Something happened last week that has me wondering if I did the right thing, and I think I need some reinforcement (or gentle criticism, please) from all you eHeller’s.
It actually began several months ago at my workplace. I work in a building with about a dozen people on our floor, and we serve the public. I have good relations with most everyone in the office, but things are strained with a couple of them, though we pretend otherwise to keep tensions down. I avoid their company whenever possible, especially with the one who figures into why I’m writing today.
In late October there was a convoluted incident with a person on a floor above us, the result of which I felt horrible about already (those details have no bearing on this story). I had gone up to discuss it with that person on the upper floor where I profusely apologized. A little later I came downstairs to be ambushed by one of the women, and while she was not in any way affected by what occurred with the party on the upper floor, she had heard about it. She laid into me for a good minute, shouting loudly about how I should be ashamed of myself, what was I thinking, surely I have better things I should have been concentrating on, etc, etc. God and all the saints had to have heard. At both sides of the service counter there were embarrassed glances of pity and dismay, not to mention a second, shocked, worker about 4 feet away from the shouter.
I was mortified. And humiliated. Publicly. When younger, I was an introvert and was bullied in junior and high school. While I’ve striven to overcome that in the years since, this woman has always struck me as the type that used to torture me back then, and had always rather intimidated me since I had moved to this office. I guess I was right about her after all, but nothing like this was ever in my radar, though.
So what did I do? I threw up my hands and walked off, saying nothing; a pathetic little mouse slinking off like the scum of the earth. I spent the next week or so crying and talking to myself, losing sleep, wiling away pointless hours imagining all the things I should have done and said, which was even more pathetic. (I’ve been on medication for depression/anxiety/panic for a good decade or more, and had been successful in getting off of them for nearly a year before this nastiness. I’m happy to report that, while I was afraid that I may have to restart them again, I’m still managing without them.)
Fast forward to December. There was no apology for October; I had been assiduously avoiding this woman for weeks with an alertness bordering on paranoia, and had only just started to relax my guard. She had been making a point to greet me or try to talk to me whenever the opportunity arose, more often than she ever used to. The school-age introvert in my head is whispering that she’s setting me up for another punch, though the rational side of me is (mostly) discounting this. At some point earlier in December it dawned on me that this woman hands out little trinket bag gifts for Christmas, to everyone, and I started feeling dread. I had a small hope that she might just leave me out of the loop this year, considering. But that was not to be.
Monday morning I came to my desk and there it was. A little Christmas bag to me from her, and I’m sorry, but I felt sick. I knew immediately that I couldn’t accept it. Even if I could manage to accept it, then I’d have to find her later and THANK HER…? It felt galling. Like my face was being rubbed in it. I stared at the bag. Could I just reinterpret her gift as the pretend apology I never received and accept it? Where’s my grace? On some other planet, apparently. I have tried hard to be a good Christian during the course of my life, but I didn’t feel much Christmas spirit that day.
I waited until I knew she would be by herself, took the bag back to her, set it on the table gently, and quietly explained that I wasn’t comfortable accepting it. She wanted to know why. I quickly rehashed the scene those weeks back, which, I was not at all surprised to learn, she remembered quite differently. She was “sorry that I interpreted it differently,” (there’s my apology!) but at some point arrived at the belief that she was helping me. I started getting nervous and was looking around to make sure others weren’t coming near, and ended the conversation by pussing-out again, mumbling something about how she did so much more than that, and scurrying off.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time since then. I’m relieved. She doesn’t have much to say to me now. At the very least, what’s done is done; just writing this is hugely therapeutic. I wonder if I have overworked this whole thing and have made the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. I’m certain it comes off partially as some sort of revenge thing on my part. Does it look like the little wussy non-confrontational mouse put her foot down a little belatedly? Maybe. I want to apply the “polite spine” adage to this thing, but not sure it’s fitting very well. I’m finding it difficult, however, to toss out what little pride I have left and just accept the abuse hurled at me with no recourse. 1221-15
What comes to mind when I read your story is that you need to understand the “whys” of etiquette so that you are prepared when other people behave in ways that create an awkwardness. There are basic principles of living a decent life that, once you understand them, will help you confidently navigate those tricky relationship shoals.
Principle Number 1: “If You Are Not Part Of The Problem Nor The Solution, Mind Your Own Business”. In this case, it was your co-worker’s obligation to mind her own business because she was not part of the problem nor was she part of the solution despite her belief that she was. She is not a supervisor who was responsible for the working relationships between the subordinates under her management nor is she responsible for the interactions between department employees. When you resolved the issue with the other co-worker, the matter was over, done, kaput. You took ownership of your responsibility in the conflict, you initiated the resolution and you exhibited humility and grace in apologizing and for that you should take comfort and pride in having done the right thing. That is the genesis of having a polite spine.
The slate on that matter was wiped clean and you let someone who had no skin in the game steal that victory from you. Raising your hands in surrender and walking away without a word was an acceptable solution to the predicament she put you in because it is none of her business how you resolve your personal conflicts that have no direct bearing on her and you are under no obligation to explain it to her. But for future reference, a better solution would have been to look her directly in the eyes and say, “Pardon me for interrupting, but this matter has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and I fail to see how your input has any relevance. Now, excuse me, I have work to do.” Etiquette is great for taking control of an out of control situation so that you can control the tone and direction and making it quiet clear that everyone, not just you, needs to get back to work.
Principle Number 2: “You are going to encounter pushy, busybody people like your co-worker for the rest of your life.” And if you think they are all “abusive”, you will be a victim for the rest of your life. More likely they are just selfish people with overrated opinions of their own self-worth.
Principle Number 3: “Sometimes a token gift is just a token gift.” In my opinion, you made more of the trinket gift bag than the giver intended because you attributed motives to her based on your past experiences as a child. She gives everyone in the office, regardless of her feelings about them, a token gift bag. It would have been extremely ill-mannered, evil and awkward if you had been the only person in the office to have NOT been given one. What this says about the giver is that she is not an evil witch intent on making your work life constantly miserable, and believe me, there are co-workers out there in the workplace who would have been that evil. You attached all kinds of motives to this gift bag that were likely not valid at all. Sometimes a token gift is just a token gift. You rejected a small gift and she, rightly, asked why and in explaining, you re-opened a situation that was better left closed but barring that, you should have resolved your angst with this co-worker much sooner, especially since you know she has a history of giving these little gifts every Christmas. The incident several months earlier and the giving of giftbags are two completely separate actions that have nothing whatsoever to do with one another but you’ve now connected them as if the giving of this gift bag to you was some nefarious plot to further bully you.
