Avoiding Revictimization in the Workplace Breaking the chains of silence
Written by Jennifer Tucker
Updated November 7, 2018
I know that you have many questions to ask me, and I am sure that each one carries its own validity; but I also have questions to ask you. Before I ask my first question, I want to assert that this is not a religious conversation. I am merely using an example from the bible because it seems most applicable in this scenario. Jesus stood in the synagogue with his disciples and watched, as people made their offerings and entered the building. A rich man walked in and he dropped several coins in the offering plate and sat down. Immediately following him was a poor, widowed women who put two small coins in the plate, and then she sat down. Jesus told his disciples that the poor widow made the larger contribution because she gave all she had. What I want to know is whose contribution would YOU value more? This tells me a lot about you, and your management style. The focal point of most job interviews is the company, and that’s fine. But perhaps, viewing things from this perspective: A rainbow is made of millions of tiny water droplets. If the rainbow said to all of those water droplets: “I don’t need you” the water droplets would scatter, and you would have no rainbow. We live in a culture that no longer values a human life. When you ask about salary requirements, perhaps you’re not really stopping to think about how much a person’s time is really worth. This requires taking a deeper look, and I understand that you’re busy. We all are. We are all busy, trying to figure life out, and some of us are very busy trying to live a life that serves a larger purpose. It’s not just the value of a human life that I am writing about. On a deeper level, it is about the value of making a choice.
I consider myself an extremely valuable human being. I have a whole lot of promise and potential to offer not just to an organization, but also to the world at large. I was born with a lifelong mission to help survivors of domestic abuse, and child abuse to recover their sense of identity and purpose. I have spent every last ounce of strength and every last dime on that mission at times. I also fight a battle every day that no one sees. I suffer from adrenal insufficiency- a chronic, terminal illness, which is triggered by the stresses of complex-PTSD. In this battle I have had no choice but to become acutely aware of my own mortality, something most people my age have yet to experience. My time and the energy I do have is extremely valuable to me. Every day I give to your company, I am making a choice: how I am going to spend an entire day of my life, and this happens every day. Many times, that choice has been taken for granted, and I am attempting to avoid that, going forward. I know that employers are not supposed to discriminate based on disability in their hiring and employment practices, but the real world does not operate the way it is supposed to, and neither do most employers. Yes, I am sick and exhausted. But guess what? I have bills to pay too. I need a roof over my head too. I need to eat just as much as anyone else does, and I need to be able to afford my medications, which my life literally depends on. I can’t do any of these things without a job. That puts me in a very tough position. I have high morals and I don’t enjoy lying to people. I would really prefer not to. On the other hand, this world doesn’t value honesty like it should. Many candidates in my position would just lie, and pretend to be healthy, and pretend to be able to meet all of the employer’s expectations without any struggle. Afterall, that’s what employers want to hear, right? What about a person’s character? After all, that, if anything, is what will determine the true rarity of the person. Does it even hold any weight that I always give my best in everything I do? Does it even matter that I have larger dreams and goals? What about my sense of integrity and honesty? Does that matter? Would it make any difference if I made up for whatever areas I lacked in other areas that would greatly benefit the company? How about the fact that I don’t just know right from wrong, but I care about doing the right thing? Going back to my question, out of the two people that put coins in the offering plate, which contribution WOULD you value more? A surprising fact about me: In June of 2018, I drove to Atlanta, GA, showed up on very little sleep and a complete ball of nerves, stood in line for about 5 hours and I auditioned for a popular TV show called The Voice. Yes, as you might assume, I do have a powerful set of pipes on me, but that is not the focal point of this conversation. My reason for bringing it up, is about something deeper: the power in a person’s voice. The voice is a symbol of communication, something so powerful, it can echo around the world in only one day. I believe the voice was given to me for a specific reason: speaking up, and I’m about to. Now I’m going to tell you an original story…my story:
(To answer the question: “What sets you apart from other candidates?”) Before I begin, let’s assume for a moment that you love children, and consider them important members of society. That love for them, if for no other reason, is why this matters.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I would really like to shine a light on a few valid points in the reality of survivors that those with functional upbringings are probably not aware of, and how this translates into the world of working adults. First of all, let me start by explaining that while most people think of their childhoods as the most carefree and happy times of their lives, this is not the case for all of us.
I am about to explain to you why not all soldiers wear camo. My childhood was terrifying. As a child, I experienced things that you might experience in nightmares. My childhood was very sad, very lonely, very scary, very unpredictable, all at the same time, such is the nature of child abuse. Here I was, this little soldier, living every second in hostile territory, at the mercy of the enemy. This enemy expected me to be perfect. This enemy would strike at any time, with no way of predicting it. This enemy taught me that authority figures are people who make bad decisions and hurt you, and they’re not sorry. This enemy taught me that I was never safe, and to be afraid, at all times.
