What Is A Mama Bear?
A Mama Bear is a spirit animal who represents maturity, skill, competence, intelligence and ferocious loyalty to her young. She will rip to shreds anyone who dares to interfere with her cubs; her teeth ripping into the interloper’s bloody flesh, without remorse or concern.
In the context of the workplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Mama Bear is a woman or a mother with actual children (though she often is), but rather someone who nurtures the professional development of her “cubs” (her less experienced, younger protégées) as well as being a fearsome protector of anyone vulnerable to the destructive power of an inhumane authority (the boss, the system, unfair processes, etc.). Some people call their Mama Bear, “Aunty” or “Uncle.”
Being a Mama Bear is a wonderful thing. You’ve earned your stripes and can be rightly proud of your accomplishments, experience and wisdom. You know what to do when under pressure and there are no problems at work too large for you to solve. When you stand in your authority, you ooze integrity and you have a presence that fills a building. You have the power to inspire your colleagues and boost their morale.
Famous Mama Bears are Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, Detective Sgt. Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Kris Jenner and Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Here are the five signs you too are a Mama Bear at work:
1. Your Work Tribe Is Your Extended Family And Your Empathy Knows No Bounds
At work, you know everyone and most probably, you know stuff about each person no one else knows. Your compassionate heart is full of love and understanding about each person’s struggles and you see the good in them above all. You don’t judge their foibles, you take it as read your colleagues are human and no one’s perfect. You have the right words to say when they’re feeling discouraged and you don’t hesitate to share your kindness.
When a new person joins the work tribe, you’re the first to extend a hearty welcome and get to know them. You make sure your behaviour towards everyone is impeccable because your guts churn with guilt if you’re (inadvertently) the cause of someone else’s pain. You’re even that way when someone’s suffering has nothing to do with you, because you can’t fix it. You are always there with a sympathetic ear, a tissue and a comforting word and everyone loves and trusts you. You’re highly respected the go-to person in any crisis, whether work-related or personal.
On top of that, you do whatever it takes for the good of your tribe. You have a fierce sense of loyalty and justice and will not tolerate any of your “cubs” being short-changed. You’re the first to cheer them on when they get a promotion or pay rise. When they’re not being treated as well as they should be, you go to bat for them as their strongest supporter, sometimes even risking your own position in the company to do so.
2. You’re Great At What You Do
At work, there’s no one more competent than you. Even if others have more education and training, you have clawed your way to the top of your game because you care enough to have learned exactly how the system works. You want your organisation to succeed, so you do overtime, take work home – anything to boost the bottom line. Your employer’s success is so important because it’s what gives your work family their jobs and incomes – which in turn is how they feed their family.
You understand all the quirks of the outdated computer system, the shortcuts and the financial issues. Even though systems are far from perfect (because let’s face it, who has the money to get the latest fancy stuff?) you make them work for you. After a couple of sick days off, the workload is huge when you get back because no one understands the system like you do. Somehow you manage to complete tasks in half the time it takes everyone else.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, you take care of all your staff and customers so well they feel like the most important person in the world to you. Oh and did I mention Mama Bears have a supernatural ability to multi-task? Sometimes, the ill-advised are tempted to mistake your kindness for weakness. A client I once had was told by her bully boss: “Estella, you breastfeed your customers” as though nurturing good relationships with others was somehow degrading.
“Let Them Eat Cake:” You Love To Feed Your Tribe
3. Let Them Eat Cake: You Love To Feed Your Tribe
Special occasions are fantastic when you’re around. You always remember a colleague’s special day and nothing marks the occasion better than with food. You love to cook, perhaps even with vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden! When you make a special meal, you make a little bit extra so you can bring it into work.
Your colleagues love your cakes, lasagnas, sandwiches and pies. Good food makes everyone happier! Even the organiser of work-related events goes to you for advice. You understand the benefits of good nutrition, rest and sleep, time off and good healthcare, even though you’re more likely to give than take your own excellent advice.
4. You Give Everyone The Benefit Of The Doubt – Except You
To your own detriment, you’re the first to leap to someone’s defence when they behave badly. “Oh, he’s having a bad day,” you say, or “I’m sure she didn’t mean to come across that way.” It’s hard to believe there’s anything other than pure goodness at the core of someone’s being. Sure people can be difficult, but it’s usually because they’re hurting or they haven’t learned how to behave more skilfully. Even when it’s obvious the so-called “difficult” person is quite malicious, you feel it when their bad behaviour causes them pain. You wouldn’t wish ill of anyone.
You’re so used to considering how you impact others that the first thought to leap to your mind is: “I wonder what I’ve done to cause X’s behaviour?” or “what can I do to make a positive difference to X?” Eventually, when X’s behaviour turns downright nasty and starts blaming you for their mistakes or problems, you actually consider the possibility they may have a point.
You admit there was a mistake with the balance sheet this month and you could have been more careful when going over the numbers. Perhaps you aren’t as good at your job as you thought you were, or perhaps your particular skills aren’t a good match for this company after all. Each day you get to work, you become more hypervigilant, until it’s like walking on eggshells. Then, even though you’re stressed, you continue to be as considerate and caring with others as you’ve always been until exhaustion takes its toll.
5. But – You Can Be Naive
It’s likely fair to say you have more compassion than wisdom. Deep down, you believe in the just world hypothesis – “good things happen to good people.” This means you have blinkers on with regards to how nasty some people can be. Just because you see someone’s pain, it doesn’t mean they can’t be downright malicious. Not everyone shares your values, though it would be a better world if they did! It’s well-documented that the most empathic people are the best targets for narcissists.
You may have been painted into a corner by a nasty person at work; someone who’s jealous of your competence and resentful of your popularity. That person would love nothing better than for some dreadful fate to befall you so he can pick up your accolades. Or she wants you gone and if not, she will make your life a living hell until you do.
It so surprises you that someone can be utterly despicable that you flounder in disbelief for a while, which cripples your ability to take effective action. When you think about setting firm boundaries to reign in the bad behaviour, you feel like a ruthless bitch. You couldn’t possibly do that to someone! Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have all been a bad dream.
Except it won’t. The more you tolerate the petty tyrant’s bad behaviour, the more he learns how far he can push the boundaries. You have the relationships you allow. What’s even worse is no one in charge has any common sense. Surely they can tell how much of a drain this person is on the company resources? Morale is low, turnover increases and sales are down. Yet management seem to prefer this person over you. Even though you’re at your wits’ end, you continue to go above and beyond the call of duty, making sure your performance doesn’t suffer even though you do. You start to become fearful you will lose your job and economic insecurity looms large.
To Sum Up…
What to do? At times like these, you need your own Mama Bear who will look out for you and rip shreds into anyone who dares to harm you. Who’s there for you?
The good news, is, I will look out for you. When you join my list, you’ll discover that you’re not alone in going through this ordeal. I’ve got your back now and I’ll be walking you through this process, step-by-step, with information, advice and resources you can implement right away to help you work towards a better outcome.
But first, let’s get you started with my free guide: “7 Red Flags Your Work Stress Isn’t Your Fault: You May Just Be Working For A Closet Narcissist:“