How to deal with a narcissist?
September 14, 2009 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I mistakenly became friends with a narcissist, who I also work with. I've avoided a confrontation with her, but she keeps prying to find out if I'm mad at her or don't like her anymore, and I feel like eventually I am going to have to explain myself. But how do you tell a narcissist that you just don't care about them without having them explode?

Last year I began working with another woman my age, who on the surface has a lot in common with me -- we're the only 2 in our current position, we're working towards the same graduate degree, we have similar work backgrounds, we live in the same town, and we have similar interests. Since we're both in our late 20's and most of our coworkers have children our age, we started to hang out a lot, both in and out of work. At the time, my husband was spending 3 weeks of each month working in another state, and while I have a good amount of friends, most are 45 min to an hour away, so it was nice to have someone really close to grab a cup of coffee with or go to the gym with.

I knew she was diagnosed as bipolar and had some issues with authority (she routinely pushes the envelope at work, getting "spoken to" regularly, while I tend to be more cautious than I need to). I also became aware that she has never had any close friends for a long period of time, or boyfriends.

I don't know why it took me so long to realize that what I first perceived as confidence was really just batshit insanity. She constantly contradicts herself or blatantly breaks rules, and absolutely throws a tantrum if you do not encourage and support her in everything she does.

A few examples:
She brought a date to a workday, company meeting because there was ice cream and swag, and when I pointed out that it was a little strange to do so and that I wanted to make sure she saw the "employees only" note on the posters for said meeting, she blew up, insisting that I was just trying to stress her out and that a real friend would tell her she was sure she'd get away with it ... and that of COURSE she saw the "employees only" sign and that maybe that was WHY she was bringing a date in the first place, and how could I ever doubt that she would miss such a detail?

Once I asked her, politely, to stop detailing her crash dieting (stuff like "I only ate a banana yesterday, it makes me feel so good to do that!") because I have my own issues with dieting and food, and she started screaming that I was insane because it had nothing to do with me and that I was being selfish to ask her to stop talking about a topic that interested her. I believe my exact wording to trigger her reaction was "You know, I really am uncomfortable discussing dieting, can we please change the subject?"

Another time, she pointed out an overweight woman (who was smaller than me -- as I am also overweight) and said "Oh my God, I can't believe I was ever heavy. I look at people like that, and I just get so grossed out that anyone could be like that. And then I think I used to be almost that overweight, and I just hate myself!" And I said, offended, "Don't you think that is really offensive to me and anyone else you know who is overweight??" And she exploded at me about how I take everything too personally and that a comment she makes about someone else is not a reflection of me.

Anyway, the past year is full of such stories. I simply cannot be friends with this girl, and yet because she is so out of touch with reality, she can't just seem to accept that I don't like her. The last time I tried to explain that I thought it was better that we don't hang out, she started arguing with me about it, and the next day informed me that she had a good talk with her therapist about me and gave me a copy of The Four Agreements (I don't know either).

I feel like almost any outright confrontation is dangerous, because (1) we work together, (2) we go to school together, and (3) she doesn't handle any form of rejection well.

At the same time, I feel like I have to be ready to say something, because she keeps trying to push my boundaries, and whenever I turn her invitations to do stuff down, she says things like "I'm starting to feel offended, like you don't like me!"

I have been so stressed over having to deal with her on a regular basis that my anxiety has become exacerbated, I've lost sleep, had nightmares, and dreaded work (which I otherwise love). Note that I don't really have to see her frequently at work as we work on independent projects, but we are on the same team so there are weekly status meetings and whatnot.

So how do I manage this? She simply does NOT seem to get the hint.

I'm not comfortable bringing my boss into this because (1) she loves said coworker, and (2) this is primarily a personal issue.
posted by tastybrains to Human Relations (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
But how do you tell a narcissist that you just don't care about them without having them explode?

