Martha was a special ed teacher in her mid-thirties. She had been forced to work overtime for more than a year by a domineering boss, Alma, who had need of her department being seen as superior to all other departments in the school. Alma badgered Martha to work on projects that would publicize the department and make Alma standout above other department heads. Martha felt trapped and finally had a breakdown. She ran a high fever and began envisioning miraculous interventions into her work situation by famous figures from the past--Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others.
Martha had a hard time connecting the breakdown to her work situation, a common example of how society encourages people to blame themselves for not being able to stand abusive work. When she came to counseling with us, she said she had no other therapist. After several sessions she was willing to see that she was not the cause of her breakdown---and then she said that, yes, she did have a therapist, but was afraid to tell us because her therapist could not seem to deal with work issues; she focused on childhood instead.
Martha decided not to go back to work with Alma, but needed Alma to write a letter of recommendation so that Martha could get a job somewhere else. Martha met with Alma and showed her a physician's statement that said Martha needed time off in order to recover from overwork. Instead of being sympathetic, Alma exploded and blamed Martha for "letting me down."
At this point Martha realized the extent of Alama's narcissism that prevented Alama from seeing Martha's needs. Martha left the school without the recommendation letter from Alma, and with the expectation that if anyone called Alma, that Alma would badmouth Martha.
Martha complained to us about the betrayal and injustice of the situation. We extended empathy and understanding, and we spent several sessions reviewing the meaning of "injustice." We explained that workplaces are not just, and that to have the expectation of justice is a thinking error. It is necessary to assess work situations immediately upon taking a job and setting down limits. Once an employee allows her or himself to be used, there will be the expectation of unlimited use. It is true that you may not be able take a job, or may have to leave the job sooner than you wished, once you make an assessment of your boss and work group and discover that she or he is an abuser, or that coworkers are abusive.
But like spousal abuse, you must leave the situation. Because it will not improve. Seeing a situation as bad and hoping it will get better when it won't is denial. Denial seldom works because it catches up with you in the end.