This really won't let me go. Please be my internet friends and counsel me.
November 1, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with a bad social experience that cannot leave you alone for years?

This is a (very) long post about a bad social experience that affected my life long term…

About 5 years ago, when I was in school, I decided to join a student organization. It was a decision I made on a whim, and being still very immature, I didn’t really follow up on it after being elected. I did not fulfill my duty and I slacked off. At the same time, I had to spend one semester travelling around with 25 people for university. One of these classmates was also a member of the same student organization, we’ll call her Jane. Jane and I started the semester being friends.

Spending day and night with these same 25 people did not suit me. I was not part of the crowd, and my behavior (I was a loner, and also quite different in many ways to the rest of the group) did not help the social aspect of things. I kind of went on doing my thing and exploring my surroundings, meeting local people, but at the same time I managed to start a relationship with a popular guy in the group.

Now I must say, I have many defects (I am impatient, speak too soon and sound fighty when I’m actually just talking) that were not very favorable in this situation. Towards the end of the semester, then, my new boyfriend started sleeping with someone else in the same class. People started to also openly ostracize me and ignore me, which was really hard. I started hearing all these rumors that were not true at all. In summary, everyone else except for one loyal friend openly hated me, and it was pretty hellish. Nobody spoke to me, they accused me of theft, lies, and kind of outrageous things that were not true. I understand they had a right to dislike me, but they got really, really mean. If it’s worth mentioning, I was 22 years old, and all of us were in our twenties. Jane was the only 30 year old person.

When the semester was over and I had a meeting with the student organization back in campus, Jane (who had started most of the rumors) showed up with a letter signed by all of my classmates except for two. She turned on a cassette recorder, and proceeded to read this horrible letter with my every defect written on it (and some lies, too). She read it in front of a bunch of people, all of them friends, none of them part of this particular class. This felt really invasive. The letter talked about everything from my singing too loudly to not flushing the toilet, and it was long as hell. She read the letter to friends that had had nothing to do with my class, to my sister and to a bunch of unrelated people. It was the most embarrassing thing I have ever been through. This was at around the same time I found out I had been cheated on, and I’m pretty sure the guy I dated shared personal (sex) information with the rest of the class.

So back to the meeting, Jane read on and on, all the while recording my reaction (I was crying) and holding the cassette recorder up so I guess she could go back to my classmates and play the recording to them and they could all hate me together. The letter asked for my resignation on the basis that they didn’t think I was good enough to be part of this association. I resigned and left crying with my sister and a friend, who drove me home. I was really comforting to see this friend and my sister really upset and taking my side, but still I had doubts and I felt like a horrible person.

Now in my head, I know that I wasn’t ready for the responsibility to lead this organization, and I understand their point. But this letter was full of social, personal stuff, and it didn’t have anything that spoke of my leading abilities at all. It was just rumors and reasons why they disliked me personally.

To put it mildly, this letter hurt like hell. I was embarrassed beyond belief, and I became really withdrawn and stopped cultivating friendships. I became a loner, failed subjects at school and I felt kind of traumatized. Everybody in my faculty knew about it, and even more rumors were started. People out side of my faculty and teachers knew, too.

About a year later, Jane apologized, and this provided some closure. But still I find myself thinking about the whole ordeal. I replay it in my head and I feel like crying out of the blue. I imagine what I could have said and things I could have done differently to be liked. I imagine dialogues and think of replies that would have been helpful. Mostly I regret things and I feel really embarrassed. This has happened less and less with time, but it still kind of haunts me, especially when I’m down. I have since graduated, and gotten married, but I just cannot get over this grey cloud that hovers over my head. I feel it was unfair, but I wonder if I deserved it, too.

This happening changed me. It changed my life and it changed my cheerfulness. It changed how I relate to people and my (now very, very few) friendships. It changed me forever.

Could you give me some insights as to how I let this go? Were this people right? Was it fair? Did I deserve this?

I would very much like to forget about this, pretend it never happened. Is it possible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I felt kind of traumatized.

You were traumatized. This experience is entirely out of the normal realm of human interaction.

My suggestion: read _The Sociopath Next Door_.

Time helps. Cutting all ties helps. Paying attention to the judgement of people who are in your life NOW, whose opinion you value, helps.
posted by endless_forms at 8:59 AM on November 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

I know this is the standard answer, but speaking as someone who had a similarly traumatic experience (though thank goodness mine had limited personal information involved): therapy. It doesn't have to be for long, but I didn't really start to get over how hurt and angry I was about it until I talked about it with a professional. I still think back to it from time to time but I don't have anxiety about possibly running into the people involved anymore, and I can think about it without falling apart again.

We have no way of answering whether they were right to dislike you, but this definitely sounds like a level of cruelty that no one deserves to experience. It can be super hard after things like this to trust your own judgment - part of my anxiety was rooted in the fact that people were saying I had spread rumors about someone when I hadn't, but I believed them enough to obsess over whether I had said something that could have been taken the wrong way (or even whether I had said something without even knowing it! THAT way crazy lies). You know what you did or didn't do, but shit like creating a long mean letter and recording your reaction?? Straight up sadistic. After having worked through this in therapy I was able to rebuild the trust in my own judgment and my sense of my own value that this event had wrecked - the fact that you're asking if you deserved this makes me think that you need the same sort of help.
posted by brilliantine at 9:00 AM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

It wasn't fair and almost no non-Hitler-type person deserves that kind of treatment. Most of us on planet Earth have slacked off on all kinds of responsibilities and disappointed people at one time or another; we have failed to live up to the expectations of other people, and ourselves.

Pretending that such things never happened may not be a great strategy (but everyone is different). You learned some stuff from this experience - don't make commitments unless you're pretty sure you can keep them; you had a very distressing time of being shunned and humiliated and yet you did not die. You survived it.

That said, constantly replaying what happened five years ago doesn't really sound very healthy. A few sessions with a good therapist - perhaps cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically - can give you the tools to reframe the situation and put an end to destructive what-iffing. You need to find some way of letting this go, because hairshirts are really unattractive after a while. Therapy can help shortcut this process. There are probably books that can help as well, but someone who knows more than I do about the literature will be along soon, I'm sure.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let me understand this. These people, in some sort of weird Lord of the Flies situation, called you out because you didn't uphold the duties of the office of....what, president of your local Key Club, or something?

These people are bugfuck insane. This Jane person is a snake. They humiliated you. I don't care what you did or didn't do; this was completely wrong on their parts and any right they may have had to call you to account for your mistakes is trumped by their gross violation of basic human decency.

I believe in therapy but I'm also going to say, right now, in the short term, start running. Go outside today and just run around the block. Get your blood pumping, your heart beating, your mind engaged with the outside world. Just get out of your head and start getting into your body. It'll help start breaking up the millstone these idiots tied around your neck years ago. Jesus, people can be so cruel. I'm so sorry.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2011 [63 favorites]

wow, i am so incredibly sorry that you had to go through something like this. you did not deserve this and the people that did this to you were most certainly not right (that's why jane apologized because she realized how terrible her actions were). i'm not too sure why this happens but i think jane most likely found you intimidating and a threat to her identity (both personal and social) which is why she treated you in such a cruel manner. many of those other people were not strong enough to stand up for you and that's why you were left on your own.

i had something similar happen to me in high school and my first year of university. i don't have the best advice because i disassociated completely and don't remember anything (i did this without even realizing it and i wish nothing more than to remember my past so that i can feel connected again). but if i was in your position, then i would a) talk to a therapist because this was a personal crisis and it's difficult to recuperate from a personal crisis on your own, b) put yourself out there but in a cautious yet friendly manner (once you are emotionally ready, it will help restore your faith in people), c) think about this personal crisis, but don't allow it to be the grey cloud hanging over you anymore. think about it by acknowledging how you felt, trying to understand the other party's motives (regardless of how fscked up those motives were) and counteract your negative and self disapproval thoughts with more positive thoughts. perhaps you can try to talk to your friends or partner about this because they know you well enough to know how you can move forward and they have your best interests in mind.

as for right now: keep yourself busy enough to keep your mind off of this, well as much as possible.
posted by sincerely-s at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2011

I'd say take it as training. You need to change the narrative of this story from being a festering trauma to being something you survived and learned from and are learning from.

