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Help! I Have A Target On My Back At Work

9653422798_36e4e06b5dI met with my friend Samantha yesterday for lunch. She told me a bizarro story about her performance review. “Cherilynn, it was like a Jekyll and Hyde experience. He (her boss) came in all nice and smiley and then he absolutely TURNED! He turned into somebody else!”

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…
She described him as going from Mr. Everybody Likes Him At The Office guy to somebody who was downright evil. She said after they casually greeted each other, he shut the door and then he changed. He shifted into a lower speaking voice, and began criticizing her and accusing her of crazy @** stuff. He said she was missing deadlines and refusing to follow instructions. (She hadn’t). Then he told her the following:

“I know you have done amazing things and done great work at all of your prior jobs and at this one. I realize that you motivate people, and that you are incredibly skilled at what you do. But you better know now, you will be doing NONE of that here!” O-M-G!

Samantha said he was red-faced, scary, and actually wild-eyed. She realized in that moment (poor thing) that she had been taken in by someone who was clearly her nemesis. He had become a new leader at the organization just a few months prior to this “performance review.” Samantha liked him, thought they had a good relationship and had consistently gotten rave reviews. Seven people had already been dismissed that week by this new boss, but Samantha thought she was okay. Until that performance review. Her days were numbered.

Another Sad Story – Have You Ever Been Here?
I was telling the story to my girlfriend, Trish. She could relate to Samantha. Trish loved her job, working as a dedicated and loyal employee for 18 years. When her company got sold, there was a culture shift. Work there became very stressful with frequent change. A mean co-worker known for her usual negativity and bad behavior targeted Trish with the help of other employees in a similar frame of mind. Trish, too, had a target on her back.

When a respected colleague accused Trish of causing an employee to quit, she was shocked. “She left because of you,” the woman said. Turns out the employee who quit explained that HR and the once-respected colleague worked pretty hard to see that Trish would be blamed. It didn’t work because the person who quit refused to give in, and she later gave Trish the blow by blow.

What to do?
When you have a target on your back, it is understandably hard to hold your chin up, not be anxious, and to know what to do. Here are some ways that my clients and friends have overcome these difficult circumstances:

1. First and foremost, be compassionate to yourself, seek out support.

Both of my friends were in deep need of the support of trustworthy people separate from their companies. They really needed and deserved to hear that this was not their doing. They needed to hear that this issue was definitively the issues and egos of the other people involved. In fact, when you are dealing with sick, narcissistic or toxic people (and you are really good at what you do, well-liked and skilled), you may be the most susceptible to being attacked. This competence can be very threatening to disturbed, unconfident, insecure people. Unfortunately, that is just how it works sometimes.

2. Know that it is normal to be in a state of shock, and to feel deeply hurt and angry when something like this happens.

Being attacked, even surreptitiously, will get their sympathetic nervous system going and, therefore, someone in this situation might suffer a bout of lost sleep. In fact, one might feel more anxious or a little paranoid. Make sure you tell yourself that this is temporary and that you will be okay. Avoid caffeine and take ultra good care of yourself if you are feeling more jacked up.

3. Thirdly, it is also common to  question yourself during these times.

“Is what they are saying really true?”
“What could I have said or done wrong?”
“Is it me?”
“Am I really as bad as that?”

Good and helpful criticism couched with the intent to help and empower is not what I am talking about. This is when dark dynamics of human nature are being hurled at you. This is crazy making and the intent of toxic people is to make you question yourself and doubt your core. In these situations, go into your highest self. Do this however you can, either  by meditation, prayer or positive self-talk. Whatever it takes to counter this toxicity. If you are good at detachment, use it now. If you are poor at detaching, time to practice. Stay objective and control your emotions with trouble-making coworkers.

4. Be creative with how you decide to handle the situation.

I am a spiritual person and I do not believe it is ethical to go after anyone no matter how they come after you. It is just bad karma. So, no eye for an eye allowed. However, it is okay to protect yourself. It is also okay to do your best not to get set up and to try to advocate for yourself. Enlist the help of anyone you can trust . If there is no one, seek mentoring from someone outside the organization.

It depends on who you are, what you want, and what your goals are as to what you do in response to each unique situation. For Samantha, she decided she would do exactly as he had asked even though the goals he asked her to do seemed ridiculous. She pretended they were brilliant! Then, she asked for the goals to be spelled out with specifics and deadlines so she could have a paper trail as to what was expected of her. Meanwhile, she decided to do less for the organization and put more effort into her self-care. She realized she had been working late and skipping exercise, eating terribly and not practicing her guitar. She realized that she could be canned at any moment and decided “F-that!” It wasn’t worth it to her anymore.

As for Trish, she changed jobs and is now enjoying doing something different. Saying goodbye to that former life has been a process. Trish has felt sad, angry and hurt, but leaving has opened new doors. She is ripe with new experiences and challenges. It’s still difficult for her to talk about. The circumstances at the end simply didn’t match up with the years of success, accolades and camaraderie she had at her company.

Please know that if you are in this situation, it will all work out eventually. Trust that this is a process and that it is temporary.

Please comment and tell us if you have ever had a target on your back at work or in some other situation? Any crazy comments from your bosses, coworkers or among friends? What did you do? What did you learn? What did you say? Any advice for those in the middle of troubling situation.

Take care, cherilynnvelandSM

Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at Could you take the time to kindly follow me/Cherilynn on Twitter? Connect on Facebook too? I would really appreciate the support! And don’t forget Google Plus.


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Help! I Have A Target On My Back At Work

Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW

Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. Winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award in the Women's Issues category - Stop Giving It Away.

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APA Reference
, . (2014). Help! I Have A Target On My Back At Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2014
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