I would suggest that your fear of the results of a confrontation is what fuels this sort of problem and that people like your former friend tend to be associated with those sorts of people.

Tell her no, even if she does explode. It can suck, but you have to stand up to people like this.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Outside of work, use your husband as an excuse. Need to spend time with him, etc. At work, be busy. Eventually she will catch on. And go insane on you. Ignore that as best you can. THen she will really go away for good.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not comfortable bringing my boss into this because (1) she loves said coworker, and (2) this is primarily a personal issue.

It's not uncommon for employee A to ask, to not be assigned to work with employee B, because of incompatible personalities. Or for that matter, for a boss on her or his own accord, to separate two employees because they don't get along.

As such I don't think this is a 'personal' issue. If you're level of wellness at work, and outside work, is being negatively impacted by her, then yes your boss needs to get involved, because if your wellness is impacted, it cannot help but impact your work.

According to your description, this isn't some petty high-school girl catfight, you're dealing with a mentally ill woman.

So yes, I would go to your boss, and simply ask to be distanced from said woman in your work hours - get reassigned, get transferred, or whatever is necessary to be physically away from her. If asked why, you can disclose as much as you feel is appropriate (or not).

If you say this lady has been 'spoken to' already, then I think your boss knows this woman is trouble.

Otherwise, just announce to her that you and her won't be friends anymore and stay away.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

But how do you tell a narcissist that you just don't care about them without having them explode?

Who cares if she explodes? You already don't like her and she knows it, so what does it matter if she doesn't like you? As long as you're afraid of her reaction, she holds the power in your relationship. Tell her you're not interested in being friends, and then stand firm by not engaging her on personal matters.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

This begs the question, why does your boss "love" this woman?

Unfortunately, it really sounds like you need to find another job. Since you can't get the boss involved, you don't have any real recourse available to you to correct the situation in any meaningful way.

A less optimal solution involves just being honest. She may try to torture the hell out of you, but at least you won't be torturing yourself.
posted by Citrus at 10:58 AM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: Don't be embarrassed anymore. Get comfortable with the fact that she is going to explode on you. Behave with dignity and excuse yourself from her presence when she explodes.

That's it. That's the secret to dealing with someone like her.

She's using your embarrassment regarding confrontation as leverage to keep your "friendship." She's also probably going to explode more than once. So what if she does?

Keep politely rebuffing her. Know that when she does explode, you have nothing to be embarrassed about because almost everyone already knows she's batshit insane.

(...the rest will figure her out if they witness your dignified exit while this energy vampire is haranguing you. Dis-invite this creature from your life by ceasing to worry about her.)
posted by jbenben at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2009 [19 favorites]

Just ignore her. Seriously, she's nuts. The stuff she says is like diarrhea--it might gross you out if it splashes on you, but it's not about you.

Ignore, ignore, ignore. Treat her with icy civility.

She will alienate the boss soon enough, and then it will no longer be your problem.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2009 [10 favorites]

When you have "broken up" with you, you just know she will tell anyone who will listen that you quite simply were not good enough for her. You were too touchy, too selfish, too nonsupportive, and so on.

So why not just cut to the chase? Tell her that you're clearly not good friend material for her because you have too many of your own issues to deal with before you could be the kind of friend she wants and deserves.
posted by DrGail at 11:14 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

she says things like "I'm starting to feel offended, like you don't like me!"

To which you say "I don't."

I dated a narcissist, and I was friends with a narcissist, and in both cases, the only way I was able to untangle my life from theirs was by firmly setting boundaries and holding to them no matter how much crying and shouting, or however many pleas and threats they made. Because you work with her it may be more difficult, but you've still got to go through with it.

