One of my clients recently had a breakthrough at work. Karen struggled with several colleagues who were allied against her. Because she depended on these other women, Karen often felt stressed and angry. As we examined her interactions, Karen saw her negative patterns of self-defensive behaviors. She wanted to be lighthearted and kind. She wanted to laugh, joke, and smile as she did with others at work. But when she encountered Debra or Elaine, her face stiffened. As Karen grew cold, Debra and Elaine retaliated. Prolonged silence soon led to ignoring each other and even ignoring legitimate work requests. Karen felt scared, sick, and embarrassed. Why did they hate her so much? Each new day added deeper injuries and destroyed trust. Although she prided herself on her “people skills,” Karen felt trapped in her suspicions. She couldn’t talk to either Debra or Elaine. She had to quit. There was no other way out.
When other co-workers realized the depth of Karen’s despair, they began to see their own complicity. The office gossip and intrigues had made Karen a departmental scapegoat. But most of the group loved Karen and didn’t want to lose her. They began to speak to Elaine and Debra on Karen’s behalf.
Before too long, Karen felt a shift. As Debra and Elaine relaxed, she relaxed, until one day all three women spontaneously apologized to each other.
A happy ending? Yes. But more than that…. Several weeks later, Karen asked Debra for a favor and Debra, feeling stressed, snapped back with irritation. In the past, Karen might have snapped back or glared--beginning a new sequence of passive-aggressive withdrawal. But the exhausting struggles of the past months had softened Karen. She was willing to grant Debra some slack. Karen had seen her own imperfections and, most importantly, she didn’t want to go back to a warfare mentality. Her struggles with Debra and Elaine had diminished her need for revenge. She was willing to forgive, not for Debra’s sake, but for her own. Carrying a grunge was hard work! With gratitude at this lesson, she smiled (sincerely) to Debra. What joy! Karen felt freed from her need to retaliate. And instead of feeling guilty for her own rude reactions, Karen now felt proud of her response. It was a wonderful moment. She knew that her corner of the workplace could (and would) stay peaceful. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved