Conflict is hard. Internal conflict is harder. I have had conflicting feelings over issues at my work place for 2 -1/2 years now. So many mixed emotions. I talk it out with my closest family members but have never discussed it with folks at work because I just never felt there was room for that. To involve others in my personal emotions about a co-worker just never seemed fair.
This week I had an awakening. A moment of clarity that is helping me move further away from conflict. I had a substitute fill in for my position while I filled the role of my supervisor, as she was recently out for two days. I saw glimpses of my old-self in the young girl who filled my role. She jumped in, she had creative ideas, she saw wonderment in what was old news to me now. It made me sad, it made me realize how far I have stepped away from what’s good in me and how often I hold back what I would have once offered. I have identified these things in myself before through this conflict. I have held anger and frustration about this for a long time. Blaming my supervisor for having conditioned me to be this way, feeling like a lesser version of myself while at work. Not ever feeling valued by her, not having her notice when I am creative, having her be so controlling that my ideas are not accepted anyhow…the list goes on and on for why I am not me in my job anymore. I have held on to these things and they are heavy. A constant feeling of her not even deserving me to be at my best. What I know to be true is this is clearly toxic to myself and I have known for quite sometime that I’ve GOT TO GET OVER IT! That is the inner conflict. Not feeling understood. We have attempted to discuss things and neither one of us understands the other. I am a communicator and she is not.
She said some hurtful things to me when we attempted to discuss our issues 2- 1/2 years ago. Things that I was stunned to hear. They replay in my mind over and over since they were said. We have worked together 10 years now. She was always what seemed to be an understanding individual, easy going, nice person. When I took the position I started as part time and it was then offered as a full time position. She was my cheerleader through my decision making process, I was re-entering the workforce after having been a stay-at-home mom for a long time. Going back to work full time was a frightful feeling, not knowing how it would feel to not be 100% at either place, but she eased my mind with thoughts of being able to take time when I needed it for my family. I accepted the position and my family began to adjust at home. What could not have been predicted at that time is what happened in the years to follow. In my writing of Questioning Everything II, I talk about the hard times my family has gone through in recent years. I was supported at work through all of these medical issues and took the time I needed for my family. I was acutely aware of how my absence from work must be affecting others, but my family had to come first and I would convince myself of this daily to stay focused at home and release the guilt.
What happened 2 -1/2 years ago was that my supervisor began to use body language and silent treatments to what seemed to me at the time an attempt to send some kind of message. Her lack of communication was something that always worried me and I would share with my family at home that I wondered if she could really be okay with all of the time I had needed, but she always greeted me at the door with a smile and was always extremely understanding. Well, I feel other people’s energy very easily and the message she was trying to send was making me feel very uncomfortable at work. When the day approached that we would be going our separate ways for summer vacation I approached her and asked if we could discuss what was happening between us. I addressed some of the issues I thought we may be having. What was an attempt to communicate became a very cloudy, confusing time. We got nowhere. She said hurtful things that I never knew she felt and I was stunned by them. I had wondered so many times if she really was okay with me and all the things I had to deal with at home. Always wondering if she felt she needed more from me at work. Because I had gone over these things in my mind and ‘felt her out’ emotionally through it all ~ she never once stated to me that it was a problem ~ So, I would always revert back to her always supporting me as a mom first when I was considering the job. I was not exceeding my allotted time for my job description at work, I was within my contract. So, I felt she really was understanding and didn’t have a problem with how much time I needed to be away from work.
When I approached her that afternoon I asked if everything was okay, that I had been feeling like she was different towards me and was there something we needed to talk about? I knew I would be walking out that June and wanted to clearly know what it would feel like to walk back in in September. The comments she made that day have stuck with me ever since. Things like – “It just seems like you don’t care”… When I asked if we could move forward together she said “I’m not sure we can continue on together”. She said so many other things that were confusing to me. I was stunned at her comments. When I approached her, I thought we had a couple things to discuss to move forward but she clearly had allowed things to fester so long that she wasn’t sure we could continue together in the fall…? I was deeply hurt. She proceeded to tell me that she didn’t know if what she was feeling was her own personal feelings or having to do with me and work. She would use the summer to ponder these things and we would talk again in the fall. I said okay and went on my way. I walked out of that office with instant resentment, here I was trying to be proactive in asking hard questions so we could progress in the fall stronger than we were in the spring. Mind you I am her assistant, she is the supervisor, my leader… Why was I approaching her when there’s a problem?
When we returned in the fall we had a whole staff Welcome Meeting with our principal. He discussed stress and how we need to not bring it into the classroom. I heard him, and was feeling good about having asked the hard questions in the spring to alleviate some of the negative feelings in our space. I was anxiously anticipating my supervisor and I sitting down soon to talk about what we had pondered over the summer. She had experienced a divorce last year and I was pretty positive that she would realize that she had been bringing much of her own personal negative feelings into our workplace. I felt positive that what we had to deal with between us was surely smaller than it seemed when I left in the spring. I felt this way because I thought we were a good team, I am confident in my work, I work hard and I love my job.
