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satyr, drool you bastards, bosom

So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they've ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they've ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as she wants to under those systems, and you want to keep her even when she doesn't want to stay. How do you pin her to your side, irrevocably, permanently, and perfectly legally?


You create a sick system.

A sick system has four basic rules:

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.

Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn't there. No energy, and your lover's dangerous epiphany is converted into nothing but a couple of boring fights.

This is also a corollary to keeping them too busy to think. Of course you can't turn off anyone's thought processes completely—but you can keep them too tired to do any original thinking. The decision center in the brain tires out just like a muscle, and when it's exhausted, people start making certain predictable types of logic mistakes. Found a system based on those mistakes, and you're golden.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you're a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. If you're working in an industry where failure isn't a possibility (the government, utilities), establish a status system where workers do better or worse based on seniority. (This also works in bad relationships if you're polyamorous.)

Also note that if you set up a system in which personal loyalty and devotion are proof of your lover's worthiness as a person, you can make people love you. Or at least think they love you. In fact, any combination of intermittent rewards plus too much exhaustion to consider other alternatives will induce people to think they love you, even if they hate you as well.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. If you know the lever will always produce a pellet, you'll push it only as often as you need a pellet. If you know it never produces a pellet, you'll stop pushing. But if the lever sometimes produces a pellet and sometimes doesn't, you'll keep pushing forever, even if you have more than enough pellets (because what if there's a dry run and you have no pellets at all?). It's the motivation behind gambling, collectible cards, most video games, the Internet itself, and relationships with crazy people.

How do you do all this? It's incredibly easy:

Keep the crises rolling. Incompetence is a great way to do this: If the office system routinely works badly or the controlling partner routinely makes major mistakes, you're guaranteed ongoing crises. Poor money management works well, too. So does being in an industry where the clients are guaranteed to be volatile and flaky, or preferring friends who are themselves in perpetual crisis. You can also institutionalize regular crises: Workers in the Sea Org, the elite wing of Scientology, must exceed the previous week's production every single week or face serious penalties. Because this is impossible, it guarantees regular crises as the deadline approaches.

Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement. After all, sometimes you win—and when you've mostly lost, a taste of success is addictive.

But why wouldn't people eventually realize that the crises are a permanent state of affairs? Because you've explained them away with an explanation that gives them hope.

Things will be better when... I get a new job. I'm mean to you now because I'm so stressed, but I'm sure that will go away when I'm not working at this awful place.

The production schedule is crazy because the client is nuts. We just need to get through this cycle, then we'll have a new client, and they'll be much better.

She has a bad temper because she just started with a new therapist. She'll be better when she settles in.

Now, the first person isn't actually looking for a job. (They're too stressed to fill out applications.) The second industry always has another crazy client, because all the clients are crazy. (Or better yet, because the company is set up to destroy the workflow and make the client look crazy.) The third person has been with her “new” therapist for a year. (But not for three years! Or five!) But the explanation sounds plausible, and every now and then the person has a good day or a production cycle goes smoothly. Intermittent reinforcement + hope = “Someday it will always be like this.” Perpetual crises mean the person is too tired to notice that it has never been like this for long.

Keep real rewards distant. The rewards in “Things will be better when...” are usually nonrewards—things will go back to being what they should be when the magical thing happens. Real rewards—happiness, prosperity, career advancement, a new house, children—are far in the distance. They look like they're on the schedule, but there's nothing in the To Do column. For example, everything will be better when we move to our own house in the country... but there's nothing in savings for the house, no plan to save, no house picked out, not even a region of the country settled upon. Or everything will be better when she gets a new job, but she's not applying anywhere, she's not checking the classifieds, she has no skills that would get her a new job, she has no concrete plans to learn skills, and she doesn't know what type of new job she wants to take. Companies have a harder time holding out on rewards, but endlessly delayed raises and promotions, workplace upgrades that are talked about but never get enough budget, and training programs that are canceled for lack of money work well.

