Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Staying in the Present at Work


I’ve been writing about how to live more in the NOW and not let past issues influence your present mood, decisions and view of your life in general. We often carry old baggage into work. If you develop workplace relationships based on things that happened with others in the past, it can adversely affect your job.

Today I have an article by Debra Mandel, Ph.D., renowned psychologist, columnist, speaker, media expert is the author of several books, including Your Boss Is Not Your Mother: Eight Steps to Eliminating Office Drama and Creating Positive Relationships and Work, Healing the Sensitive Heart and two CDs, Creating Healthy Boundaries in the Workplace and The Abuser Friendly Syndrome. She has appeared on multiple national television and radio programs, and has hosted her own radio show. Dr. Debra’s suggestions can apply to other areas of your life too!

Workplace Relationships
By Debra Mandel, Ph.D

According to CareerWomen.com, 66 percent of women who are unhappy at work attribute it to their relationships with coworkers. People like these suffer because they continually get sucked into needless workplace drama—with coworkers, bosses, subordinates, and clients. In doing so, they’re usually replicating problems they had with parents, siblings, or others in childhood. Once ensnarled, they don’t have the knowledge or tools necessary to escape these traps.

As a clinical psychologist with more than twenty years of experience, I’ve worked with hundreds of people whose unhealed childhood bruises have caused them problems in the workplace. Although most of us understand that “old stuff” can affect intimate relationships, we’re caught off guard when they affect workplace interactions.

Nevertheless, once those familiar buttons get pushed, we may transform our overbearing boss into a bullying older brother, or respond to the judgmental coworker as though she is the parent who failed to applaud us for our achievements.

Mind you, unhealed hurts don’t have to be the result of blatantly abusive experiences. Millions of people walk around unaware that events from childhood might still affect them today. For instance, Jenny had grown up realizing that her parents loved her, even though they weren’t demonstratively affectionate toward her or generous in their praise. She hadn’t realized until she was in her thirties that she ached for approval from others because she had never been given enough strokes as a youth. In the workplace, she unknowingly played out this emotional lack by being an excessive people-pleaser, which caused her to lose the respect of her coworkers. Yes, her parents did love her, but they missed the boat when it came to fulfilling this very important developmental need. In fact, most people’s emotional “bruises” come from well-intended caregivers who did the best they could in raising.

As a result, it’s often very difficult for people to acknowledge their old hurts—let alone understand how these affect them in the present.

Regardless of how a wound came about, if it’s still sore—consciously or unconsciously—it’s bound to wreak havoc in the workplace. Ask yourself the following questions to see whether you have old bruises manifesting in the workplace:

1. Do you expect coworkers, bosses, or employees to be your friends?
2. Do you expect or wish that coworkers, bosses, or employees would grant you special favors when you perform below standard, such as when you’ve been out sick, shown up late, or missed a deadline?
3. Do you wish that your boss or coworkers appreciated you more?
4. Do you take responsibility for the workload of others who are slacking off?
5. Do you have a fear of conflict that keeps you from speaking up about unfairness?
6. Do you censor yourself because you fear being fired or hurting someone’s feelings?
7. Do you go out of your way to befriend people in the workplace whom you would not want to be friends with outside of the workplace?
8. Do you envy other people’s success?
9. Do you have trouble keeping boundaries with your coworkers (e.g., you let them know things about your personal life that have nothing to do with your work situation)?
10. Do you feel hurt or become defensive when you receive criticism about your work performance?
11. Do you ever feel that others in your field judge you harshly even when no one has voiced criticism?
12. Do you have difficulty not thinking about your work or the workplace when you are supposed to be enjoying free time?
13. Do you have difficulty evaluating your own job performance?
14. Do you become argumentative with coworkers, bosses, or employees?
15. Do you believe you are not living up to your full potential?
16. Do you keep yourself from excelling in the presence of others for fear of their envy or jealousy?
17. Do you let others make decisions for you, even when your gut tells you it’s the wrong choice for you?
18. Do you have difficulty saying “no” to unreasonable requests from coworkers, bosses, or employees?
19. Do you withhold your honest opinions about work-related issues for fear that you’ll be disliked?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you most likely have old stuff interfering with your ability to thrive in the workplace. But don’t despair! You can heal your bruises and eliminate drama by applying the following tips.

1. Identify and acknowledge how your bruises affect you in the workplace, eliminating shame and judgment.

2. Transform adversity into a resource by recognizing that whatever you’ve endured has made you a stronger person.

3. Take responsibility for your life in the present by becoming your own good caregiver rather than wait for others to fill in the gaps. Don’t blame others for what you didn’t get in childhood.

4. Create healthy boundaries. Learn how to say “no,” “yes,” or “maybe” as is appropriate to the requests of others.

5. Empower yourself by embracing the notion that you are in charge of your own choices. Acknowledge that very rarely are we true victims in adulthood.

6. Recognize that you are only responsible for your own feelings and actions. Don’t burden yourself with trying to control what others do, say, or think.

7. Practice ongoing self-care. Be kind to yourself, create balance between work, play and rest, and regularly acknowledge the value of your contributions.

By practicing these tips you can create better relationships in the workplace. Granted, others whom you encounter may not be repairing their wounds as you are, but you can still keep the energy more positive by having a good handle on your own behavior. And, should you find yourself getting stuck, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Thrivers use all possible resources!

Visit Dr. Debra at drdebraonline.com. Her next book, Don’t Call Me a Drama Queen: A Guide For the Overly Sensitive and Their Significant Others Who Need to Learn to Lighten Up and Go With the Flow! will be published in October. She practices out of Thousand Oaks and Encino CA.



  • Becky

    I recognized myself in this post. I’m gonna try harder to let go of those old memories. Thanks!

  • DonnaNY

    That’s me! Anyone that tries to tell me what to do it my mother. Even men! I’ll try some of these tips.

  • Anonymous

    I am a bit lost… people do tend to give there work and I know they are just being lazy! I am trying to find a way to stop this as it makes me sooooo angry! To realize there might not be a simple way but too say no, that is hard. My behavour must be showing and I have to control my only out come… I am having a bad week and I cant find the answers to my very own question, however; I will be looking into getting some off these books. I have found this web page, helpful but with blank answers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01445486103480238038 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Dr. Debra isn’t saying you should excuse all behavior. But don’t bring old anger or other emotions into present situations. Living in the NOW helps you to respond to present behavior more effectively. And of course there will be many people who still annoy you. Adjust your own behavior.

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