When you think about it now just be sure and ask yourself productive questions about the experience. Focus on things like "How to ensure you fulfill your responsibilities", "How to pre-empt toxic social situations" and so on.

Regret is like worry in that it really doesn't result in anything positive unless you identify actions that you can take based on it. Learn from your history but don't live in it.

I'm not a therapy type so what I would do is write down a list of things from the event that I regretted and next to each one I would write things I could do to correct or fix the regret somehow and then try and work my way through the list. Then if I was feeling blue and this came up again I'd pull out the list and look at all the things I had done to fix the problem.
posted by srboisvert at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had something similar happen to me in college (in terms of humiliation and ostracizing). It's been 12 years and I still think about it sometimes. I refer to it jokingly (now) as the Bullshittery.

A few years ago I was running a 5k when, lo and behold, the ringleader of the Bullshittery was running along right next to me. I am convinced she didn't recognize me (I'm a different shape than I was in college, and my face was contorted and blazing red from running) but I knew her immediately. My heart probably would have stopped if it had not been working so hard to keep me running.

You know what I said to myself to keep going?
My favorite "Calm Down Elly Vortex" phrase: And not a single fuck was given that day.

I shortened it to a little chant that I did while I ran: "And not a single fuck. And not a single fuck." Eventually she passed me and I didn't see her again. Whenever the Bullshittery enters my mind now, I just repeat "And not a single fuck" a few times. The sting fades away.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:16 AM on November 1, 2011 [49 favorites]

OP, that is some seriously fucked-up behavior you were exposed to, full stop. As in, astonishingly beyond-the-pale Hitler Youth meets Lord of the Flies meets Stanford Prison Experiment bullying.

Yes, therapy, and yes, exercise--but I might also encourage you, as you seek help, to investigate PTSD in particular. You are dealing with the aftereffects of some serious stuff. I'm really sorry you were subjected to this cruelty.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:17 AM on November 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think you need to find a way to understand and believe that there is nothing you could have done differently--no better choice of words, no different behavior, nothing--that would have helped the situation. Whether that's therapy or something else, I think the way to break the grip this experience has on your life is to recognize how much it's about the vicious behavior of the people around you, not about your choices as a 22-year-old.

Because, yeah, it sounds like, as a college student you made some immature choices about how to handle a leadership role in a student group. However: A) college students make immature choices as they go about learning how to be adults, it's perfectly normal, B) a student organization is a pretty low-stakes place to mess up as a leader, and C) the appropriate response to a student leader who is slacking off is, "Dude. Do you want this role or not? If so, pull your weight by doing XYZ," not a vicious personal attack.

Jane has a serious problem (personality disorder?). Healthy 30-year-olds do not behave the way she did. Moreover, there's something really creepy about the dynamic in the group if everyone was on board with Jane's attack. There's no situation in which what she/they did would be a reasonable response to a group member who is slacking off. Something was deeply wrong there, and when a group is that toxic, no amount of logic or empathy or cooperation or anything is going to change their opinion of the scapegoat they've identified. They wanted blood.

So, again, I hope that you can find a way to believe that you didn't do anything to deserve this. If it's been five years and you're still troubled by it, therapy would probably help. Being impatient, struggling with social awkwardness, making unwise decisions when you're 22--that's normal. And sometimes there are consequences, but with healthy groups the consequences are that people get annoyed with you for slacking off and call you out on it, or get fed up with your argumentative tone and call you out on it. You did nothing to deserve being ostracized, falsely accused, and attacked.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy Hot Damn, what a horrible thing to happen.

I'll nth therapy, cause you deserve some help to get over this, but let me tell you something for free: whatever "duties" you might or might not have neglected, whatever personal foibles you might have exhibited, NO-ONE deserves to have that happen to them.

It was an awful thing to do to you and no wonder you feel terrible. You deserve to get help to feel better.
posted by greenish at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2011

The people who did this to you were WRONG, wrong, wrong. Jane sounds like a sociopath. You did not deserve this. No one deserves to be treated like that.

I got picked on a lot growing up (nothing to the extent of your incident, especially considering that these people are, technically, adults), and one thing that helped me was to always keep reminding myself that the bullies were wrong. Wrong about the things they said about me, wrong for treating people so poorly, wrong for making personal issues public, etc. Just wrong. And that because I knew that I was a good person (I may have my faults, but I would never treat anyone like that, just as I'm sure you may have your faults, but you would also never treat anyone the way you were treated), I could rise above it.

Any time you find yourself dwelling on this terrible incident, remind yourself that Jane and her co-conspirators were wrong. They were being cruel, unkind, and awful. Their opinions don't hold any weight because they are not nice people.
posted by phunniemee at 9:19 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

1. Forgive yourself. Forgive your past self. You didn't know how to be responsible - that's disappointing. But no one got hurt! You slacked off on trivial responsibilities. That's the up side. You made a minor social mistake while still young, just like lots of people. You have the chance to learn from it, to be gradually more responsible and more thoughtful about the responsibilities you take on. What you did was tiny and ordinary. No one should feel bad about something like that. Repeat to yourself "I forgive myself for this" every time you think about having failed in those responsibilities.

2. Remind yourself, when you think about what was done to you, that no one deserves to be treated like you were. Every time, remind yourself that you didn't deserve what happened. You did not deserve to be shamed like that.

3. Understand that all those people - with the exception of your sister and friends - failed you. They acted cruelly for no good reason, just because none of them had the strength of character to stand up to the group. As to Jane? You're right to point out her age - she failed in particular, because instead of using her age and experience to help younger students, she lead the abuse. People should have defended you and shut this down. They didn't. They should be ashamed, even now.

Understand that no matter how fighty or lazy or weird you were, you did not deserve what happened to you. What happened to you was bizarre and crazy. It's possible that Jane herself was not well.

4. You sound like you blame yourself for your character and affect. You need some realistic assessment of these things so that you can decide what really needs to be fixed and what doesn't - do you really sound fighty when you talk, or do you have a social circle which has assigned you this roll or which is really drama-intensive? Etc. A therapist can help you with this.

Either you have character/affect problems or you're too down on yourself. Probably a mixture, because that's how people are. If you have character problems, you can fix them. A therapist can help you figure out better ways to express yourself, or how to manage responsibility better, etc etc. Any social problems you had at 22? Those are the result of ordinary character stuff that you can manage. And if you're too down on yourself, you can learn to let go of that.