Establish one small semi-occasional success. This should be a daily task with a stake attached and a variable chance of success. For example, you need to take your meds at just the right time. Too early and you're logy the next morning and late to work, too late and you're insomniac and keep your partner up until you go to sleep, too anything and you develop nausea that interrupts your meal schedule and sets your precariously balanced blood sugar to swinging, sparking tantrums and weeping fits. It's your partner's job to get you to take your meds at just the right time. Each time she finds an ideal time, it becomes a point of contention—you're always busy at that time, or you're not at home, or you eat too early or too late so the ideal time shifts or vanishes entirely. But every so often you take your meds at just the right time and everything works perfectly, and then your partner gets a jolt of success and the hope that you've reached a turning point.

Chop up their time. Perpetually interrupt them with meetings, visits from supervisors, bells and whistles and time clocks and hourly deadlines. Or if you're partners, be glued to them at the hip, demand their attention at short intervals throughout the day (and make it clear that they aren't allowed to do the same with you), establish certain essential tasks that you won't do and then demand that they do them for you, establish certain essential tasks that they aren't allowed to do for themselves and demand that they rely on you to do it for them (and then do it slowly or badly or on your own schedule). Make sure they have barely enough time to manage both the crisis of the moment and the task of the moment; and if you can't tire them out physically, drain them emotionally.

Enmesh your success with theirs. Company towns are great at this. Everything, from the workers' personal social standing to the selection of groceries at the store, depends upon how well they do their jobs and how well the company as a whole is doing. Less enveloping companies try to tie their workers' self-perceptions in with the public's perception of their brand. People do it by entangling their successes and failures with their partners', even when they shouldn't be entangled. A full-grown adult should be able to take his meds without his partner's help, and there's only so much anyone can do to make someone eat at the right time and swallow their pills, but he still puts the responsibility for managing his meds squarely on her shoulders. The classic maneuver is to blame all your bad moods on your partner: If they weren't so _______ or if they did ______ right, you wouldn't be so stressed/angry/foul-tempered.

Keep everything on the edge. Make sure there's never quite enough money, or time, or goods, or status, or anything else people might want. Insufficiency makes sick systems self-perpetuating, because if there's never enough ______ to fix the system, and never enough time to think of a better solution, everyone has to work on all six cylinders just to keep the system from collapsing.

All of these things work together to make a bad workplace or a bad relationship addictive. You're run off your feet putting out fires and keeping things going, your own world will collapse if you stop, and every so often you succeed for a moment and create something bigger than yourself. Things will get better soon. You can't stop believing that. If you stop believing, you won't be able to go on, and you can't not go on because everything you have and everything you are is tied into making this thing work. You can't see any way out because there are always all these things stopping you, and you could try this thing but that would take time and money, and you don't have either, and you've been told that you'll get both eventually when that other thing happens, and pushing won't make that thing happen so it's better to keep your head down and wait. After a while the stress and panic feel normal, so when you're not riding the edge, you feel twitchy because you know that the lull doesn't mean things are better, it means you're not aware yet of what's going wrong. And the system or the partner always, always obliges with a new crisis.

Eventually you're so crazy that you can't interact with anyone who isn't equally crazy. Normal people have either fled, or told you once too often that you're being stupid and you need to leave. So now you've lost all your reality checks. You're surrounded by people who also live in the crazy and can't see a way out. You spend your time telling one another that it's too bad, but that's how it is, there's no fixing it, and everything will get better when ______ happens. If anyone does get a little better and says, “Hey, guys, this is crazy, we can all stop now,” they've become a stuck cog in the machine. They quickly realize that there's nothing they can do, and they pull out, leaving you alone with your crazy friends.

Finally you think it's ordinary.

You fantasize about being suicidal enough to kill yourself. But that's not all that bad, because you don't think that way all the time, and you're not actually trying to kill yourself. You just wish something would come along and make you dead.

