her relaxing voice and the fact she liked my outfits (I'm secretly a compliment whore) all made her the perfect fit.

  5. You will get better but it's going to take time. So much time that you'll get bored with yourself. I left in December 2017. I was mentally able to start looking for a new job in January 2020. I felt like my life was in a constant depressing loop that I couldn't shake myself free from. There was no way out. I spent years terrified at the sound of wind. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. And then I couldn't stop eating. And then something my last therapist said to me clicked. Afterwards I was able to get back to my usual way of thinking (you're awesome) and could believe it. I started to become unbothered by them. Started to laugh at them because, really, they're ludicrous. You will get there.

  6. If your injury is mental you should expect some physical side effects. Mine progressed to a physical injury that has resulted in countless medications and doctors appointments. I'm still receiving treatment for it. And, not to be totally dramatic, doctors doubt it'll ever go back to normal.

  7. Your life is not ruined. It feels it in the moment. And after the largest moments pass you may need to make changes. Adapting to constant medications, not being able to drive, being in too much pain to talk. All of that fucking sucks. I'll never pretend it doesn't. But I do think there are some positives to all of this. I'm aware of when to speak up and when to walk away. I'm aware of gaslighting. I know myself more than ever. I also think I lost some, if not all, of my naivety and I needed that. But you know what else? When I was mocked for being nothing before them, for being just a mum, I believed it. I think that's common for mum's to go back to work after a baby and feel a bit less than (at least it was for me). I thought 4 years off work would mean I'd have to go back to the beginning and, so, I applied for a basic job. They continued the idea of me being hopeless and it stuck. It wasn't until my last therapist that I stopped believing it and actually, really truly in my soul, knew that I was smart.

  8. The worker's compensation system (at least the one in New South Wales) will make you sicker. The insurance company is not on your side.

  9. You may think you'll never work again and you may not be able to. Around 13% of worker's in New South Wales don't return to work after an injury. The longer you stay on worker's compensation the harder it is to return to work. A large percentage of those who are off work for 2 years or more will never go back. I was one of those 2 and a bit years people. I was not able to return to my previous role, although I was technically able to.

  10. Searching for a new job after a two year gap is hard but it's not impossible. You will be scared of abuse recurring again. A constant thought for me was that I brought abuse out in people so I truly believed the same thing would happen at any place I went. The only thing that got me through was being so fucking bored of being at home. I used that and let it push me. I found a job after a month and a bit of looking (I am aware this is not common) at a place that I instantly felt safe at. It hasn't always been smooth sailing (one month in and we were all sent to work at home because of the pandemic) and I have been scared to speak up at times. It gets easier as the days pass and, soon, you'll feel like that previous workplace was all a laughably terrible dream.

*This post is part of an ongoing workplace/worker's compensation series. For all upcoming posts view the "Work Life" archive.

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