Dealing with abusive former collaborator who runs in same social circles
September 20, 2015 3:28 PM   Subscribe

My close professional relationship with a man ended badly because he was abusive towards me and I finally couldn’t take it anymore. He's blown up over tiny things, yelled at me until I cried, made inappropriate sexual advances, etc. He’s done this to at least 5 different women, but nobody wants to talk about it openly.

I wish I’d paid attention to the red flags earlier, but he’s very well connected and he convinced me he could help my career. Plus we became close friends and I gave him emotional support when he was suicidal. I had poor boundaries.

It’s been a few years since we’ve spoken and I’m still triggered when I see his name pop up on social media (even though I’ve blocked his accounts). He’s very petty and has cut me off from several lucrative opportunities, while glad-handing my friends. I’ve tried my best to avoid drama and not create sides because we still run in the same circles and I don't want to put friends in an awkward position. My friends are privately supportive, but it hurts my feelings when they tell me, “I heard about what happened and I believe you, but…I’ll still work with him,” or “I’m sorry this happened but you maybe shouldn’t talk about this publicly."

What can I do to get over this? I don’t need his endorsement to be successful and well-liked, but it still feels like an open wound. I’ve even tried looking at his picture and thinking “You’re a human, just like me, and I forgive you,” but I'm too angry for it to really work. I feel trapped. He’s the only person I’m not on speaking terms with and it eats me up inside.

TL;DR: How do I take the high road and deal with a manipulative person who triggers me emotionally, and who I still run into in my small professional circle?
posted by doodletoo to Human Relations (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Easier said than done I know but remember that professional circles aren't the Vatican and don't have people "in charge" of them, so just set up a new one.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:59 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Take this as an opportunity to disabuse yourself of the just-world fallacy. Jerks often win. Nice people will take side of a winning jerk over you out of self-interest.

If he's powerful enough to hurt your career, consider moving. It's a perfectly rational move. Every great American success is descended from someone who couldn't cut it in the old country.
posted by MattD at 5:15 PM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just so you don't feel alone, I am in the exact same situation: my former abuser has abused other women in our small field of work, and his probably doing it to another woman now (just because serial abusers don't really change, at least that's what the evidence shows). Time did a lot of good; I am now at a point where I no longer care about him one bit. He did move away, and then so did I, but he is still in my professional circle and people ask me about him all the time (without knowing that we dated, let alone that he was incredibly abusive). It sucks but I am no longer emotional about it. By that I mean I have no emotional response when people ask me about him, and I'll even bring him up when it is relevant and say "when I did that project with so-and-so, we made an incredible contribution."

So, the first thing that happened for me was simply letting time pass. Another thing that helped me was therapy; since you don't mention it, I thought I might. I would never ever mention him to anyone negatively again just because that isn't really where I am anymore: I definitely told people in private what he did, but I wouldn't do that now, partially because I learned a lot about boundaries in therapy and I learned that I can decide to only talk to people like my therapist and my boyfriend and occasionally, when it is relevant, with friends who are not in my professional circles (I no longer make friends at work, in fact, thanks to this situation and some others where I learned that being close to people from work can really mess your life up if and when things go south). Therapy helped me really learn about boundaries and it helped me get to the place I am at emotionally with respect to my ex.

Having a hobby and building up my life with people that I love and who love me has helped a lot too. This has been a huge concerted effort on my part and takes daily work. Now I am virtually surrounded by people who really care for me and prop me up and think I am great. No one in my life cuts me down anymore (except for myself, and I've worked a lot on self-talk so that doesn't happen nearly as often as it did).

So: time, therapy, and love (e.g., self-care, friends, a partner who treats you well) can go a long way towards making this OK, so that it is not still eating at you.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2015 [12 favorites]

Oh and to people saying you should move or make different career choices and get new professional circles: I often considered this myself, but I am so glad I did not. I have wanted to do what I do since I was a very young child. Walking away from this would have been giving up, at least for me. It would have been incredibly sad and unfair and not the right choice for me personally or professionally. So if you can't do that or won't do that, that is ok. You can still stay in your profession and do what you love while concurrently working on learning to deal with your feelings about your abuser. It's easier to leave the profession entirely, in some ways, but in other ways it is not. You have to make that choice for yourself; I am deeply happy that I stayed doing what I love in my professional career, and giving it up would, for me, have been giving in to my abuser.
posted by sockermom at 5:49 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sorry, had this sitting on an open tab for hours that I forgot to submit. Since I typed it all I'll submit, but sockermom has a similar answer that you've already marked as solved.

I have a close friend who belong(ed) to a tight social circle. One of her closest male friends was always interested in her sexually, but she'd always been very clear that his feelings weren't reciprocated and had told him NO many times when he'd throw an arm around her shoulders or whatever. They managed to stay friends, had been friends since high school, until one day about 10 years ago he assaulted her when they were alone at her home, grabbing her and trying to kiss her and touching her despite her saying no loudly. She threw him out and told him to never speak to her again, and when friends in the social group invited her places she asked if he would be there, and when the answer was yes, she wouldn't go. One of her close female friends within the group asked her what was up, and she told her the whole sorry tale. Unexpectedly, her female friend just brushed it off and said, eh, that's just him, you should get over it. And then continued to be excellent friends with the assaulter. The assaulter was more useful to her than my friend was (part of it was location, he lived nearby and she lived a distance away), so she made her call and came down on his side.

About a year after the assault, my friend was confronted by the assaulter's wife — "he misses you, why won't you speak to him?" — and my friend said "he knows why." This is not the first time in his life the assaulter has been in trouble for unasked for sexual advances, and his wife knows of the other times and knows that he has problems keeping his hands to himself. My friend is not a gossipy type and has refrained from throwing mud around the social circle, so instead has over the years removed herself from it almost entirely. She's still incredibly hurt by the whole thing and misses her friends, and is angry that they didn't value her enough to stop associating with him.

I guess what I'm trying to convey here is that I completely understand, and it's probably worse in your case because it involves your livelihood, but I don't know that there's a way to just take the high road. There's either the accuse him and let the chips fall route, or the ignore it and internalize the pain route. I think therapy can teach you ways to deal with this betrayal and to stop it from hurting you as acutely. If you can remove yourself from situations where you have to see his name, that would probably help. But I understand that it's a small circle. It deeply sucks and I'm sorry.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:55 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for responding. I feel very alone with this and powerless to change the situation, so hearing that other people have gone through similar issues is comforting (even though I wouldn't wish this on anyone). Therapy is probably the best option, I haven't gone in a few years.
Most of our business is conducted online and at industry conventions around the country, so unfortunately moving away isn't a solution. Oh well!
posted by doodletoo at 8:51 PM on September 21, 2015

Captain Awkward has a lot to say about dealing with abusive situations, and often gives scripts that can be used and modified for your convenience. Questions #643, #322 & #323, and #519 seem like they might help give some strategies for dealing with this on an ongoing manner. I also agree that returning to therapy for a while is a good idea.

Good luck, and I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:10 AM on September 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

« Older Checking .doc formatting between OSX/Windows   |   How to focus on the things you want to do when... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.