Health and Human Relations in the Work-World

1. A personal secretary finds herself stuck in a job with a bullying and abusive boss. Fearing to express her feelings of irritation, anger and embarrassed humiliation ‘face to face’ and ‘face up to’ her boss, feeling vulnerable in the face of the unpredictable rage this might unleash in her boss, and afraid with good reason that it might be ‘rash’ to risk her job by doing so, she keeps ‘a straight face’ in the face of all the bullying. Over time her feelings come to the surface in her body itself – in the form of an ‘irritating’ and ‘angry’ red skin rash. Lacking a way to ‘face up to’ her boss, let alone ‘whack him one’ – even though she is itching to do so – the rash appears on her face, arms and hands. Plagued by itching, she scratches and irritates her own skin until it blisters and bleeds – an activity that provides, unaware to herself, some satisfaction in releasing her ‘bad blood’ towards her boss. But her feelings of embarrassment and shame about not being able to face up to her boss become displaced by shame and embarrassment about the rash itself. So she goes to her doctor. Not even thinking that asking her questions about her life world might have any diagnostic significance, the doctor is therefore completely blind to the metaphorical meaning of her ‘angry rash’. Adopting a conventional medical approach, the doctor’s sole interest is in diagnosing the rash as some form of skin disorder and treating it – prescribes a cortisone cream to. The problem is that she then becomes dependent on the cream, which far from helping her to become tougher and more ‘thick-skinned’ emotionally, has the side-effect of thinning her actual skin surface itself, making it more vulnerable to embarrassing sores and bleeding. Eventually she feels forced to either lash out at her boss and risk being fired or to leave her job and seek another boss. 2. The same secretary allows herself to be fully ‘bear with’ the feelings of anger, vulnerability, shame and humiliation she experiences. This means allowing herself to feel them fully in her body as a whole, neither repressing them nor being provoked to rashly reacting from them. She allows herself to be angry rather than ‘getting angry’. She also reminds herself that the pure awareness of an emotion, however intense is not itself an emotion or impulse but something innately emotion- and impulse-free. Letting herself feel and be angry makes her feel less vulnerable to her boss’s bullying. Instead the anger transforms itself into an awareness of the bullying that allows her to see it for what it really is – as the expression of a deep insecurity and vulnerability self in her boss himself. At the same time, by bearing her anger and feeling it fully in her body it transformed into a sense of a different self within her, a self strong enough to face up to her boss – or to anyone – in a calm, non-hostile but nevertheless firm and resolute way. By bodying this new self through her body language and tone of voice she feels ever less vulnerable to her boss and becomes even more aware of the vulnerability behind his bullying. Sensing this, he finds it strangely more difficult to be as bullying towards as before. For now it is he who is aware of feeling an insecure, vulnerable self behind his anger. Yet fearing this self, he reacts by intensifying the abusive bullying, only to find it met by a calm, resolute and firmly toned response from the secretary. Feeling ashamed of his intensified bullying and not able to provoke her into ‘getting angry’ the secretary is not fired. Not least, having been capable of bearing and bodying her anger she does not ‘somatise’ it in the form of an angry red facial rash, but is able to adopt an inner bearing to her boss that allows her to face up to his bullying without fear of being fired from her job.
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