How to stop ruminating on an enemy
March 22, 2019 11:54 PM   Subscribe

I don't want any zen advice about how no one is really an enemy. The person is a lost cause and short of quitting my job (not an option) they are absolutely unavoidable. They are a personal demon and a genuine bully. I don't have to interact constantly and already do my best to avoid the person to my greatest ability. However,

However I can't seem to stop ruminating on all of their dishonest tricks, lies, misrepresentations, and deceit. I get angry about the fact that this person seems to go undetected by others and their lies conveniently get explained away by happenstance circumstances. Attempts to persuade people of the blatant fraud and dishonesty have only been met with disbelief, skepticism or indifference from others. Since I haven't succeeded in lifting the veil from others' eyes on this person's deceptions, I'm left with a lot of yucky feelings that I end up sitting with. Yet the problem remains unresolved from my perspective, and it will for the foreseeable future. How do you cope with accepting blatant injustice? Nothing illegal is happening that I am aware of, only that nagging dissatisfaction that someone is being a jerk and getting away with it. Any tricks for stopping the urge to complain and also to stop thinking about how such a horrible jerk can exist and thrive and even be well liked by many? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, that sucks. This might not help you, and being honest doesn’t always help me, but sometimes I take a moment to appreciate not being the other person. Like sure, my work situation kind of sucks right now, but at least I’m not waking up as that lying asshole every day of my life. I guess it’s just a slant on telling yourself you’re the better person, but for whatever reason one sometimes works for me and the other doesn’t at all.

It sounds like part of what’s making this difficult is not just the frustration and hopelessness of the situation itself, but the sense that it’s sucking up more emotional time and energy than you’d like to give it. I’m wondering if you’ve ever explored venting those thoughts and feelings in a way that you feel you have more control over. That can be different for everybody, but journaling or writing unsent letters seems to work for a lot of people, or giving yourself one box of time per day to seethe as much as you want and then set it aside when it’s over. None of that might resonate with you at all, but sometimes just the feeling of having a plan for how you’ll cope with these feelings as they come can take some of the sting out.
posted by jameaterblues at 12:29 AM on March 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I always had trouble with this. I ruminate over the worst guy in the office, and somehow this has the terrible effect of making him more present and important in my day-to-day.

Easier said than done, but you're going to have to try: Focus on the people you do like. Focus on how awesome they are, and appreciate them actively. Try to find more excuses to work with them. Don't try to bond by complaining about the enemy - try to act as if he doesn't even exist. Otherwise you end up poisoning and cross contaminating those relationships with further negativity.

Neutralize and minimize all interactions with enemy. When you must interact try to focus on ANY redeeming humanity he may have. In the case of My Enemy, I decided it was touching how much he loved his family. Accentuating this in my mind had strategic benefit later, as I could grab his attention by focusing on his family, distracting him from his normal evil self.

I never became good at this and I have trouble even visiting where I used to work because of him. But trying was a good exercise and was definitely the Right Answer for me.
posted by cacao at 5:14 AM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been in a similar situation for the last couple of months. My therapist suggested journaling, which I scoffed at initially. Why give the asshat in my life any more power over me by writing about them? But rather than "journal", in the sense of writing as a way to explore my feelings, I've created a list (in Evernote, so I can access anywhere, anytime) called "SuperSquirrel's List of Poisonous Thoughts about Asshat Person".

Every time I have a shitty encounter with or painful thought about the asshat, I add it to the list. Sometimes the thought is simply "What the everloving FUCK!". Sometimes it's a little more involved, like replaying a conversation that angered me. Not being much of a writer, mostly everything is a simple bullet point. It actually started as a way to document the atrocities for a potential HR visit, but it's becoming more and more just a safe place to vent.

And honestly, it's been working. I have been noticing that I think about Asshat Person less and less lately, despite them being in my life almost every work day.

So, +1 for journaling as a way to let some anger go. It's working for me, so far.

And thanks to a recommendation for Dynalist that I read here recently, my List of Poisonous Thoughts is very nicely organized and tagged. :-)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:23 AM on March 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

My therapist gave me this exercise for rumination.