I know you won’t like this but you came across as looking petty and weak when you chose to return the token gift bag. Are you really never, ever going to say, “Thank you”, to this woman for anything? How do you function civilly in a work environment not routinely thanking your co-workers for things they do to assist each other? If you didn’t want to face-to-face thank her, send her an email, “Thanks for the gift bag”, and then regift to a homeless person or someone else. But you’ve now placed your co-worker in an awkward situation because next Christmas she will give away those small token gift bags to everyone but you, at your request. And that will look odd to everyone because you, and only you, have been singled out to be different. Is that what you really want?
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Paragraph 7 seems a little melodramatic. A little gift bag, that was identical to the one everyone else got, made OP sick? I really don’t think there was any manipulation intended. Sounds to me like Coworker knows (even if she won’t admit it) that she was out of line, and rather than apologizing and clearing the air, she’s just going to be pleasant to OP and include her in gift exchange, and just hopes that the whole thing will be forgotten. OP, I know you wanted an apology, and you deserved one, but people aren’t always willing to admit they are wrong.
I think the appropriate thing to do would have been to take the gift, send a thank you email, and put the whole thing behind you. Also this comment- “I’m finding it difficult, however, to toss out what little pride I have left and just accept the abuse hurled at me with no recourse”- it does sound kind of like returning the bag was less about principles and more about retaliation. She embarrassed you, so you wanted to embarrass her by returning it. I agree with Admin that looks petty. Also, I don’t think it’s really a matter of pride to let her know that her comments to you two months prior rattled you so badly you can’t accept a token gift that was also given to everyone in the office. If anything, you’ve just informed her how much power she has over you.
Let it go, there’s nothing more that can be done. Also agree with Admin you’re in for an awkward time this year when people ask you/her why Coworker skipped you for the Christmas gift exchange.
Just a note – as someone who has terrible anxiety and depression, I can attest that feeling sick at the sight of something I associate with negativity is definitely accurate. For me, it’s an endless cycle of reliving the misery and mentally beating myself up and wanting to disappear – I have clothing I cannot wear because of ‘bad things’ that have happened while I’ve been wearing them. Frankly, it sucks and it does make me sympathise a little with the OP.
I sympathise, too. However, if it’s something that affects you at the workplace, you should try to work on that. That’s what therapy was invented for, to lessen the impact that feelings you cannot help have.
Well, this certainly brought back memories! I had a young, male co-worker who liked to pop into my work area when he wasn’t busy, and chat. He’d been warned several times about that by both me and my supervisor; we both liked him, but wanted him to stick to his business. He improved and we got along fine. He popped in one day with a legitimate business question, and I answered him. We were alone in the room when another co-worker walked in as I was answering his question. She wasn’t a supervisor for either of us, but liked to take control. She harshly ordered him back to his work area with blistering words about his “socializing” then turned on me for “encouraging him,” before walking out in a huff. I assured the dismayed young man that I would explain and sent him back to his station. Then I walked to this lady’s area, and seeing that we were private, told her in no uncertain terms that she had mis-read the entire situation, that I was fully capable of letting the young man know if he was bothering me, and that, as she was NOT my supervisor, she should not correct me, and never, ever scold me like a child again. This same lady gave everyone in our small company a gift at Christmas (she was a well-known brown-noser) and that year, yep, she gave a gift to everyone BUT me. And what did I do when my astonished supervisor (who I’d told about the above situation right after it happened) asked me if I really didn’t get a gift? I laughed and said apparently the co-worker’s Christmas spirit didn’t quite reach as far as me, and shrugged it off. It truly made her look bad and her intended effect of punishing me didn’t happen. I was far from hurt, I was amused.
OP, I agree with what admin has said. I would have accepted the gift, shot off a thank you by email, and I would have already said something quietly and privately to that co-worker shortly after her scene, about yelling at me. I also agree with the things she said you did right. It’s a learning process for us introverts — hang in there!
I agree with the advice offered. Notwithstanding, you are under no obligation to accept a gift. Especially if doing so creates such angst. However, going forward, you need the tools etiquette offers AND the tools of therapy. It is apparent from your self-reported internal dialogue that the past isn’t resolved. Here it is intruding into the present. NOT your fault, but your issue to resolve. So take Admin’s excellent advice. AND get help. OH! And “managing without” your medication is NOT a victory if taking them will improve the quality of your life. Invest in yourself with all the tools at your disposal with the understanding that they are there for your benefit. Etiquette? A tool. Self’knowledge, mindfulness, therapy and medication? Tools. Use them. They work.
OP, I’ll also add that when you walked away from a screaming coworker that was making others uncomfortable, I believe you did the best thing. You could have stayed and endured the screaming, but that would have just prolonged the situation for everyone. You could have spoken back or screamed back, but that probably would have just escalated the situation. As much as we like to imagine that there are magical words to shut up people like that, real life doesn’t typically work that way. Instead you walked away, leaving her there in the middle of her rant, and everyone else focused on the drama *she* is causing… and probably feeling a certain amount of friendly sympathy for you being the target of it.
Now back to what Stacey said, because it is worth re-reading.
Stacey – It’s clear to me that the meds did not work well because the goal of meds, in cases like this, is to assist the patient into understanding and dealing with emotions, not necessarily to erase those emotions. It sounds as if OP did not undergo therapy when she was on the meds or that that therapy was not helpful; either way, she is long overdue for effective therapy, at the very least. She is filled with such toxic self-talk that it colours how she sees herself, and while others cannot see those colours they can certainly see how it affects OP, and that then colours their interactions with her and her perception of those interactions, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle that starts and ends with OP, and is no longer connected to any abuse she experienced back in school. She’s creating it now. She doesn’t need to blame herself for this, just to understand and recognize that she’s got some pretty serious issues that she needs to deal with, pronto. Nothing to be ashamed of, just health issues like everyone has.
Agree with Dee completely.
