How can I stay sane when working with this ex-friend who betrayed me?
November 29, 2018 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I feel extremely resentful and bitter towards my ex best friend/coworker and it is distracting me at work and keeping me in an angry, negative place. How do I navigate my feelings and this situation appropriately and in an emotionally healthy way that keeps me sane?

I originally met this person at work, and developed a close bond with her quickly. I eventually considered this person my best friend. Over the years, we confided in each other and supported each other during hard times. I was her primary support system when she was going through a nasty divorce – she even stayed at my place when she was upset. We hung out outside of work and laughed together a lot and to me it felt like a miracle sisterly bond that I hadn’t felt with a female friend in a long time. I assumed she felt the same way about me but now I think I was mistaken.

Anyway, we stayed close with no issues, and after I changed jobs, I referred her to where we both currently work. Gave her a great recommendation, introduced her to everyone, trained her, etc. I helped her in any way I could, and continued to support her in her personal life as she was in an abusive relationship at the time. We were in the same position and worked closely together. Over time, our relationship deteriorated. I can’t pinpoint it, but I felt resentment and competitiveness from her. I admit that I felt some competitiveness towards her as well, but I never tried to make her look bad - I just tried my best in my position. At the time, I was in line for a promotion and in a good place at work – was being recognized by higher-ups, etc. I believe she was too, but perhaps not at the same level that I was. Right around the time that I actually got the promotion, I got evidence from a coworker that she had been talking badly about me behind my back. It didn’t appear to be anything career-destroying, but just not positive things. I was livid. This was a person I supported consistently, even when she was being unfair, and she goes and does this. I had a brief emotional confrontation with her about it – told her what the coworker told me, but it didn’t resolve anything because at that point, I didn’t want anything to do with her because I didn’t trust her, and our relationship had deteriorated anyway. I blocked her on social media and even though we had to continue working closely together, I cut off personal contact with her. No longer talked to her on a personal level and stopped hanging out. Soon after that, due to the promotion, my working desk was moved across the office which was a huge relief.

I still held a lot of anger for this person but at least didn’t have to see and talk to her every day. Well, a few months after I was promoted, so was she. And to the same department and position as me. Her desk is even moved close to mine again, and again I have to interact with her on a regular basis. I haven’t told anyone except for maybe 1 or two close confidants at work about the situation, so it eats me up inside daily. I feel that it’s too personal and petty to bring up to my manager and coworkers don’t seem to be aware of how she really is. And the kicker is that she is so good at faking being a good, kind person (I know because I fell for it), that no one seems to have any idea that she’s a total asshole. She even acts like she did nothing wrong when she talks to me, although I feel that I make it clear that I don’t want anything to do with her.

I feel like I really need to either change my mindset or do something about how I feel about this. I hate to say it but my emotions about the situation continue to affect me at work. My blood boils whenever she tries to talk to me or even if we are in meetings together and I hear her voice. My anger comes out in weird ways and I feel it’s hard to contain. She seems to be killing it right now in the new position and in her personal life. Me, not so much. I’m not sure what she’s said to coworkers about me, but I’ll just assume that she continues to be two-faced. I just feel like it’s so unfair that no one knows how she actually is, or knows what she did, and that I feel like I’m falling behind. I feel like she is surpassing me in the new position – getting everyone on her side, looking good to management, etc. And she knows it too, because I catch this smug look on her face whenever she looks in my direction, and it drives me crazy.

Besides this, I am mostly comfortable here. Great pay and benefits, and otherwise I am happy at this company. I’m surprisingly doing well here and had a positive performance review. This person is making me want to quit and I know that’s ridiculous, but I am just so overwhelmed with my feelings of anger towards this person and I hate that it’s bleeding into the way I feel and interact with others. AskMe, please help. What would a sane, emotionally healthy person do in this situation?? I feel like I’m going crazy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think one thing you can do is try to reality-check the rivalry between the two of you.

From the sound of things, it feels to you like a zero-sum situation, where if she succeeds and looks good and impresses people it will necessarily harm your career and your ability to do good work.