I know what it's like to punish yourself with obsessive thoughts about the past. Believe me, you can stop. I very rarely do this any more. (I picked up something that works for me from a Margaret Atwood novel - The Robber Bride. When I start on one of the painful memories that tend to trigger obsessive thoughts, I tell myself a phrase one of the characters uses in the novel - "blank the tape". (Oh, I'm old...that's a videotape reference). I imagine my obsessive memories as a videotape that is playing, and I imagine blanking the tape, just stopping the train of thought. I image blankness. I've learned to interrupt the memories. Once I've interrupted the memory, I tell myself "you don't need to remember that any more - you can't change it, you are a different person, and it's just one of your many, many experiences." Then I think of something I do that I like about myself. After doing this for a while, it really cut down the incidence of the thoughts.

I too had some traumatic and humiliating stuff happen to me, and I blamed and hated myself. Returning to the memories was a way to punish myself for being the type of person who had those experiences. This was also a way of identifying with the oppressor - if I condemned myself, that was the "correct" response, and I was showing that even if I was flawed, at least I recognized how flawed I was, and that was good, right? I was doing something right, wasn't I? I've managed to learn that this is like punching yourself in the face, and mostly stopped doing it.
posted by Frowner at 9:22 AM on November 1, 2011 [24 favorites]

This is one of those situations in which your accusers behave so abominably that the tables are now turned and any failings you may have had are dwarfed by the bizarre Lord of the Flies (great reference made by someone unthread!) scenario they subjected you to. I feel like I've seen some pretty crappy treatment of people, but I have never heard of anything this insane. Reading the letter? Recording it? Recording your reaction for later lulz by the group? This stuff is beyond the pale, and I would encourage you to try to laugh it off as "wow those people were nuts, so glad I didn't get drawn further into the morass of human twistedness that they called a student organization." I'm troubled by the fact that faculty members seemed to countenance this horrible display of humiliation-by-mob.
posted by jayder at 9:24 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Frowner has some great advice for you. What happened to you was an over the top bullying and scapegoating behavior, which still happens to adults, not just kids. Whatever your (minor) faults might have been, you did not deserve what they did to you! I will nth the therapy for PTSD recommendations, but add a comment to that.

I had a bullying situation in grade school, but also again at work a number of years ago that almost did my job in. As a kid, I did not have the maturity and did not know how to fight back, and became somewhat of a loner in self defense, but in my job I resolved not to let the bullies win that time and I fought back and managed to ultimately get the bully out of his position. I have tried also to help other people in similar bad situations and mentor and advocate for the underdogs, the powerless, and the bullied when I see stuff like that starting up. I think I have intervened and helped people in at least a small way in a few work and social situations. Trying to help in situations like that has helped make me feel a bit better about how powerless I was during the traumatic bullying times. The voice in my head still sometimes says I could have handled it better maybe in school, but I try to overlay that with the voice that says I am not that helpless kid anymore and I am resolved that I will do my best not to let that happen again to me or to anyone else.
posted by gudrun at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Oh, the take-away is to interrupt the memory. When you start thinking about it, create a phrase or an image that will STOP the memory.

In order to do this, you need to believe in your heart that you do not HAVE to relive this memory - that nothing is gained by reliving it, that you do NOT need to punish yourself by reliving it.

Find a phrase or a train of thought that will interrupt the memory and then refuse to think about it. If you're like me, you can get really hung up on the memory, re-examining it, looking for new details and new interpretations, getting lost in the painful parts. And what you need to do is to STOP that, to stop being interested in the memory.

If you want, you can think about it as defeating the people who hurt you - when you stop thinking about the memory, you are removing their ability to keep hurting you. They wanted to hurt you, and you were hurt. But you have the power to stop this part of it. You really do, I promise. You just need to learn the phrase or habit that will work for you, maybe on your own or maybe with a therapist.
posted by Frowner at 9:29 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

I just wanted to say that if you ever feel the urge, it's okay to let yourself be angry about this.

And I don't just mean angry. You have my permission, if you need it from someone, to go into a complete fucking red rage. As TryTheTilapia said, go running.
If you would like, scream like a pissed off wildcat while you're out there. Go break a few of your dishes (just make sure to break them in a relatively enclosed room). Write it down and burn it in a giant bonfire. Stamp your feet.

What they did to you was hella wrong and, honestly, you might be feeling restless because you really want to "smack a 'ho."

Definitely see a therapist about this, but also know that it's completely okay, even encouraged!, to push some of this twist-pain-knot out of you by roaring that you are -not- okay with this, that it is -not- your fault, and that you -never ever EVER- deserved this.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:44 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also do what Frowner does, and interrupting the memory with a pre-determined signal has helped me. Whenever I have one of those 'remembered shame' moments, I imagine myself writing the word STOP in front of my face with a marker, the kind that squeaks a little. I make this image very detailed, because that helps me be thinking about the shape of the letters, the sound the marker makes, rather than my horrible memory. Then once I've written the word, I wipe the word away with a mental squeegee, and symbolically wipe the memory away along with it.

When it's a particularly bad moment, I then follow this with thinking about something nice - again, I focus on lots of details so that I can have all my attention on the good thing. Mine is a waves going in and out on a beach, and I do deep breaths in a count of four, in and out, along with the waves.

I think it's important to acknowledge to yourself that this was a bad thing, these people were horrible to you, but it's over now, and dwelling on it won't do you any good. Then do your best to redirect yourself when the memory comes up. But also, don't browbeat yourself if you can't escape a memory right away - it's a process that you'll get better at over time. Be kind to yourself.
posted by marginaliana at 9:48 AM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

I think that interrupting the memory is good advice; there's no use in obsessing. However, for the times when it's difficult or you just want something else to think about, it might help to try to reclaim the memory and see what useful lessons you can take from it. For example, I think one lesson you can take away is that you're pretty strong -- you've gone through an experience that is probably worse than any other social experience you will ever have to face, and you've come out all right. You can also think of it as a reminder to be kind to people and to act with dignity. There will always be people ready to pile on to others with flimsy provocation, but you will not be one of them.
posted by egg drop at 10:03 AM on November 1, 2011

I have similar memories from High School, though not as completely batshit insane as yours as at least my tormentors had the excuse of being stupid kids. This was over 25 years ago now, and the memories which hurt so much for years afterwards are now a big old "Fuck Yeah, despite you all I survived. I love who I am now and I would not be that person without that 2 years of being spat on and insulted every day.

My early 20's where hell though trying to get over it, I didn't go to a therapist (which in hindsight was a bad move) but I did do what a lot of people here suggested I interrupted the memories whenever they started to occur. I basically imagined the memories being behind me where I couldn't see them so they had no power over me. I would even physically move my arm like I was pushing them there and I got angry, not at what they did but at the fact that what they did still had power over me and I was going to be damned if they won. So each time I started to dwell on the memory I would push it behind me basically saying "you have no power over me now." and push it away like the annoying and unimportant thing it was.

You can get through this. You did not deserve this no matter what. You can move on and not have the rest of your life shadowed by what happened, it just doesn't feel like it while you are still close to it, keep moving forwards. Time helps. Therapy would most definitely help. Accepting that you are allowed to be angry at those stupid stupid people but it's not your fault would help. Just keep moving forwards, it gets better.
posted by wwax at 10:13 AM on November 1, 2011

one suggestion i haven't seen yet: maybe try to find the humor in how CRAZY these people were.

The letter talked about everything from my singing too loudly to not flushing the toilet, and it was long as hell.

wtf. she embarrassed herself, not you. it sounds like a horrible improv comedy game.

