Recently, I put myself in a tangle that I will be the first to admit was stupid: I took someone’s bait when I just should have kept my head down and my mouth shut. And this chafed like a subcutaneous rash. Ugh … you did it again! You need to have more control over yourself!
I sat with this for a few days, wondering why I keep letting myself keep doing this. One of the things I admire about my boyfriend is when emotions are running high, he can just check out — deescalating a situation like a good police officer. Me? I take that bait. I escalate. And you know what? It wasn’t worth engaging in. The woman who was baiting me was just being a bully. She was trying to intimidate me and demarcate lines of power, which pissed me off. I’m not keen on authority that I don’t respect.
Then something brilliant occurred to me last night: I can’t control petty behavior and I can’t control what other people’s defense mechanisms are, but I can change the way I see situations like this. And the way I see it now is I don’t need to be a bitch to get what I want. A few years ago I worked at a pressure cooker job. Part of the reason it was so stressful is because decisions weren’t generally made based on facts or reason and a lot of inconsiderate behavior was allowed to happen. Toxic fumes of both chaos and disrespect hung in the air. And the coping mechanism most people in the office gravitated towards was to be a bully. Even me.
I had never been a bully before. It’s much more my style to use persuasion (maybe I was a manipulator?) to get what I want. Even though I’m naturally an aggressive and competitive person, none of that aggression had ever been directed at people, really. Aggression was more about my own drive than power. But once I got placed in a workplace where nobody had any power, really, I witnessed this freakishly bullying, bitchy, aggressive part of my personality come out. And I don’t mean a “bitches get stuff done!”/Tina Fey kind of bitch. I mean, I was acting like an a**hole.
I’ll confess, at first, acting like a bully got me slightly thrilled: I truly did feel powerful. But feeling powerful is relative, right? Being a bully, getting what I wanted, only felt good because the rest of the time I was so powerless, disrespected and embroiled in chaos. It took 20/20 hindsight for me to see that part, though. At the time, I just liked knowing I could exert what I thought “power” was and make things happen.
I got over that, fast. I didn’t like the way I was treating people; that’s not me. I was worried about not being able to “shut it off” and that I would end up bullying people in my personal life in addition to at work. Plus, doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you can be exhausting.
I left the job. I talked about the job and my bosses and co-workers in therapy. I put the craziness behind me. And with 20/20 hindsight now, I can clearly see for everyone in that toxic work environment, bullying was a coping mechanism, a defense mechanism.
So it occurred to me this other night that this other woman just isn’t there yet. She is still at a place in her life where bullying is the coping mechanism she uses — whether consciously by choice, or unconsciously by habit — to get anything accomplished. I remember when I used to be that way, I felt powerless and kind of desperate. That’s not a happy way to feel or a fun place to be in, even if everything else in your life appears glittery and happy.
I sincerely don’t mean to come off like I’m belittling this woman by saying, “Oh, she must be sooo desperate and pathetic!” Quite the contrary, actually. I genuinely think I understand where her behavior is coming from now. And for whatever it’s worth, that understanding, and the knowledge I don’t need to do that anymore, gives me great comfort.