One day you hit rock bottom. Maybe you want so badly to die that stepping out of the sick system looks like a good way to commit suicide, or maybe you're so depressed that you no longer care. Maybe you catch on before then, and realize, as you're standing there with the pill in your hand and your partner too busy on WoW to swallow it, that this is crazier than crazy and it's time to make it stop. Maybe the system makes a mistake, and you look at the pattern of people who got promotions and realize that you will never, never qualify for your promised promotion.

Or maybe a door opens, and something magical happens. The position you've dreamed of opens up. The school you want to go to offers a new scholarship for people just like you—and the person who runs the scholarship tells you confidentially that with your qualifications, you're a shoo-in. Your granduncle dies and leaves you $100,000. You can have exactly what you want—if you walk away from the system you're enmeshed in.

If you step away, two things happen, one after the other:

PANIC! HORROR! THE SKY IS FALLING! I'VE LOST EVERYTHING I EVER HAD AND I'LL NEVER GET IT BACK AGAIN! There's not enough stress, something is wrong, something horrible is happening and I'm not there stopping it, oh god what is my ex-boyfriend doing and can I save him from a safe distance? I'm responsible! I have to call the office and make sure they're okay! I have to make sure everything I left was okay, because it would all fall down without me and now I'm not there and it's falling down and all those innocent people are being hurt and I have to stop it!

...I feel so much better now.

It's all gone, like someone stopped pounding me in the head with a hammer. I didn't even know the hammer was there. Why did I let someone pound me in a hammer all that time? What in hell was I thinking? Why did I think any of that made sense?