I agree that all of us have issues,to resolve of one sort or another. There is NO shame in that… whether our challenges are physical, familial, emotional, social and/or financial. We’ve all got something… or several somethings…
No one should be yelled at by a colleague, but I think there are exceptions. We don’t know what OP did, and even if it had something to do with the floor up, the ramifications could affect the OP’S floor as well. Also, if the situation was a dangerous one, and people on her own floor were afraid of it being repeated there with them, I can see a colleague becoming scared, hostile and confrontational about it. Trying to yell over the top of the woman probably couldn’t be done. So just walking away was your best action. I understand your feelings about the gift bag, but I take anything anyone gives me for free, whether I like them or not. If I didn’t want it, I’d give it away.
It is not the role of co-workers to correct other co-workers. That is the role of supervisors. If she felt that there were ramifications that could affect the workplace, then she should have gone to a supervisor, and let him/her handle it.
The gift bag isn’t the issue here. Frankly, it makes perfect sense to me that you felt sick when you saw it. The issue here is whether you want to continue to work in an environment where someone has the power to make you feel sick.
As someone who’s been there, done that, I can state there are few things worse in regular life than a toxic work environment. But sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is because we’ve been bullied to the point where we don’t realize that we don’t have to work in bad environments. Believe it or not, it’s possible to get jobs where you don’t have to dread seeing coworkers.
So, there really issue is what you want to do moving forward. Is the situation at work something you can fix, or is it just something you wish you could fix? Can you do something with your coworker(s) so that you feel nothing bad all day, every day, by seeing their faces? I’m not talking here about never having tense moments. I’m talking about being tense and anxious just because you’re in the same room with someone.
If the situation is not going to improve, I urge you to seek another position. Unemployment is at record lows right now, and there’s work to be had out there. When you go for your interviews, check the atmosphere of your potentially new place and pick one that soothes your stomach.
Also, I’m concerned by your statement: “I’ve been on medication for depression/anxiety/panic for a good decade or more, and had been successful in getting off of them for nearly a year before this nastiness. I’m happy to report that, while I was afraid that I may have to restart them again, I’m still managing without them.” What is this “managing” thing? Life shouldn’t have to be about “managing.” You’re supposed to be enjoying your life. And what is wrong with medication that helps you enjoy your life? If you think your meds might help at all during this stressful time, why not take them? You’re just making things harder on yourself by denying yourself aid. I have the feeling you do that to yourself a lot.
I value etiquette for a number of reasons, but the most important is that it makes life easier for everyone involved. Have etiquette (and compassion) for yourself. The situation your describe is not healthy. Take steps to fix it by getting relationships with all your coworkers that allow you to relax in their presence or go find another work environment where you can be at ease. There’s nothing “polite” about suffering.
Are you kidding me? The advice is to accept a gift from someone who humiliated and publicly scolded OP? And to thank her for such an unwanted, intrusive gift. Wow.
I have to disagree. I’m sorry, but I don’t accept gifts from people who treat me badly, unless it’s a gift that comes with a sincere apology. The reason for bad coworker giving the gift to OP is so that bad coworker can save face and doesn’t look bad for skipping OP. OP has no obligation to go along with bad coworkers motives. Regardless of OP’s inner monologue or our interpretation of the situation, OP who is living the situation believes bad coworker to be a bully. I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept a gift from a bully.
OP–I would have returned the gift to bad coworker. More then likely, I would have done so without a thought as to whether she was in private or not (the same courtesy she gave you). I would have simply said “Bad coworker you chose to publicly humiliate me by yelling at me and scolding me about an event that you were not a part of in anyway. As such, I cannot accept a gift from someone who would treat me in this manner.” Then I would have left the gift and walked away. For those who say–oh but what about next year. Who cares about next year? That’s not OP’s issue that’s bad coworkers issue. Who knows where their relationship will be in a year–but to state that OP must accept a gift from a bully to simply keep office peace is ridiculous. I would have expected more advice on what OP can say to other workers who inquire when OP doesn’t get a gift next year.
As far as the rest, work on your spine–it will do you wonders in the work place. I find it best to rehearse tense conversations and practice my responses.
Lastly, admin’s last comment is almost infuriating to anyone that has been bullied. You have taken the blame that should rightly be bad coworkers and instead placed it on OP for making an awkward situation (though she had no control over receiving the gift, didn’t want the gift, and wants no gift giving relationship with OP).
I think you might be overly sensitive and allowing your own personal baggage to completely color the situation.
I have a coworker whom I adore. We were friends before we became coworkers. She was the one who arranged for me to be interviewed at the company when I was looking for work. We have worked together for over a decade at this point. And a handful of times in that decade she has wildly over-reacted to something I’ve said or done.
She has a mild form of dyslexia that wasn’t diagnosed until she was an adult. In school she really struggled and even her own father spent her entire childhood calling her stupid. Because of this she is hyper-sensitive to anything that might be considered the slightest bit critical.
For example: She often has me proofread and edit any important emails before she sends them out. So one day after I finished proofreading and editing an email, I dropped by her desk. I recommended a couple grammar books that I found really helpful: “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”, “Whose Grammar Book is This Anyway”, and “Elements of Style”.
I offered to bring her my copies with a suggestion that she might really like the fun style of the first two. That they wouldn’t remind her of text books and she might find them helpful.
This was a conversation held in her cubical, at an office appropriate volume, with no one else around. But she got very red-faced, nodded and said “fine, I have to get back to work.”
She gave me the cold shoulder and was very short with me for the next couple of weeks.
Finally, one day she took me aside at lunch and told me that I’d humiliated her in the office and let everyone know how stupid I thought she was. She wasn’t sure if we could be friends anymore after I’d been so horrible.
I assured her that I didn’t think any such thing. She is very intelligent and fantastic at her job. She just has a little trouble with written communication and I was trying to be helpful. I let her know that I would never bring up the topic again and I was sorry to have so thoroughly upsetting her.
But here is the thing: She was sure that when I was talking to her everyone on our team was watching, listening in, and judging her. When no such thing happened. No one else had any idea we’d even had the conversation. They’d noticed she was suddenly treating me differently but had no idea why.
In her mind: I’d shown up in her cubical, loudly pronounced her incompetent and stupid, lorded my superior writing skills over her, condescendingly offered to bring in some children’s books to help her, and then flounced away. To this day, that is how she feels the interaction went.