If she says something hurtful or aggressive, simply say "I'm not interested in discussing this" and turn away or go somewhere else. If she pursues you, repeat "I'm not interested in discussing this" and pointedly ignore her until she goes away. Chances are you'll face at least one "scene" while trying to get rid of her - such is the price of getting involved with narcissists. Stick by your guns no matter who she tries to pull in. Be polite, but be firm, and you'll find that people will quickly realise who is at fault here.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:15 AM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have been so stressed over having to deal with her on a regular basis that my anxiety has become exacerbated, I've lost sleep, had nightmares, and dreaded work (which I otherwise love). Note that I don't really have to see her frequently at work as we work on independent projects, but we are on the same team so there are weekly status meetings and whatnot.

This, and having to put up with insulting, insensitive behavior from this woman who thinks nothing of blowing up at you for the smallest "infractions"? You seem to be surprisingly concerned with being careful not to offend the sensibilities of someone who is hurting your feelings and is harming your health and work life, and surprisingly keen on preventing a tantrum by someone who seems to throw them on a regular basis.

That's not a surprise: she's probably latched onto you in part because as a tolerant, sensitive person who takes pains not to rock the boat, she can get away with the shit that seems to have driven away everyone else in her life.

You can write an email where you are calm, professional, and utterly un-ad hominem, telling her that in the interest of maintaining productivity and due to less free time (husband, etc) you'd like to restrict your interactions to those required by your job. She can handle it any way she wants -- but whatever way she handles it (outbursts, accusations, acting out) is not your responsibility or your fault. I'd also recommend email in case she decides to escalate this into other forms of crazy behavior, like telling your boss how mean you are to her.

Good luck dealing with this. I hope you can find a way of reducing this toxic persons's impact on your life.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:16 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I sympathize with you, I've been friends with someone who is bipolar and that is rough. Unfortunately, trying to work around her crazy is going to make you crazy (as you kind of said in your post). You probably don't want to hear this, but avoiding her altogether is probably the only really reliable way to handle the situation. Whether that means talking with your boss about it (I know that's not always possible, even if it should be) or finding another job; the quality of your life will improve drastically when not having to deal with this kind of person.

If neither of those things are possible for you, you could try being consistently honest with her regardless of how she takes it. There is generally no successful way to navigate this kind of mental illness in another person (if you are not strongly committed to being her friend) that doesn't involve lots of time or energy. At a certain point you just need to take care of yourself and your own well-being even if that means removing yourself from the situation.

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2009

Your co-worker sounds like one of my ex's. It was incredibly hard to break up with her because she was absolutely positively convinced that I really wanted to be with her. During the break-up conversation I would eventually get worn down and come around to her point of view.

I found the bookEmotional Blackmail to be incredibly helpful in recognizing what she was doing and having a response to use to counter it.
posted by elmay at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember getting pushed so far by one narcissist I worked with that I actually said "I don't like you. Go away."

It was the most bizarre reaction ever. It was like you could see the little hearts pop up around his head.

I do not think this would be what would happen in your case. I'm just saying that the reaction to any change in your interaction will be unpredictable and bizarre.
posted by medea42 at 11:18 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Being around her every day must really drag you down. Preserve your own sanity The first step: remind yourself repeatedly that she is irrational, and that reasoning with her won't work and/or will make things worse. Find out what works best for you. You will probably find that it's best not to comment or even listen when she's saying things that bug you. She doesn't care at all how she's affecting you, so entreating her to be considerate is a waste of your effort.

She may not ever accept that you want nothing to do with her, but do consider coming right out and saying, "We're not friends," and "I don't want to chat."There's no need to explain; just stop talking and ignore her, or walk away. Expecting difficult people to "get the hint" is unrealistic. Expecting irrational people to listen to what you say and respond appropriately is also a long shot; that brings us to another strategy.

Imagine that it's a game. She wants you to get exasperated, and you're not going to let her. Smile to yourself and think, "It's not going to work. She can't get to me."

It's a very difficult situation, and the only person who can make it tolerable is you. I really wish you luck.
posted by wryly at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Having a DD who has BPD, I'd say this woman needs her meds adjusted. Her behaviour sounds very much like my DDs before she was stabilized. Even after, she can be exhausting, exhibiting a lot of the same kinds of behaviour, just not all the time. She doesn't handle change or pressure well.