Once you're out of the system, it makes no sense at all. None of the carrots they dangled before you mean anything, and you start to truly comprehend just how much stress you were under. You see things you never would have believed while you were in the system. And the relief is greater than you ever could have imagined while you were enmeshed.

~~~

But the “you” in these last several paragraphs isn't the “you” from the beginning. To the “you” from the beginning, the lover or employer who needed to set up a sick system to keep other people close, I say: Don't worry. It's not the end of the world. It feels like that right now, when you're all alone and your ex-lover is a hundred miles away; when you're understaffed and your best employees have left you for the competition. But now that you know the secret of setting up a sick system, you know the truth:

Anyone can get caught in your sick system if you start slowly enough.

Anyone can fit into your sick system if your standards are low enough.

Any sick system can meet your needs if you keep your needs small enough.


You'll have a new person fitted into the vacancy in your system in no time. Go out and find some fresh blood, and remember: Don't fit the system to the person, fit the person to the system.



ETA: WHOA, IT PROPAGATED. Look at it go! I'm so pleased that y'all are finding this true and useful. If you'd like to link to it or quote from it, please do. I only ask that you not repost the whole thing.

ETA 2: There are some amazing links in the comments, including:

Not All Vampires Suck Blood - Anton LaVey discusses psychic vampires--people who feign helplessness to keep others under their control. These are exactly the kinds of people who set up sick systems.

Fugitivus: On Interpersonal Badness - On breaking out of sick systems, and how to deal with the aftermath. Read the comments, then read the rest of the blog, because Harriet is incredible.

In Waiting - bigbigtruck 's sometimes funny, sometimes serious series on life as a waitress in an industry that's set up as a chronic sick system. Shows how the system pulls people in, how it keeps them there, and how far it's willing to go to exploit them once it has them. (Warning for a potential trigger in #11.)

ETA 3: Now translated into Russian, with insightful commentary at the end drawn from the software industry.

Comments

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selkiechick
Jun. 9th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
Wow- so that all sounds familiar. I have printed it out as a list on "manager don'ts" because it would be really easy for my office to become a sick system.

I do have an addendum, that I suspect fits.

Tired, overworked people inevitably make mistakes, especially if your sick system pushes them all the way into depression. You call attention to their mistakes, point out their inconsistent performance, and call their basic competencies into questions. If you do this long enough- you can make them believe that you are only keeping them on out of loyalty, out of the goodness of your heart, because they are inherently unemployable (or unlovable).

But you gotta be careful with this one- if the person has any spine or self worth left- they MAY respond with a hearty "fuck you".

Shudder.
issendai
Jun. 9th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Good addendum.

It's amazing how sick systems undermine the self-worth of their members. They're amazingly good at convincing them that:

1. You're worthless and incompetent.
2. No one else will want you.
3. You're completely responsible for me.

The real magic is convincing people that they're worthless and incompetent, BUT they're the pillar on which the system rests. And if you can sell someone #3, it doesn't matter if #2 turns out to be wrong--I've seen systems that managed to reroute damage so that the failure of #2 /reinforced/ #3. Amazing.
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green_knight
Jun. 9th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Wow. I'd never heard the term 'sick system' before, but what you're describing is all too familiar.

Been there, with relationships and jobs.

GOT OUT.

My current job is just turning into a sick system with a vengeance - our employment is determined by _how many named contacts are picking up the phone_ which is, of course, completely out of our control, so we're bound to fail. (It's the World Cup soon. People will not pick up the phone during football games.

This time, instead of fighting hard to keep my job (working unpaid overtime to make my quota etc) I'm working hard to leave it. When I walk, everything I've worked for for the last year will collapse... and I need to *not* feel guilty over that, because if they wanted the system to keep working, they could simply have continued to employ me.

This was something I very much needed to read at this time. Thank you.
issendai
Jun. 9th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I've been there too--this post is 25% what I've read, 75% what I've seen. Terrible how addictive they are, and how we can be trained to run out of one sick system and smack into the arms of another.

Oof, that's tough. I respect you for channeling your energy toward getting free when you're under such pressure to channel it into the system. One thing that might help you to not feel guilty is the knowledge that sick systems always recover--they're set up to put diamond-level pressure on their members, but to readjust rapidly if a member vanishes. Often they're set up to require a certain level of failure. So if the friends who are left behind need whatever you've been doing, the system will see that they're provided. (Or that they're not provided, depending on which will serve the system more.)

If you're worried about the people who are left behind, often what they need most is an out. Knowing someone who escaped, is happy now, and can point them toward open positions in a healthy system may be what gets them out of the sick system you're leaving.