I think, when you make new friends, and you're in a time when the two of you are sharing stories from your past you should tell them about this. not in a "feel sorry for me" way but "look at this crazy thing that happened to me way". maybe by telling other people the story that way you'll start seeing it that way.

Now I must say, I have many defects...

Jane read on and on, all the while recording my reaction (I was crying) and holding the cassette recorder up ...

I was really comforting to see this friend and my sister really upset and taking my side ...

About a year later, Jane apologized, and this provided some closure. But still I find myself thinking about the whole ordeal.

that makes you very human.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:17 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sadly, you just happened to be the easiest next target for a toxic person who wanted to feel more powerful at someone's expense. Judging from this antic, she probably already had a pretty wide swath of destruction in her wake, and the sad sacks who sat on their thumbs not saying anything while she pulled a stunt like that should have been ashamed of themselves.

When a distressing event loops endlessly in my head (thanks, brain!), I find it helps to envision the thought as a page on a big tablet, then mentally tear off that top sheet, wad it up and toss it, leaving a fresh blank page in its place. For some reason, this seems to make it easier to switch mental tracks.

Best of luck, that sounds like it was awful, but as you can see from the comments here, you're far from alone!
posted by bunji at 10:26 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have many defects

What? You're a human being with weird little human quirks. Let's not call them "defects," ok? And as far as the actual habits and attributes you describe, those are fairly low on the unlikable scale. Cut out the negative thinking.

I understand they had a right to dislike me

A right? Sure, I guess they have the right to dislike you? This smells of negative talk too. I think you're confusing their right to dislike you with their "right" to completely mistreat, abuse, and disrespect you. People never have that right. Don't confuse the two. Also, you too have a right—the right to not give a flying crap through a rolling donut what they thought/think about you.

I know that I wasn’t ready for the responsibility to lead this organization, and I understand their point

What point was that? Why do you understand their point? More negativity and giving benefits of doubts. Because if your responsibility level were the point, they could have just said, "we don't think you're ready to lead this organization." But they didn't. The point they made is that they were/are delusional. Someday this will bite them hard. Feel bad for them.

I wonder if I deserved it, too

No way in hell. This wondering is what's keeping you tied to that place. Try imagining your 22-year-old self as a different person. Name her "Mary." Mary was a well-meaning college kid, a little immature, and still trying to figure herself out. She may have made some mistakes, ok, but who didn't? Now, did Mary deserve that abuse? Is Mary still the same person as 5 years ago? Would you still currently emotionally beat on Mary for dealing with that? No. You wouldn't. Don't beat on the real you either.


My point here is, this is a really horrible thing that happened to you. But if you can deal with your current negative thinking and that you're still giving a benefit of a doubt to these past crapheads, I think you'll see more clearly about the situation itself.

I know, I know, but therapy is awesome for working out some negative thinking and reframing of situations.
posted by functionequalsform at 11:01 AM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. It's not fair. And it's never going to feel fair, or at least not for a whole long while. I had something similar happen (the complete and total social ostracization part at least) a couple months ago, and it really, really unequivocally sucks.

I have three cents of advice that hopefully you can take-a-penny for at least one. Ok, here goes.

1 Cent - Find Your People
These aren’t your people, and they’ve lost the privilege of being your people. I would say, just gravitate to the good. It also helps to have something to throw all your energy into so you don’t even have time to think about horrible-thing-that-happened. Personally, after my horrible-thing-that-happened I was super low. What saved me was the Occupy movement. OccupyDC has given me an opportunity to be around some of the nicest, most passionate, coolest people I’ve met after 5 years of being in this city. It’s totally a self-selecting bunch, and it’s great because we all (all ~200 regulars) get along fabulously well because at some level we know we’re not assholes. This group has kind of reached that happy critical mass of nice-cool-fun people that when an asshole does pop up time to time, they quickly realize they are in the vast minority and either realign their thinking or get lost pretty quickly.

Anyway. From your question I think you found your people... people doesn't have to be plural; maybe for now it's just your husband and your mom and your neighbor's cat that you feed pieces of bacon and talk to. Gravitate to the good and hang on to your people.

2 Cent - Karma
Whether you believe in karma or not, here’s the real takeaway. Usually, how people treat others catches up with them eventually. In this case you just fell, probably without even knowing, into this really bad dynamic in which Jane held most of the power and so clearly abused it. And it’s likely because she’s not happy with herself (one school of thought holds that “happy people don’t do bad things”). Eventually she will run across someone who she wishes to abuse and that person will be in a different position, or a different sensibility, have prettier hair, whatever, and will shut her down. After a while, either Jane (and the rest of those horrible classmates of yours) will have an epiphany and right her ways, or she wind up with fewer and fewer friends, or just people that even want to exist in the same room as her.

3 Cent - Reset Button
Use this event as a proverbial reset button for your life. Looking back you can say, ok that big horrible thing that happen? That was pulling the cutting the wire; it was hitting the emergency shutdown button; it was pulling the eject chord (or rather having a group of (in my opinion, horribly childish and wholly spineless) people shove you out of the plane). But was it for the better? It gave you the opportunity to get out of a really sucky situation once and for all. There’s no going back, so in some sense it was somewhat of a clean break.

For a little while after you hit that reset button, you’re allowed to be a little down. It’s hard to get you’re groove back and it takes a little while for the extraordinary machine (ie. YOU) to warm up again. And now look at where you – solid happy life (albeit with occasional PTSD-style flashbacks). Would the same outcome have been likely say you hadn’t had this crazy traumatic event? How is your life different now verses before? And the real upside here is that life-after-the-reset-button is likely to keep on going on that upward trajectory.
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, another thing:

I went through a phase in which I truly believed other people's opinions of me more than my own opinions of me. Part of that is because I didn't really have opinions of my own, about myself. So when someone said I was crazy/a thief/an astronaut, I would go into MAYBE THEY'RE RIGHT mode.

You're going into MAYBE THEY'RE RIGHT mode by even wondering if you deserved this. Don't do that. You know who you are, what you're capable of, and what you stand for. And if you don't, get to know yourself a bit better and then you can process other people's opinions of you in a much more sane manner.
posted by functionequalsform at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Wow. This is upsetting just to read. I can't imagine how I would feel if it had happened to me.

I agree with memory interruption. But sometimes just thinking STOP isn't enough. I imagine taking that person and throwing them as far as I can over the horizon until they disappear. It works for me because one: I get to imagine myself strong (picking a person up), two: thowing them as far as I can (releases anger), and three they get to disappear over the horizon (and from my thoughts). You can throw Jane, the tape recorder, the whole room of crazies, what ever you want.

Repeat as necessary.
posted by Vaike at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

What they did to you was organised bullying. You were bullied. Bullying is traumatising. Please do not feel in any way ashamed that this still hurts, years later. I have a couple of somewhat extreme bullying incidents that still occasionally knot me up almost forty years after they took place.

You recognise that maybe you weren't the friendliest person, that you slacked off, that you were a little too immature for the responsibility and that you made some mistakes. That shows that you have grown up, acknowledged the mistakes and moved on at least that far. Their response to your mistakes was to bully and humiliate you in an almost ritualised fashion and to make up outright lies about you.

