January 25, 2017 at 1:31 am #1112
Act 4: Detachment, Disengagement, Defense
Over the next month in Year 5, I avoided EAC (Emotionally Abusive Co-worker) like a toxic substance. No hellos or good mornings at the day’s start, no goodbyes at day’s end. If there was a chance I would pass her in the hallway, I went outside instead and back in using another entrance. The weather had gotten sufficiently warm that I could do so. If there was no such chance, I’d give her an hard, icy stare passing her by. She avoided looking at me also, literally keeping her head down when she left work for the day.
When my birthday rolled around, only two of my team members (both male) accompanied me for lunch. Neither EAC, YME (Younger Male Employee), or surprisingly NFE (New Female Employee) said anything to me about my birthday, or whether they would attend. (Triangulation and awkwardness at its finest!)
Emotionally, I was scared, angry, betrayed, lost, and finally reached the “I’ve had it” point. After YouTube suggested the “Shrink4Men” channel with Paul Elam and Dr. T., I watched all its videos, joined a men’s group at my church, read every single book on personal boundaries and building healthy relationships from my library that I could find, bought Dr. T.’s “Say Goodbye To Crazy” and read it in a few days, went to see a counselor for a few sessions, and set about with self-reflection. Obviously, one of the insights that I got was that my upbringing by a personality-disordered parent was a big factor in setting me up for this long fiasco. Effectively, the men’s church group now became my “family”, so I could maintain strong boundaries against EAC.
I felt that it was only a matter of time before EAC and I would be meeting with HR, so I decided to print out more of her chat messages to me on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that would give the most objective view of the situation, positive and negative, and definitely the messages coinciding with both discard attempts. Sure enough, a month later I got a phone call from the HR site manager to stop by her office. I took my chat printouts and walked into HR manager’s office. Lo and behold! EAC was already occupying a chair facing the HR manager’s desk. I sat down on the other. EAC said that she didn’t intend to get me into trouble by having this meeting (BS, I thought). The HR manager asked me to start from the beginning.
I told the HR manager about the events in Year 5, starting with the first event when EAC told me not to ever speak for her. EAC interrupted, “I forgot about that.” I then explained the second event in detail, noting that when YME denied bringing up the British stereotype, I “immediately knew that I was in trouble”, and in an attempt to absolve myself with facts I sent EAC the YouTube links from the language-learning channel. I then showed the HR manager the chat printouts of what I had just described, not mentioning anything about discard attempts or motive (i.e. concentrating on “what”, not “why”). The HR manager mentioned her own awareness of ethnic stereotypes, pointing out the ethnic diversity of our workplace and even her own heritage. She then asked me why I sent EAC the links, and I said “I don’t know what I was thinking”. EAC then said, “I showed these videos to a friend and they were obnoxious!” I offered the HR manager an opportunity to view the YouTube videos and judge for herself; she declined.
HR manager then said, “OK, clean slate” and then asked EAC how she wanted to proceed. EAC said something along the lines of me not being her ”new best friend”, and wondered aloud why I bothered printing out the chat messages. I said that I was simply “playing defense” and trying to keep it professional. I also added that since both of us were now in HR, “we were both in trouble”. EAC said something snippy (don’t remember the content, just the vocal emotion), and the HR manager told her “Stop it!” in almost a low hiss. (Like witnessing a parent verbally correct her kid.) EAC then complained how I declined her birthday lunch, hinting that it was a “screw you” move. (Completely wrong, but no time for a rebuttal from me.) Finally, EAC brought up that I was ignoring and avoiding her, and also that my staring her down frightened her; HR reminded me to simply say hello and goodbye every day to EAC, to stop intentionally avoiding her, and scheduled a follow-up meeting in two weeks.
One piece of advice I got from “Saying Goodbye” was to record everything said between EAC and I using my phone or email. Every hello and goodbye exchanged between her and I for the next two weeks, I recorded discreetly on my phone. There were no other spoken words exchanged during that time. I continued to each lunch alone. In days leading up to the follow-up HR meeting, EAC sent a work email outside our team directing me to perform a task; I replied to her, attaching other previous emails of her doing the same, with a request to stop directing me via e-mail and sending other employees such requests of me.
This email exchange was one of the first items brought up in the second HR meeting. After each acknowledging that I did say hello and goodbye to EAC every day, I showed the HR manager printouts of the email exchanges; HR said it was nothing special, with requests of that nature exchanged all the time, so I thanked her for clarifying the matter. EAC then brought up how I was eating lunch alone, and how a couple of higher-level employees asked her where I was. I said that if these employees were truly concerned, they could find me directly; and how I spent my lunch hour was my own business. EAC complained about how I was letting doors close behind me and onto her; HR turned to me and asked if I did so, “yes or no”. I said that I may have, but it wasn’t intentional. EAC attacked me with “You always do [insert action]!!” I replied through grated teeth, “Could you please stop criticizing me so much?” HR said to EAC, “All right, EAC, you do needle him a lot” and asked what each of us wanted to get out of these meetings. I said that I had no intention of turning these meetings into counseling sessions, and lamented on how 3+ years of mutual goodwill between EAC and I were gone, sucked. No reply from EAC, and the meeting was over, with a third one scheduled in a month.