Good luck. May you find that new job soon.
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green_knight
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
The real reason I knew I *had* to get out of that relationship? I was more and more reaching for some weird passive-agressive shit because I was at the end of my tether and that was the last way i could defend myself.

I didn't like the person I was becoming, and at that point, I'd recovered enough to pull the plug, but yeah. When you're really stuck in that sort of trap, you come to regard it as a baseline for 'this is how people deal with each other' which feeds the system.
shadowvalkyrie
Jun. 9th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
That's what my mom and stepdad's marriage and our whole family life was like. They divorced years ago, when my mom was on the brink of doing something really stupid because she couldn't stand the pressure anymore and barely managed to break free at the last moment, and in hindsight she can't explain how she could even live like that for so long. We kids never thought to question it either; it was our version of normal.

Still today, whenever I feel 'too' good, I wait for the metaphorical anvil to fall. Because happiness isn't normal and can't last, you know? So I occasionally realise I'm subconsciously getting myself into unpleasant situations on purpose, just to create some sort of controlled unhappiness (if that description makes sense?), because that's what feels familiar. Of course I stamp down on this impulse whenever I notice, but... Shows that even if you've been out of this kind of system for years, it leaves its traces!

Yours is the first accurate description I've read of these mechanisms, and very well put! *bookmarks for reference to people who wonder about my issues*
kayateia
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
Sounds like my family in some ways. I'm still looking over my shoulder to figure out what it is I've done wrong next. :( Even now that I see the sickness that was there clearly, it's hard; some of them are still at it, 2000 miles away, trying to guilt trip those of us who escaped right back into it.

Kudos to the OP for that epic rant :)
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aetherbox
Jun. 10th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Yeeeeep. Jail break veteran with four prior prisons under my belt. And I think I'm getting better and faster at identifying and getting the hell out of them, too. Sure, my tools could use some...finesse? I mean, frantically throwing around a sledgehammer, lobbing grenades, and then running for the hills while screaming like a little girl isn't the most recommended or um...dignified course of action, after all, but hey. *shrugs* Always room for improvement?

Thank you for posting this: relevant, intelligent, well-written (and amusingly well timed) account of these systems and how they catch and keep their victims.
azurelunatic
Jun. 12th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
To paraphrase @feministhulk: SMASH IS ONLY ONE OF HULK'S MANY TOOLS.
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fer_de_lance
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:17 am (UTC)
Rule 1 + Rule 2 explain so much of working retail, wherein standing still for 30 seconds -- even if all of your assigned tasks are done -- is verboten.
issendai
Jun. 10th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
Retail, food service, customer service, phone bank, and factory jobs all seem to operate under the assumption that the workers don't want to be there and have to be coerced to work. You see the perpetual busyness, the system of piddling, hard-to-get rewards, and the promises that everything will be better in the fabled future, plus deadline-induced crises, ridiculous hours (the managers get hit harder than the workers), and the kind of rolling crises you see in any customer-based enterprise. Then you get an economic system that prevents workers from knowing what jobs are available or effectively comparing jobs, and you feel that you can't afford to leave because the next job's not going to be any better. It's astonishing how shittily most low-level workers are treated.
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issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
Oh hell yes. Universities are famous for it: small departments filled with people who are expected to spend their entire lives there, with tiny, tiny rewards at stake, a system of recognition that relies on self-promotion, and no chance that any obviously pathological co-worker is going to be shuffled out the door within the next decade. The pressure and pathology can be hideous, and that gets passed on to the students. I can see how the same setup could happen in any school with low staff turnover.

Plus there's the pressure cooker built into any degree program, and... yeah. Unless you can afford to take fewer courses per semester and graduate later, you're bound to come under the kind of pressure that creates sick systems.

I'm glad you still enjoy the material. As long as you love what brought you to the program, you have a future in your career. Good luck.
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omimouse
Jun. 11th, 2010 07:00 am (UTC)
After a while the stress and panic feel normal, so when you're not riding the edge, you feel twitchy because you know that the lull doesn't mean things are better, it means you're not aware yet of what's going wrong.

Four years after managing to barely escape a relationship that fits this so perfectly I nearly started crying, and I'm still struggling with this part. I start to panic and stress when spending 'too much' time with my husband somewhere away from the house, because I just *know* that there will be Bad Things if I stay out to long, have too much fun . . ., wait, we don't have anything we need to be doing today, so why am I flipping out?