Discount the lies, because they're lies. You didn't do those things. They were just mean little barbs your bullies threw in for the hell of it. And, as I say, you have acknowledged the things you genuinely did wrong. Now put them in their proper perspective. You were too young and/or uninterested in the position of responsibility you found yourself to do a good job. Do you know something? I would wager that a vas majority of young people have been in a situation more or less like this. Teenagers and young adults are notorious for fucking up, slacking off and over-reaching themselves.

In other words, what you did was actually pretty normal. What they did was not. You were relatively normal. They were downright nasty. Hold your head up and move on. You deserve to put this incident in the past, in its proper place, where it belongs. All the best to you.
posted by Decani at 11:42 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Something like that happened to me in college, and it screwed me up for a long time. What finally got it out of my system was hitting the Appalachian Trail for a couple of months, hiking my ass off daily, wrestling with that effing demon head-on (because I blamed myself for it too, I could not forgive myself for being so flawed that others would go so far as to attack me for it), and while I was out there, I called a college friend from a phone booth who reported that he had just run into my tormentors in a bar. He told them how messed up I was from the bullshit that they put me through, and the guys apparently apologized and told my friend to tell me how sorry they were. I had gone hiking primarily to work through the incident, and hearing that from my friend was incredibly healing and freed me from a lot of the torment. But, the brilliant part of it was, being out on the trail was already working, I was on the way back to myself even without that amazing phone call. I don't think that you are going to be able to let this go until you face it head-on. Therapy might help, sure. But I'm going to get behind TryTheTilapia and suggest that you get physical. I don't know why it works, but it works.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2011

Good advice above, and let me just throw in "holy crap, you made some of the mistakes that everyone makes growing up, but you were unlucky enough to be in the company of a sociopath who made it her job to turn in into a lifelong traumatic experience for you."

Seriously. The stuff you just described? I've done worse, far worse, oh so very far worse, both in the trivial stuff and the major-responsibilities-dropped stuff, and I'm considered amongst my peers to be reasonably normal, nice and even responsible (probably because I grew up, recognized my shortcomings, and worked to improve them -- like everyone else, not just you and me. I have no doubt you are considered amongst your peers this way, as well, and you are growing into a better person every day.

But what Jane did to you, turning you into a social pariah, goes so far above and beyond the normal level of peer-level social reinforcement that I would compare it to the difference between someone punching you in the arm for fun and someone cutting off your neighbor's dog's head with an axe and framing you for the killing. That she apologized to you feels so very, very inadequate, and I think you could easily be forgiven for never, ever forgiving her (although if you do manage to forgive her, you're a better person than I am, and good on ya.)

Here's a nugget to consider, though: she was using the tape recorder, because she was planning to listen to it later, by herself, for her own pleasure. She was taking joy in making you suffer. It wasn't about you; it was about you happening to be a person in a position where she could cause you that much hurt, for her own pleasure and satisfaction. Consequently, it might just as well have been any of your friends. So think of any of your friends, and how you would feel about them if you heard this same story from them, and understand that that's how they think of you: as a perfectly normal person who was once victimized by a sociopathic freakshow.

So therapy would be really good for this, because therapy isn't always for "you are problematic and need to be fixed" situations, it is also for "you are totally normal but have been abused in some way, and therapy can help you reestablish your equilibrium and move on" situations, like yours.
posted by davejay at 11:50 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is among the cruelest thing I've ever heard of. Even if you were not a nice person (and it sounds like really you were just marching to the beat of your own drummer, and not very responsible, and that describes an awful lot of people at that age), this would be extremely cruel. It seriously does automatically render Jane (and any of her cohorts) in the wrong no matter how badly you behaved. This is unreal. If you were seriously the worst person in the world, the right thing to do would have been to quietly ask you to step down, not to have a public referendum on your roommate habits totally unrelated to the activity.

Even if these people were right (and I doubt it), it was NOT fair and you did NOT deserve it.

This sounds extremely traumatizing and personally I would see a therapist. And I say that as someone who just had to go talk to a professional about my "bat PTSD" where I kept panicking after the fact about the harmless bat that got himself into my house and came within 12 feet of my children with no harm to anyone whatsoever ... I was so freaked out I kept panicking and panicking for seriously six weeks. Also I'm sure there's a bat out there with human PTSD, poor thing, out talking to his little bat therapist about the horrid humans chasing him out the window with a broom when he was JUST LOST. Talking this out to a neutral third party who has the professional expertise to help you understand and process what happened to you, and how wrong it was, and who can help you develop coping strategies for the obsessive thoughts about it, will be extremely helpful to you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:58 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

One more thought ... Whatever the nature of the organization, this was obviously a student organization and meant, by its very nature, to provide a learning and growth experience. You learned something. You got exactly what the organization existed for. You did not fail; people drop the ball in student organizations all the time and there is no reason in the world you should be ashamed about it five years later. You had the misfortune of encountering a very sick person who did something terrible, but once again, that's something you learned from. From where I'm sitting, you've done things just fine and whatever mistakes you made were just part of learning and being a student.
posted by jayder at 12:09 PM on November 1, 2011

I have been through something somewhat similar, though not nearly as extreme, and I know what you mean about changing the way you interact with people. It's hard to be open and cheerful when in the back of your mind you're thinking "they're faking it, they're going to hurt me, they will never really like me"...

I feel like part of what needs to happen is just putting yourself out there and taking concrete actions to be social and trust people, even though it feels wrong. That is the only way to learn how to trust people again.

P.s. those people are assholes
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is actually a term for what you were put through - "mobbing.". The Wikipedia article goes on to note that mobbing-prone environments usually are poorly organized and don't have anyone to answer to, and one leader takes the initiative in singling out a victim with the goal of forcing him or her out of the organization.

You were mobbed, and Jane is a despicable excuse for a human being. She was thirty years old, in other words a grown-up who should have known better, who manipulated and used a group of immature twentysomethings to do her bidding. I would venture that Jane had no friends her own age, because people her own age could see through her manipulative BS and personality disorder(s). (Someone who is past their mid-20's who has a group of young acolytes, so to speak, sends up huge red flags for me, from past experience. I'm not talking about someone who has friends of different ages! I mean the older person who always has a gaggle of young admirers. Usually there is a very good reason why their friends tend to be young and naive!)

As for you "slacking off" - live and learn. There's a reason why Congress and the Presidency in the U.S. have age requirements - early 20's is a time when most people are immature and still learning how to do things. To put it in perspective, you filled a very minor office with absolutely no importance in the wider world and you didn't do it perfectly. You didn't muck up the job of Secretary of State!

Therapy is a good idea for you, and I further suggest a therapist who has experience in working with people who have been bullied or mobbed in the workplace. You want to shore up your self-esteem, see that THEY, not you, were in the wrong, and have the experience, the intuition, and the boundaries to keep this from ever happening again.

As for Jane - some sociopaths are charming enough that they can leave a trail of destruction behind them through their whole lives, but judging from her hanging out with people much younger and manipulating them to do her evil bidding, it sounds like most people are on to her once they know her, and eventually she'll have burned so many bridges she'll be stuck on her little island of no job and no friends.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Jane is a goddamn lunatic.

I doubt most of the students who signed that letter had any idea she was planning to read it aloud in front of your friends and family and tape record your reaction. That's just plain sociopathic.

For that matter I would be surprised if the letter they signed is even the one she read to you. (I can imagine a class of people signing a letter asking someone to resign a post. I can't imagine more than a couple of them signing one that tells you you sing too loudly or forget to flush the toilet.)

Were this people right? Was it fair? Did I deserve this?

