I have been dealing with some thing privately because I couldn’t really see things as clearly as I should. I didn’t want to come off as a victim because I’m not. I’m a strong intelligent capable person doing the best job I can in complicated times.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I actually talked to two of my friends recently who also happened to be my supervisors in a past life. We didn’t talk about this situation but it was the powerful language and the symbiosis of our conversational flow that really helped me to see things clearly.
I am an assertive person. A member of management this week said “Mary I never want to get on your bad side!” It was meant as a compliment and I absolutely took it that way. To be honest I’m less assertive in my personal life but that’s a topic for another day. What I know is that for the last 25 odd years I have been a force. As a corporate credit manager it is necessary to be dependable, efficient, professional, consistent, persistent and assertive. Without those qualities I would not be as successful as I have been. People seek me out for my expertise, I know what I’m doing.
I love my job and my company but I think I’ve come to the realization that without conscious thought my direct supervisor has been professionally gaslighting me. Today was eye-opening for me. I received an email from another member of management protesting something that I had communicated via email. It was clear from his email that he fully expected that I would defer to him in this matter. I didn’t of course because I was right but I had a moment of hesitation because I knew that I might have to rescind this directive, right or not, because if it went up the ladder I would not have my supervisor’s support.
Again, I don’t think that my supervisor is doing this consciously, but he undermines me a great deal. I’ve tried addressing it with him a couple of times and he does better for a while and then he reverts. He’s a very nice person. People smarter than me have been telling me for five years that the problem is he does not appreciate assertive women. I have always shaken my head and said “no no“ but I think after some serious soul-searching these people actually might be right. There are men who still feel this way.
I remember one time I was sitting at the dining room table with my mom and dad and I said to my mom “yeah did I tell you I might have to fire that woman“ in reference to someone who worked for me who was causing me some problems. My father vehemently asked “Can you do that?” My mom and I both looked at him askance so he somewhat sheepishly asked me if I had the power to fire people. My dad was of a different generation and I don’t think he completely understood that women could be in that type of position of authority. I didn’t take it wrong I just accepted it as it was and said that of course I could hire and fire that was part of my responsibility as an office/credit manager.
I think my supervisor although he’s younger than I am is a little bit of what I would call “old-school” in his management style. He’s less of a leader and more of a manager of processes. He doesn’t have a clear understanding of how to lead people and he definitely doesn’t know when to get out of the way.
I reached out to a trusted coworker today and I spoke with him about this. First to have him as an uninvolved third-party to read my email and confirm that my direction was clear. And of course it was because I can write an email. But after we talked through that he asked me why I was so concerned so I explained. It all boils down to no matter how hard I dig in on something I know that I can’t count on having the support of my direct supervisor.
So that actually is when I started thinking about gaslighting. I never really considered it as something I would have to deal with but my reality is that I am being professionally gaslighted. In the last five years, because he has second-guessed so many of my decisions, I lack confidence. I’ve never had this happen before.
In my professional life I’ve always been pretty much balls to the wall. It worked, I’m successful and I’m very good at what I do. My coworker today said “Mary what good is a promotion if you’re not true to what you know is the right way to do things.“ He’s right. He suggested I lean in and let the chips fall where they may.
It’s scary but this plays into my “Take Back My Power” campaign. I need to rally. I need to start asserting myself and not worry about how it’s received if I know it’s the right thing to do. I started doing that a little bit last week but at the first sign of dissension I panicked. That’s what gaslighting does. It erodes a person’s confidence. It’s not even about what has been done to me as much as what I have allowed to happen.
It’s insidious. I’ve seen people in abusive relationships who have gone through this and I’ve always wondered how they couldn’t see it. I myself have been in abusive relationships and I didn’t see it yet I still question how these people couldn’t see it which is extremely unfair.
Yet here I am in a professional relationship that is unfulfilling and disrespectful and I have had blinders on. I mean there’s a good reason for me to worry because I’m 56 years old and it would be very hard for me to start over at yet another company. The last four places I worked I was let go because the company shut down so I do have longevity. I have good references I have good people who trust me and have respect for my abilities who I know I can use as references.
So now I have to figure out how to proceed from here. I don’t think I want to go full balls to the wall but I do need to stop being so scared and do what I know is right and if he’s not on board then it’s not the right space for me.
How to proceed is the question. I’m committed to this. Recent interactions with senior management have suggested that my efforts will be supported at higher levels. This gives me some assurances.
I don’t mean to sound like “poor me”. I’m very fortunate to have a great career doing what I love. I don’t want to leave this place. I see a future here. I just need to get a better more confident foothold. For now I’m just going to take it one email, one instance at a time and make sure my decisions aren’t influenced by fear of this somewhat toxic environment I find myself in. Tonight I started skimming articles. I found a webinar on managing up I might look into. I’m sure I’ll have fits and starts at this. It has taken me five years to figure it out. I’m committed to trying though. I don’t want to give up on this job or this manager.