And some workplaces really are like that — savage competition for resources and promotion, no room for two people to shine at once. But a lot of workplaces aren't. It sounds like you're scared that your workplace is that competitive. But I guess I wonder if you've got actual evidence that it is that competitive. Do you actually see other coworkers being pitted against each other by their managers? On the flip side, do you see different people thriving in different ways at the same time?

If it turns out your workplace is less competitive than you fear, recognizing that might help you feel less scared that she'll get ahead, and being less scared of her might make it easier to cope with her as a coworker. She'll still be a jerk and an unpleasant person. And she might still, on her end of things, keep seeing you as a rival. But if she actually can't do much to harm you, and you can succeed whether or not she does, then that would free you up to let your end of the rivalry drop.

(Of course, maybe your workplace is as competitive as you fear. I'm not saying to let your guard down to an unsafe degree. Just to entertain the possibility that you can both succeed at the same time, and to look for evidence that that might be true.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:19 PM on November 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Er, I should say, "reality check the stakes of the rivalry." It sounds like you know for sure that there are competitive feelings and behavior there. It just might be that "winning" or "losing" won't actually help or harm your career much.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

i think you should be civil to her for the sake of work, but other than that, just do your job well. that will speak more volumes than anything she could say about you. it also shows you can take the high ground in instances of adversity, and that you thrive in negative situations. no one's saying you have to be buddies with her again, but if you can drag out your best "well, bless your lil' heart, dear" when you need to in her case, and then ignore her the rest of the time, it would probably serve you just fine.
posted by koroshiya at 4:30 PM on November 29, 2018

She didn't do anything to undermine your job, just shit-talked you and you dumped her? It's settled, then. You found out she isn't a real friend and you moved on.

As long as she is doing her job in a capable fashion, your manager doesn't care that you two had some falling out. And telling your coworkers only makes you look petty and gossipy.

Your job is to do great at work, make other friends, and stop yourself from ruminating on her. Every time you catch yourself thinking about what she did or what you'd like to say or any of it, go for a walk or eat a mint or snap your wrist with a rubber band or call a friend. Shift your attention AWAY. It's like a breakup, and the feelings will fade with time. Do NOT rehash it or engage with her. Be the chillest, calmest, detached from it all person you can be.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:34 PM on November 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

You're not going crazy. Someone took advantage of you, you gave her a lift up, and she started smack-talking you. I'd be pissed off too. You have a right to your feelings.

This is tricky at work now. I think you'll have to take up kick boxing or something outside of work to work off these totally normal feelings. Maybe she's changed, and maybe she hasn't. You know for sure that you won't get taken in again, but in the end, did you help her out of an abusive situation? And get her into a good paying job? Yes you did! The rest is on her.

I think the only cure is time here. Know that what you did was out of the goodness of your heart, and whether or not she accepted that and maybe she has a personality that's born of living a tough life, who knows? But she's not in your inner circle anymore. You are still a good person though. No good deed goes unpunished. At least you're aware now.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:51 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

A sane, emotionally healthy person (whoever that might be) would say, You have to stop hurting yourself with this grudge. And that's what it is -- a grudge. I think you know this so I won't beat you up over it, but seriously, knock it off.

You have to depersonalize this. At work, she is a device: she has skills and relationships that you can use, and responsibilities and authorities that the organization has endowed her with that you must respect, just as you yourself deserve respect in your job. If you fight this, you fight the organization, and you will lose, especially as she seems to be thriving in the environment. Taking her down is not your job. Helping the organization is your job, and if she is a device you can use to help the organization, you are obliged to do so. That's the mindset you need to adopt.

You're not going to see her go down in flames. That's not how this ends. You know how it could end? With you moving on from this job with a glowing recommendation, a solid resume, coworkers who respect you, and if you play your cards right, a strong and charismatic professional female ally who can do you a good turn in the future. You think she owes it to you -- you have the opportunity here to make her realize it, too. Go for that.
posted by woot at 4:52 PM on November 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

She sounds like a piece of shit. It’s really frustrating when you find out someone you trusted is a piece of shit, but because they pretend to be happy and nice to everyone to their faces, no one else seems to notice their true selves. I’ve met a few people like this, people who treated me terribly but were beloved by almost everyone else in our social circles.

