Boss Labeled Me With A Personality Disorder!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about personality disorder label:

My immediate supervisor has suggested to me in private conversation that she believes that I have a “passive aggressive personality disorder,” for all intents and purposes a diagnosis, even though she is not trained in any aspect of human psychology or any way affiliated with any medical or health profession (we are a financial services firm).In twenty years in the workplace, including recent positions requiring the highest government security clearances and routine psychological evaluations, no trained specialist or otherwise has ever suggested this or outright said it to be the case, let alone any other “disorder.”

Not having heard this term before, I looked it up on the National Institute of Health website and I can see where some of her concern would be understandable and I did not feel her belief was completely out of line and remain prepared to work with her to resolve the situation. It is in now way a hostile relationship. Where I see the problem and where I would like advising is that I have started to notice that my co-workers are starting to make reference are allude to this “diagnosis” when corresponding with me about difficult issues. Believing that the discussions where this theme was broached were confidential, I am at a loss how others have started to repeatedly use this term with corresponding with me, its obviously more than coincidental and I have started to collect this documentation.This is extremely troubling to me in that as far as I can tell, I may have been “labeled” with a “personality disorder” by co-workers. I can only imagine how some future employer might react to someone saying I have a “disorder.”1) Am I justified in being concerned? 2) If so, what is the best way to address the situation? 3) If the matter persists, what are my recourses?

Signed, Labeled

Dear Labeled:

You have listed the questions well that should be addressed, and I’ll do what I can to answer them: 1)Am I justified in being concerned? Yes, you have a three-fold reason to be concerned a. the way your immediate supervisor reads you, b. the way you read your self and c. the label of passive/aggressive that you say you has been communicated to your co-workers. You provide no description of what behavior or interaction might have caused your immediate supervisor to say you have p/a personality disorder. Conferring with her and appropriate counselors about that should merit consideration. You have begun that by investigating what is the meaning of the term and in reflecting on how some behavior on your part might have provoked her assessment. 2)If so, what is the best way to address the situation?

Whether or not she should have confronted you with such an assessment and whether or not she is qualified to do so, the fact she said that you deserve a thorough conversation with her to learn what prompted her telling you that, and hopefully a plan might be set out collaboratively that will make interaction between you two tolerable if not harmonious. Since you have learned that co-workers are talking/corresponding about you using the term your immediate supervisor used, it is natural to think that she initiated its use and shared that with co-workers. And it is possible that she did. But maybe she didn’t.

Accusing her of that will not tell you if she did or if some co-worker or someone else first used it. The important thing is that she needs to know that you have are disturbed by others using this label and that as you wrote: “others have started to repeatedly use this term with corresponding with me, its obviously more than coincidental and I have started to collect this documentation.” She should aid you in acquiring the kind of psychological assessment to learn if that term might apply to you, and if it does, to enable you to get professional help that can help you cope and put this behind you.

A qualified professional might give you a clean bill of mental health or might confirm your supervisor’s layperson assessment. If you get a clean bill of health, she should apologize. But then you and she, the supervisor, still have to come to an understanding about how to work together amicably. If the psychologist/psychiatrist agrees with her label, possibly your supervisor should be involved in how to enable you to find a way to cope and work through that.

I had a number of exchanges with an expatriate from Yugoslavia who was working for British Airways in the United Arab Emerits. Because his boss was frustrated with his complaint about others not following the rules, he was sent for psychological evaluation. Naturally he was worried that he might be fired. Fortunately, he told me that he was evaluated by an Australian psychiatrist and given a clean bill of mental health. So he was able to keep his job. I mention this only to suggest that working through such a situation can be stressful and will take patience and persistence as his did. 3) If the matter persists, what are my recourses? Since you have a 20 year record of employment and have had “positions requiring the highest government security clearances and routine psychological evaluations, no trained specialist or otherwise has ever suggested this or outright said it to be the case, let alone any other disorder,” you have a right to fight your supervisor labeling you as having a personality disorder. You could report her to Personnel or Human Resources in an effort to make her look bad. However, I doubt that such retaliation would resolve the interaction between her and you or between co-workers and you that provoked he unqualified labeling.

The fact is that psychologists/psychiatrists are not the only ones who can say some has a personality disorder, however, unwise it might be to do so. But since she was unqualified, you can speak candidly with her to say you think that such a label from one who is not qualified professional was wrong. Her pasting on you with that label hurt. And now you want her to help you be seen as individual qualified for the position you hold and not as one with a personality disorder.

If the labeling persists, you can confront those who mention that by candidly saying to them, “I want to work with you and others on the tasks at hand and to do so in a cooperative way. Can we do that without labels such as you have mentioned?” Or if your documentation reveals a pattern of being labeled with a personality disorder, you may want to enlist your supervisor in acquiring the cooperation of your work group to stop such labeling. Depending on what you learn and agree to with your supervisor, she or you might disclose that to your work group and enlist their support. People, who have been asked to support one of their number, can be very supportive; of one who has a real physical or personality problem and in your case one whose problem might be being falsely labeled. Yet another option is for you and your supervisor or those above to transfer you so that you might put behind you this unfortunate stressful boss-bossed and co-worker environment.

Hopefully you will find the courage and poise to deal with this unhappy work experience. To live and learn is an on-going business. Reducing the uncertainties and conflicts within the workplace is what your next moves must address. Is it possible for you to at least pretend that you are a creative person and that this whole experience is one of learning? Is it possible for you to at least pretend to see the good in those with whom you work; to be a cheerleader and to see how you might make their jobs easier and more effective? Is it possible to pamper yourself just a little; to find some things that you enjoy doing outside of the workplace; and not to allow this matter to obsess you and to cause you to speak spitefully of those who have labeled you? Is it possible for you to at least allow these thoughts to prompt you to even find better ways to work through this and put it all behind you? I don’t want to expect too much of you or for you to require too much of yourself. My best to you during these next few weeks.Working together with hand, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden