I've been in situations where colleagues have kicked holes in walls (because nothing says "I can handle a deadline change" by destroying company property). I've witnessed employees call a female worker the dreaded "c-word," a true mark of a bully trying to make professional strides.
Well, turns out these behaviors were preparing me for my divorce; there are unmistakable parallels between the two.
I divorced in 2012, a legal process that -- in large part because we didn't have any children or overly-complex financial situations -- was pretty seamless. Looking back, though, there were some issues that created some punched-in-the-stomach feelings along the way. Yes indeed, divorce is very much like a workplace bully. Here's how, and what I learned.
1. They'll blindside you with WTF moments
Bullies have a way of surfacing when you least expect it, engaging in actions that can shatter your world.
Well, it's the same with a soon-to-be ex-spouse.
My ex pulled a fast one smack-dab in the middle of our divorce process, choosing to no longer be involved with our home-selling process but instead, pull the suddenly-convenient bankruptcy card. It fit right into a system riddled with loopholes and an "everyone's doing it" mentality. His actions, no doubt prompted by the encouragement of other like-minded folks, made my mental jaw drop. Seriously? WTF? His move unfortunately left me in a bind, and for reasons too complex to get into, I found that I too, had to travel down the same road.
Then I remembered the workplace wall-kicker.
My ex, like this workplace bully, was resorting to an action that simply made him feel better. At least that’s what I believe.
So it goes.
To his defense, he was within his rights to decide as he did and clearly demonstrated to the powers that be that his apparent financial need was justified.
While initially angry and left blindsided with shock, I ultimately found myself grateful for the experience. It taught me to be much more on my toes with life situations. It reinforced that life is full of surprises. Of course, it also taught me to be more mindful of my expenditures, making me even more critical of spending and saving. Life actually improved for me; despite the fact that I initially thought I'd be living a life of credit and monetary misery.
2. They're not as scary as they appear
All the hype about a divorce "changing your life forever" is just that: hype. Just like those workplace bullies, right?
Dramatic television shows portray divorce as a horrific situation that will make people either 1) become a chain-smoking, Twinkie addict or 2) a Pinterest-loving, Hallmark-channel-watching lone wolf. Friends spoke of questionable laws. Screwed up facial expressions from my neighbors and colleagues conveyed fear. Worry shadowed my every move.
Divorce, they warned, is scary. Be cautious. Watch your step.
Similar to comments about that person in accounting or some new employee, right?
Media, family members and tons of articles make divorces sound horrific. But just like a workplace bully, that's all there is to it: on the surface, a "scary" demeanor. In reality though, there's nothing to fear; most of the time, it's all nonsense and hearsay anyway. Mostly nonsense.
Sure, there were paperwork hassles and people set on taking one side of the story as truth (some, still to this day), but in the end, my divorce wasn't nearly as miserable as the world around me suggested it would be. I consider myself lucky for this, as I know there are many people out there who are still reeling from complications years after the fact.
3. They teach you to stand up for yourself
I've stood up to workplace bullies on occasion, reminding them that coming in at work every day at 6:30 AM was why I deserved to eat lunch and why I should leave around that same time in the evening. In other instances, I’ve had to confront passive-aggressive bullies, those who preferred facial expressions over talking, nonverbally conveying dissatisfaction with narrowed eyes and pursed lips.
During my divorce, similar situations developed. I learned to “read” people better, becoming more privy to a variety of talk ranging from innuendos to helpful verbiage.
I began to realize, as I did during my divorce, that standing up for myself is not an action enjoyed by drama-loving people who love controversy (I often abstained from confronting others in an effort to avoid such conflict and stress) but rather, a necessity. It need not be loud and obnoxious, but filled with persistence, patience and a passion for tell-it-to-me-straight responses which is exactly how I got answers.
Eventually, I began questioning -- not avoiding -- my ex, lawyers, The System -- asking what I used to be nervous about asking. I wrote letters. I made numerous phone calls to inquire about my rights. I met with state officials, not online, but in person. I spoke with a bevy of professionals on all sides of the fence in order to get a well-rounded perspective.
Diving in, instead of merely dipping my toes and retracting in the face of all this "fear," helped me get through my divorce process, WTF surprises and all.
Moving On without Fear
I'm happy to say that while there were some doozies during my divorce, they were basically minor in the grand scheme of things. Besides, my life has moved on. The deep fears and the "are you kidding me?" moments that once plagued my everyday actions, even post-divorce, are gone.
Still, the lessons learned from bully-ish situations run deep, not just from divorce, but life in general. In the end, these people actually helped me without realizing it, allowing me to question more, face fear and stand up for myself.
In the leaving came the finding. Turns out, bully-like experiences are often the catalyst that propels the process.
Jennifer Lilley is a health/wellness and relationship writer who enjoys having her camera and the company of kind-hearted people close at hand. She blogs on her own weight loss and health site, Flabby Road. Find her on Facebook, and on Twitter: @JenSunshine.