Wait, I'm 3 states and a 9 hour drive away from the woman who got passive aggressive at me for going out on a date with the man I was fucking married to. She isn't here to tell me that I'm spending too much time with him, that she was expecting me to treat this as a long distance relationship, when he lived a 5 minute relaxed walk away.

And as I slowly stress and and worry less, I find myself spazzing out about not worrying or stressing. Mind you, this is not helped by the fact that every time I've let my guard down and started relaxing since moving away from this woman, she finds some way to negatively affect my life. In ways that I cannot ignore or avoid, as in last time involved a subpoena to testify against her husband. (The assistant DA was not entirely unsympathetic to our desire to stay the hell away from the mess, but was very firm on not having a case without our testimony. Mind you, that was before the woman took the stand for the defense and went off the deep end.)

Every now and then, I still catch myself feeling bad for leaving, and find myself thinking that I could've tried harder, that maybe it would've worked if I'd only done this or that, maybe if I'd tried harder to keep the house clean . . .

And then I go read through the stuff I wrote about living with her and sternly remind myself that the only time in my life I was suicidal was when I was living with her, and why the hell would I want to ever go back to that?
starcat_jewel
Jun. 12th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
There wasn't a thing you could have done. And it wasn't like that when you first moved in with them AFAIK -- remember, you were escaping from parents who were threatening to have you kidnapped and "deprogrammed".

I do still feel sorry for her, because from here it's pretty clear that she needed help she couldn't get because of financial issues, and that finally her inner demons tore her apart. (Honestly, I think there may have been a bit of a Dark Phoenix thing going on too.) But it's still rough that you and L and W got tangled up in it in a way that made it so hard to get out. You all tried, I know, but there was just nothing you could do.
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gh4acws
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
I will print this out
also : as far as I can tell during my 13 year relationship/marriage we were doing this to each other. ( once we were both out of the system we were good friends )
Amazing that it should be possible to belive both sides of
3. You're completely responsible for me.
AND
1. You're worthless and incompetent.
at the same time.
of course 2. No one else will want you.
can be seen as corollary of 1.

issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
Re: I will print this out
Creepy, isn't it? We'll believe the strangest, most contradictory things with the least possible inducement to do so.

2 is definitely a corollary of 1, but they don't have to go together. I've seen variants on "I'm incompetent and worthless, but I have other options, so fuck you." It's not common and it's not healthy, but if it gets you out of a sick system, go for it.
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buymeaclue
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:52 am (UTC)
Found this via my friendslist. Thank you; excellent post.

I've been the person who ends up in the sick system, relationship-wise, and the thing that keeps amazing me when I think about it is how, even when I can see veryvery clearly what's going on, it's still so easy and tempting to keep getting involved with the sort of person who sets up the system. Because man, it feels good to be the hero, and keep righting the system and keeping it running, and to be calm, calm, calm when everything is swirling around you. Took me a long time to really understand the difference between "chill" and "pathologically chill," and a longer time to stop missing/craving the latter, even knowing that that way lies madness.

I still miss the latter, sometimes. But the former is much, much better. So.
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Arg, yes. Sick systems are addictive. They produce an endless supply of adrenaline, and they always, always need you. They're brilliant at making you feel that they don't just need whomever falls into their hungry maw, they need YOU. That in itself is addictive.

I'm glad you got out. Wishing you the strength to stay out.
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browngirl
Jun. 11th, 2010 12:34 pm (UTC)
I'm saving this for the next time someone tries to lecture me on why family comes first -- even beyond some awful jobs I've had (and I'm saving this in my jobhunting folder to remind me), this describes my childhood, or rather, my parents' parenting style.

Well and truly written.

Edited at 2010-06-11 02:11 pm (UTC)
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
You've got to wonder--people who try to push you back into obviously abusive situations, do they not see the abuse because they've never lived through it and can't believe it could be that bad? Or are they blind to it because they're living it (or inflicting it) now and can't afford to acknowledge it?

Thank you. I hope this helps.
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dpolicar
Jun. 11th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
This is marvelously written. Is it OK if I signal-boost it further?
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Please do.
jonquil
Jun. 11th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'm in a lot of pain in my job, and this is giving me a shock of recognition.

I want to suggest one more variation.

