Stockholm syndrome is the physiological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor. I will in no way take away from those who have suffered from this condition. Please notice the title says “slight.” This is an attempt to draw parallels, not diagnosis or make fun.
We’ve all seen the movies. (If not, they’re mildly funny so you should check them out.) Bosses, supervisor, or any type of upper management can make a good job depressing, stressful, and dreadful. Most of us are in at-will states (without binding employment contracts) but we never just leave. There is always something that keeps us there and we accept the bad treatment at our current job. As a matter of fact you’re probably sitting in a job you truly hate right now but you can’t leave. Maybe you have applied to several other jobs but haven’t been hired. Maybe your current job pays better than any other job around. Maybe you’re on a promotion path. Regardless of all of this you’re still stuck in your current job with your incredibly horrible boss.
For me, I lied to myself for so long and I blamed those reasons when the truth was, I was stuck out of choice. I was emotionally attached to my boss. No, we were not in a relationship. No, we were not related. In fact, before my first interview with her, I’d never heard of her. However, within the first six months of working for her I was somehow weirdly attached to her. I didn’t know it at the time.
When I first started working for her, I was praised for my quick resolve, my people skills, and all of my accomplishments that I made at such a young age. She relished in the fact that I was in law school and working a tough job at the same time. She bragged about me to senior leadership. My official title was intern but I did work as a full time employee and received a decent wage. Three months in to my internship, she was searching for a full time employee. She hired me. I was grateful and proud of myself. At 24, I had my first big girl job with benefits in my chosen field. I was in my close to dream job and I’d only been an intern three months. I looked at the job requirements. Normally, I would have had to have 3-5 years of experience with an advance degree. I had 3 months of experience and I was still working on my advanced degree. I felt that I had really been blessed. I remember the saying “Nothing in life comes easy.” I should have taken that saying to heart. I wish I had.
The moment I said yes to that job, she changed. It started small. She would make corrections on my memorandums and reports. Then it started with meetings in her office where she would tell me I was not reaching my potential or that I was not being assertive. She’d use curse words when talking to me, but I wrote it off as her natural tongue. Her birthplace is a North-east state that is known for producing rude assholes. She literally talked that way to everyone. As the months went by, the in-office meetings and her corrections increased. I’d never been told I was a bad writer or that I was inadequate. In fact, before I turn in any professional/collegiate paper, I review it at least 10 times. I make several revisions and sometimes write the entire report over. You won’t see any of that in this blog because let’s be honest, this is blog. Anyways, she told me I failed at proofreading and did not take my time on my work. I began believing her. I became afraid to turn in reports. I took more time to review them. Regardless, I didn’t miss due dates. The closer I got to due dates the more agitated she became. I blamed myself.
Outside of work duties, she encouraged me and praised me. When I got engaged, she was ecstatic. She would spend hours with me talking about wedding plans and my upcoming graduation from law school. She introduced me to her mom and her son. We started building a friendship. I remember a few mornings she would have meetings in the state’s capital (an hour away from our location). On those mornings she would ask me could I take her son to school so she could make those meetings. I came from a single mother household and I know the struggles of being a working mother. I agreed because I truly thought I was helping. That’s when the gifts started. Over the course of my employment she brought me a convection oven, a purse, an amazon echo, she’d given me a $100 check (for my wedding), brought me a few lunches, and a few other little things. When I graduated from law school she made a huge deal of it. She planned a small party at work and took me to a fancy restaurant. At the time, that meant so much to me because I couldn’t do a lot of celebrating for myself. My graduation and wedding were within in one month of each other. I was totally focused on the wedding. She reminded me of my great accomplishment.
Even with the good, the bad started to weigh heavy. A year in the job, she was in search of a manager for our department. I asked why I was not considered for the position and she said I was not qualified and I was not ready. I was only offered a 2.5% raise. At first I thought it was true. I should be grateful for getting the first job; I shouldn’t push my luck with the next one. I felt all of this until I was made to train my superior. She was unqualified. She had no experience and she was not me. I wanted to leave right then and there but I couldn’t. My husband got a job 10 hours away. I was ready to quit and start job searching in my new state. I’d actually submitted a few applications. As soon as I told her about the big move, she told me that she couldn’t lose me and offered me a work from home status. I felt appreciated and needed. I was in awe. She took a heavy burden off of my shoulders. I could move, be with my husband, and still have a job. I accepted. That was a mistake.
On my first day on a work from home status hell started. Nothing, I did was right. She complained. She yelled. She corrected me on everything. She also doubted me and made me doubt myself. She made me feel untrustworthy. Every day she made me write a log of my work on an hourly basis. It had to be detailed with every minute of work, every phone conversation, every email, and every break. She read it every day. The days I thought to slack, she would get upset. I also had to write monthly reports detailing every project I was working on. These reports were only for her. They never went above her and were for the sole purpose of proving I was actually working. The more I had to report, the more work she gave me. I was also responsible for my manager. If she got something wrong, I was at fault for not training her properly. If I fixed or corrected her mistakes, I was in trouble for covering for her. There was no right way. It was hell for me, but I did not feel the heat until she started mistreating my “manager.” At first I thought my “manager” was not strong enough and needed to toughen up. She looked stressed, she smoked more, and she was losing weight. She was physically expressing what was building up inside of me.
I started applying for jobs. At first the offers didn’t match what I was making while working for her. Then the jobs didn’t match my career path. Then some jobs just didn’t hire me. I felt unwanted. I felt she was the best I could do. Six months passed without any job prospects. Our tumultuous relationship continued. She continued to deteriorate my confidence in myself, yet I still had some type of affection for her. I made excuses for her. Christmas came and she mailed me a gift. At the same time, my “manager” was depressed. Eight months went by before I finally found another job. It was one of the happiest moments of my life but I still felt bad for leaving her. I gave a 30 day notice (I’m only required to give two weeks) to protect her and the work I’d done. She was in the middle of a HR investigation, and I failed to tell how she truly treated her staff. I protected her.
She was never my captor. In some ways she was an abuser, yet I still feel empathy for her. I still think of her as a friend. I still protect her. I still answer her calls. She was a horrible boss.