my coworker tries to guilt-trip people

A reader writes:

Advice to deal with a frustrating coworker who guilt trips people?

In our office, there exists a coworker who finds ways to manipulate and guilt trip people on a daily basis. Let me provide a few examples…

• She often works through her lunch breaks, then pulls the “poor me” card, expecting sympathy or rewards for doing so. (To be clear, nobody has asked her to work through her break, she has chosen to.) She berates the boss for not paying her for working through the break, or for refusing to give her extra time off to compensate. She also makes a gigantic production out of every little task, to make it look like she is working harder than everybody else. In actuality, she is just wasting energy to create a scene, rather than completing additional tasks.

• If there is a holiday, she purchases gifts for EVERYONE in the building, plus brings trays of food. If this was done out of the niceness of her heart, great. However, after the event she continually complains that she has contributed so many gifts, only to get nothing in return. Again, nobody has asked her to do this. In fact, we have told her numerous times that none of us have time or money for holiday events at the workplace.

• The other day, she left on her 15-minute break to get food, and when she returned, asked if I would like half of her sandwich. I replied with a “No, but thanks for asking.” I then left for my break, to purchase coffee and a breakfast sandwich. When I returned, she yelled out “Oh, I see MY half a sandwich wasn’t good enough for you” and then proceeded to storm around, loudly slamming office equipment on her desk.

• Other times, she has randomly brought in food, and since I adhere to a low-carb lifestyle, I rarely eat any of it. Again, this results in a sort of temper-tantrum. She insists that since nobody ate what she brought, she will not bring anything EVER again. Yet the following week, more food appears and the cycle repeats.

It all just seems so … neurotic! People don’t ask her to do any of these things, yet she does – and then tries to bait us into owing her something. It creates a negative environment, and makes us all feel bad about ourselves (even though we know it isn’t really warranted).

I, my other coworkers, and even our boss are at a loss for how to handle her. We all try to set boundaries and keep our distance – but what is one to do when boundaries are set, but clearly ignored?

Our small group of office workers would be grateful for any feedback or advice you have!

My goodness, this is troubled behavior.

You’ve really just got two options here: You can be blunt or you can ignore her. And frankly, even if you’re blunt, there’s no guarantee that’ll work, and so you might end up just having to ignore her anyway.

In a situation like this, where you can’t force someone to change, you’re sometimes better just leaping straight to the part that you can control, which is your own reaction.

But if you’re willing to give bluntness a shot, it would sound like this:

* “We’re all working hard. It’s weird to make a production out of things like this.”

* “No one asked you to bring in gifts or food. If you’re unhappy with how it was received, you should stop bringing those things in.”

* “You’re right. This isn’t an office where most people bring in gifts or food. If you’re going to, you’ll be happier if you accept from the start that you’ll probably be the only one doing it.”

* “You’re right, I didn’t want your half of a sandwich. I wanted my own.”

* In response to tantrums insisting she’ll never bring in food again: “Yes, that sounds like a good idea since this obviously upsets you.” And, “You’ve said that before but you keep bringing it in. Since it upsets you, you should stop.”

* “Could you please stop storming around and slamming equipment? It’s really distracting.”

In other words, plain, non-emotional, matter-of-fact responses. Keep your tone low-key too — matter-of-fact, almost bored.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But if you do it enough, it’s going to make her routine a lot less satisfying for her, and that may decrease the number of times it happens around you. Plus, it might be satisfying to you to be able to give her a logical response rather than feeling like you have to coddle her.

But if that doesn’t work, at that point you’d have to shift into strategy two: controlling your own reaction to her, which in this case would mean just ignoring her temper tantrums. She’s upset that no one brought her gifts or appreciated her food sufficiently? Fine, she can be upset. You don’t need to soothe, reassure, or otherwise indulge her. You don’t need to respond to her at all! You can internally roll your eyes or internally laugh because she’s ridiculous, then mark it up to the fact that humans can be irritating, and leave it there. (Oh, and feel sorry for her loved ones because while this is ridiculous in a coworker, it’s truly toxic in a parent or other close relative.)