I, and the women who sit in the cubicles on either side of her, don’t remember it that way at all. I checked with them to make sure that I wasn’t louder than I thought. Neither of them recalled the conversation at all. Which lets me know it could not have been the spotlight inducing moment of shame and horror my friend thought it was.
But there is no convincing her. She remembers it how she remembers it. That is her truth.
I wonder if your situation might be similar. You remember all these people looking on in horror and shock as your coworker loudly berated you. She doesn’t remember it that way at all. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between the two.
In which case, she might have noticed you seemed overly upset by the conversation so she tried to be friendlier. And at Christmas, of course she included you in the gifts that she gives everyone. Why wouldn’t she? Only to find out that you had been so traumatized by a conversation two months previous that you couldn’t possibly accept even the smallest of gifts.
You know you have left over trauma for being bullied. You know you suffer from anxiety, I do as well, so you know how it tends to make mountains out of molehills: “The barista said ‘How are you?’ and I replied ‘Venti Iced Chai, please!’. Now this barista is going to think I’m a horrible person because I ignored her greeting. I can never go to this Starbucks, ever again.”
This is a coworker. A woman with whom you work. You don’t have to be friends.
I would return her greetings. I would act like nothing uncomfortable ever happened between the two of you. And next Christmas, should she give you a little gift bag, go ahead and accept it.
If you should feel she behaves inappropriately towards you in the future, do NOT let it fester for 2 months. Take a day, or two. Compose an email clearly stating how you felt her behavior was out of line and asking her to approach you differently in the future.
This will allow you to make the message clear, concise, and professional without the anxiety of having to talk to her possibly creating a second scene.
I had the same read as you and completely agree with everything you wrote.
Recently I found myself in the unenviable position of being the trapped witness to a nasty argument – I made no comments at the time and left at the earliest opportunity. Separately, both people wanted to hash it out and get my take on how wrong and awful the other person is and I had to let them know they were equally wrong and awful! 🙂 Both remembered the other as being completely insulting and outrageous and neither of them remembered being anything other than perfectly reasonable and civil.
It’s quite possible this coworker from this letter was a screaming monster, but the LW’s own narration shows her to be a bit melodramatic and overly sensitive. LW wants us to trust that the details of the issue with the upstairs person are irrelevant – I don’t! I have seen plenty of people overstep their bounds (usually citing their good intentions and desire to “help”) and act shocked when called out on it and can’t help but wonder if that is one of the details that has “no bearing” on the problem. And refusing the token gift was childish. I hope the LW takes what you wrote to heart because I think it is great advice.
Also, to the LW – “introvert” has nothing to do with social anxiety, shyness, meekness or the lack of a spine. You can be a shy introvert, but I know plenty of shy extroverts too. It is frustrating and irksome when introversion gets conflated with social anxiety and people talk of “overcoming” introversion like it’s some sort of deficit! There is NOTHING wrong with me or the way I move through the world – I see it as a strength, not a weakness. My tendency to listen and watch vs. insert myself into the center of things gives me a broad perspective that has served me well time and again. I tend not to overreact or jump to conclusions because I think before I act and speak and take the time to think of the other person’s perspective before I decide that I have been wronged and am owed apologies. DEFINITELY not something to overcome …
Lerah99 – I agree with what you’ve written here. Sometimes people see things that aren’t there, and it complicates a relatively simple situation. I wonder if either your coworker, OP’s coworker or OP herself have something such as Borderline Personality Disorder. Untreated, it makes even simple interactions almost impossible to navigate. If OP is affected by that (herself or her coworker) she can get some comfort from that knowledge and then try to work around that. It helps if one can understand that sometimes the lens in which one views things are not the same as others’ lenses, and so the reactions are going to be vastly different and even upsetting.
Honestly, I was reading the letter and nodding along, going “this is how I would have reacted before I got in treatment”, and I have borderline. It really does make navigating relationships, whether personal or professional, a minefield, because it’s almost impossible to stop those niggling little thoughts about what if this person thinks this about me because of that thing I did (when in reality, that person has probably forgotten that thing). You feel everything so much more strongly than everyone else; you’re pretty much a slave to your emotions, and to your irrational, out of proportion responses, until you can get yourself proper treatment.
With treatment, though, it -can- be managed. I still have those niggling little thoughts (for instance, right now I’m having one about what if the people here go “oh, she’s got borderline, we shouldn’t listen to her because people with borderline are all liars”), but I have coping mechanisms. I’m telling myself that that thought is not a realistic one. It’s tiring sometimes, to have to always be on alert for my own thoughts and to figure out which reactions I’m having are in proportion and which ones are irrational, but I manage so much better in social situations now.
This is pretty much exactly what I thought when I read this. I have a tendency to be dramatic in my retelling of stories and often will say “he was screaming!” when I mean “he was speaking in an angry tone”, it drives my husband nuts and he’s always correcting me. It seems very possible to me that what the OP interpreted as yelling was just talk. She ought to have said something at the time, letting it fester for months made it super weird. And returning the gift made it mega-weird. I would call this a serious overreaction!!
Am I the only one who feels OP was coloring this one instance of unpleasant conflict unnecessarily with all sorts of personal baggage? If I am reading the situation correctly, she was already in an emotional state from her interaction with the other coworker. OP also makes note of the “other” people in the office who she has “strained” relationships with, which is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. The gift bag lady was already someone OP didn’t like because she *reminded* her of people who bullied her in school, although there’s no mention made (aside from this one incident) that the woman targeted her with ongoing bullying. Sometimes we have heated situations in the work environment, this one incident doesn’t seem to warrant months of angst. Instead of “assiduously avoiding this woman for weeks with an alertness bordering on paranoia,” wouldn’t a more professional and adult approach be to have a sit down with the woman and clear the air? OP notes that although the woman had been making friendly overtures, they were interpreted as a set-up for more “bullying.”
Returning the gift only adds to what I’m perceiving to be a level of drama completely created in OP’s mind. Introversion is one thing, elevating the severity of one incident for months culminating in an awkward passive aggressive gift return is another. Clearly the woman whom OP had been obsessing over for months did not have the same read on the conflict, now instead of resolving any hard feelings, this grand gesture of gift returning has only served to make things more uncomfortable–probably more-so for OP, because gift bag lady has probably written her off as a drama queen.
