When Winston Churchill was the First Sea Lord of the British Navy during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, he observed that “the terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate.” While fully admitting that I’m borrowing his quote out of context, I find the words ever so relevant to many of those who are dealing with abusive work environments, especially in the form of workplace bullying.
In nasty work environments, one’s mind may start to race with possibilities, and few of them are good. Hence,”the terrible ‘ifs’,” which also dovetail hard with the understandable tendency of many people in bad work settings to ruminate over their situations. As I wrote back in February:
Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:
Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.
The constant rumination may include imagining a parade of horrible possibilities…what if this, what if that. It may fuel a form of “catastrophizing,” whereby “we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong,” as Dr. John Grohol explains for PsychCentral.com.
In some cases, the perpetrators of the abusive conduct may intend this effect. Overall, it’s about keeping people guessing, fearful, and always looking over their shoulders.
If you find yourself in such a workplace, try to keep your wits about you, even in the face of stress and anxiety. As I’ve written many times about bad work situations, this is much easier said than done. Nevertheless, while bad things can and do happen, rarely do all of the terrible ifs occur in unison. In some cases, it’s possible to mitigate the risks by assessing the options and taking smart actions.