P.S. Your boss has more options here. Your boss has the authority to tell your coworker, “What you’re doing is disruptive and can’t continue” and “Stop bringing in food and gifts because when you don’t get the response you want, it’s creating problems” and “You can’t lose your temper at work, period.”  (While we’re on the subject of your boss: If your coworker is non-exempt, your boss actually does need to pay her for all time worked, even if she was supposed to be taking a break. Your boss can discipline her and even fire her for working through breaks if she’s been told not to, but if she’s non-exempt, she does need to be paid for that time. So that might be one thing your coworker actually has a point about.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 394 comments… read them below }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I have a coworker similar to this. In fact, I thought it was the same one…..except for the gifts. She actually does the opposite – going overboard telling everyone no gifts, she can’t possibly reciprocate, blah blah blah. And then, naturally, fumes and cries when nobody gives her gifts at the holidays.

    I tried going the blunt route. Once. Ended up in a meeting with her and my boss to discuss my bullying. (I didn’t get disciplined or anything, it was purely for show because my boss literally stopped at my desk and said, “got a few seconds?”) It’s now so much easier to just ignore.

    I’m civil to her because we work together and I’m an adult. But when she cries or throws a temper tantrum or starts whining, I just tune it out. Once I started doing that, my stress level significantly dissipated.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Can I get this on a bumper sticker? T-shirt? Cross-stitch pillow? Mug? Just…something, because that’s perfect.

      1. Bea*

        At least her boss was doing it for show and it’s one of those tough spots since OSHA does have a section on bullying :|

        However I had a boss who thought trying to be short and to the point explaining stuff to an inept co-worker was bullying…he even threw around the idea of a hostile work environment when the dude being “bullied” was not a protected class. Dumb as bricks, white male.

        Same boss who brushed off sexual harassment as “stuff that used to be ok isn’t anymore cuz Harvey Weinstein.”

        Sigh. That. Frigging. Guy.

        1. Anononon*

          Everyone is in multiple protected classes (at the minimum, race and gender). If someone was legitimately being bullied because they were white or a man, that could fall under hostile work environment (depending on the severity and extensiveness).

          1. Thlayli*

            This. It’s not ok to bully someone just because they are a white man. White men are just as entitled to work in a bully-free environment as the rest of us. Even “dumb-as-bricks” ones.

            And frankly, the fact that you are calling a coworker “dumb-as-bricks white male” behind his back and implying you think he wasn’t entitled to any protection from bullies makes me think he probably was telling the truth about being bullied.

            1. Ennigaldi*

              Speaking of hostile, don’t assume someone’s a bully just because they didn’t like one coworker. The boss sounds like he cares more about men’s feelings, too.

            2. Flash Bristow*

              Thank you for saying this. I wish eyes didn’t need to be opened, but I hope they have in the few cases where this is people’s belief. Anyone and everyone can be bullied, and acting as though you’re sure you’re above them is not a good start.

        2. Ellex*

          I got told off for being “terse and unfriendly” in emails. I wasn’t terse or unfriendly, I just answered the questions. I don’t need to waste time on a bunch of salutations and “how are you’s” and “what did you do over the weekend’s” or even a “hello”, especially when I already said hello just a few hours ago. I just want to answer the questions and get back to work.

          1. En vivo*


            Did you adjust your delivery? If so, how? I’m sometimes accused of being harsh, rude, etc when I’m simply being succinct.

          2. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

            I would gently encourage you to reconsider this stance. Whether you “are” or “are not” terse and unfriendly isn’t the point. It’s how you’re being perceived. And that has real ramifications in your working relationships.

            I have a manager right now who is this way – sends one word responses to emails, very very succinct to the point of coming across incredible rude and condescending. If you get her on the phone she’s great! But her emails are perceived as incredibly terse and are actively damaging her relationships with people in the organization. She, like you, sees nothing wrong with her emails and refuses to change. But she’s doing herself a disservice by not being willing to take the 30 seconds to add a buffer sentence or two, and she likely won’t get much further in the org than she is now.