Get paper and pen (she stressed using paper, not computer) and and write out:
1. What is the problem I’m trying to solve?
2. Is this a solvable problem?
3. If it’s not solvable am I trying to understand something?
4. If it's not understandable can I reach acceptance?
5. Is this really something I need to grieve?
posted by bunderful at 5:28 AM on March 23, 2019 [72 favorites]

Engage with them as little as possible and talk to other people about them as little as possible. Minimize contact with them. Keep them out of your headspace as much as you can. You can write down for yourself a list of bad things they've done. Once you've written something down, great, it's documented for yourself, and now you no longer need to keep it in your head. Write down any feelings you have about them or experiences you hate, then keep moving.

If and when the time comes that someone asks about your experiences (which sometimes, amazingly, does happen), you can tell them all about what has happened and what you think the person could do to improve. And that can also be a useful and cathartic thing to add to your rumination: What would you change, if you could tell them anything? As you're thinking about how this person handles each scenario, think about that, and take notes to get it out of your head.

When I've taken this approach, it has actually gone well a few times, because when someone inevitably also had a problem with a given person's behavior and asked me about it, I was ready with concrete suggestions. But until that point, I kept it to myself as much as I could stand, except if I knew someone else wasn't enjoying that person's behavior either (in which case, some cathartic conversations might have occurred). Meanwhile, again, I kept going.

Good luck!
posted by limeonaire at 7:19 AM on March 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recommend George Simon’s writings on how to deal with covert high conflict personalities. That’s oriented more toward intimate relationships. For the workplace, you might check out Bob Sutton’s “No Asshole Rule” book.
posted by Doc_Sock at 7:27 AM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think how much they would enjoy knowing I was thinking about
and worrying about their behavior. Denying them the satisfaction of my attention helps a lot.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:39 AM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

How about zen advice that your problem is not the other person?

Your problem is you. Specifically that you're letting yourself obsess over things you have no control over and making yourself miserable. Let me repeat that, you are making yourself miserable. How fortunate that you are the only thing in the universe that you really have any control over.

Telling you to let go is easy, actually letting go is hard. Meditation is practice for letting go.
posted by Awfki at 7:54 AM on March 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

My go-to is the key magic spell from Labyrinth: YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Every bully I’ve ever suffered was an insecure coward who desparately wanted to be liked. I say this not to make you feel any better, but rather to give you that psychological ammunition, should you feel aggrieved enough to use it to your advantage.
posted by STFUDonnie at 8:45 AM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is so frustrating! I have been there. I think a lot of what people have said above is useful

- your actual issue you can address is with yourself (I say with love, this doesn't make it easier but might make it easier to scope)
- there's a good chance other people also realize this person sucks but have decided to approach the issue differently
- for direct interactions with this louse, go all grey rock and remind yourself they have no true power over you

And for me what is helpful is, once I've got a handle on my ruminations a little (i.e. have found some space where I can think about the problem and not just dwell on the problem) it's important for me to not let them colonize my mind. Literally sometimes all you can do is aggressively work harder to think about something else. For some people this is by a change of scenery (exercise, whatever) for some people it's journalling or putting those thoughts somewhere. For some people it's learning some mindfulness, to learn how to "sweep out" your mind a little bit of the negative thoughts. Sometimes I like to do what I call the Five Minute Intensive Bitch where I basically get a short amount of time to unload about how shitty this all is (with a partner or a friend) and then the question becomes "Has anything changed since last time?" and the answer, for me, is almost always "Not really, that person still sucks" and rthen look more imward and try to untangle why I can't get over it.

I was a kid who frequently felt the world was unfair towards me, a retiring sensitive somewhat quiet kid (I had bullies in my life but they were mostly family). And that feeling was a real feeling. But it was mostly, just a feeling. I am in a pretty OK place and things mostly work for me, they just didnt' at home. I know a lot of people find the idea of a gratitude journal sort of corny but I did find it was helpful for me when I got sucked back into THIS ISN'T FAIR ways of thinking. Might be worth thinking about whether your life has had other bullies who had power over you, who are getting re-activated in your mind because of this crappy workplace person.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on March 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've spent a lot of time educating myself on different types of manipulative behaviors after being in academia and corporate situations where I was just blindsided by Machiavellian strategies.

Two examples: art star professors that think exposure to them is the best thing that could possibly happen to their students, including exploiting, humiliating and damaging not only their students, but fellow faculty and staff.