No. No. No.
posted by ook at 12:44 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nthing the therapy suggestion and that you were the victim of a crazy person and the mob mentality.

Just wanted to add that you might want to check if the same person is still in charge of student organizations at your school. If they are, I would consider going to talk to them and asking if there's anything you can do to make sure crap like this doesn't happen again. If anyone is at fault (other than crazy Jane and her mob), it's the administrators and faculty who condoned emotional abuse through their total inaction.
posted by JuliaKM at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

For that matter I would be surprised if the letter they signed is even the one she read to you.

Hell, I would be surprised if they signed that letter at all. Because this shit is bananas.

Look, the point of college is not to be perfect. The point of college is to learn and develop. Student organizations have nine million chairs of everything from governance to parties so that lots of people can try their hands at leadership. The expectation is that a lot of those people will screw up and have to give it another shot at some point. The point of study abroad and dorm life is to embrace a new culture and learn how to deal with/tolerate people that you don't 100% get along with. It sounds like YOU pushed your boundaries and tried to grow and learn as a person, which is AWESOME and WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO IN COLLEGE. You probably did say some awkward things or not do your best at some parts of student leadership- but oh my god, sweetheart, if saying something awkward was the bar for being a good person, no one could meet it. EVERYONE says awkward dumb shit or blows off assignments from film club or whatever. EV. REE. ONE. YOU made an honest effort to engage in your education and develop yourself. These other people decided to not just continue but to embrace their pettiest, smallest, meanest impulses, like spoiled children. You did great, they did shit.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2011

OP, on the off chance that some contextual advice might help, did this by any chance take place in a sorority?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

For that matter I would be surprised if the letter they signed is even the one she read to you. (I can imagine a class of people signing a letter asking someone to resign a post. I can't imagine more than a couple of them signing one that tells you you sing too loudly or forget to flush the toilet.)

Any information that ever came from Jane, ever, at all, should be treated as a sociopathic lie. If she tells you water is wet, it's dry. If she tells you stones are hard, they're soft.

You KNOW she lied to other people about you. She also lied to you about other people.
posted by endless_forms at 1:53 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

Dude, what the fuck? Who are these fucking people?

You asked if this was fair and/or if you deserved it, which means you're asking if you deserved to be humiliated and emotionally tortured, in public, for the amusement of others, with your reactions to that torment recorded for posterity so that there was proof of the terrible pain inflicted on you. No, it wasn't fair. No, you didn't deserve it. I can't imagine anyone deserving that.

You were abused and traumatized, no shit. It doesn't matter that no one laid a finger on you. You spent months in the company of systematic abusers who took every opportunity to take you apart at the core, to attack your sense of self-worth and community belonging, to betray your trust and faith in others quite openly in terms of the cheating and the rumors, and then they finished off their personality assassination with an emotional lynching. I am not using these words lightly. This is seriously one of the worst things I've ever heard in terms of deliberate cruelty and malice. You're not weird or crazy for feeling unable to get past it, and you didn't deserve it just because you feel like you should have tried harder or fought back better or been nicer or whatever. I don't think anyone could go through what you went through and not be at least a little affected by it, and probably a lot affected.

So what you're experiencing is the aftermath of some pretty heavy trauma. A lot of times, people who have been so traumatized find themselves stuck in that place and time mentally, even if they find ways to cope outwardly, which you do sometimes with the recurring visitation to that experience. It's very unlikely that you'll be able to pretend that it never happened, but fortunately that's not actually the best way to deal with it. It is much more likely that you'll be able to release the grip this event has over you and move forward. Therapy is the obvious and I'd argue necessary start; so is doing what you've done here, which is bravely facing it and talking about it with the people you trust. I'm not speaking lightly either when I say that for you to be able to trust other people at all after something like this speaks volumes of your character, even if you can't see that right now.

It definitely wasn't your fault and you absolutely didn't deserve it. You were made into a sacrifice for the catharsis and amusement of psychopaths. I'm very sorry this happened to you. Please find time to see a therapist, and please consider talking to your husband and to your friends about it if you can, because being open about these sorts of things really does help. You can MeMail me if you want to talk more. Be well and good luck.
posted by Errant at 3:38 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

(Someone who is past their mid-20's who has a group of young acolytes, so to speak, sends up huge red flags for me, from past experience.

I had a short but intense run-in with an administrator at my first college who fit this description and was very much an insecure bully. I wound up leaving the school over that incident. During the aftermath, my sister gave me a piece of advice which I have found very useful in all sorts of situations:
Whenever you are dealing with someone obnoxious, remember this: as much as it sucks to have to interact with that person, at least you do not have to be that person.
Think of that: yes, what Jane did to you was horrible (really horrible; no one, no one deserves that), but think of how horrible it would be to feel compelled to do that to someone else. Being 30 years old and getting your kicks out of humiliating college students? Being so insecure that the only way to build yourself up is by tearing vulnerable people down? Being so filled with hate and fear that the public destruction of someone else seems like a good idea? How sad is that?

A life without empathy is no life at all. Don't hate her, pity her.
posted by Commander Rachek at 4:42 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it's going to take you some time to untangle your feelings about this, and it's good to have someone monitoring your progress week to week, which is a great benefit of therapy. It's heartbreaking to hear how much this has affected you. I don't think, even if you find a way to find peace with this incident, that you'll be free from the pain it's caused you. It sounds like it's worked its way into your thought processes and that a therapist can help you undo.
posted by sweetkid at 7:30 PM on November 1, 2011

It could totally be that I'm projecting my own issues onto this situation, but what struck me reading this story is that there never seemed to be a point where you let yourself feel really angry for the shitty way you were treated. Obviously anger is not positive in every situation, but I've come to realize that a healthy dose of anger can be purifying and energizing. Even though this was some epic, Carrie-esque bullshit they put you through, it sounds like you're still kind of defending Jane and your other classmates -- the kind of "identifying with the oppressor" Frowner talked about. If it matters, I think you're entitled to be absolutely furious, even today, especially if you haven't really let yourself feel that way before.

Also, did you really want to forgive Jane? I think it would have been totally fine for you to say, "I'm sorry, you have burned this bridge beyond repair and as far as I'm concerned you can go jump off the remains." Apologizing can be a way of manipulating people, too, especially when someone knows you're the kind of person to avoid conflict or to take the high road. My advice would be to forgive on your own schedule.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:32 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

So much good advice, particularly re: mobbing, but on the off chance you are "friends" with any of these people on social networks, defriend them. You don't need their presences in your life, even to such a small degree.
posted by 6550 at 10:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not only defriend them (per 6550's advice) but I would say it is ok to never forgive them. You don't have to try to accept or understand these people. Jane is a piece of shit. When she apologized to you, this was probably more about Jane wanting to feel good about Jane than it was trying to make things right for you. Even if there was pure contrition, groveling, tears, and begging -- which would be the appropriate actions from Jane when she apologized for such behavior -- it's ok to never accept her apology. It's ok to be angry with them, forever, as long as you don't become consumed by that anger. Jane, her little pals, the boyfriend, the people who stood around the periphery and didn't speak up on your behalf, and the school administration who were supposed to be in charge but allowed this atrocity to happen without repercussions all deserve your indignation and scorn. You are better than the lot of them, combined.

