Burnt Out, Pissed. Would like to change that.
May 26, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

How can I be less of a jerk when I feel like the universe is lobbing lemons at my head?

Work is getting worse, and I have to deal with what feels like more jerky behavior from both coworkers and clients. (My work is a high pressure job where emotional outbursts, though not frequent, are not uncommon.)

I notice at these times I feel like hiding, but since I can't hide, I start feel bitter and angry at the people around me. Sometimes this might come out in an annoyed quip, but usually I just let it simmer.

What concerns me is that I used to be (or at least I imagined myself as) a much more compassionate, patient, and kind person. I feel like I've gone through a complete 180 in the past two years, and now it's all about what I can get, since I feel nobody seems to give a crap about me anyways. And who will look out for me if I don't look out for myself?

And yes, I am probably exaggerating about how bad it is...there are nice people I interact with...but it's those ugly memories of some little imagined insult or snub or outburst that remain with me when I go home, not so much the good times.

I exercise, I'm in good health, and home life has its ups and downs, and I don't think I'm depressed. I still have some pretty good feelings throughout the day. I feel more angry than sad. I feel like a child who is asking "why me" and tired of feeling like the target of people's ire or dissatisfaction.

I might consider therapy if things get worse, but I'd like to know what I can do now to start getting back on track to being a more carefree, gentle, and compassionate person in a somewhat toxic environment. I would like to stop feeling that the whole world is against me, and that I'm always fighting the odds. Please help me get some perspective. Maybe I'm asking too much of myself...should just allow myself to be angry everyday and think, "fuck you" to the world?

Note: I have tried meditating in the past, didn't do much for me. And I can't leave my job for some time. (I did enjoy my job in the past, but these days it just doesn't feel that way.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
In your shoes, I'd try two things:
- basic stress reduction to boost my patience (the only thing that really works for me is getting out in nature for an hour or so)
- standing up for myself a bit more, of course using non-violent communication, to see if that reduces the resentment
posted by salvia at 6:33 PM on May 26, 2011

Hey, you're human. You're allowed to get angry and frustrated and grouchy, especially when things at work = the craps. For me, therapy has been the ideal environment to let go of my own anger and frustration about my work situation and I feel like it's the key factor that's helped me move into a place of tolerance re: my job versus constantly feeling beaten down. Maybe the same would work for you.
posted by patronuscharms at 6:35 PM on May 26, 2011

This is not the answer you want, I suspect, but I was in much the same place you were a few years ago. Growing up I was patient and kind and chilled out and as I got older, maybe as I 'invested' more in life, I started to get angry. I felt victimized. I felt angry.

I think my work had a lot to do with that, but the most positive result came from going to Church again. It gave me a kind of philosophical frame work to operate from, a community to rely on and a sense of purpose and strength to draw from.

Maybe you don't need a God, any God, but you might need to strengthen your core sense of self. I'm not sure I have any advice in that regard, but if you're like me then when you give yourself too much freedom you turn on yourself. And that generates a lot of anger and misery and I needed something to make me look outside again.

Good luck! Try volunteering, too, sometimes it's nice just to be reminded that don't have it quite so bad and you get a Feel Good boost. Honestly, I think you're generating a lot of sub conscious anger that's just kind of poisoning your disposition. It needs an outlet.
posted by GilloD at 6:35 PM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

What can you do when you're not working to recharge? Garden? Volunteer? Something outdoors? Something that helps you unwind and let go of the toxic work stuff sounds like the key. Different stuff works for different people. I find walking outdoors or escaping into a book help when I'm overly worked up about stuff.
posted by leslies at 6:35 PM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Keep reminding yourself that you can't change how people act towards you, you can only change your reaction to that behaviour.

People who are arsey usually fall into one of two categories - those who are just not very nice people and don't care about their impact on others, and people who are just not good at handling their own stress and tend to act in arsey ways as a result.

But if you can train yourself to react in a calm, controlled way, you maintain the moral high ground (and that's a very nice place to be). Don't just take it on the chin though, do point out when people are acting inappropriately, but do so in a calm, reasoned manner. (Where appropriate - clearly telling your boss' boss that you didn't appreciate his/her sarcasm may not be a winning career move). Those in the first category will respect you for it, those in the second category will use the feedback to improve their interactions with people.