            1. ragazza*

              Problem is, these expectations tend to be very gendered. I don’t see many men adding buffer sentences to warm up their emails.

              I’ve also been told I’m being “aggressive” when I’m just trying to get my work done in an efficient manner. However, nobody ever seems to have a problem with the male execs who send terse emails and bark orders in meetings.

              1. Jaydee*

                The two worst offenders in my current organization are men, and it has absolutely been suggested to them that they soften their emails a bit. Doesn’t mean it actually happens consistently, and no one’s dying on that hill. But it definitely has an impact on how they are perceived.

                And it really is amazing how little it takes. “Do they want blue or green teapot glaze?” versus “Could you ask if they want blue or green teapot glaze? Thanks.” It’s only four words, but the effect is so much more pleasant.

                1. B*

                  What’s weird is to me the latter comes across worse, somehow. Nothing logical to it, just something about the thanks, and being too wordy. “Do they want blue or green teapot glaze?” seems perfectly soft to me.
                  Now the response, “blue” vs “they’d like blue glaze!” come across pretty different, and it’s probably best to go a little beyond a 1 word answer.

                2. Sally-O*

                  I agree with B above. The simple “Thanks.” with a period sounds harsh to me – like the writer is being dismissive and expectant and rolling his eyes.

              2. Violet*

                Normally, I will jump right on board with this, but I haven’t observed this to be true at least in my professional interactions. I do agree that women in general are expected to be ‘warm’ and ‘friendly,’ but the expectations for some kind of preamble and salutation in email does extend to pretty much everyone. In my organization (which is male dominated), almost everyone uses buffer sentences and salutations and exclamation points to warm up their emails.

                1. DArcy*

                  Women are expected to be warm and friendly and use softening words, then criticized for “not being direct like guys”. The social expectations are maliciously sexist by design.

              3. Gadget Hackwrench*

                I am so sick of being called ‘condescending’ when acting and speaking no differently to my male counterparts. The truth is, I’m getting double whammies by the gendered expectations. One, I’m supposed to use more softening language and such because when people who aren’t men don’t they’re seen as bitchy or condescending, and two I’m supposed to use more softening language and such to compensate for the fact that people are apparently more prone to feeling inadequate when the person who fixed their computer problem isn’t a man, due to expectations that computers are mens work. UGH.

            2. Flash Bristow*

              I agree. I have a good friend who comes over very abruptly and tersely in their responses. I gently made the point to them that it was hard to detect mood from their remarks, and I suspect they were coming over more harshly than intended. They then began using a few more words (whole phrases or sentences rather than just yes, no, obviously or of course not) and even added in smileys in appropriate places (not too many, but enough to clear up any doubt where necessary).

              It has made a real difference to our interactions, and I have thanked them for it. Privately I’ve heard from other people how this person’s messages have become a bit more relaxed, so clearly it wasn’t just me – and the feedback worked.

              I’m really glad – it was just a quiet comment delivered as gently as possible, but it has obviously had a positive outcome all round. So in short, it’s worth addressing!

          3. BookishMiss*

            I got the same talk, but “condescending” and “make other people feel bad about themselves” were the chosen descriptors.

            I started putting a smiley face at the end of my emails and never heard about it again.

          4. ThatAspie*

            OMG! I have this problem in regular life when in person with people! I’m an Aspie, though, I don’t know if you are on the spectrum or not. But I’ll just be saying the information that needs to be said, and people will be like, “well, that’s rude!” And I won’t know what the heck people are talking about. Because when I’m holding boxes and bags of stuff that I need to get from point A to point B, saying, “I need to get through!” should be allowed if there’s, like, 10 people standing in front of me and I’m holding everything up with both hands and my face.

        3. 30 Years in the Biz*

          Thank you Bea for the reference to OSHA and its addressing the topic of bullying – very interesting reading!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It sounds like your and OP’s coworkers are attention-seeking/needy (hence the martyr complex and wanting people to notice their contributions, whether they are food, gifts or overworking). It’s always dangerous when you try to get your external validation from other people, particularly people [coworkers] who have no obligation or responsibility to help you tackle your emotional demons.