It does not matter that you were not a social butterfly with them, or that you didn't flush the toilet (seriously?!), you did nothing to deserve what they did to you. You might have been socially awkward, but they were evil.
posted by Houstonian at 4:13 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had to take a deep breath, OP, that was brutal. I am so sorry you went through that shit. I have been traumatized and had my reputation ruined, too. (So have MANY others). Your story ripped my guts out.

The only reason that I'm not a crying puddle on the floor right now is because I know you can live through this and GET THROUGH this. You did it, you're living, breathing proof that people can go through a fire and come out on the other side. I am proud of you. Others in this thread have gone through their own horrible, humiliating, fucked up moments and they are proud of you, too.

In addition to having some lame, jerky guy cheat on you, you have some psychopath publicly humiliate you, for fun, at the same time. Anyone would be traumatized by that. It does kill your cheer and trust.

I understand blaming yourself, after all, it's what we do. However, after taking your own accounting, and your own responsibility for whatever, some of the blame falls right back to those people for being such assholes, doesn't it? (and don't discount the notion that those signatures were fake).

Most people would never do what Jane did. She saw you were vulnerable for it, she took her nastiest shot, and she hit her target. That's not you, baby. That was all her.

Live well, OP, is the very best advice that I have taken from my experience. If this happened when you were 22, and that was 5 years ago, you still have a whole life in front of you...You are writing this book, and that shitty chapter was the chapter of your life when you flaked out on some college club duties, tangled with a true psychopath, saw what mob mentality does to people, got cheated on by some jerk, and got kicked in the face with life's random, steel-toed boot. But, you made it out on the other side.

You asked how to let go. If you fall down (by dwelling on it in sadness), get right back up by doing anything else but that. If you fall down again, slap yourself in the head and get back on your feet.

Living well means to do your own thing. Make your own, controllable environment as happy and comforting as humanly possible, make a happy life and give Jane and Company the giant cosmic "Fuck you".

They say living well is the best revenge, and I must agree. Best to you, Anon.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:43 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Christ, what a pack of assholes.

Ok, so here's why I think that you keep reliving this memory. You've grown up a little now, and you understand that you don't have to allow people to treat you like this. If someone tried to pull this shit today, you tell her to go fuck herself, leave the room, rip the letter, smash the tape recorder, etc, all of which you had a perfect right to do back then. But you didn't do that then, and some part of you thinks that if you replay the memory enough times, you can somehow make it come out differently, somehow make it so you acted the way you now you that you could have acted.

Of course, this is impossible. The only thing you can do is move forward and resolve never to take this kind of treatment from people again. The way to do this is to throw yourself into the world, and start making new friends - try giving people some of your trust, even though you don't want to. I'm not going to tell you that nobody is ever going to act like an asshole to you again. In fact, I guarantee that someone will. But that's good. Because when that happens, you get to stand up for yourself the way you wish you did then. You get to demand the treatment you deserve. And once that happens, this thing stops being the horrible event from your past, and starts being the thing that taught you not to accept this sort of thing from people.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:17 AM on November 2, 2011

Oh, and by the way, Jane's behavior in this situation is 100% identical to the way people act when they're leading a cult. I mean that literally. You got Denounced. So try to look at it this way: you didn't lose your friends, you got kicked out of Jonestown before they started passing out kool-aid.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:19 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
I wanted to thank everyone for being the friends I have been in need of. I have never really talked about this to anyone because I’m still embarrassed by everything that happened, but I already feel better having shared this with you, especially since I see that some of you have been through similar experiences. I am not ready to share this with my husband because I feel like it will open his eyes to what a freak I am, and maybe he will leave me. It’s irrational, but that’s how I really feel.

I just wanted to say that if you ever feel the urge, it's okay to let yourself be angry about this.

For some reason, I cannot be angry! I cry and feel sad and part of me still wants them all to like me, even though I haven’t seen in person in years. I even got a freelance job for one of these people, recommended her like she was my friend, I did. They must think I’m such a loser. I of course have them on facebook. All of them post pictures of that trip once in a while and those pics make me physically ill. I kind of hope they will like me one day.

I went through a phase in which I truly believed other people's opinions of me more than my own opinions of me.

This happens to me a lot. I start thinking I actually stole, I actually lied, and my rational part knows it’s not true, but I believe them. The girl that supported me all along had to sit me down and tell me Anon, you did NOT do any of this, why on Earth do you think you did? With the stealing incident it was too much, I mean this girl lost her wallet, and they found it empty under my bed, and I thought it’s just too much coincidence, maybe I stole her money and I don’t remember, but my rational part knows I didn’t do it…

I’m also weirdly sensitive to any kind of abuse now, even in movies, I freak out when someone is being unfairly judged or lied about. I can’t stand it.

"they're faking it, they're going to hurt me, they will never really like me"...

What I feel is that sooner or later any new acquaintances will realize what an unlikable person I really am. I think I really have internalized their accusations. I feel that someone from that group will show up and let them know what happen, my dark secret.

For that matter I would be surprised if the letter they signed is even the one she read to you.

Years later I was told the people signed a blank piece of paper and she took it home to write the letter. Knowing this didn’t make me feel any better, for some reason.

A life without empathy is no life at all. Don't hate her, pity her.

The sad part is she wasn’t liked at all at first. I brought her into the class and encouraged other people to like her. I don’t dislike her at all. I am not even angry at her, I don’t know why…

Again, you cannot imagine how much you have helped me. Your sympathy, your indignation and your opinions and advice, I have no words to tell you how much they mean to me.
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am not ready to share this with my husband because I feel like it will open his eyes to what a freak I am, and maybe he will leave me. It’s irrational, but that’s how I really feel.

Please, please, therapy, which will help you derail these kinds of thoughts and see the situation for what it truly is: you were victimized. You are still being victimized - these shitbags who did this to you are still living in your head, running your brain and your emotions. Please find a therapeutic situation where you can learn to reframe this so it more closely matches reality, and evict these motherfuckers from your being.

Look, none of us in this thread know you (well, probably - it's a small world!), and yet no one here thinks you're a freak. Seems like everyone would be happy to join a posse to hunt down the awful people who did this to you and give them what-for. Think about that. Total strangers, who don't know you or love you or find it endearing that you always eat corn flakes with exactly nine blueberries for breakfast are riding to your defense. Your husband knows you and loves you. Please find a way to trust him with this.
posted by rtha at 10:35 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

OP, please cut these people out of your life. You can forgive them on your own time, but that doesn't mean you have to subject yourself to them. At least hide them on facebook so you don't see their updates. Stop letting them live rent-free in your brain! Make them smaller and smaller in your life until they're gone.

I always want to be liked, too, but I promise you, when you let that go? It's very liberating. I still have to consciously tell myself, "Okay, Jennifer is NOT going to like me, and that's okay, I can be cordial and professional with her and not have to be liked." Or, "Sam actively dislikes me, and that's okay; if Sam liked me I'd have to wonder what was wrong with me because Sam is only friends with psychopaths." But it feels good to remind yourself of that.

You don't need to be liked by these people. You have grown up, you have a life of your own, in which you behave with dignity and integrity, and you don't need everyone to like you; you just need the people who matter to like you -- good people, people you love, etc. Decide what's important to YOU in your life, and the people who admire and like you for those qualities -- they're probably the right people.

"I am not ready to share this with my husband because I feel like it will open his eyes to what a freak I am, and maybe he will leave me. It’s irrational, but that’s how I really feel."