What happened next absolutely flabbergasted me. The welcome meeting ended and we all went back to our respective classrooms. She did not return right away. I went about my work and when she returned she told me that in light of the message our principal had given us she had gone to him to discuss our situation. I was floored! She went to our principal, my boss?? She reported that when we were to speak this time we would have a mediator that was assigned to us. Do you know that when we sat down in that meeting, she pulled out a notebook and had a list of all the things I went to her with for concerns in the spring?? I was so set a back, I was so hurt. I was flooded with emotions. To this day I am embarrassed that I cried during the meeting. At one point, she sat back pointed at me in my frustration and said to our mediator “See, this, I don’t know what to do with this.” I am a very passionate person, I am sensitive, I wear my heart on my sleeve. She said things like “If we are going to talk about feelings, then… I feel like you have taken advantage of my kindness.” Again, flabbergasted. I was actually able to respond to that (at other times I was simply speechless) and I told her that I have never taken advantage of anything! I knew in that moment she didn’t know me at all and that we had some severe miscommunication happening. I’m honestly not sure where we got with our discussion that day. I know where it got me… it got me to a place of not trusting. I thought I knew her, I thought she knew me, I actually thought we were friends. I learned to proceed by keeping my guard up and not share personal things with her. I have spent the last two years looking internally and wishing I could figure out a way to understand why this happened this way. All the while, not being free to be me in my workplace.
I spent the whole first year fuming at all the inconsistencies in the things she had stated. When I had asked her the day with the mediator why she hadn’t pointed any of these “problems” out, why she hadn’t asked me to stay later on a day when I came late due to a meeting for our foster daughter, why she hadn’t dealt with these things when they were happening? Her answer was that there isn’t enough time in our busy day to discuss these things. In the fall of my first year back I was hyper-sensitive to all of the things she called me on. Noticing things I had never bothered to pay attention to before. Other people who are late to work (her – everyday!) Noticing that there is time for her to have ‘coffee chat’ everyday for 15 minutes or more with colleagues in her office, time to bring in a student teacher and utilize all of the curriculum and projects we created together and claim them as your own. Time became a main focus for me, as she had called me on taking too much. We agreed with the mediator that day that I would log my extra time to be earned time for personal time. What I felt I knew then and find great satisfaction in proving everyday is that I earn a great deal of extra time with the extra hours (beyond my contracted hours) I put into my job. I am contracted from 8:15am to 2:40pm, so I was told clearly that any time I put in extra it is earned time. This was agreed upon in our meeting with the mediator. Since I’ve been writing time down I currently have 6 hours of earned time still available, with another book fair coming in the spring. We have 2 Book Fairs every year. Up until 2 years ago we used to do evening events as well as come in and set up on the weekends, this time was never documented in the past. We would do special events and I would happily stay late, work them in the evenings, this year without coming in on weekends and without any evening events I earned 9 hours of extra time during our fall book fair alone. I was never asked in the past to keep track of the time, it felt as though we just had an understanding. I now know how important keeping track is. I was hurt that she felt I would take advantage of this, I was always happy to do whatever she asked me to.
I have found personal gain in the things I’m working through, learning to pat myself on the back for a job well done and finding ways to help others in my building and continue to always be kind and helpful. I feel changed ~ I struggle with the decision to move to another space in the building. When I went to my principal in the first year after this happened, requesting a move, he asked me to stay and said he needed me in the space I am in, I respected that and continue to work hard in that position for him, for our school…not for her. I love my position, I love what I do.
You must be asking…Where is this clarity? Where is the moment that helped with easing this conflict? The clarity is my acknowledgment that she has a certain perspective and I need to try and respect that. Not for her, but for me!
I have asked myself the question over and over again if there was any truth to the things she was saying that day? Was I arriving to work on time? Was I using a lot of extra time? What I realize now that I wouldn’t allow myself to take into account before through the hurt was that all of those things had truth to them. I am seeing through the hurt now and able to realize that from where she was standing (her perspective) all of these things had truth to them. Am I still hurt? Yes. Did I feel she was singling me out? Yes. Did I feel like she should understand more? Yes. But were they true? Yes.
What I realize is from her perspective she has no idea what it felt like to be me in those days and years. She couldn’t possibly know what it felt like to be my husband’s caregiver and stay strong and present for my three children through all of it. The love and concern I felt for him and the determination to help him feel better and get better ~ to overcome our family set backs… She won’t ever know what it was like to be the foster mother to a teenage girl who lied and manipulated on a daily basis. What it felt like to fight for my family’s well being while trying to be this young girl’s cheerleader and guide her when she didn’t want to be guided. She could not understand the turmoil inside myself for having to make choices about where my loyalty stood when things were hard at home and at work, and I chose to put most of my energy into my home. She didn’t respect or notice that through that turmoil and with the guilt I was making my own self sick. I had ocular migraines from stress that kept me from work, I had gall bladder surgery, I had neck issues… the stress was hindering me. I know now that she was getting the least of me. The clarity is that I now know I could not have changed that.
I didn’t know then the tole it was taking on her. I see it now, I get it, I feel bad, I have apologized, I have thanked her for her patience time and time again. But now… Now I am back! I show up everyday on time or early, I work very hard. I am healthy again and my family and my home is strong. We did not lose ourselves through the struggle and I do not believe that I deserve to be held on probation for all that we’ve been through. But can I change that part? No I cannot! So I continue to work hard, I become more and more creative as the fog lifts from the stress I was under. I even move further away from the anxiety that had built of what’s next for our family? Everyday! I am empathetic enough to know that that had to be my supervisor’s feelings too… I get it, I’m sorry. I never wanted any of what happened to happen, but it did. I am willing to look deep and find understanding. I am strong and confident ~ I know who I am. I know where my attention is needed to get a mission accomplished ~I am able to give that to my job again! I am letting go of the guilt and the anger. I am proud of myself.