      Your boss should not have pulled you aside to discuss your bullying, even for show. It was a punk move, and I’m sorry they did that to you. You handled it more gracefully than I would have.

      1. Mellow*

        I have a similar problem with a coworker. Our boss is the manager who doesn’t manage – too concerned with being liked and not nearly concerned enough with being respected – and according to him, we are all supposed to be gentle with our coworker’s codependent, people-pleasing dysfunction even as she comes at the rest of us like a raging monster when boss isn’t around.

        What I really resent about the whole thing is that I work with one arm while the other holds up the boundaries I have built, because I must. She is like flood water: the minute the flood walls and sand bags soften and become even minutely porous, it comes roaring back, dull and dense to the fact that boundaries are there to begin with.

        She is a meddling, nosy busybody who tries to parent everyone and who not only resents you if you refuse her unsolicited help, but who then acts on that resentment by tattling to the boss that “Mellow is being mean again,” “mean” being defined as “Mellow won’t let me do for her, fix for her, rescue her, and so she is depriving me of my self-esteem! Wah!!” Boss unburies his head from the sand long enough to go with her version of things because he is too intimidated by her not to, and then, when he isn’t there the next day, she is back to being the aggressive bully with a mother hen face, all up in everyone’s grill.

        What’s the quickest way for me to claw my eyes out? Anyone?

    2. JLB*

      This. Stress level goes down. Their’s will actually go up though because ignoring it drives ’em nuts.

  2. Catalin*

    Alison has excellent advice, as always. I would add that the key here is to be very unaffected/unimpressed when she’s having a temper tantrum/making snide comments/slamming things. If you don’t feed her demand for drama, she might cut back a little. Frankly, she sounds like a young child, so think of it that way: your 3-5 year old is tantruming/misbehaving, don’t let them affect you.

    A kid, at least, will eventually get bored and stop trying to ride the dog/paint the wall/rip tissues out of the box.

    Good luck.

    1. JokeyJules*

      Agreed, she’s definitely acting like a child lashing out for attention. I wonder where that insecurity comes from.

      Alison is right, just keep responding to her irrational behavior with calm reasoning and hopefully she will stop. Or at least just leave you off of her list of peoples attention to get.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I am the sort of person who lives for compliments and praise, and I’ve recognized that about myself, and also internalized that nobody OWES me anything.

        So I do bring in treats sometimes, for instance, and bask in the “oh, it’s so good!” or “wow, thanks for bringing this!”. But I also recognize that people have personal preferences, and dietary restrictions, and maybe just aren’t feeling like a cupcake today, or whatever – it doesn’t mean they don’t like me, it doesn’t mean I’m unappreciated or a lousy baker.

        I feel like this woman, on the other hand, not only lives for praise and appreciation but also loves being the unappreciated martyr when she doesn’t get what she craves.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I love cupcakes, so even though I don’t work with you I appreciate you remotely. :)

        2. Wannabe Disney Princess*

          Coworker I mentioned above used to hide cupcakes when I’d bring them in for potlucks/treats/it’s my birthday/because I got a new cookbook and really don’t need a dozen cupcakes hanging around my kitchen.

          I’d feel TERRIBLE that nobody ate my stuff. Until I figured out she was doing it on purpose. Now I just keep the container on my desk with a sign that people are free to take one.

          It irks her to no end. Which gives me a certain amount of joy. Sometimes the only way to win is to out passive-aggressive the other person. (I prefer ACTUAL communication, but some people just do not respond to that.)

          1. ExcelJedi*

            I wouldn’t even call what you’re doing passive aggressive….it’s the natural consequence of her actions. She does something sneaky and weird? You make sure it’s not a problem in a totally workplace-appropriate, drama free way.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I agree. This is simply you being assertive, IMHO. (Well, truly assertive would be to tell her you know what she’s doing and you’d like it to stop. But circumventing her nonsense in the most drama-free way possible is definitely not P/A.)

