Internalizing the Bully

Before I made the decision to resign, it felt like a 50-pound brick on my back. Fast forward 2 months since resigning and I have few regrets. Slight pangs of “but wait, that person was so nice to me…should I really leave?” and then I quickly remember that that same person was unkind to me consistently for months prior.

In the past, I’ve struggled with emotionally and verbally abusive relationships in my personal life. And I never made the connection that my work life echoed similar dynamics of abuse. Until now. Sometimes I have felt like I’m so desperate for a crumb of kindness that when I get a crumb or maybe even several, I feel like I’ve struck the jackpot. But several crumbs do not constitute the mutual respect that I deserve to have in my work life, yet has been missing for so long.

I continue to make excuses that academics are socially awkward, so that’s why they… But wait, I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity on a daily basis. Even when people are stressed, “busy,” or socially awkward. A toxic work environment can bring out dark parts of yourself too. The bullied you has the potential to become the bully. And fear of that potential sits deep inside you. I continue to bully myself, and blame myself. I forget momentarily that a toxic environment can cause you to become toxic yourself. I forget to examine the larger system of inequality that gets recreated in academia. And I forget to put on my rainbow protective shield to ensure that others don’t hurt me. But more importantly I need that shield to guarantee that I don’t start believing their toxic lies and feed them to myself (through words, through escapism, self-sabotage, substance abuse, unhealthy habits, etc.).

What would my life look like if I were able to reprogram my thoughts and practice self-kindness? Could that practice of self-kindness still be negotiated while staying inside academia? It seems that it may be possible, but it would take constant vigilance.

I’m still unsure what my next job will be. But if it is in the academic arena, I must create new habits. I will need to practice compassion and kindness for my own self, while also protecting myself from external toxicity.

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