Suggestion: lie. Take up some kind of meditation or relaxation exercise or something, anything that requires quiet and contemplation most of the time. Tell her your yogi/doctor/whoever has prescribed this as you need a period of peace. Be prepared to hand her a book on silent/mindful meditation or religious retreats. Tell her you don't want to take any meds and want to learn to control your heartbeat, blood pressure, etc. (biorhythms) or some variation of this. You need quiet and alone time. Lots of it.

I've found my DD takes unreasonable dislike to some people for no discernable reason and will go out of her way to make that person's life utterly miserable. That's why I'm suggesting you find a soft way to slide past instead of confronting her. As for the boss, well, DD can be exceptionally charming when she wants to be and/or the boss might have a relative with the same problem so sympathizes.
posted by x46 at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2009

Also, if we're doing armchair psychology, this woman's behavior as you describe it sounds more consonant with Borderline Personality Disorder than Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Some info about how BPD can play out in work environments here; first-person accounts of dealing with folks with untreated/florid BPD here.

Note: I am not a psychologist, but I do have an armchair.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

The next time she explodes on you, interrupt her and say, "This -- what you're doing right now -- this is the exact reason why I get uncomfortable around you." Repeat as necessary.
posted by hermitosis at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the child of two raging narcissists, one of them also a borderline, I feel somewhat qualified to let you in on a little secret: the thing about narcissists is, they're going to explode on you no matter what you do. It doesn't matter whether you continue to suffer through her bullshit or tell her to take a hike--she's going to rage at you because it gratifies her. She gets a narcissistic feed from pushing your buttons. She likes to watch your expression change from patient annoyance to betrayal to hurt. She enjoys your pain. In short, she hurts your feelings because it makes her feel good to hurt your feelings. So you have to stop giving her the opportunity to affect you at all.

Easier said than done, I know. Narcissists may utterly lack compassion, but they're remarkably empathetic. They seem to know exactly what to say or do to hurt you most, and it's usually deniable. They pick at your weak spots with uncanny precision, and they're good at manipulating others to join in the fun. You can't really quantify the ways they hurt you without sound petty and maybe a little crazy yourself. But you know the truth, and those of us whose lives have been touched by a narcissist do too.

Eventually they give themselves away--they always slip up at some point--but by that time the damage has been done and you're questioning your own sense of reality. It speaks volumes about your good mental health, tastybrains, that you're onto this person's game so early. Her behavior is probably confusing (and horrifying) but at least it's extremely predictable.

So, how do you disengage from a narcissist? You ignore them. You don't respond to calls or emails, you brush them off coldly but politely in public, and you refuse to show them that your buttons have been pushed. You literally walk away when they begin to rage at you. You disengage by doing just that...disengaging. Document everything for the purposes of evidence collecting, but do not respond in any way, not even to tell her to leave you alone.

In fact you should probably just emblazon the following phrase into your mind and make sure you remember it during any and all future interactions with this woman: DO NOT ENGAGE. After all, do you really care what this person thinks about you? Really? Her words are meaningless. Treat them as such.

And lest you believe I'm engaging in a bit of blame-the-victim posturing here, I speak from the agonizing experience of almost three decades. The only way to deal with a narcissist is to not. Eventually she will either burn all of her workplace bridges and exit your life in a hilarious blaze of angsty, diva-ish glory, or she'll figure out that there are easier targets around and move on. Either way, good riddance.
posted by balls at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2009 [42 favorites]

Yeah, you need to work on your communication skills, and you also need to be more careful about what you communicate.

You do not need to remind her about company rules, or when she is breaking rules. Just focus on project outcomes, and the activities needed to achieve those outcomes.

You're going to need to play an offensive game, with a strong defense. Do what you have to do, and put the ball in her court. Let her drop the ball. Document. Communicate and confirm using email.