Most people learn right from wrong during their childhood Years. I learned that I had to be very brave in order to survive. Most people learn during their childhood years that there is a sense of justice in this world. I learned that justice was my enemy and would betray me at every turn, and it has. So what does this have to do with you, you might be asking? Believe it or not, one of the lessons I have learned from all of this is the striking similarities between employers and child abusers. Believe me, there are many, and this is coming from someone who has a solid basis for comparison.
• Child abusers teach their victims that if they’re not perfect then they don’t deserve to live…so do employers, every day. • Child abusers make snap decisions that profoundly affect the outcome of their victim’s life, sometimes leaving monumentally huge messes for the victim to clean up…so do employers. • Child abusers do not afford their victims the right to develop self-respect or healthy boundaries…neither do many employers. The consequences of doing such for either can be devastating. Child abusers do not accept the word “no” and will often react harshly if the victim is non-compliant, exercising his/her own free will and independent thinking regarding their own personal needs…the same thing can be said about many employers.
In fact, I would say that for many of us, self-respect is one of the many sacrifices an employee must make (although they should never have to) to accommodate an employer.
• In the situation of childhood abuse, the victim is at the mercy of the abuser’s decisions and they have very little to no power of their own circumstances or what happens to them, which creates a terrifying reality. For an employee that is dependent on their job to survive, the same is also true.
I believe that a healthy relationship between two people (including the employeeemployer relationship) is a relatively perfect balance of power between both. Where there’s an imbalance, there is usually abuse. I have found this to be true in my own experience in my personal as well as my professional relationships.
• Child abusers require that their victims suffer in silence and confuse the definition of abuse in the victim’s eyes. Many employers do this as well.
A major struggle in my lifetime has been to find somewhere that I can be the true me. As a child abuse survivor, I was taught at a young age to hide my identity and to think of it as something that was bad. I grew up with a mask on my face, learning that taking the mask off would have severe consequences. This was true for me as a child. It has also been true for me as an adult. People don’t want to hear the truth. They can’t wait to silence you. So what do they do? They interrupt. They dismiss you. They talk over you. They bury you. They give more busy work to do. They refuse to take what you have to say seriously because they don’t see how it applies to them. They choose to be foolish. They don’t listen. A person who has a conscience would listen. But nowadays, very few people, especially those in positions of power, have a real conscience anymore. The questions I would ask, do these descriptions apply to you? If you extended a job offer to me, what would be in the fine print? By accepting that job offer, would I unconsciously be agreeing to revictimization? Let me ask you this: How do you feel about wounded soldiers that return from war and are seeking employment? Do they deserve jobs? Does it really make any difference that they chose battle, in contrast to someone that had no choice? Both have fought with the same courage. Both have weathered many storms. Both have had wounds inflicted upon them. What’s the difference? One of them chose it. The other did not. Is the willingness to make that choice what determines whether or not they should be honored? My childhood was hell. I survived. Shouldn’t that be considered a good thing? Shouldn’t that expose a great amount of courage, resilience, and tenacity that many people lack because they never had to develop these qualities? Doesn’t the fact that I survived childhood abuse speak volumes in the amount of emotional and psychological strength that I have? How about the fact that I taught myself to come out of silence, and out of hiding, so I could be a voice to many voiceless souls that are scared to speak up? Does that not also require courage? Those who speak up always risk being judged, being dismissed, being ridiculed, mocked, devalued, and not taken seriously as people. In fact, we are often not even counted as people. Hypothetically speaking, how would you feel, if from a character standpoint alone, a candidate sat in your office being interviewed for a job, and you quickly realized this person could speak truths that would bring you to your knees? When you’re the one that should be setting the example of good character to all others, but you found a candidate that you would learn many things from, if you made a choice. You might have walked into the room with a concrete list of qualities you were looking for in that person, and planned to do most of the talking, because that’s what you’re used to. What if that candidate, who found her voice finally decided to take the risk mentioned above, and speak up, and stunned you into silence? What if that candidate had magnificently higher inner qualities than you were expecting? You ask the question: “What makes you different than other candidates?” I’m assuming that by asking that question, you are looking for someone who stands out, rather than someone who blends in. Otherwise, why would you care if I’m different or not? Would the answer to that question disqualify me, because it contained more than your capacity to control it? Since when is being overqualified a bad thing? I used to believe that employers were looking for the highest quality of candidate. Now I am not so sure anymore. The answer to my next question will reveal which kind of employer you are: Are you looking for a quiet, submissive type, or are you looking for a strong person, who brings value and good character to the table, and is not afraid of the power of using her voice?
Offering secure employment is the best way to honor the soldiers that don’t wear camo. Think about what you are really offering…a chance to live…a chance to be free from the ghosts of abuse that continuously haunt us. It is not just a job for us. For survivors, it is our way of taking our lives back. It’s our way of healing. We can’t go back and change what happened many years ago, but we are doing our best to make sure that it never happens again, and secure employment is the only way to break those chains. What is that worth to you?
Let me ask the same question a different way: Is your willingness to make that choice what determines whether or not we should be honored?