Above all, keep calm. Visualise the crap washing over you while you remain steadfast. Take pride in staying calm and not reacting.

(And look to the future when you can leave what sounds like a pretty toxic work environment)

Good luck and stay strong!
posted by finding.perdita at 6:42 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent three years living in a 10-bedroom shared house. One of the things I expected to happen, going in, was that my tolerance for flaky behavior would improve as I became more accustomed to dealing with it.

Didn't happen. I left that house much less willing to put up with other people's bullshit than I was when I arrived.

Sometimes the bastards just do grind you down. But it's important to recognize that nuff-nuffs at your workplace are not necessarily representative of the world at large; make a practice of reminding yourself that Lumbergh having a tanty every time somebody submits a TPS report with the old cover sheet says much about Lumbergh but very little about the adults in your life.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

...I don't think I'm depressed. I still have some pretty good feelings throughout the day. I feel more angry than sad.

Depression often manifests itself as anger, and not sadness. Depression isn't necessarily the laying-about-in-bed-all-day type. Angry outbursts are a very clear sign of depression. Have you seen a doctor or therapist?
posted by zardoz at 6:57 PM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Actually, I do think a therapist is just the person to help you deal with this stuff. Better to talk to them than to take it out on your co-workers or (yikes) your family.

In the shorter term: When you do get away from work, try to really relax. Go for a hike or visit an interesting museum. Dive into something that gets your mind really away from work.

And, possibly... spend some time learning about people who really do have it shitty. Maybe this won't work for you, but I know when I read about really crappy things happening to good people in really poor places in the world, I feel compassion for them and it also helps me snap out of my own sense of powerlessness about my life, as I realize I really do have it pretty good.

But, really, a therapist can really help with this. You don't need to be depressed to benefit from talking through things with a professional.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:52 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your anxiety and depression are ruling your thought patterns. I have had no luck either with meditation because it's just too 'impractical' for me.

My suggestion - visualize your anxiety/depression as some kind of grotesque creature. Take all of those fuck you thoughts that you direct at the world around you and direct them towards this creature. Hurl your abuse at the creature inside your mind. It has no right to be there. Evict it.

A lot of this is to do with feeling as if you are not in control of your life, as if you are meaningless and have no power. But that's not true - you cannot control all external events, but you can control your own feelings and your reactions to them. It's not easy, but it's achievable.
posted by mleigh at 7:55 PM on May 26, 2011

Count your blessings.
posted by joannemullen at 8:29 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll add to joanmullen....

When you get home, set a timer. Spend 3 minute totally fucking pissed off, honor that anger. You earned the right.

When the timer dings, spend the 12 minutes writing down EVERYTHING you have to thankful for. Writing the good stuff down actually reinforces it in your brain.

My hope is you eventually won't have to spend the 3 minutes feeling angry. But if it's there, you gotta deal with it until you're over it.
posted by jbenben at 8:47 PM on May 26, 2011

Advice I have been trying to follow, but I won't say it is easy, is to live in the moment, trying not to remember how things went last time, or worrying what you will do next time. Treat each new experience as an opportunity (if nothing else, an opportunity to learn and to grow). This hyper-involvement will also take your mind off your mood and hopefully over time it will improve by itself (like a wound that heals).

The book I read said to avoid self-centeredness (by doing the above) while giving yourself permission to be selfish (i.e., protecting/developing/healing yourself).