Second example, a charming person who offered me a "too good to be true" corporate job situation that turned into a really nightmarishly difficult obstacle for me to overcome.

By educating yourself, you can develop strategies to maintain your center and identify how to avoid a repeat experience.

Here are two YouTube links I found really useful below. I will close by saying the trick is to keep the focus on maintaining your own integrity rather than just projecting a blanket analysis onto others as a worldview.

Also, there is a natural sort of healing process similar to the grief cycle, and if you can just allow that to play itself out it will be beneficial. I hope this is helpful information.

Below are the links----a range of anti-social and violent acts are discussed academically, so be forewarned about the nature of the contents.

Academics discuss ten films that portray psychopathy

Confession of Steven J Williams Academic framing of a very manipulative false confession; it's chilling.
posted by effluvia at 9:37 AM on March 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yeah I definitely had too long of a period where I was hung up on someone like this and it drove me crazy that everyone denied their (obvious) patterns of malicious lying, targeting, meddling, and bullying...until it happened to them as well. Ultimately they don't affect my life outside of a certain circle and honestly those people are sort of a black hole now anyway. There seems to be one in every batch so now I deal with it just by telling myself I'm not the crusader of justice, ultimately these people are small and have no influence on the grand scheme of the world, and life goes on.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:07 AM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I've been in a similar situation, I've had success supplementing the very useful detachment strategies above byidentify a person in your organization who has at least some of the qualities you do like and want to see in your workplace (the person does not have to be perfect, but they should have at least one major quality that sets them apart from your nemesis in a positive way) and then casting myself in the role of that person's secret advocate/promotor/protector.

Whenever Nemesis's name comes up, I focus on that great person, and how much better/differently they would handle the situation/behave under the circumstances. If it's appropriate, I take the opportunity to say something along the lines of "You know who does this really well? Person X. Did you see how she behaved when [something similar happened]? That's real customer service/leadership/whatever." It is very important that you do this without referring to Nemesis at all, as the goal is to make them irrelevant in this discussion.

This has the advantage of forcing your mind away from the annoying person/behaviour at the same time as it focusses attention on something/someone positive. Even the exercise of picking someone will force you to look for the positives, and drawing attention to them can have a good effect on your organization and the people around them. Plus, if the person is someone who might be a real rival to Nemesis, so much the better...;-)
posted by rpfields at 10:54 AM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Bullies bully because power and control feel good and bullying can be an effective way to get rewards of all sorts including money, attention, etc. Bullies go after anyone who appears weak and will keep bullying as long as they get away with it and it is effective. So, being tougher, stronger, and pushing back is the most effective strategy, as well as being stealthy and getting things done out of the bully's sphere of information and influence. Yes, I have had experience of this sort.

Get the “No Asshole Rule” book and put it on your shelf at work. Do not discuss the person with others at work unless you are very good at passive-aggression, and even then, don't. Think of the bully as an over-testosteronated baboon trying to gain dominance by biting and chest-beating. Be good at your work, confident, and use every trick you can, like the power pose, which is said to be only a placebo, but what the heck. Dress a little better, play good music that makes you feel good.

Google intrusive thoughts and you will be inundated with information. Note: you almost certainly do not have OCD, but the techniques for managing intrusive thoughts are the same.

When you start thinking about the bully's latest aggression, pick a new topic from a mental list. How will I update my wardrobe this summer? What would my perfect house look like? Read more, especially non-fiction that challenges you a bit; instead of ruminating on the bully, ruminate on ideas, history, business, etc, esp. anything that will help you in your work. Bonus: at meetings, you will have more and better ideas, look smarter.

Work on developing relationships with colleagues. Your network will help you be stronger, and you can ruminate on whatever Sam said at lunch and how to help solve a problem in their dept. It will help diminish the bully's influence in your life.

It's hard. It sucks. but there will be bullies and assholes almost everywhere you go, so having the skills to manage will help you a great deal.
posted by theora55 at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

A small thing you can do, which I read recently: learn their vacation schedule, and try not to take any of the same days off. When they're out of the office, it's like you get a break, too.
posted by Sibrax at 11:28 AM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm 49, and one thing I wish I'd known in my 20's and 30's is how many assholes I would be able to successfully wait out. They self-destructed, or they stopped being able to fool so many people, or other people around them started connecting the dots. Eventually, karma caught up. But at the time it was completely infuriating to watch other people support and encourage them and not believe my experience. Honestly, that part was worse than anything the person themselves did.

