How Do I Get Over My Anger After I Was Treated so Unfairly at Work?
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
by Karolina Christopher
Being treated unfairly at work can leave you with intense feelings of anger. If you’re struggling to move on, find out about how PTED may be stealing your peace of mind.
Following a difficult situation at work, Emily* found herself struggling. An issue around team responsibilities had caused a bitter argument, and HR eventually stepped in to mediate. However, instead of working towards a solution, Emily’s team leader was dismissive towards her and questioned her professional expertise.
Emily felt mistreated and side lined. What made things worse was the humiliation; she had invested a great deal of time and effort into the project, and the injustice of it all felt crushing.
As the weeks passed, Emily kept going over the events in her head and became increasingly preoccupied. She felt anxious, started losing sleep and sometimes had to call in sick to manage her stress and fatigue.
Although Emily saw herself as generally capable and rational, she couldn’t help being consumed by a debilitating anger. She was aware that things were getting out of hand when she caught herself fantasizing about swearing at her team leader and even dreamt about causing him physical harm.
Emily’s partner, who had been understanding at first, became irritated with her and told her to just let go of her resentment and move on. This made Emily feel even more trapped and lonely with her disturbing thoughts, and she started to question her sanity. She knew she needed help, but didn’t know where to turn.
Your Reaction is a Normal Response to Stress
If Emily’s story resonates with you, you are not alone – nor are you losing the plot! In fact, many people struggle with similar feelings in the aftermath of an adverse experience in the workplace.
Stressful events such as a dispute with a colleague, not being recognised for one’s hard work, or unexpected dismissal, can have long-term effects on employees’ physical and mental health. What these events have in common is that they are perceived as deeply unfair.
Lack of support can add insult to injury, for example, if you end up being criticised or blamed for the situation. This can leave you with self-doubt and confusing feelings of being violated.
Anger can also arise because the suffering seems pointless; you are convinced that the situation could have been avoided in the first place if people had acted differently. This means that it is difficult to get closure.
Seemingly disproportionate feelings of helplessness, anger, and distress can set in. As bitterness and resentment begin to fester, you may end up taking days off because the mere thought of going to work feels unbearable.
While this provides temporary respite, you worry that it could further aggravate the situation and put you at risk of disciplinary action if the sick days stack up. So, why can’t you just shake it off?
The type of workplace stressor outlined in Emily’s case is not necessarily thought of as trauma. Usually, we associate the word trauma with having survived some kind of life-threatening event. However, trauma be caused by any event that overstretches our ability to cope.
Unable to manage her 'out of control’ feelings, Emily was stuck in a painful place of ruminating. While many people are familiar with the term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), fewer have heard of PTED, which stands for Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder.
Michael Linden and colleagues (2007), who first wrote about PTED, explained that this type of trauma is caused by a sudden, unexpected negative event which creates shock and confusion in the victim. Once the initial shock has subsided, problems continue if the situation is mismanaged or left unresolved.
For example, if your manager asserts their authority in such a way that you have no option but to accept an unsatisfactory outcome, this can lead to a sense of powerlessness. What sets PTED apart from work related stress caused by, say, a noisy working environment or excess workload. is the element of perceived injustice.
Feeling that your value is called into question can lead to resentment and recurring thoughts of revenge. It can leave individuals vulnerable to depression and even lead to suicidal thoughts.
The psychological processes that ensue from such abuse can be very painful. It hits particularly hard when the employee had been putting in their best effort and thought that things were going pretty well.
If you recognise these signs, and if you notice that they affect your day to day well-being, relationships, and quality of life, it is important not to brush them off.
What To Do Next: Focus on Self-Care
Unfortunately, conflict in the workplace is all too common, and if the cause is not addressed effectively, frustration, anger and feelings of helplessness might escalate. Leaving your job is probably not an immediate option, so it is important to take some steps to support yourself.
If you have been going through a difficult time, it is important to be gentle with yourself. What happened was most likely not your fault, nor could you have changed the outcome.
First off, support yourself through a daily routine. Regular meal- and bedtimes, healthy food, relaxing with some nice music and perhaps a hot bath after work can help relieve some of the immediate stress symptoms, if the conflict is fairly recent.
It may also be a good idea to see your GP. If you believe that you are being bullied at work and want to speak to someone in confidence, you can contact the National Bullying Helpline.
Bitterness can be really tricky to deal with. Not only is it difficult to handle in ourselves, but it can make it hard for others to be around us when we are full of bitterness and spite. Even worse; we are fully aware of the fact, and we hate being around ourselves in this state!
In order to soften bitterness so that you can let go of it, self-kindness is important. It is understandably painful to be left without closure, to have no satisfactory resolution to an unfair situation. But letting resentment eat away at us means that we continue to re-live the pain and hurt of the injustice inflicted on us.
It is important to validate our inner experience, acknowledge the pain and despair, and then practice letting go. Accepting that unfair things happen in this world can help. Try to be patient with yourself as this is a process that can take some time.
Do something you enjoy. Reconnect with things that uplift and nurture your well-being and focus on your own positive experience. This builds a sense of empowerment.
If you are struggling with the emotional impact of a conflict at work, talking to a trained professional can help. Psychotherapy and counselling offers a space to share your thoughts and feelings in a confidential, supportive space, so that you can release them and find ways of moving forward.
If this sounds like something that you might be interested in, you are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a 20-minute free consultation. I offer integrative psychotherapy and therapeutic arts online via Zoom.
* Names and details have been changed
Linden, M., Rotter, M., Lieberei, B. and Baumann, K. (2007). Posttraumatic Embitterment Disorder: Definition, Evidence, Diagnosis, Treatment. The University of Michigan.