Three years ago, I hired what I thought to be a talented, kind and honest second in command at the magazine where I work. It turns out, I was only one-third right. While “Sally” was great at many parts of her job, she wasn’t honest and she wasn’t nice. She began sleeping with another person in my department (my work equal), and was dishonest about it, and would often say, “The art department feels this would work better this way,” when our entire organization knew these people were a couple. She’d undermine me at meetings with higher-ups, criticizing my ideas and interrupting me, and in meetings with me one-on-one, she’d burst into tears at the slightest disagreement or say, with a stern little look, “We’ll just agree to disagree.” It made any sort of discussion darn near impossible.
She also puffed herself up constantly — “I was mistaken for a model yesterday!” and made digs at me and other people at work, “Well, that’s not MY taste. But, interesting!”
I was trying to figure out how to fire her when she took another, more lucrative job in another field. The guy at my office dumped her shortly before this happened. But sadly, even though it’s been a year, I’m still haunted by the experience. I feel like I let myself be steamrolled by an “All About Eve” clone, and I dread running into her at events in my relatively small professional circle.
I honestly believe she’s a pretty lousy person, and I wish her ill. But I check her Twitter feed, and, honestly, am a little obsessed with hating her. How can I move beyond this, or, better yet, make sure other people in my industry know she is evil?
The Bad Boss
Dear Bad Boss,
I know how hard these things can be. I am a champion grudge-carrier myself.
I could go into business carrying grudges. I could get a truck with a magnetic sign: No Grudge Too Small. Bulk Rates. Tired of carrying that grudge? Call 1-800-GRUDGE-KING.
Would it make you the most miserable man on earth, carrying all those grudges for others? Or would it be liberating, knowing that not one of them is yours?
Anyway, some of us are champion grudge-carriers and we need a way to let go of a grudge. If we don’t deal with it, it can last for years.
So what we do in the 12 steps, we do inventories. You could look that up. We work with a sponsor. We’ll say, I can’t stop thinking about this person who screwed me over. And the sponsor will say, Well, let’s do the steps on this. Or, have you done the steps on this? Or, what step are you on?
Doing the steps gets you focused on you, not the person you’re obsessing about.
In doing the steps, we write things down. We answer questions like, what happened, and who was involved, and what sort of injury or threat did we perceive? What area of life was affected? Was it our sex relations, our self-esteem, our status?
We just more or less dispassionately look at what happened. We break it down. We also ask what role we played. This is not done in a blaming way. We just, for instance, say, well, the role we played was, we made the decision to hire her. OK. The great part about that is it puts us in the mix and gives us a sense of agency. We’re not a victim, we’re a participant. We see, OK, we did have a decision and we did play a part. We might have made a different decision. Likewise with the other events, we just identify what part we played. It may be that all we did was choose to go to a party. But we realize then, though it may have seemed like we had to do what we did, we see that maybe we could have avoided the upset. Not that it’s our fault, but that we were present and played a part in it.
It reminds me a little bit of how one proceeds in cognitive therapy. What I like about cognitive therapy and the 12 steps is that they lead us increasingly toward reality. We are always asking what is real, what is concrete, what can we see?
Then we often find that our response had something to do with fear. We see that we were trying to prevent something from harming us.
As we continue in this way, dissecting the event, we begin to see that in an existential sense we can’t protect ourselves anyway. We are vulnerable. We may be disliked or disrespected by co-workers or family members. We may be cheated on or deceived. There are no guarantees. We cannot control other people. Meditating on this returns us to the real world; it restores a correct relationship to the awesome powers of life and death that surround us; it fills us with appropriate awe for nature and fate; it unites us with other creatures living and dead; it humbles us and returns us to the bosom of humanity.
This notion of letting go of control is a sticky one, because it involves beginning to trust in something outside ourselves, and often we have been adamantly self-sufficient. But to get out of our awful predicament we focus on something beyond ourselves. We place trust in something larger than us.
It’s not like we get converted or saved or ascend to a higher state of consciousness. It’s more subtle. We entertain the notion of something bigger than us, and it shifts our focus away from ourselves, away from our vexing, all-consuming fear. We see that the world is awesomely powerful and if it wanted to strike us down it would have done so already. So we relax a little. If it’s coming, it’s coming. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Once you entertain that notion that maybe you are not the one in control, then you do not need to respond to every possible threat with a flanking maneuver and a public relations campaign. Some things you can just let go of.
You are able to entertain the notion that maybe it’s not about the other person. Maybe it’s about you.
So you work with a sponsor and the sponsor suggests you do a fourth step, or a tenth step, or maybe the sponsor just talks with you about this obsession you have. But somehow you work through it by working through it. You have a method. That’s the point. The 12 steps offer a method, a simple, concrete method of purging ourselves of worry, doubt and fear.
If you’re not an alcoholic or drug addict and don’t have an eating disorder or a sex addiction you can always go to Al-Anon.
It’s just helpful to have a group. The Al-Anon group is all about how we deal with problems associated with other people — how the behavior of other people affects us, and how we learn to separate our problems from other people’s problems.
Really, I suggest you check out Al-Anon. You can get some grounding in the 12 steps, and you can hear personal stories from people who are coping with similar situations.
Plus it’s sort of fun. Really. Once you get over the initial novelty of it it becomes fun.
If you don’t want to do the steps, you can certainly get into therapy. I’m all for therapy. But therapy costs money and its efficacy depends on the intelligence and talent of the therapist. The 12 steps are pretty much free, and they work.
So that’s my approach to dealing with grudges.
But I still like the idea of the grudge-carrying truck.
I bet I could make some money.