          2. ThatGirl*

            That… is so petty! Why hide yours? Ridiculous. There is a certain amount of joy in being mildly petty in return to a petty person :)

            1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

              There is! I don’t generally stoop to that level.

              But, like you, I enjoy compliments on my baked goods. So I WILL out petty anyone on that front. Not to the point of throwing tantrums when I don’t get my way or anything, but if you’re going to shove my Tupperware container of brownies behind the vegan buffalo chicken dip….shots fired, my friend. Shots fired.

          3. Jadelyn*

            …did she ever say WHY she was hiding them? I’m just wondering what goes through someone’s mind to intervene in other people’s baked goods. It seems like a quick route to an early demise, is all I’m saying. #don’tgetbetweenmeandmycarbs

            1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

              Oh, gawd. It’s a long story. It even predates me being here. The nutshell version is: no other woman can be liked in the office but her. (We work with predominantly men – in an office of 120 there are 12 women.)

              1. Jadelyn*

                …oh, my. That’s…is she 13 and was just magically aged up to being a working-age adult?

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                That’s so sad, and pathetic, really. What an awful and small work-life she lives. (Although it is irksome that her stunted emotional growth leads her to try to make you feel as small as she does.)

              3. SS Express*

                I know a woman who was super successful at a young age back when there were hardly any women in her field, and when I was having an issue with a female manager she said “some women want to be the only woman in the room”.

            1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

              No. I referenced a story above where the one time I went blunt, I ended up in an impromptu meeting about my bullying. (I didn’t get disciplined or anything – it was all for show.) So going to war over baked goods wasn’t worth it.

              Besides. It’s mildly satisfying to see her glower out of the corner of my eye whenever someone stops at my desk and takes a treat.

          4. Clorinda*

            Nothing wrong with being a little passive-aggressive when the alternative is aggressive-aggressive!

            1. boo bot*

              I can’t even see this as passive-aggressive. Like, say you were bringing in baked goods and no one was eating them, and then you discovered it was because a mischievous pastry-hiding poltergeist haunted the break room. Or because random time portals kept opening in the kitchen and sending the cupcakes through wormholes directly to 5PM, or faeries were taking them and replacing them hours later with faerie-cake identical substitutes. The rational response would be to respond by putting the cupcakes where you could keep an eye on them.

              It only seems like it’s directed at her because she’s the one who was taking them.

              1. Wintermute*

                exactly! she’s offering cupcakes. She’s not offering cupcakes AT this other woman, she’s just offering cupcakes.

        3. Minocho*

          I do this too, and sometimes I find myself resenting the lack of reciprocation. When I realize that’s happening, I stop bringing stuff in, because I’m the one that can change the behavior that’s making me resentful.

          Usually, after taking a bit of a rest, I’m in the mood to cook or share again without all the ugly expectations that make it no longer a pleasure, but a burden.

          1. Angela Ziegler*

            I’ve even had that happen with friends. I used to bring decorated cakes to my bible study groups, the one time we switched it up. A friend and I made a fake ‘cake’ out of cardboard, covered it with icing, and put bits of whipped cream and cherries on top. ‘If you come to Bible Study tonight, there’ll be cake!’

            They showed up. They tried to cut the ‘cake’. The cake was a lie. And they never took my baking for granted after that.

              1. EmilytheLibrarian*

                Reason #137 why I don’t want to go to a Bible study ever; the cake might be fake.

            1. Violet*

              Why not directly ask the friends involved if they are willing to bring in baking themselves themselves? I don’t know – I’m the baker in my group, and I just accept that if I’m not baking there probably won’t be baked goods because nobody else really likes to bake.

        4. En vivo*

          Even though no-one owes you anything, it’s still nice if they acknowledge your well-meaning gestures. Sometimes colleagues get used to an individual giving and start to not appreciate it as much ( intentionally or not).

          1. ThatGirl*

            Absolutely – but it’s also on me to stop if I’m not getting the response I want, not throw a tantrum :)

        5. A.C. Stefano*

          I do this. I experiment with new recipes and try them out on my coworkers, but that’s purely me, no one really asks (or they offer to pay for supplies.