"You could be the best workplace they've ever had..." and then, over a period of years, you could slowly change, dropping, one by one, the features that made you such a great workplace. And the employees, still in love with the workplace-that-was, downplay each successive change, not realizing that they don't work for that company any more. An example from my faraway past: HP. HP lifers still thought they worked for Bill Hewlett's HP for years after that was a lie.

This brings the abusive-boyfriend metaphor to the fore: "but it used to be so good." "he used to be so good to me." Yeah. It was. And then he turned mean, and he's not that guy any more.

I think you miss or devalue one of the things that happen when you step away: grief. Grief for what the company was once, or for what you thought it was, grief for your dreams about the company, grief for the friends you'll miss. Leaving an employer you're emotionally enmeshed with isn't easy for a reason -- you're losing something you value.

I'm grieving now for a dream job that went horribly wrong. It'll take some time.
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
Oof, you're right. Usually an abusive person was always abusive under the nice exterior, but workplaces can go from genuinely good to genuinely bad in no time. IME it's because abusive people move into the system--sick systems need sick individuals to keep them running--but the bad apples are often so high up that most of the employees have no idea the issues can be traced back to them, and functionally, the company as a whole has gone sick. Companies that have gone sick can be remarkably good at convincing their employees that they're going to be back to normal any minute now. Or--this is my experience--they abruptly shed most of their employees and hire new ones who can be trained to put up with the system as it is.

I'm sorry your dream job soured. I wish you strength.

You're right, I missed the grieving that can follow in the wake of leaving a sick system. I do my grieving beforehand, so it didn't occur to me that other people would be affected by it. Thanks for pointing that out.
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teddywolf
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I hope you didn't mind my signal boost.
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
<3 Thank you.
thnidu
Jun. 11th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
Ooh boy. Reminds me of...

not places I've worked (...well, one, after a while, yeah) ...

and, thank god, not relationships I've been in (...mmm, some of growing up) ...

and some relationships I've seen close up...

Yeah.

Since you OK'ed teddywolf's signal boost (which brought me here), I will ditto.

And memory-tag.

And download.

Oh, and say thanks. Thanks!


Edited at 2010-06-11 03:51 pm (UTC)
tiamat1972
Sep. 15th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC)
Ah, the joys of co-dependency. Been there too many times. Had to get intense counselling to finally break the pattern. Have to be on guard all the to avoid falling into it again.
snacky
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
It's like you're describing my current job to a T.

I've been in jobs like this before, so I've recognized that it's time to get out before I go crazy, but... man, it's so hard when it was such a good job to start with.
terrible_t
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
THIS.
This is brilliant. Unfortunately, I believe that the majority of people that read this will see themselves in it somewhere. That's not to say that this is a bad thing, but rather that NO ONE should EVER have to be in this situation. The fact that so many DO... well, I know the world is broken, and can only be fixed little bits at a time, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

I fear new relationships for this reason. I never want to be in a position like this ever again, so therefore I won't even try. That might be just as sick, in some ways, but in my current head-space, it's probably the best I can do.

Also joining in on the signal boosting. FTW.
teddywolf
Jun. 13th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
I fear new relationships for this reason. I never want to be in a position like this ever again, so therefore I won't even try. That might be just as sick, in some ways, but in my current head-space, it's probably the best I can do.

I am sorry you feel so hurt that you cannot reach out.
I have found out, through painful experience, that reaching out and getting a No can hurt, but not reaching out is an automatic No by default. It is still kinda tough for me to reach out.
Learning to walk away from something bad is a different skill and, well, tricky; learning how to do it while minimizing hurt feelings is hellaciously tricky (and no, I have not yet learned it).
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osewalrus
Jun. 11th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
Here via thnidu

This is scary accurate, scary good.

May I have permission to copy and repost and send links?

I will add just one more observation: the beauty is that many people not intelligent enough to design a sick system from scratch are geniuses at creating them because the sick system rewards them and fulfills their needs.

This is important because many people believe that only bad people design sick systems. So if you start by liking the lover/boss/whoever, or even just giving them the benefit of the doubt, you end up staying long enough to get trapped. If you do this as a system analysis (this system is sick, must leave and find new system) rather than a moral analysis ("she doesn't mean to be mean . . .") you will identify and leave much sooner.
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! You may relink to your heart's content and take an excerpt, but please don't copy the whole thing.

I agree. Most of the sick systems I've seen were unconscious creations, so arguing that the sick people in charge meant to do what they did rarely goes far. The bottom line is, believe what you need to believe to get yourself out of the system.