Another month passed. I went on vacation beginning of July and enjoyed myself, telling no one on my team on how it went. I skipped most of the summer company picnic, only darting in to get food and greet employees from other departments; my excuse was that I had just returned from vacation and wanted to catch up on work.
The third and final meeting was short. EAC started by saying she didn’t want any more meetings, and that she didn’t want me “recording her” (I doubt she knew I was recording her on my phone). The HR manager agreed, and asked if I had anything to add. My initial inclination was to tell her no, but I turned to EAC instead and told her plainly, “You’re not emotionally healthy, and need work.” EAC said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I continued, “Also, if you have an issue, come directly to me. None of this crap over messaging apps.” She responded, “You won’t have to worry about that” which I took as her not texting me for any reason (phew!). I then turned to face the HR manager indicating that I was done, but threw one last barb at EAC, saying “Thanks for not pricking me this meeting.” HR manager told me, “You just did to her.” I said sorry, it wasn’t my intent, and the meeting was over.
I would no longer react in fear to EAC’s threats. When our manager and his boss gave both of us an assignment to complete, EAC came to my desk and asked me to generate figures, with the same “yes or no” demand to me that HR gave me during our second meeting. (EAC and I had worked on previous projects this way with no issues before Year 5.) Not wanting to get bossed around, I said “Say the magic word.” “What?” “Pleeeease.” EAC stormed away in a huff, saying “I don’t have time for this [crap].” I just chuckled and went back to work. I did eventually finish the figures and the report while she was away on vacation, not even wishing to take any credit for her project to management as a (non-)display of adroitness.
The last time she messaged me was near the end of summer, to search her desk for her wallet, after work hours when I had to stay late. I texted my men’s church group for guidance, wondering if I should just ignore her and make her anxious. I chose to do the right thing (it was also what they suggested) and message her back that it wasn’t there; thankfully, something involving one of her projects came up and I put her in touch with the department in the same exchange. After that day, I finally blocked her from all social media.
EAC continued to act as if nothing had happened. Once, at a work meeting when she disclosed going on a weeklong camping trip, she said that instead of taking a vacation I “took all my money and put it in a sock”. Followed right away by a cover-one’s-butt comment: “And hang it above a fireplace as a gift.” I just stared at her blankly, ignoring her comment.
I figured that as long as she and I had a common goal to work towards, and visibility from outside, I would probably be safe. A recent hire from another department wound up inviting both of us to join his friends in playing outdoor volleyball a couple of times. Surprisingly the matches went well; no emotional outbursts or negative remarks from her to me, just good times playing, high fives, etc. Although, when she tried to chat with me about something once, I responded, “I thought you said you didn’t want to discuss anything non-work related” (referring to her WhatsApp message) and she stormed away in a huff (still had a great match afterwards). After the last of these outings, over a group dinner at a chain restaurant, this employee told EAC that she needed to grow up. Her response was a one-fingered salute. The only remarkable thing she said about me to the rest of the group was that I was “pretty fluent” in her native language.
Still, I wanted to resist any hoovering attempts she was throwing at me. When I thanked a teammate for allowing me to cover him on an important project and in learning first-hand about his work, EAC interjected in a seemingly friendly “Do one of mine next!” (After her telling me not to butt in her conversations, ha!) My back already turned towards her, I gave her a sideways glance over my shoulder and said matter-of-factly, “I’m not talking to you.”
And that’s how things are now in Year 6. Sadly, our team doesn’t go out for lunch together anymore, but it’s also cold comfort to know that she’s eating lunch by herself now. I don’t interact with her, aside from her occassionally offering me and the other teammates candy and recently, her own home-baked goods. (I traded one of her favorite chocolate brands in return, to remind myself it’s only transactional.) Just recently, in a moment of clarity she blurted out to me and another teammate that she “used people”, in an almost bragging way. (I wish I recorded everything she said for full context. YME is in for it if he isn’t careful with being anywhere around her.) Nothing she says or does matters to me anymore. My men’s church group has my emotional back, I am armed with knowledge about avoiding character-disordered people and on seeking safe people, and I have this forum to provide and receive guidance and help.
Thank you for reading. I may post short updates to this ongoing story.January 26, 2017 at 8:21 pm #1123
Well, she admits to using people. So I think, although it’s no “cold comfort”, it does seem like a natural consequence to shitty behavior that she is eating alone. I definitely wouldn’t waste a lot of energy worrying about her being lonesome.January 26, 2017 at 11:36 pm #1128
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