To put it another way, be too busy being a concerned participant to let victim thoughts creep in (unless and until they are really warranted).

posted by forthright at 8:52 PM on May 26, 2011

I keep a being there diary (as suggested by Frank Chimero)

At the end of each day, just answer the question What was the best moment of the day ? When your spirits are down, just flip through the diary.
posted by lahersedor at 8:57 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly you have control over 1 thing, your own attitude. If you want things to change that's the golden key...therapy would also potentially help you with better coping mechanisms. Good Luck we have all been there and often visit regularly.
posted by gypseefire at 9:57 PM on May 26, 2011

First of all, you're extremely emotionally aware, which unfortunately isn't all that common in this world, so kudos my man. What I would suggest is taking a breather on a regular basis. Whether that's a long hot bath, (no it's not "femme"), or a stint in the sauna at your gym, find a release. Something simple and easily doable that helps you "let go" of all of those little annoyances that build up during the week. For me, I can't cope without my morning cardio and my baths. Epic bath-time. That's what I call it. lol My guy (ex) used to make fun of them, but I'll tell you, without those bombshell, soothing baths, I'd be a total bitch. That reminds me- I should never date a guy that makes fun of my epic bath-time again. lmao

Anyway, start paying attention to your internal dialogue and you'll eventually notice where you're going wrong. Crush the negativity and start appreciating your blessings, every day. You'll be fine!
posted by JeSuisLibre at 10:05 PM on May 26, 2011

I'm sorry you're going through this. Making a habit out of compassion is surprisingly useful for this sort of thing; it may involve meditation, but it's really more specific and gives you a more concrete aspiration that just "watch the breath" or "observe your feelings and let them go."

First, find that tender, soft feeling of compassion for yourself -- you are under pressure, in a difficult working situation, and feeling stressed/distressed is a completely human reaction, so above all, give yourself a break. Make it that simple: just be warm and gentle to yourself whenever you think of it, whenever you're hurting, whenever you feel the heat of that bitterness and anger starting to rise.

But also -- and this is both the tricky part and the key to starting to find a way out of this maze -- see if you can start practicing (even if just for fleeting seconds at a time!) the exact same feeling of warmth and gentleness for the very people who are acting like jerks. The key to this is seeing (again, even if fleetingly) that they're stressed/distressed, just as you are. They're in some form of pain (fear, anger, agitation, exhaustion), just as you are. This is an example of your shared vulnerability, your shared humanity.

A book I've found really, really useful on this exact score is The Lost Art of Compassion. I also found that Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck is a handy thing to listen to in the car on the way to and from a stressful workplace. (If you feel you're more on the stoic rather than buddhist side of the spectrum, Marcus Aurelius's Meditations might be more up your alley.)

I feel like a child who is asking "why me"

Why not you?

I don't mean that flippantly or unkindly; I mean it in just the opposite way, in fact. You're as human as anyone; you are subject to the full range of human emotions and experiences as anyone. Everyone faces difficulties, struggles, disappointments, challenges and pain just as they have blessings, advantages, joy, and pleasure. It's hard to remember when we're in pain that we're not getting some special cosmic raw deal from which everyone else is exempt. What you are facing is the essential experience of humanity -- the "full catastrophe," as it were, in all its messy glory.

Here's a thing that one of the technicians told me last year as I was starting cancer treatment: "you will be presented with a treasure every day." That's it. Each day has a treasure, no matter how humble. You don't even have to go looking for it; you just have to remember to keep your eyes open. There is something marvelous and beautiful in every day, no matter what other painful, stressful, or upsetting things you might encounter as well. The good stuff is always there, coexisting. Just be open to it, and let yourself be surprised.
posted by scody at 12:13 AM on May 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

1. Try and help those around you (at the very least those who are grateful for your efforts). By still being good to others, you model the behaviour you want to see.

2. Be more explicit with others about what you won't tolerate in terms of negative interactions. If there are certain people who fly off the handle in front of you then you need to tell them "I need you to come back and explain this to me when you've calmed down".

If you want to be treated a certain way, you may have to get more explicit about it.

I agree with others that certain negative behaviour can start to get you down and I think if you're noticing this you should be proactive about it and not only try to be zen about it when you're not working.