But if she blows up at you, just say "I refuse to talk with you when you are angry." Then, get up and leave the room.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 AM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Just as a side note ... she has been diagnosed with being bipolar, and has been hospitalized for it several times since being a teenager. She is currently unmedicated except for ADHD drugs. I don't know that she has a personality disorder, as I am not a professional. I don't know that she's narcissistic in a clinical sense, although my friend who IS a social worker thinks it's a possibility based on my description (though she has said obviously she cannot diagnose someone she hasn't met). She IS narcissistic in that everything really is about her, and she twists reality to meet her own ends, and she freaks out if she is questioned or whatever.

I guess the point is that she clearly has mental problems, and I know this. I really don't care what her problem is, I just know she's not a healthy person to be around.

I keep thinking she'll screw herself at work with her bad behavior but nothing ever seems to come of it. I don't know why. It's really not my business how another employee's problems are handled when they don't affect me, but it blows my mind that she's still here.

I am not afraid of hurting her feelings at all, but she is the type of person who goes rabid when confronted and tends to turn things around on me. Past disagreements have ended with her yelling at me in the cafeteria at work that *I* need therapy to deal with my issues (when I asked her to stop bringing up dieting).

I like the idea of using my husband as an excuse, as I've been doing that a lot. I haven't seen her outside of work since at least June.

I can take the blowing her off a bit further by blocking her from emailing or IMing me, but I have done this in the past and she has called me on it and I chickened out from explaining myself, and chalked it up to me screwing up settings somewhere.

I suppose those of you who are suggesting I stop being afraid of her reactions are right -- I am afraid of a confrontation with her, because she's just such a fucking lunatic. She can't lose an argument because she doesn't adhere to rational thought. I tend to get flustered whenever it comes to arguing with her, especially because she doesn't seem to just take "I don't like talking to you / about this / etc" or "No" as an answer. It's always "but WHY? Why do YOU feel that way? Don't you realize your behavior isn't normal? You need help!"

Ugh. I am a big chicken, aren't I?
posted by tastybrains at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2009

Look, you need to realize that it takes two people to argue. There's no argument if you walk away mid-sentence.

You don't owe her an explanation. "You're an asshole" would suffice, but since you work with this person, there's no need to give her any ammunition that she could take to the boss. Just treat her like you'd treat someone you don't know from Adam. If a stranger on the bus came up to you and acted this way, would you humor them with arguments and excuses and apologies, or would you give them a sort of, "Yikes, you're crazy...I'm backing away slowly now" look and remove yourself from their presence?

She can't harangue you if you refuse to listen. She can't argue with you if you refuse to talk to her. She can't force you to listen to her barbs and insults if you hang up when she calls, filter her emails to the spam box, and otherwise stop giving her a narcissistic feed.

posted by balls at 12:09 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: KokuRyu - You make good points, I just want to explain that the only reason I reminded her about the "Employees Only" thing was because we WERE friendly at the time and I was really concerned that she would get into trouble, so I said "I just wasn't sure if you saw that it was employees only...I don't want you to get into trouble."

I haven't made that mistake again. I will only comment on a situation if she asks me directly now.
posted by tastybrains at 12:09 PM on September 14, 2009

she has been diagnosed with being bipolar, and has been hospitalized for it several times since being a teenager. She is currently unmedicated except for ADHD drugs

Prior diagnoses of bipolar disorder and ADHD are very common for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, because there are many features in common. Her previous treatments don't seem to have been very helpful, regardless of whether the diagnoses were accurate or not.

I will only comment on a situation if she asks me directly now.

I think this is really wise in pretty much every case. Don't initiate interaction with her, and when she initiates interaction with you, being polite and distant is the move, even though that may well infuriate her.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2009

This is a totally chickenshit thing to do, but years ago, when I was in a similar predicament at work, I fobbed my narcissist off on someone else that I didn't like. I started by gradually inviting the new "friend" along whenever we had plans and then, bit by bit, making excuses as to why I couldn't make it. Eventually they forgot all about me and glommed onto each other.