There’s no easy answer I don’t think. At some point you have to accept that some people will never see through the fakery, and trying to convince them otherwise is a mistake that will just alienate people from you. I do NOT think you should try to make her an “ally”. She has already betrayed you, NEVER trust her again. If you try to change her mind and make her feel that she “owes” you, she will find another way to betray you. People like this will take advantage of you over and over again for as long as you’ll let them.

Take care of yourself at work, CYA, document, be civil to all of your coworkers, don’t gossip, and prevent her from being able to fuck you over again in the future.
posted by a strong female character at 6:39 PM on November 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

Really it sounds like the only tangible thing you actually have against this woman is essentially hearsay. Since the relationship is effectively over, you need to take a step back, write down a list of her wrongdoings, then burn that list.

Never worry about this person ever again. Be cordial at work, and mind your own business otherwise.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

She keeps shooting you smug looks? She's trying to get under your skin. Your job (aside from doing your actual job) is to kill her with kindness. Be super nice. Act like you're still best buds, send her jokes, whatever it was you used to do. It will confuse the living heck out of her. Because she's the backstabbing kind she'll constantly be on guard for you to do the same thing to her and she just won't know how to take it, and the nicer you are the more nervous she'll get, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Treat it like a game! The anticipation of payback for her own nasty behaviour will kill her and you don't have to do anything at all.
posted by Jubey at 7:48 PM on November 29, 2018

I'm sorry this is happening to you! Something similar happened to me with a coworker, too. (TLDR: she invited me out to commiserate about the 2016 election the day after election day, and SURPRISE: invited her conservative, conspiracy-loving husband without telling me. IT DID NOT GO WELL. I was an emotional wreck and he was a fucking asshole about everything.)

I don't know how old you are, but this incident happened to me during a time in my life when I was already evaluating a lot of friendships. Life is too short and busy for this kind of stuff. She's a bad person! She doesn't deserve another SECOND of energy from you. Redirect all this obsessive energy into your own job, because you DO deserve it. And the next time you have to interact with her or even hear her speak, revel in the fact that you are amazing at staying professional despite it all.
posted by ancient star at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I mean, you know how it goes? The past is prologue. You feel like whatever has transpired is going to hang over the present, because this person you supported and helped out seemed to stab you in the back and now you're in a situation where you're steaming and they seem to be unaffected.

I have no idea what was going through her mind, but I'm reminded of a few situations where I knew someone who was helped out and they ended up irrationally resenting the person who helped them. Because continued association is a reminder of the time they were down, and the "supporting during hard times" part? It overwhelms the rest of the relationship and the clean break happens because the person they relied on most is the one who has seen the person they were and they want to divorce that from the person they want to be.

It completely sucks. But, barring any future undermining, I think the best approach is to try to pretend she's appeared from nowhere, a coworker peer that you have no past with, only a future where you're professional colleagues and nothing else. Be wary, but be forgetful.
posted by mikeh at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you want this to not consume you, perhaps a shift in your perspective would help.

"I got evidence from a coworker that she had been talking badly about me behind my back. It didn’t appear to be anything career-destroying, but just not positive things."

To me, this does not seem like a huge breach of trust. How many people in loving, trusting marriages have at some point in time said "not positive things" to someone else about their spouse? Close friends who truly care about each other as well. If it is constant, or if the things said are lies, or if it is said with the intent to harm... these are all unacceptable, but it is not clear that anything like that has happened here.

The worst thing you can do here is continue to build her up as this terrible, scheming person whose every success is a personal blow to you. That thought can and will color every interaction with her and everything you hear about her, in turn making her look even worse to you and feeding back into itself to dig you in even deeper. If you can see her as a person who was good to you (because it sounds like she was during your friendship) but who did a shitty thing that makes you no longer wish to have a friendship with her, then that can be a much easier pill to swallow. Your earlier relationship was good, and then it changed. You don't have to absolve her, but you will be much happier and better off if you see her in a less drastic light.
posted by whatnotever at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2018 [23 favorites]

A way to view this:

Ex-friend is human, and as flawed humans will do, spoke poorly of another in order to inflate herself. She hurt you just as you have hurt others in your life.

