Supporting Your Support

“People Explode. Natural Causes.”
– Repo Man (1984)

If you haven’t seen Repo Man, the quote is from a scene where a person has literally exploded all over the road from exposure to an alien corpse and the line is said by a shadowy government official trying to cover up the alien’s existence.

But in real life people do explode, just not usually literally – well yes, if they are wearing a suicide belt. Then yes, they do literally explode.

But, the belt explosion tends to be the last of a series of many smaller and metaphorical explosions.

There’s a explosion hierarchy of the religious terrorist down to the workplace/school shooters to the lesser considered people who implode – this would include suicides and those who appear determined to self destruct their lives, often through drug/alcohol addiction.

The scenario has become too familiar: a person feels trapped in a situation where they not are being promoted or recognized for their work or other workplace unfairness, they feel demeaned or alienated in the workplace which often results in behavioral changes that are self-fulfilling in that colleagues do end up gossiping and shunning them. Often the harassment spreads and instead of being bullied by one person, the harassment is from many people. It’s called Mobbing in workplace HR/Workplace Health and Safety parlance.

I visualize it as your co-workers are sharks in a frenzy and you’re the chum.

This certainly affects the victim’s productivity and the conspiracy that they feel is against them actually does form, because they have isolated themselves and no one wants to give promotions or good work assignments to creepy, bitter, unproductive or ineffectual employees.

These things apply to students as well. It comes down to a person being in a situation where they feel unfairly trapped and do not see any way out.

While an animal in a leg hold trap will chew off it’s own leg for a chance to survive, people seem to tip over that edge of  “Don’t care if I live as long as I take out my tormentors.”

Maybe the animal understands that it’s better to thwart your captor and escape, since you’re dead either way. Maybe if the animal could reason and calculate that it could live long enough to take out the captor when the person came to check the trap, they would wait to take revenge.

The Gavin de Becker book, The Gift of Fear, reveals that while the person is consistently miserable, the workplace is sort of safe and if corrective actions are taken, the chain of events that leads to workplace violence can be broken without anyone being harmed.

But, that’s only if people recognize the symptoms and act – because it’s when the person is suddenly cheerful that you have to worry. They are cheerful because they have picked the day everything is going to stop, they’ve made a decision that’s going to change everything, make people take them seriously, make them stop being tormentors.

For people who self destruct, the pattern is the similar, that sense of unfairness, being thwarted in their plans, rising frustration and little resilience or perspective to help them get beyond the disappointment or series of disappointments.

The self destructors may simply commit suicide – and again, we see a common pattern of behaviors, that, if disrupted, can take that person off the terminal path.

Or they may slowly dismantle their life, change their behavior to mask their pain and inability to cope, using substances to dull the emotions, engage in risky activities and sports, quit their jobs, their friends and reduce family contact. And eventually wind up dead or possibly street involved.

The current thinking on being bullied and harassed in the workplace has the same symptoms as post traumatic stress disorder.

I have no idea of what makes one person explode outwardly or implode, because  we do not all react the same to stressors; or even to the same stressors.

One person’s friendly banter is another’s sexual harassment.

It’s not always men who explode, there have been some women workplace shooters.

Men and women both suicide, although using different suicide methods. Men tend towards the more dramatic and violent means – using guns, hanging, car crashes; while women tend towards the pain avoidance methods of pills and gas ovens – unless they want to hurt or get back at someone by their death and then it’s the wrist slitting and hanging.

Medical Doctors are the best at suicide, since they know that any one method can fail so they will use 2 methods to ensure success. Plus, they have access to the best drugs.

As an aside, I often wonder about the ethics of discussing or of showing suicides in movies – on one hand you want to be realistic and on the other, not be a how to guide. Just as touchy as risking being a guide on how to commit murder and get away with it, I suppose.

Reading all about these events, thinking about people I have known who have self destructed – and thankfully don’t know anyone who has exploded outwardly.

Although I worked with a guy who was on that path – and when I alerted management to his high score on the de Becker checklist, I was told that I wasn’t an expert and that the at issue employee was “just a character”. Knowing that he considered me to be the bane of his work existence*, I knew that it was management who wasn’t the expert and I changed jobs.

What seems to start the person down either path is their sense of being treated unfairly.

We see this play out in society in non-violent means – litigation. How many people file civil lawsuits to right an injustice for the principle of it? Spending far more money to proceed with the lawsuit than they will ever recover at the end of it. Trying to achieve justice, a fancier word for fairness, we can do much damage to our lives and finances in that single minded pursuit.

And the second factor of what allows the person to travel down that path once “unfairness” puts them firmly on it, is the lack of a support system. Or an ineffective or inattentive or in denial one.

The person has no one to provide – or they reject – emotional support, perspective, a sounding board for solutions and options, they have no one to stay resilient and connected to reality for.

If the problem is in the workplace or school, then committing suicide to teach those people a lesson, ends up mostly hurting your family and friends and not your intended target(s). In fact, if you’re convinced that people intend you harm, then you suiciding is advancing their agenda and not harming them at all.

Another factor is losing your sense of self – replacing your idea and understanding of you and believing what you think other people think of you. This also impacts your resiliency, self-esteem and overall health.

Everyone experiences difficult times during their lives – the loss of pets, family or friends, moving homes or jobs or careers, starting or ending romantic relationships, and sometimes several of these stressful events at once. But you get through them, perhaps not the same as before; our experiences change us.

So, I return to the sense of unfairness as the thing that throws a person who could previously cope into not being able to cope. Unfairness seems to stymie our problem solving abilities, we don’t know how to rectify the situation, and it takes away our sense of power and ability to influence the situation.

We then go down the path of violence or destruction to others or ourselves – partly made okay by the social attitude of shoot now, ask questions later; if you can’t be famous, be infamous; and by the media coverage of the explosion events.

Perhaps the explosion people look at all the attention that other people have gotten for their workplace violence incidents; and then think  “I could do it bigger and better.”  Competitive copycats occur.

Maybe, the implosion people, convinced that nothing they do will matter, just destroy themselves, thinking themselves unworthy to take others with them.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel trapped, treated unfairly and your sense of self and perspective is altering or rapidly skewed – talk to people.

Family, friends, strangers on the street if you have to. Find out if your workplace offers an employee assistance program. Especially talk to your doctor.

If you see someone floundering in that situation, offer support, an ear, an option that they can explore – maybe it’s filing a workplace grievance or changing jobs, maybe it’s reporting the school bully over and over and over for as long as it takes to get someone to listen.

Nothing can start to invigorate a person as much as having an option to get out of the trap. Especially taking the steps to regain control and alter the situation.

Remind them of past events that were difficult and they got through, help them get back their sense of self and resiliency; get them out of their collapsing worldview, increase their perspective and divert them to a better path towards positive action and change.

A last note about unfairness. Our brains can really rationalize being accepting of bad situations or events. Many will stay in a job that’s not a good fit or  that depresses them,  because of the benefits, pension or salary. But, these things don’t really help if it ruins your health, shortens your life and you never collect that pension.

People do explode through predictable and the sadly common social processes of bullying, discrimination and isolation – but what we all need to do is to make those processes uncommon and disrupt the processes in progress enough for ourselves or someone we know to escape the cycle of doom.

Remember, as they say, the life you save may be your own.