I sympathize with you; being vulnerable to a spouse can be super-scary. But I do want to make sure you know the far more likely thing to fear is that he will go hunt Jane down and punch her in the face. Not really. But I will bet you dollars to donuts THAT is his reaction, not that you're a freak.

Please see a therapist. It's even clearer after your update (a blank piece of paper??!?!?!?!) that Jane was a sociopath who victimized you. Badly. Let a professional who can help you with coping skills and help you talk through what you're feeling give you more of the care and kindness you need from another human being who can actually BE HUMAN.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I do not and would not have the capacity to diagnose you from afar, but you should know that many of the things you're describing yourself as doing or feeling (or not feeling, as the case may be) are classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Which is completely understandable, because you were traumatized beyond belief.

We're nerds around here, so we talk a lot about Star Trek, and there's a famous bit where Picard is faced with four lights and tortured until he'll confess that there are five. Openly he never does, but later he tells Troi that, for a second, he saw five lights.

I'm not linking to the scene because it might be triggering and it's not necessary to do so. But I want to emphasize two things. One, what they made fiction about really happened to you. You were emotionally tortured, for months, until you didn't know what was real anymore. There is no way anyone could go through that and not have lingering effects. It's not a question of strength or weakness, of loveability or rationality. When you go through extreme stressors, especially over a prolonged period of time, your body reacts and changes. Undoing those effects is very possible, but it takes time and assistance. Getting these people out of your head is very possible, but it's probably not going to happen overnight.

Which leads me to point two: the first thing Picard does after being released is talk to a counselor. That's the smart thing to do, and it's the right thing to do. I can understand not feeling like you can trust your husband with this; as I said earlier, I find it remarkable and a testament to your character that you can trust people to any degree now. A therapist can be the outlet that you need, until you find yourself ready to trust the people in your life. Please consider it.
posted by Errant at 11:09 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

We definitely don't think you're a freak, not at all, but please see a therapist. Your update is worrying. No one needs to live like this.
posted by sweetkid at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're such a good person you can't even imagine inflicting the sort of pain that was inflicted on you on someone else. You can't even begin to imagine doing that.

That quality right there? Totally absent from the Janes of this world. Nope, the Janes of the world thrive on feeling power by inflicting pain and gutting their competitors. You probably really stood out, actually, in the group. You were probably seen as being very smart, very capable, showed lots of promise - hence being elected as a leader within the group. Those qualities threatened Jane and, because she is a psycho without any empathy and therefore has no sense of fair play, she decided to get rid of you rather than rise to your level and meet you on higher ground. Textbook sociopath.

You know what? I'm smart. I'm talented. I'm creative. I still forget to pick up the cat food. I procrastinate. I forget to call my mom back sometimes and make her feel bad and then feel bad for making her feel bad. I'M NOT A BAD PERSON WORTHY OF SCORN. But I have a hard time remembering that because I, like you, am a survivor of massive trauma. My trauma was sexual, physical and psychological. I literally grew up with monsters in, around and under the bed. The way you conceive of this in your head? I get it. OH, I get it. And that is normal, actually, because your organism is trying to make sense of this terrible thing and is telling itself, "Well, there can't just be cold-blooded, reptilian scum out there hiding in plain sight. If that's true, then that's scarier than even this scary thing that happened to me. So....I guess I must have caused the scary thing to happen to me. If that's true, then I can control scary things by being better! If I'm nice, scary things won't happen! If I'm polite, nobody will treat me like shit. If I'm quiet, no one will be bothered by my presence and stomp on me." Believe me, I get it. My SO of a decade sometimes has to tease me gently back into reality by saying things like, "You know, if you weren't such a bad person, Greece's economy probably wouldn't be in the crapper." I cannot tell you how loved and safe that makes me feel. Honestly.

Tell your husband about this. He loves you and he is going to be really sad that this happened to you and sadder still that you feel so ashamed and guilty that you didn't feel you could talk about it. He is going to share your pain with you and help you get to a therapist to make this better. If that is not his job as your husband, then I don't know what husbands and wives are for. He's going to help you, I promise. And, if by some cosmic earthquake you don't feel helped after that talk, or you feel let down, memail me. I will help you. Lots of people here will. You don't have to be isolated in your pain anymore, I'm telling you. Tell your husband and get to a therapist. I'm giving you a hug.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 12:09 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I mean this girl lost her wallet, and they found it empty under my bed, and I thought it’s just too much coincidence, maybe I stole her money and I don’t remember, but my rational part knows I didn’t do it…

Have you considered the possibility that JANE stole the wallet, and planted it beneath your bed? Because boy howdy, would I bet money on that.
posted by endless_forms at 1:44 PM on November 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

For some reason, I cannot be angry! I cry and feel sad and part of me still wants them all to like me

I really feel for you. The voice of the oppressor has a way of persisting, even if you know on some level that it's a load of horse shit. Therapy can help liberate that voice of righteous anger, and it can help you recognize and select the thoughts you actually want to believe.

I'm really glad you posted this question, and I hope it's the start of something awesome for you.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:14 PM on November 2, 2011

You poor thing.

Something like this happened to me about a year and a half ago with a new boss who, I'm also positive is a sociopath (I'm seeing a trend on this thread).

I was traumatized and devastated and it affected me the whole time I worked there. I felt physically sick going to work each week.

Luckily, I got out and got a better job, but even with some distance, I still count it as being the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I still have nightmares about that woman. I've becomes obsessed with sociopaths and psychopaths since. I've read the Psychopath Test, The Sociopath Next Door, Snakes in Suits, and the Science of Evil trying to understand that woman. She did similar things to other employees too - I shudder to think of all the damage she's caused to other people's lives.

I haven't had therapy, so the only advice I can give you is to be kind to yourself and to surround yourself with good people who make you happy. Try to stop blaming yourself and thinking that you somehow deserved it. Some people are just cruel and awful -- it has nothing to do with you.

And when you think of it every now and then, try not to give in to feeling that traumatized, devastated feeling. You can rewire your brain and make things less painful by thinking nonchalantly about them. Try thinking "Ain't no thang." or "Eff that B." next time.

I hope this goes away for you.
All the best!
posted by heffalump at 4:37 PM on November 2, 2011

Years later I was told the people signed a blank piece of paper and she took it home to write the letter. Knowing this didn’t make me feel any better, for some reason.

This information changes the situation quite a bit. It's not a group of people mobbing you, it's one particular sociopath taking her psychosis out on you.

And I do mean that literally. Jane's behavior, as you've describing, is absolutely not sane. There is something deeply wrong with her. I'm not high minded enough to suggest you pity her instead of hate her -- I'm working up a pretty healthy hatred of her without even having met her -- but do please recognize that the problem is not you. It's not some reaction you're likely to bring out in other people, it's not any kind of flaw in your character, it's one crazy person who could have chosen to target just about anyone. You were just the unlucky one she chose to focus on, for whatever reason (possibly, ironically enough, because you were the one helping her into the group: that made her feel obligated to you, and she twisted that sense of obligation into hatred of you.)

It's a bit troubling that you left that crucial bit of information out of your original post, that you still have this internalized as the whole group against you instead of just her. It's just her. And she's a total nut job.
posted by ook at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2011

Holy hell. I'm reading through this page, finding things that are disturbingly relatable, and my heart deeply goes out to you. I've gone through something similar. It sucks, especially when the head person is someone with some level of power or influence. Even the people on our side aren't brave enough to speak up.

Just know that you're not alone and we're with you.
posted by divabat at 6:45 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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