The Wheels on the Bus

The Wheels on the Bus

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

Betrayal never comes from your enemies. It always comes from those who are closest to you; family, friends, and even co-workers. For those who are young, confident, and ambitious, what I am about to say may save you a lot of time and heartache:

Everyone gets thrown under the bus (and sometimes ran over by the bus) at least once in their lives.

You would think that the experience of being thrown under the bus by a family member or friend would be the worst; but it’s not. With family and friends, there’s a stronger emotional bond that allows space for forgiveness to occur more quickly.

When a co-worker, or boss, throws you under the bus, it’s a much larger, more complex experience. The bus that you’re on in the workplace carries everything that you have and are: your livelihood, your family, your possessions, etc.

We live in a world where most people define themselves not by who they are inside, but what they do for a living. The experience of being thrown under the bus by people you trusted can result in a full-on crisis of identity.

Years ago, I worked in a small nonprofit where I felt I was thriving in the world. I looked forward to going to work every single day, including Mondays. I didn’t mind working evenings and weekends, because I was doing what I loved. I put my heart and soul into the work. The staff worked as a team, developed friendships, and trust bonds with each other.

Three years into the job, things took a very ugly turn. It was so dark and nefarious; it broke every bond that had been forged. Truth became lies, and lies became truth. Everyone was walking on egg shells and no one trusted anyone. The ugliness of it all spilled out into the communities we were supposed to be serving, and even those who trusted us the most stopped believing in us.

The tires on our bus had all gone flat and we were limping along the road, digging huge gouges in the asphalt. The sparks of blame, finger-pointing, triangulation, bullying, mobbing, and toxicity were flying everywhere. Some people jumped off the bus. In hindsight, I should have jumped with them. It took three years of riding on a bus that was on fire before I was thrown off the bus, under the bus, and then had the bus run me over, grinding what I had known myself to be into the pavement in pieces.

When I pulled myself up from the pavement, I watched the bus continue to limp itself down the road. In some ways, I had felt a great sense of relief. I thought that it was over. I could just move on with my life and everything would be fine. It wasn’t over, and things definitely weren’t fine.

I was a complete mess inside and out. I had spent three years of my life in survival mode. I had been going through life protecting myself from certain annihilation. I started to feel like I was suffocating in my own skin; and at that final moment on the pavement under the bus, I think I suffocated for real. I had nothing left to give – to anyone, including myself.

As a highly sensitive person, I turned everything inward. I swallowed it all whole and absorbed it all until I imploded. Thank God, I had the wherewithal to know and understand that everything wasn’t fine in me, and I sought the help that I needed to put myself back together.

The danger in these types of stories is that there are so many variables at play, with many different actors, not all of whom are highly sensitive people. Some of them don’t swallow the hurt and pain. Some of them don’t implode. Some of them throw back the hurt and pain in the form of acts of workplace violence.

At the point of toxicity, you have reached the point where “If you see something, say something” is useless. You have reached the point of no return. Once a work culture reaches toxicity, the likelihood of a comeback to healthy is slim if not impossible, without a complete overhaul of management and staff.

There are five stages between healthy and toxic.

  1. Healthy
  2. Incivility
  3. Bullying
  4. Mobbing
  5. Toxicity

A workplace will always bounce back and forth between healthy and incivility. However, if you let incivility grow into bullying, the bus will pick up speed and race down the road until the wheels fall off at the T-Intersection of toxicity. Drive carefully.