It was awesome! Instant Turd-Off!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

Ugh. I am a big chicken, aren't I?

not at all - you're a decent person trying to deal with this rude person in a courteous manner.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to let you in on a powerful word. It's short, simple and to the point:


Just that word. No excuses, babbling, flustered speed talking to try and get out of it. Look her in the eyes and say no.

Here's another couple of words:

I can't.
That's not possible.
I won't.

It is stunning how powerful simple words and phrases can be, especially when you say it and then let silence do the rest. People are afraid of silence, but you can use it as a tool. If she starts to rage, just tilt your head and look at her with puzzlement. Then turn around and walk away.

Don't just practice it on crazy cakes - use it in everyday life. If someone is interested in knowing why you can't do something, go somewhere, or volunteer they will ask. The more you make your short, simple statements, the easier it gets.
posted by lootie777 at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

she has been diagnosed with being bipolar, and has been hospitalized for it several times since being a teenager. She is currently unmedicated except for ADHD drugs.

What it seems here is, there is an employee who is clinically mentally ill, who is not under treatment, and who is making your work life unpleasant by doing things like publicly yelling at you, and it reaches the point where you don't want to go to work. AND who is, by your own description, a problem employee who ignores the rules whenever she feels like.

I realize that to many people, "boss" is a synonym for "enemy". But this is, IMO, a matter for the boss to deal with, an out-of-control employee who is disrupting your work environment.

I keep thinking she'll screw herself at work with her bad behavior but nothing ever seems to come of it. I don't know why. It's really not my business how another employee's problems are handled when they don't affect me, but it blows my mind that she's still here.

A lot of times, bosses need actionable intelligence in order to do something. Usually people shut up and keep their problems to themselves. On the other hand if people start formally saying, "this woman has issues, she did X, Y and Z, I can't work with her anymore" then that is in another category.

Just some comments.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Bi Polar is nothing like narcissism. Someone going through a manic episode would seem totally self involved though. They're on a high of sorts on life and themselves.

I would just ignore them. When they want to go to lunch, you are busy. When they want to go somewhere, you've got to do. And so on and so on. When they blow up, just say you're not trying to ignore her, you're just busy and have a lot going on right now, etc. No, you don't want to talk about it. And so on and so on.

You're not required to give her an explanation, confront her, fight her, etc. Just walk away. Put on headphones. "I'm busy".
posted by xammerboy at 1:03 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Reading thermonuclear.jive.turkey's comment, I think you do need to discuss it with your boss if it's disrupting your job. But, of course, carefully.

Disclaimer: I've got ADD and have had to buckle down and explain myself more than once. It helped me, but it was a pre-emptive strike on my part. She may be very, very averse to someone else forcing such a move.

First, DOCUMENT DOCUMENT DOCUMENT. How has she affected your work? Does she withhold things that you need to do your job? Do you find it difficult to collaborate with her on projects, to the point that it takes longer or requires additional people/steps? Have other people spoken with you about her behavior, or about how difficult it is to work with her? Do not, under any circumstances, make it about you and your personal relationship. Think long and hard about your own responsibilities in this situation and how you knew that it went beyond just a personal conflict.

I don't know how you know that she has been diagnosed and hospitalized for bipolar disorder (possibly through your friendship and possibly not). Unless you are absolutely sure that your boss knows this fact, do not bring it up. It's her business, and you could get into some serious privacy and disclosure issues under the ADA. However, if something in her life is affecting her ability to do her job -- and, in turn, the company's ability to do its work -- she will have to explain it on her own.
posted by Madamina at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The reason why I say that this is a personal issue and not a work issue is that we do not work together on projects. It got kind of lost when I said it above, but while we are on the same team, we are on different projects and do not do work together. We have the same boss and thus see each other at least weekly at status meetings.

The main reason it is significant that we work together is that I still have to see her, she can come by my desk anytime, and she sends me email through our work email address if I'm not available on IM (often about things I wish she wouldn't email me about -- but in the past saying that I don't like to discuss personal things over work email has just made her do it more to "desensitize" me).

My work is totally fine and I just dread having to put up with her surprise visits (I usually do tell her I'm busy) or having to make smalltalk with her during meetings. It's also frustrating that most of our coworkers think we are the best of friends, but I have started to separate myself from being associated with her.

I guess I am hesitant to bring this up to my boss because we all have to work with people we don't like -- the things she does that are "against the rules" are not my problem to address as she does not really affect my work. It just means I have to see someone I don't like on a regular basis.
posted by tastybrains at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2009

You're not a chicken - you're a rational person trying to deal with someone who is totally irrational. This is hard enough to do in a purely social situation - and exponentially harder in a work environment.
posted by radioamy at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2009

DTMFA. Just tell her you don't like her and don't want to hang out with her.
posted by delmoi at 1:34 PM on September 14, 2009

I missed that you weren't hanging out anymore, but still have to work with her. That sucks. But I would talk to your boss and let them know what the situation is. After doing that, tell her to cool it.

In theory, what she is doing could be considered harassment if she's yelling and screaming at you for not wanting to hang out with her and be friends. If you tell her to stop and she doesn't it could be grounds for administrative disciple. I know you don't want this nutcase to become an 'Enemy'
posted by delmoi at 1:43 PM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: I do think you need to have an 'I'm not your friend' conversation with her. Then if the unwanted attention continues, elevate it to your boss as harassment.

she sends me email through our work email address if I'm not available on IM (often about things I wish she wouldn't email me about -- but in the past saying that I don't like to discuss personal things over work email has just made her do it more to "desensitize" me).

You: 'don't email me about this, on work email'.
Her: 'OK then I'll just spam you all the more'.

She's abusing the office email system, and disrupting your work.

Next time, respond to one of her emails, and cc your boss. Say simply 'Hi I don't really want to talk about this using work email. Like I told you before, I'd prefer to use work email for work related issues. Please don't email me unless it's a work issue. Otherwise it's hard for me to sort through my mails. Sorry but I get enough spam as it is.'

she can come by my desk anytime ... I just dread having to put up with her surprise visits

When she appears, tell her, 'Hi, if this isn't about work, we need to take this up some other time, I'm busy, I don't feel like chatting', and while saying this, maintain eye contact with your PC and don't look at her.

If she keeps doing this, she's disrupting your work by interrupting you with unwanted visits and it's a Mr. Boss issue.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh and after the "I'm not your friend" chat, if she still sends you IM or emails to your personal account, set up a filter to delete them.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:50 PM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: I've been following the thread with interest. I was fully aware that you did not work directly with this person (different projects) except for those meetings. I was kinda curious where the drama for you was coming from.

I can't nth balls enough. Everything, but especially that this woman engages you because she enjoys your reactions, she feeds off your discomfort. I think an official diagnosis is besides the point for the moment.

Coming by your desk, emailing you on the work server, and contacting you via IM while you are working @ your desk are workplace disruptions. People might tell you to document this and talk to your boss XYZ.... Please don't do that. While technically correct, this will only embolden your unwanted pursuer (see everything balls says.) Mentioning this situation to your boss or an HR Dept will only likely draw unflattering attention to yourself. This is not the hill you want your professional reputation to die on. Especially when the solution is so simple.

People who have dealt with this type of person in their own lives are trying to tell you something here: The more you explain or make excuses, the more she will persist. Please learn to turn away from folks like this with a smile on your face and move past them.