(The exception is systems set up by narcissists and other people on the sociopathic end of the personality spectrum. Some of them are detached enough to calmly and consciously set up sick systems, and will happily tell you how they did it if they think you'll admire them for it. One I know thinks of it as party conversation. The important thing is to remember that there's no behavior so crazy or destructive that certain perfectly ordinary-seeming people won't try it if they think it will get them what they want.)
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thanate
Jun. 11th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Good post.

Another addendum-- people with a strong sense of personal responsibility or misplaced empathy can back themselves into this sort of corner without even having the malicious intent on the part of a partner or employer who's just not quite the right fit. Because, you know, you *chose* that person, and maybe you're not as happy as you could be, but you know he'll be miserable if you leave. Or they keep telling you what a fabulous job you're doing and how much they appreciate your effort, and you feel horribly guilty because you know you're not putting that much effort into it and possibly you also know that you're competent in ways that would make it very hard for them to find a replacement for you, and they need this job done.

And then when you finally get out of it (in the case of relationships often because you've maneuvered your partner into doing the breaking up for you because everything is so obviously not working) you get the same cycle of guilt/responsibility and then "why in the world did I ever do this in the first place?" but without the ability to blame it on someone else's brainwashing.
ashbet
Jun. 13th, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
Oh, ouch. Good point -- I did just that with a job (which WAS a sick system, although I don't think intentionally so) that I literally ran my health into the ground for, and then voluntarily quit rather than taking the layoff/unemployment benefits that I deserved, because I had trained my replacement and "didn't want to screw over the people who I'd spent so much time and energy helping by putting them in an awkward position." What was I THINKING??!? D:

Signal boosted -- thank you for writing this, issendai.

-- Andi <3
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perette
Jun. 11th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC)
This phenomena is also described in The Satanic Bible (Levay, Anton Szandor, 1969) in the chapter "Not All Vampires Suck Blood". I was fortunate to come across his description some years ago, which helped me out of a broken relationship and has kept me wary since. But your description is much more modern-day, and you've described very lucidly a number of specific traits I've encountered that I think will be very helpful to those encountering this problem. Great work, and I hope this helps many good people that are being ground under by a sick person.
issendai
Jun. 11th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Ooh, good reference. Here it is for people who want to read it: Not All Vampires Suck Blood.
umadoshi
Jun. 11th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
Here via my f-list, and I'm about to link here. This is a great post (and I can think of at least one friend who really needs to read this about ten years ago, so I hope I can get her to take a look).
griffen
Jun. 11th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
Wow. This should be a checklist for people hitting the job market or going out to find a partner. Do they do any of these things? RUN AWAY.

Also, this sounds an awful lot like a lot of fundamentalist-leaning churches/cults.

Thanks, awesome post. Propagating.

Edited at 2010-06-11 10:30 pm (UTC)
mama_hogswatch
Jun. 16th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
The problem comes in, in my opinion, not because we don't KNOW these are bad behaviors so much as they're not exhibited immediately in first flush badly enough to overcome the shininess of a new relationship. I find that it tends to creep in.
teenygozer
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just, wow. Yes, this describes perfectly the "friendship" I had with another woman, or at least the last 5 years of our 13 year relationship. I kept excusing her behavior because she used to be so *nice*, like a sister to me, for 8 years, but there were always good excuses for her being, well, kinda mean -- but that would change as soon as X, Y, or Z happened. She was just under stress!

I'm sorry to say it took her installation of a new on-site BFF (she got a roomie who hated me) for me to realize that both she and I were insane and in a sick relationship. She started leaving me alone & lonely for weeks at a time because she had her new BFF to hang out with, but made it very clear that I was supposed to wait by the phone and jump to her side when called. I suddenly had my epiphany and cut off all ties. It hurt like hell, but mostly because I was mourning the person she was for the first 8 years of our friendship. I don't miss who she turned into at all.

Thank you so much for helping me put this into perspective. Seriously, I literally found myself taking deep, cleansing breaths when I read this!
curtana
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Amazing post, just brilliant. I'm linking to it.
brownkitty
Jun. 12th, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
I'm linking to this, and having mild flashbacks.

Literally, one of the things that convinced me that I not only had to leave my first husband but actually COULD, was the friend who became my second husband telling me that it was ok for me to take a nap and that he would take care of my son.
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