Wounded ex-friend wanted attention, wanted to enhance herself, or maybe was feeling other emotions and felt the need to diminish you with her words. You in turn feel "betrayed". Betrayal is a heavy word and a lot to put on yourself. It makes you a victim and victims are angry. So, now of course you feel angry because you told yourself this story that you were BETRAYED.

Try not to take her behavior personally. She would have done it to any friend because she was in a mental state that compelled her to gossip. I say this not to diminish her as a person, but to point out that you weren't personally targeted, even if it seems like it.

When we are in pain, we like to tell others, and ourselves, our betrayal or victim story. We identify with it and feels good to tell our story. It strengthens our position and perpetuates and justifies our anger. It's damaging and it's just another way to tell yourself that you are good and she is bad and you were "wronged".

It makes me wonder how the conversation got started with the coworker. Were you asking for evidence or did coworker come out and tell you? Either way it's all unnecessary drama.

It's hard and your feelings might seem strong and real but they are just stories. You can't really know if she's feeling smug. That might be your interpretation, but you cannot read minds.

Your peace does not depend on this person or your desk location. If she were promoted again tomorrow your peace does not have to be affected, and you don't have to think poorly of her or talk about her again. No ill-will. Neutrality. What happens to her and how she behaves or operates has nothing to do with you.

If you really want to do something wild -- practice loving compassion towards your ex-friend. Your intense feelings may start to die down when you stop viewing her as rival. She is equal. Here's something really wild -- she is you --a flawed human. There is nothing to prove. Focus on the moment and whenever your thoughts go down the ex-friend betrayal road, acknowledge, accept and let it go. Or, let it be and realize that's it's all drama and stories.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

"Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." (Which seems to be a quote from the AA tradition according to Fake Buddha Quotes.) You are creating a lot of inner turmoil for yourself in ways that don't benefit you.
posted by metahawk at 11:00 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wonder if there‘s an element of insecurity here? Like, you‘re afraid she‘ll outshine you and it will turn out that she is the better employee/manager? If so, this competitiveness was always there. It‘s just more obvious to you now.

You know that dwelling on her actually makes you a worse employee (because it sucks up all the time, creativity and motivation that would otherwise go into your job). But you know what, you know you can do this job. You got a freaking promotion! You have everything you need in you to rock your new position. Your success - that was always you - nothing to do with her (something she can’t say of herself, maybe that’s what ate at her?) You can let go of the anxiety, trust yourself to shine and see her as irrelevant.

Let go of all the anxiety.

Every job has assholes who work to undermine people. This one is yours. Assholes choose you because you have something to undermine. It means that you are so good that they are afraid of your success.

Start seeing her as a stranger. Rock your job. Make friends at work (and don‘t talk to them about her). Do whatever people in your office do to get ahead in office politics.

You can do this.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:29 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you need to find a replacement focus. If you had something else to focus on, then you could forget about being wronged. Is there a specific goal at work you could focus on? Every time you think about ex friend, snap a rubber band and switch to what you have to do to reach the work goal.

Or, find someone to replace her as a friend or SO. I find that being in a new relationship, even if it is platonic or friends, is all consuming in terms of mental focus and time.

Also, success, yours, is the best revenge
posted by AugustWest at 1:08 AM on November 30, 2018

It is important to work on letting go of the grudge because holding onto it only hurts you. However, keep the discernment. She didn't just torpedo the friendship, she also damaged your ability to trust her as a coworker. It's wise not to trust her again. You can work with her to get your jobs done while also being impeccably professional, watching your back, and otherwise being emotionally detached with regard to her.
posted by jazzbaby at 5:36 AM on November 30, 2018

I'm not generally in the "kill them with kindness" boat. Talk to her only about work things, be aware that she's around but treat her like she's insignificant, a cloud of cigarette smoke in your periphery, a faint bad odor.