I think perhaps this is not so much an etiquette issue as a perception of reality issue and encourage OP to do what it takes to recognize thought patterns and actions that appear to be detrimental to her ability to function in the workplace.
I definitely agree with your first sentence, and think the OP is bordering on conspiracy theories if she thinks this coworker’s overtures are actually an insidious plot to further undermine the OP.
That said, I can’t think of a much more humiliating situation than being reamed out in front of your colleagues. While I think the OP is off base in her assessment of her coworker’s motives, I do sympathize with what I am sure was a traumatic experience. I’ve been dressed down once or twice in public (in both instances by a busybody) and I still remember it well, even though it was years ago (actually, in one case, two decades ago).
I think OP mishandled the gift situation, but not sure what advice I would give going forward. If OP has strained relationships already with several coworkers, and this scorned coworker is a gossip (something tells me she is) this story will quickly make the rounds and further alienate the OP.
I see that, too. I would guess that if one has a history of being bullied, it would be difficult to establish a new attitude and approach to conflict.
I think the OP would do well to take the admin’s advice and work on winning that mind-game, and she(he?) will find that the trials get easier.
I had the same thoughts.
I think that a good thing to do when something like the original incident happend is to sit down and write a list of the things that the other person said that were hurtful and unfair. Then to request a sit down with a superior to discuss what this person said if it still feels necessary, rather than let it hurt for months. This allows the person who feels hurt to first read over their own memories of the incident to see if there are actual bad statements. If the write-up turns into “well, it wasn’t what she said but how she said it” and “by itself this isn’t so bad, but my bullies used to say that”, then perhaps it’s time for the writer to sit back and take some perspective. To be honest, I read the OP’s whole letter, and they spend sentences explaining the “how” where they could’ve been explaining the “what”.
I completely agree with your first sentence. It does sound, from OP’s account, that the coworker was out of line and rude. However, I think people can be rude or have inappropriate moments without it being evidence of sustained dislike or bullying. If coworker had given out gift baskets very obviously to everyone BUT OP then yes, that would be malicious and bullying behaviour.
I agree with many of your points. It would have been better to professionally talk this through to clear the air. Returning the gift only made the situation more uncomfortable. She should have thanked her for the gift. Letting this fester for months solved nothing and only increased the anxiety. I also feel that the coworker had absolutely no right to open her mouth over a matter that did not concern her. I fully agree with Admin’s response.
However, I can see why OP reacted the way she did. As a survivor of bullying in school, I experienced PTSD symptoms beacause of it and sought therapy which helped immensely. While going through all of that, I never knew was what was behind anyone doing nice things for me. I didn’t know who I could trust. I can truly relate to what OP was feeling. It is a helpless, lonely feeling that being relentlessly bullied can create. I probably would have done the same thing as OP when I was younger.
Even now, the scars remain. They have lessened but will never go away completely. I still avoid unpleasant people like the plague unless forced to deal with them which, fortunately, happens only rarely. I still have a tendency to not stand up for myself if angry tones are used with me in that moment. (I usually cannot think of anything to say in response until 2 hours later).
I think given her past history and current mental health needs, OP handled the situation the only way she was emotionally equipped to do it. What’s done is done.
I have to agree with Admin also on this one. While I believe OP handled the original confrontation (with the upper floor coworker) correctly, and did the best she could with the rant, the returning of the gift bag was petty and a slap. I would have seen it as a non-verbal apology and accepted it and moved on. And, like Admin, I agree that going without meds, when they may be needed, is silly. I didn’t like taking them either, but knew I functioned much better when I did. They are tools. Like my calculator, computer, or cell phone. While I am now off them, thanks to a lot of therapy and support, I know they are there if I need them.
I can never understand how people could let someone have that much control over their thoughts and emotions.
If you are not confident of yourself, of your convictions, of what you believe in, you will second guess yourself replaying the scene over and over again in your head. I think one lie we tell ourselves is that everyone should like me and obviously in the real world, not everyone will like you and often not like you for illogical, emotional reasons. But truth tells you,”It’s OK because I know who *does* love me…my God, my husband, my kids, the dog, dear friends…so who cares what these other yahoos think.”
Anxiety disorders will do that to a person. There is no having control, your thoughts and emotions themselves take over, and without meds and therapy it is highly unlikely for the sufferer to take control back.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, like OP, I can understand it. I can relate to the overthinking, the analyzing of of every minute detail of an interaction, the perceived motives, the replaying of conversations in my head over and over and over. This has progressed into intrusive thoughts, depression, and panic attacks. Ultimately, I required therapy and medication to finally feel at peace in my own head. OP has said that s/he has struggled with many of these same issues, and it wouldn’t surprise me if OP’s reaction to this situation is related to that.
Anxiety is a powerful beast.
Take an emergency situation that would be absolutely alarming to the average person. Their child is in great danger. They’ve just been in a terrible automobile accident. The stove/faulty lamp/bad electrical wiring in the house has caught fire. A large pipe has broken and flooded everything.
Now apply that level of pure stomach-twisting, coherency-destroying, sadly irresistible fear to everyday situations such as talking on the phone, socializing with someone not well-known, or even in some cases leaving the house. That is my experience of what severe anxiety is like, and it does sound like the OP’s case is also quite severe. It’s actually only recently that I’ve got mine completely under control with very little medication (going on three years now) so I can understand how the situation, in her head, was far worse than it likely actually was in reality. I do sympathize.
I do, however, think that her anxiety is not well-controlled at all, and while I don’t want to tell anyone they should or should not be on medication, it’s like previous commenters have said – medication is a tool to help oneself, and one should not be afraid to use the tools at their disposal to have a full, anxiety-free life. If OP should need to use the tool of medication, that’s not a failing. I see it this way: it’s brave to admit one needs help, and even braver to actually accept that help.
I was horrendously bullied in school and beat up. I learned to fight and got pretty nasty, nobody ever believed it. Even if you do get help, you may always have it crop up at a weird time. I do think the OP needs more therapy to try to resolve what is still haunting her. There is also always the ‘director’s cut’ of what really happened and what someone else believes happened and they refuse to be dissuaded no matter if you can bring forth a full color HD recording of the incident which proves they have the wrong version. Not much can be done about that but moving on.