Don't respond to any electronic contact unless work related. Since you don't have to converse with her about work, ignore electronic contact. Change the settings on your email and IM so she can't disrupt your work. Make it a game not to utter one single syllable to this person during your day - just smile and walk away, pick up the phone, read the report, turn to a co-worker you are working with and discuss your project, etc. Understand there simply isn't anymore to it than this.

Try it a few times. It is easier than you think. Your not rude, you're professional. When you stop being available, she'll move on or self-destruct. Keep smiling. Keep your own counsel. If anything, your co-workers will admire you for maintaining your dignity and deftly avoiding the fiasco when the (bat) shit finally hits the fan.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:11 PM on September 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

Ugh. I am a big chicken, aren't I?

No! I completely understand dreading a confrontation with what sounds like a snotty emotional bully. Especially if it's a triggering sort of situation.

In a similar case, I had luck with the shrugging and saying "Well, sorry you feel that way" or "I like to keep my work life and my personal life separate." Stay detached. Remember that one day she will be a distant, unpleasant memory.
posted by bunji at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2009

Ugh. I am a big chicken, aren't I?

Maybe so, but I'm guessing a lot of us are. I know I am. When someone becomes level 7 irrational about small things, it's a lot to ask to trust she won't ever take it to 10 (violence).

Unhinged people bring out a fight or flight response in me. Being trapped with them (like you are at work, for all reasonable purposes), just brings out the fight part to a degree that's almost panic, (venomous adder! kill! kill!) which is inappropriate in a work setting.

I have no advice for you but I wanted to say that I feel your pain.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:59 PM on September 14, 2009

Best answer: This is all great advice - "nthing" much of the above here.

The deeper issue here is about boundaries and respect. On the face of it, you already know about her violating your emotional and mental space, that's why you came here. Much of the advice here is about establishing your boundaries and enforcing them - politely, but firmly, with your words. It's not going to be easy.

The underlying issue is about how you feel about your own boundaries. Ask yourself why you let her - and perhaps other people - violate your boundaries. Why don't you demand the respect that you deserve, and that most people would give to a complete stranger?

Examine your own self, and self esteem. Confront yourself about the things you don't like about yourself, and understand they are a part of you. If you hide them from yourself, you can't deal with them. Work on things that build your self image. Helping others is a good way to do that, take up a hobby, there are lots of things - issues for another thread. But if you can build respect for yourself, you can begin to expect it - and demand it -from others.

Reflect on and examine your family life, the one you grew up in. Who were your parents or caretakers? Look hard. Do you find yourself emulating them, even unconsciously? Was one of them acquiescent?

These are not very complex things, but most of us are walking around not knowing these things apply to us. I am just finding out myself.
posted by Xoebe at 3:19 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A very good friend of mine has to deal with such a person in her job. This woman is seriously ill, and gets away with a ridiculous amount of behavior that would get anybody else fired. My friend is too scared to really tell her off, so, among other recommendations, I have said that she restrict all her responses to this woman's conversation to the following phrases:

I see.
That is interesting.
I have to go.
I can't talk now.

I told her to write them down on her hand, so she can always stay on script.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:10 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Document everything.

She's probably being cut a lot of slack because of the diagnosis, and the laws that state accomodation has to be made for her as this is considered a disability. Not really right in this case-being a jerk should not be protected behavior, but there it is.

Just do as the folks above suggest. Ignore her.

But prepare for her behavior to escalate, because it probably will. But with luck she will blow up so spectacularly that your supervisors will fix the issue for you.

But do document.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:46 PM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Sometimes problems take care of themselves. In this case, she quit suddenly in a huff, no notice or anything. Not sure what happened, if anything, but it's been wonderful since she left.

Before she quit, I had followed the advice here to really just totally cut her off, not engage her in conversation, and to just ignore ignore ignore. It had been working really, really well for me.

So, thank you everyone who had advice!
posted by tastybrains at 10:10 PM on October 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

« Older Undergraduate Degree != Career ?   |   Enlarge and print part of pdf page? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.