Your other option is to change jobs.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:15 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I came across the story of the two monks and the river on Ask a few years ago and it might help you (I think it might have been from Jessamyn, so shout-out to her). Time to put your lady down now, or you're just extending the harm you allow her to do you.
posted by penguin pie at 6:43 AM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

A few years ago, a lady I worked with and believed I was friendly with caught a blatant, but easily fixable error in something I had worked on. Rather than give me a heads up so I could fix it, which would have taken me thirty seconds to accomplish and would have been the neighborly thing to do, she went directly to our boss and turned a molehill into a mountain. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed with the way things had unfolded.

I know this quote is ubiquitous to the point of cliche at this point, but once I'd cooled off, what helped me was remembering what Maya Angelou said: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." Was I angry and a little hurt that this person wasn't who I thought they were? Sure. But she'd shown me who she was, and apparently, she was the kind of person who believed that this was what she needed to do in order to establish herself as a valuable contributor at work. When I thought about it that way, I actually felt kind of bad for her.

I forgave her for her actions, but I haven't forgotten how she operates. I adjusted my expectations and interactions with her accordingly. We don't work in the same department anymore, but we still cross paths occasionally, and when we do, I'm as cordial as with her as with any other colleague that I'm not on friendlier terms with.

I imagine it might be a bit tougher for you working right next to the person who disappointed you the way she did, especially when you're still this angry with her, but I still think going through the process of putting her actions into context and using that knowledge to adjust how you interact with her might be a helpful thing to try. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:34 AM on November 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

You were kind to her and she did you wrong, so she's dead to you. That's all fine. But you're annoyed because she hurt you for no discernible reason, there's no way you can avenge the wrong, and she sounds like she's enjoying all that and enjoying the fact that her very existence annoys you. That's not great. It's risky to be boiling with rage at work, and she probably knows that. You have to figure out how to defuse your anger before you self sabotage. Can you flip this in your head so as to de-emphasize "this terrible person betrayed me terribly and got away with it and I can't do anything, she's terrible, I have to look at her terrible face every terrible day, agony!" and put more thought into "here's a work challenge I've not dealt with before, let me work out this puzzle?"

I can think of a couple of ways to try:

strategy one: kind of kick her personality and face and voice and physical self out of the problem, as if she were an amorphous blob. So when you hear her start to speak up in a meeting, before you can get annoyed, you think, "The amorphous blob speaks! What sayeth the blob? Is it germane or may I tune out and hum show tunes in my head?" And when she walks past your desk, "The amorphous blob approacheth. Mayhap it smirks; I cannot perceive, for to me it is but an amorphous blob!" Don't ask me why, but I'm pretty sure it's better to do this in bad Elizabethan English.

strategy two: delve deeper into her motives. Why did she get so bizarrely vicious, and can it be turned into something pitiable? Like: perhaps she's ashamed of the domestic violence thing and doesn't like remembering it and wishes you didn't know these things about her? This would make her a smallminded, meanspirited person, but it would also be rather sad. She will probably continue to ruin friendships because she can't open up to other people without resenting them. Pathetic. It's almost embarrassing to continue to be angry at such a busted person. Not worth your time. Smile back pityingly to the smirks.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:28 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I can't think of a single person i know who hasnt vented about a loved one in frustration. It's possible she was purposely trying to make you look bad and spread malicious rumors, but it's more likely she was venting. And honestly i think it's something virtually everyone does. You also don't seem to have nuch evidence of what she said and in what context. Not trying to minimize your pain, but just pointing out that this can ne viewed ina different way. It may not be worth losing a friendship over. She may not be a horrible person, just a regular person.
posted by bearette at 1:49 PM on November 30, 2018

I'm sorry this is (understandably) bothering you. You've gotten some great advice already. Going forward, you might adopt a firm emotional separation between coworkers with whom you are friendly, and actual friends. I've never, ever, become "close" with a friendly colleague, until we were no longer working in the same company. This has done two things. My friends are ACTUALLY my friends, and I turn off when I leave work. And this policy has allowed me to avoid an enormous amount of professional and personal drama. I wish you the best.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2018

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