SuperSquirrel's idea of keeping a list is excellent. It helps to see it all laid out in black and white and know that even if other people don't see it, it is real. Also, you never know. The moment of reckoning with HR may come. It will be useful to have a put in all that thought ahead of time so you have a clear case to make of why this person's behavior was and is not ok.

Plus, having your thoughts clarified will help you unemotionally assist others in connecting the dots. I guarantee their list of tricks is finite and they will pull the same shit on somebody else.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Seconding selfmedicating.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:11 PM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Either humanize them or dehumanize them.

I generally go with humanizing, which involves recognizing what an incredibly fucked up person they are and having compassion for them while staying as far away as possible.

It sounds like that’s not really an option at this point. So then, treat this person as simply a natural phenomenon. There will be no more justice or comeuppance for them than there would be for a hailstorm or tornado. They are not a person, they are a small, persistent natural disaster that you have to deal with.

The latter approach has gotten me peacefully through many short term situations that otherwise would have left me with a massive ulcer. For the longer term I’ve always used the former.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:28 PM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Everyone else has mentioned a lot of ways you can hopefully get yourself to stop ruminating about this person.

BUT, if this isn't working/while you wait for it to work...

... is this person in any way a bigot? Bullies often are. Are there any Good Causes you feel pretty sure they don't approve of? Failing that, are there any Good Causes you find yourself wishing you gave more cash?

Suggested scale:

-- forced to think about person for work reasons: 5 cents to your charity
-- unexpectedly encountered person in person for work reasons: 10 cents to your charity
-- person was asshole over email/phone/vidchat/some other not-in-person communication: 15 cents to your charity, and be sure to put any hard evidence into your Folder Of Why They Suck
-- person is asshole in person: one dollar to charity and up, depending on how badly they suck, how much you suspect they disapprove of the cause, and what you can afford

Seriously, it really helps to be able to grit your teeth and think I AM SENDING FIFTY DOLLARS TO THIS THING YOU HATE AS SOON AS I AM AWAY FROM YOU. Or, if there's nothing they hate, at least you get to feel the warm glow that something helpful to the greater universe has come from how obnoxious and terrible this person was being. You have made something good from shittiness!
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 4:20 PM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I found Bob Surton’s No Asshole Rule to be too focused on why you should hire assholes, which kind of made it worse, because it just made me more irritated that the asshole behavior was going unchecked. He does have a newer book called The Asshole Survival Guide that is more focused on how to deal if you didn’t hire/manage the person.

I also started practicing loving kindness meditation, which was super hard but did help me feel better eventually. Then I got out of the soul-crushing situation ASAP and that helped a lot more.

Good luck, friend!
posted by itsamermaid at 7:28 PM on March 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend listening to this song (the videos are great), or some other song that reminds you of them bugging off. Perhaps "Goodbye Earl" or something like that?

this person seems to go undetected by others and their lies conveniently get explained away by happenstance circumstances. Attempts to persuade people of the blatant fraud and dishonesty have only been met with disbelief, skepticism or indifference from others.

This is why the concept of "Karma Houdini" exists. As we all know from politics, some people will just get away with everything forever no matter what and die happy in their beds at 95 having gotten everything they ever wanted. Or some won't until later in life or some just might sink themselves. (I always laugh at how this total turd quit his office, immediately re-ran for office and and then was shocked, shocked to find out that nobody wants to re-elect a quitter.) There may or may not be anything you can do about this in the future and it may not be entirely under your control. Just like shitty life. We all have to accept that.

how such a horrible jerk can exist and thrive and even be well liked by many?

Easy: the "kick down, kiss up" rule (see the No Asshole books). Bullies know who they can treat like shit and whose asses need to be kissed, usually higher-ups. Bullies are LOVED by those who have control over them, so of course they don't believe you unless they see otherwise and hey, maybe not even then. And if the bully isn't threatened by someone or get any advantage in abusing them, they may be perfectly nice to other people.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:42 PM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

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