OP should have resolved this long before the holiday. And could have. The small gift should have been accepted graciously and if it couldn’t be tolerated, give it away (regift). Workplaces can be a minefield. I don’t disagree there. But, OP, go get some more help as you seem to be in need of more resolution.
Several people have said that the OP let personal baggage color the situation. Having been in her position myself…being a quite, introverted kid used to a small, country school, bullied in junior and early senior high school. These are the absolutely most formative years in your life and the rest of your life is a reflection of what happened then, like it or not. Some of us come out stronger, some of us (ME!) don’t, and then we spend out adult lives trying to sort out the issues.
OP, I nearly cried for you when you go to the part about your coworker jumping all over you. We tend to be the peacemaker types, don’t we? And when that happens, when someone sticks their nose in business that isn’t ours, and rip into us, our world collapses. I’ll never forget the day a “priest” ripped into me on the phone at work and not only disparaged me, but my mother as well (yeah). I got him off to my supervisor and then walked out of the room before I fell apart.
Here’s what I agree with: a token gift is just that. You got it because everyone else did, not to make up for something. I know, when you saw it, you couldn’t react with “normal” reactions…it was too soon. The best thing to do at that point is just let it go…put the gift aside, and at the first opportunity…when you get home…dump it. Secondly: your medication is there for you because something inside of you is broken. From one Christian to another…our wires are faulty because we’re falling apart. I take anxiety medication too…and it keeps me sane. 🙂
Finally…it might do you well to talk to someone, not because there’s something wrong with you, but a councilor can give you the tools to be prepared for “next time,” even if next time never comes.
I understand how you jumped to the conclusion you did, I was bullied as a kid as well and fought to repair the damages as an adult. It gets easier over time, once you feel comfortable in your skin and confident in yourself as a person.
I hope you can take the advice that the admin and others have for you, you will learn that most people do not have bad intentions, contrary to what we learned as kids.
I think your coworker wanted to pretend the scene hadn’t happened or decided that after that, it was settled since you walked away and she was done screaming. I think given that she included you in her gift giving, she was heated about the situation and lost her cool.
Wow, this submission made me really sad because you’ve let this woman live in your head for far too long.
It reminds me of the submission from last week where the older coworkers insist upon commenting on the LW’s appearance, choice of parking space, etc. They have an inflated sense of how valuable their opinion is and feel at liberty to express it at any time, no matter how inappropriately.
However, OP, she gave the gift to everyone in the office. She probably gave little thought to it, just dropped one on everyone’s desk. You are the only one who is overthinking it. And most people have to work with someone they don’t necessarily care for, or get along with, but that’s life, and you can’t let it make you miserable or color your actions so that you appear unprofessional.
We Christians have a problem with finding the fine line between what our faith requires us to be and being a doormat for everyone to walk on whenever they choose.
Jesus did not answer Herod’s taunts, but He did take a whip to the money changers in the Temple. There is room for righteous anger in the faith. I recommend leaving out the whip though. You would have had a hard time explaining that to Human Resources.
The woman who berated you was wrong and you did not answer back, but then you punished yourself for what you did not say to her in your own defense. Either say to yourself, “I did what my Lord would have done” or do as the admin. suggested and simply tell her it is resolved and it is none of her business. Don’t take it out on yourself.
The small gift was not meant as an insult, but neither were you comfortable in taking a gift from her. At least, returning it to her let her know how much she had upset you.
Perhaps she will be less willing to try to correct you if she realizes you resent it.
For the future, plan what you will say if she comes after you again. A catch-all phrase is good, “We will have to agree to disagree on that one.” and then walk away.
I feel for the OP. I don’t see it as not letting go of the past, or piling all her past issues onto this one incident. She was simply explaining to us, the readers who don’t know her personally, what her life has been like up to this point. My story is much the same. I was walked all over, taken advantage of, disrespected, because I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, etc. It has only been very recently that I’ve learned how it’s okay to push back, not take abuse, stand my ground.
The OP wasn’t overreacting by denying a gift some months later. The coworker was insanely out of line. Of course it would have been better to respond at the time to the berating, but she didn’t. But OP has every right not to accept gifts from people, whether ‘token’ or not. Honestly, I think I would feel the same way. She felt if she kept it, she’s be obligated to thank someone with whom she wasn’t comfortable with. I think that it’s good she was able to air her grievances to the coworker, instead of continuing to let it grow internally. The meaningless gift gave her an excuse to approach her.
And I don’t think giving the OP this ‘gift’ had anything to do with her apologizing to OP for past behavior. Maybe if it was a personal gift, or came with a note, taht would make sense. It’s obvious from her fake apology that she never thought she did anything wrong to begin with. Which makes me think she never gave the berating another thought, and thinks it’s okay to talk to coworkers that way.
I agree with Christina and I have been there, too. After a childhood of verbal, emotional and occasionally physical abuse, as well as being introverted, it took me a while to realize it was ok to stand up for myself. Younger me would have done much the same as OP and just walked away. I also would have spent weeks going over and over it in my head and what I should have said/done.
I realize the gift was just part of what the coworker does every year, but after what she did to OP, I can understand why OP just couldn’t accept it.
OP, I hope you can use some of the suggestions given here to stop drama in its tracks. It takes a while but you can learn to politely stand up for yourself. Good luck!
I agree 100% with you!!! She handled the gift nicer than I would have
This is the first statement I’ve agreed with out of all of these comments. Thank you for your empathy towards those of us who have experienced a near lifetime of emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse from our peers and our families. Some qualify this person’s reality as hyperbolic, but regardless, it is her truth.
I feel sorry for people who have been abused and bullied. I really do. That is horrible.
But I cannot abide this tyranny of the weak where we are all supposed to wrap the abused person in cotton to ensure they never have a bad experience again.
You cannot choose your feelings or neuroses, but you CAN choose how you react to them.
Someone says something and it brings back all that old trauma – ok, your feelings of trauma are valid. But you are an adult so you get to choose how you react to it.
The OP walked away for her berating coworker. That was a perfectly valid response.
But then she wallowed in her trauma for 2 months.
