I was a social worker. I had had several managers but another change in systems meant a new manager. A man who I had seen around the building. I’d observed that he was quite a jovial character, who seemed to take a particular liking to the more confident women who liked to dress up for work. I wouldn’t say that I was a woman who didn’t look smart for work, but I wasn’t in the same gang as these women. I am quiet, I used to just get on with my work. I can chat comfortably with people, but I probably didn’t come across as a confident character although I was extremely confident in my abilities to do good work and help people. I certainly didn’t expect to experience bullying at work. 

The abuse from this man followed an identical profile to that of an abusive partner. He was really friendly at first and almost certainly lulled me into a false sense of security. He then started with subtle criticisms of my work. These changed to larger criticisms and unreasonable demands upon my time that he knew I couldn’t manage. He then started to lie. I would make a decision. He would change it. Something would go wrong. He would blame me and make me question myself. I was in a pure state of panic most days, questioning myself and questioning my ability to do a good job. He would come into the office and my stomach would turn. He would lean over my desk, using his body to intimidate me, then tell a joke before leaving! One day this escalated further. He asked me to come to his office and I found myself standing beside his desk and he was blocking the door. He started a barrage of abuse about me as a person, me as a social worker, me as a co-worker. It was frightening, it was demeaning and it was abusive. I stood there and took it and tried my best not to let him see me cry. I went home, and I collapsed but I put pen to paper and I wrote down everything that he had done, why it was abuse, how I felt, and that I wanted it to stop. I told him I knew exactly what abusive men are like as I used to live with one for many years! I sent it to him and I waited for a response.

He asked me to come and speak to him which I was worried about, but he was actually more concerned with himself and what I was going to do with this information as opposed to shouting at me. He wanted to know if I was going to make an official complaint. I suggested that he go to his manager and ask for advice, I wasn’t the one he should be talking to now. He did that and his manager moved me to another team with immediate effect. No action taken against him. I should have pressed it further, but I didn’t have the energy.

Years later, I was working with a family where the father was abusive to the mother. It was a very complex case and higher management were involved. This man’s manager in fact. She wondered if I was up to managing this case due to my past history of being intimidated by men.

There it was. It was me who had the problem. Not long after this I made the decision to stop working for this organisation.

Silvia Mather

*If you’re experiencing bullying and harassment at work. please go to our bullying and harassment resource page for advice on how to deal with this difficult situation.

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