If the negative reactions are with customers, then being zen may all you have, but if these are co-workers who routinely lose their temper in front of you then they're taking advantage of your patience.
posted by fantasticninety at 1:55 AM on May 27, 2011

So, I recently heard a quote that goes something to the effect of "If you meet four assholes over the course of your day, the asshole is you." Now, if you interact with dozens of emotional customers all day, the number may need to be tweaked, but the idea is sound. I suspect that the interactions you are having with co-workers and customers have not changed, but something internal to you has. That may be depression (as others have said, depression doesn't mean "sad," nor do you need to be going through awful times to become depressed), it may be you are not getting enough sleep, I don't know, but I suggest you take some time for self-examination. I think starting some form of therapy or counseling could be very useful for you.

As far as day-to-day dealing with frustration and difficulty, when I am faced with a rude or nasty person, I like to try and imagine the battle that they are fighting in their own life that makes them this way. Sometimes it is compassionate ("I bet she is caring for her sick parent, and her dog just died, that is what is making the poor dear so bitter""I bet this douchebag's wife is cheating on him with her personal trainer, since he is obviously compensating for something"), but it helps my self-esteem to imagine that the reason for their evil has nothing to do with me (and honestly, that is probably true).
posted by Rock Steady at 4:33 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds like me, quite often. Things to keep in mind:

1- The people you are barking at are almost always not the people who are grinding you down. Don't piss in their cornflakes just because the universe pissed in yours.

2- Find something to do that is a guaranteed reward. For me, in the winter, it is shoveling show. The sort of thing where the results you get is exactly proportional to the effort you put in.
posted by gjc at 6:04 AM on May 27, 2011

What helps me:

1. Adopt an attitude that no matter how careful you are or good you are or how well you're planning, bad things will happen to you. There is no fate*, god, destiny, curse, etc. Its just how the world works. Also realize that it will put you in a bad mood and make small things that normally wouldn't bother you a big deal.

2. Realize that this stressful peroid will end and all around you other people are entering their own stressful periods.

3. Realize that life is 100% unfair no matter what you do. People who are careless and stupid somehow get by while responsible people who worry are always having issues. Don't fight it. Its not a fight you can ever win.

4. If it gets bad, talk to a doctor. Or try relaxing herbs like Valerian root or supplements like Theanine. Stress periods are pretty taxing so get as much rest and sleep as you can.

*When things get better for you don't switch back to believing in these things. Funny how successful people always are chattering on about fate and how things all work out for a reason. They don't. They're just in a lucky period. They're one second away from a doctor telling them they have late stage cancer or getting run over by a bus.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:13 AM on May 27, 2011

Over the last two years, I have been under immense stress at work, while trying to get through grad school. My marriage almost ended, but then didn't, and we had to work through tremendous emotional baggage. My mother has been severely ill (and severely hard to deal with), and my oldest kid just started middle school. I truly believe I owe my life to these books:
Buddha's Brain
The Open Focus Brain (this one has an alternative to regular meditation, and it works much better for me, what with my ADD and lack of focus)
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

The first three are fairly quick and easy, and the last is a little heavier reading, but it offers amazing insight into the causes and effects of the human stress response.
posted by SamanthaK at 7:58 AM on May 27, 2011

IANAD, IANYT, but it sounds to me as though you may have some significant anxiety going on. The fact that you "feel like hiding" is what was the flag for me, as is the anger. My husband deals with significant anxiety. Now he's on medication, which helps a lot. Before the medication, I used to refer to him as The World's Angriest Man on a regular basis. If you don't want to try therapy, perhaps you could visit your regular doctor, discuss what's going on, and ask if s/he thinks it might be worth trying an anti-anxiety med.

How to get back on track:
-Find ways to be extra-kind to yourself at work for a while. Bring in a favorite drink that you can grab after you've dealt with an outburst, take some five-minute stretch/sunshine breaks--whatever helps you decompress during the day so that the whole workday isn't a buildup of frustration.

-When you deal with jerky behaviors from coworkers, say something. They may not realize they're being jerky and bringing you down; perhaps if you say something to them, it will help decrease their jerky behaviors.

-Make a "Fuck You" box at home. When you find yourself at home brooding over something that happened at work, write it down, along with whatever you'd really like to say/do in response, and put it in the box. You're not telling yourself that you have to forget all about it or let it go yet, but you are deciding not to carry it around all the time.
posted by epj at 10:58 AM on May 27, 2011

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