That was a poor choice of reaction. She could have done any number of things in those 2 months to deal with her feelings. Instead she choose to feel victimized. I don’t have any sympathy for that.
The OP says she has been through therapy.
So she should have the tools she worked on there to deal with it.
But rather than breaking out those tools and dealing, she just kept nursing her own victimhood.
Calling her on her poor choices isn’t a lack of empathy, it’s an expectation of maturity.
I understand that it’s her truth, but what about the other person’s truth? From the comments I’ve read, there seems to be a strong possibility that the OP’s view may be quite different from the co-worker’s. While I’m so sorry for the OP that whatever past history she has makes her see any interaction through such skewed, unhappy lenses, but if she knows her own perspective is skewed, the OP should be the one quest to get a more complete picture.
It’s her truth, but it might not be a rational truth. My truth today is that my boyfriend is angry with me for needing new glasses, that the optometrist thought I was stupid because I couldn’t remember the name of a medication I was on, and that the people I was talking to on Facebook think I was making stupid points in our discussion because I’m awkward on social media. Those aren’t rational truths – that’s my paranoia and anxiety talking, and I’ve had to learn how to recognise that. I developed BPD after a fair bit of emotional and verbal trauma at the hands of peers, so I don’t discount people’s trauma, but one of the first steps in managing the sort of anxiety that comes from that experience is learning -not- to listen to the part of you that’s just echoing what those tormentors told you all those years ago.
I have anxiety and also had an abusive childhood, so I can see why the OP had the reaction of feeling sick, and I know how anxiety builds things into much bigger problems in your head. However, you can’t just outwardly overreact to things, especially at work, and use anxiety as an excuse all the time. That’s just letting anxiety win and letting your illness control your life. She may have felt the way she did because of reasons beyond her control, but as adults it is our responsibility to eventually control how we react. She absolutely overreacted by returning the gift, and she needs to find ways of coping with anxiety and asking herself things like “okay, anything is possible, but is this probable?” when attributing evil motives to people. Therapy can help a lot with this, and in the meantime, talking to some trusted friends who know how you react to things might help too, OP.
I meant to add this to my earlier comment; the OP mentioned having been an introvert and bullied. I hope the impression left here is not that all introverts can be or have been bullied. Speaking as an introvert, a child and sibling of introverts, married to an introvert, and parent of one introvert (and one extrovert who we still claim must have been switched at the hospital), I know none of us ever allowed anyone to bully us.
Completely agree with admin. I am very insecure and have spent way too much time my entire life worrying about what everyone else thinks. I worried for weeks about a colleague calling me out for eating a cookie out of a display of Christmas goodies. I knew I had done nothing wrong and that was confirmed by my manager. But I was still very upset. Long story short, I worry so much about others that I wasn’t enjoying my life. I’m getting better, and I’m praying that the OP does too.
Someone once asked Winston Churchill how he managed to sleep during WW II when there were so many horrors going on that he could not control. He said, ‘I sit up in bed and say, “To Hell with everyone!”‘
Many of us need to have that magic sentence that lets us off the hook of our consciences playing, “What you could have done” with us.
I just wanted to point out that saying nothing and walking away from a bully is not necessarily a sign of weakness. Sometimes we stand up for ourselves by refusing to engage with another person’s shenanigans. Furthermore, OP, allowing this woman to live in your head rent-free since October is only hurting you, not her. I’ll bet she’s not dwelling on this nearly as much as you are. It sounds to me like you may still be struggling with some anxiety. I recommend you see a therapist to help you work through this and find some peace. All this over-thinking must be exhausting. Good luck!
My sympathies for your co-worker’s outburst, OP. I know you felt humiliated and embarrassed, and it rings a few bells for me too. However, I am going to focus on a suggestion for this year and this holiday season. I offer this kindly because I’ve done it myself and it’s very hard. But ultimately it will be and feel good.
Go to your co-worker when you two can be alone and apologize for rejecting her gift. Don’t bring up the original incident. Just tell her that “I am sorry that I didn’t tell you that I appreciated your thoughtfulness and kindness when you gave me that gift bag. I did, and I wanted to thank you even if belatedly.”
She will probably be astonished and maybe even smile. I don’t know if you can become friends, but that’s not the point of doing this. It’s to forgive yourself for your ungracious behavior, and to let her know that you can accept the responsibility for it.
As I said, it will be hard, very hard. It will hurt. You may tell yourself she started it, and perhaps she did, but the fact is that you have the power to heal it–and if you choose that course of action you can heal yourself.
Eating humble pie is very hard, especially if you’re convinced the other person was in the wrong, in the first place. Whether she was wrong in the first place, or not, the way you handled the gift situation makes for more awkwardness, and you’re going to have to work with her for some time.
Sometimes, you have to swallow a bit of humble, in order to move forward in a positive way. You have your whole life in front of you, and who knows how many years of working with this person? I’m not saying you should rip out your polite spine, and let her walk all over you. But trying to work out problems before they become insurmountable obstacles to teamwork in a business environment is, in my opinion, a show of personal strength.
Amara is right. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. If you can work this out with her, you’ll be better off for it. And if you can’t work it out, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried. And you’ll know better, moving forward, how to deal with this sort of situation when/if it arises again.
Good luck, OP!
When someone starts publicly laying into you like that put your hand up in the “stop” gesture and tell them “if there’s a problem please take it to HR” and walk off.
Admin steered me away from saying that OP did perfectly the right thing. 1) She walked away from a screaming person; and 2) she returned a gift from someone who she is not comfortable receiving it from. But after reading what admin had to say, I do agree with her.
I was thinking that a way to thank the screaming-lady was to leave a card at her place saying a few simple sentences like “thank you for the gift. Merry christmas / Happy holidays to you and your family”. In that way, you don’t have to see her face-to-face, but thank her without re-opening past wounds.
And next time, learn to tell screaming busy-bodies to behave themselves while the incident is in progress, rather than carrying it on in your mind for years. I know how hard that can be (I still carry grudges about things I could tell people to yelled at me, and they never realized that they were being unfair; and things I wish I had thought of telling at that time). But practice makes one learn.
I thought this was a very informative and compassionate assessment by Admin.
The OP has my full sympathies in her emotional battle following verbal abuse- I have encountered these people at school (classmates and teachers), work, and even in church environments. It can be very difficult to stop replaying the event in your mind.
If this were a boyfriend (or other comparable relation) who verbally abused the OP and then tried to present her with a gift sans apology (or with an apology as part of a repeating cycle of behavior)- nope, nuh-uh, buh-bye. Take that gift and put it where the sun doesn’t shine and don’t shine. But, this is a coworker and, while you don’t owe her any sort of friendship, you both owe each other common courtesy in the office place. The OP’s move could have been much, much worse- she could have left the unopened gift in the trash for the giver to see or come at the giver with accusations of being manipulative. But, I think the highest road to take would be to quietly accept the gift and thank the giver. No, this doesn’t mean you need to become friends or owe the giver anything beyond a thank you.
Also, if you are honestly afraid of this woman to the point where it makes your job stressful, or cannot let go of the experience, don’t be afraid to speak with a counselor or trusted spiritual leader. It’s natural to feel angry after such mistreatment, but holding on to anxiety and anger gives this woman power over you that no one should have.
Walking away from an eHellion takes self restraint and it doesn’t make you weak in anyway. I have done this many a time, when situations got to the point where words were useless. If you remain in a volatile situation, there is always room for tensions to flare and create a bigger problem.
However, your choice to take a small holiday token and give it back, is a tad petty. IF, this was your coworker’s peace offering, of sorts, you chose to reopen an old wound with no follow up to amend it. Given the initial confrontation you describe, I would have allowed myself to cool down, and spoken to her in private at a later time. And, if not, accepted her little token as just a little token, and said a passing thank you. Sometimes, little gestures can mend broken relationships if both parties are willing to forgive and forget.
My only real advice in the future would be to try and take yourself as the engaged individual out of your thought process.
You’ve admitted to having baggage and seem aware of how it can/will shade your perceptions. So, in cases like the Christmas gift, try to think of the situation from the outside. Imagine the situation was happening to someone else, or take however long you need to think to get past your knee-jerk reaction, or whatever you have to do to consider things more objectively. This isn’t easy, and is definitely much harder in a face to face situation, but in the end I think you’ll like your decisions better after the fact and won’t be second guessing them as much.
The woman in question has probably forgotten all about chewing you out. I’ve met PLENTY of people who are just casually abrasive and pissy. They’re just so used to acting like a witch whenever they feel like and are so self involved that it doesn’t occur to them that their words and actions have lasting effects, or that they even should. Seriously, I’ve heard them wonder why so-and-so is mad at them when the answer would be obvious to a toddler. And they are absolutely SHOCKED if you point the horrible thing they recently did to them, as if it isn’t a logical progression of events.
Quick personal example that’s pretty clear in my mind. In high school a girl I was friendly with rushed over to me during computer class and informed by that BOY had a crush on me and I should totally talk to him. I gave some nonverbal reply, turned away from her, and (really rudely) completely shut that down.
Now as an explanation, in the middle school I went to (in a different state) there was a group of boys I was constantly butting heads with. To give you scale, one of them got suspended for threatening to bring a gun to school and shoot me. One thing they liked to pull was coming up to me to tell me that so-and-so liked me. Like I would buy it from guys who obviously hated me. They pulled this a lot and didn’t even put much effort into pretending they weren’t lieing. I don’t know why they ever thought I’d believe them and embarrass myself by going to the so-and-so of that particular occasion.
Back to the girl, when I saw her shocked and confused face it clicked that I had reacted automatically even though this was a completely different situation. So I took a breath, turned back, and explained the stupidity that those boys regularly pulled and apologized that I had acted on auto. And my friend was horrified that a group of guys had done that to me. She was honestly a sweet girl and had come up to me thinking I would be excited at the news.
My baggage isn’t at all equivalent as I don’t have any huge anxiety issues. And, yeah, saying to try and isolate things from the past is way easier to say than it is to do. Just taking my time until I’ve calmed down and forcing myself to be logical works for me, but I’m not you. Like several other people have suggested, maybe a therapist would be helpful in working out a personal method.
In any case I wish you all the best.
I used to work with a gal who was very much like OP.
She was quiet and shy, but generally a nice person.
She took offense to the (in my opinion) strangest things, and I wondered too, if she was dealing with anxiety issues….though I never asked her.
One day during lunch break, a lady from a different department, who was known as being rather “prickly” to just about everyone, breezed past our table, stopped and looked at this gal and said “Nice blouse” and went on her way.
This girl got bright red in the face and got very upset and said to me “What do you think she MEANT by that?!?”
I said, “I think it means she likes your blouse”, and changed the subject.
As Admin stated, sometimes a token gift is just that.
I have to share this because this introvert vs extrovert thing drives me crazy. Introvert does not mean shy or loner and extrovert does not mean life of the party. It’s all about where you get your energy from. An introvert makes their own energy and finds it a little exhausting to be around people. An extrovert is energized by being around people. There are outgoing introverts (who maybe need some alone time after a big gathering) and shy extroverts (who can hang out with people all night and day).
It’s such a shame that so many people enter adulthood with such an apparent need to start drama and stick their nose where it doesn’t belong.
ALL OF THIS could have been avoided if the coworker hadn’t stuck her nose where it didn’t belong.
That said, to OP, please make a sincere effort to stop letting other people live rent free in your head. I’m sympathetic to the fact that you’ve struggled with issues that required medication in the past, because I’ve been in similar situations. To this day I have trouble telling when someone is being serious or trying to play a joke on me. But I made it my absolute focus to not let it bother me longer than it should.
This story is a good reminder to be kind to everyone. What we may brush off might be a much bigger deal to someone else. Good luck, OP!
I agree with everything Admin said except for #2’s “abuse” commentary. What that women did WAS abusive. A person can learn to deal with people who would abuse them in ways that stop (or limit) the abuse. A person who deals with someone who tries to be abusive doesn’t necessarily have to become victim of that abuse (and if they do, there’s no shame in that). Admin’s advice on how to handle someone is actually great for shutting down an abuser, and stopping someone from dealing with further abuse.
Pushy, selfish busybody people ARE often abusive. The fact that their pushy, selfish, or busybodies in no way excuses the abuse they attempt to heap on others. Chalking up their behavior to “merely” being a product of their pushiness, selfishness, or nosiness does no favors to the people they try to abuse, or to themselves.