          I once got really ambitious and made three kinds of brioche, and everyone thought they were professional. I basked in that for awhile. :-)

        6. ThatAspie*

          When I was younger, and I would bring in treats for my classmates on my Birthday or for Cinco de Mayo or whatever, many people would refuse to eat my treats, not because of any sort of dietary restrictions or because they don’t like certain foods, but because they didn’t like me personally and didn’t want anything that came from me. I still didn’t act like some martyr or something, because I was a nice little girl. Keep in mind, I was a kid, and the other kids who didn’t want my food because I brought it in we’re treating me like I was some disgusting monster or something, even accusing me of trying to poison them or make them sick or something (which I would never do), and I still didn’t try to guilt trip them! I just said, “oh well, more for me and my family”, and moved on.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Definitely. The boss needs to tell her to cut the shit and everyone else just needs to pretend she isn’t actually speaking and/or ignore her.
      Having grown up in a dysfunctional environment, I will admit that I get a kinda warped little thrill out of it. Once I figured out that someone else didn’t have the power to manipulate me emotionally, I started enjoying walking by breezily past each pity party or passive aggressive comment and going on with my day. My advice is to keep a tally and buy yourself a breakfast sandwich for every 10 times you pass this crap by. Enjoy!

      1. Inspector Spacetime*

        I grew up in this kind of environment, too. When I gained the ability somewhere in middle school to look at my mom blankly and say, “Oh, were you upset about something?” it was a beautiful, beautiful day.

        1. Xarcady*

          Ditto. The day I responded to siblings, who were mad at me for getting Dad upset, with, “I’m not making Dad upset. I asked a perfectly normal question. Dad is making Dad upset,” was a banner day for me.

          1. Lissa*

            “Dad is making Dad upset” the story of my childhood! My father is capable of getting in an argument with you when you’ve done nothing but agree. A talent many of his side of the family share, making holidays an exercise in extremely confusing interactions for an outsider.

            1. only acting normal*

              My father automatically responds with “No! [whatever argument is in his head]” regardless whether he agrees or not. It’s because he’s not actually listening to what you’re saying, he’s only waiting to speak.

            2. Birch*

              Uuuggghhhh this. I have a family member who gave me the silent treatment for 3 days because I asked her if she was okay and she didn’t want to talk to me at that moment.

              With these people you just have to realize that it has nothing to do with you and release yourself of the responsibility for their bad feelings.

          2. Specialk9*

            For everyone in this thread who recognized their own home life, and had to forge a hard path to healthy boundaries — I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that, you deserved better; and I’m so impressed by your strength.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It is one of my all-time favorite mind-bending responses. :)

        3. TardyTardis*

          I wouldn’t have dared, I would have gotten my face slapped all the way to Miami (and we lived on the West Coast).

      2. Jadelyn*

        One of my favorite things in life is to cheerfully reply to accusations that I’m a horrible person for [tiny insignificant Thing someone is trying to manipulate me with] with “Yep, you’re totally right, I’m the worst!” and just keep walking or go back to what I was doing.

        Or like, being accused of being selfish for being childfree: “Oh, 100%, I’m unbelievably selfish. So I’ve decided to lean in to that and not take anyone else’s wishes on my personal reproductive choices into account at all!”

        1. Persimmons*

          being selfish for being childfree

          Have all parents reproduced solely for the betterment of society? Holy sheet, I’ve been doing baby shower cards ALL WRONG.

          1. Alli525*

            Yeah, seriously – if that was the exclusive goal, we as a species have failed MISERABLY.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Lol, can you imagine how differently we’d treat children and parenting if that was actually universally the goal and intent behind having children? If nothing else, “congratulations” would suddenly have to become “thank you for your noble sacrifice on behalf of society as a whole”. Which is much less pithy and harder to fit on a card.

            Mostly it’s people accusing me of selfishness for depriving my mother of grandchildren (which she doesn’t really want anyway, and besides my cousins have a million babies, it’s not like the family line ends with me), or just generally because they dislike a woman openly saying that I am prioritizing other things in my life, like my career and my art, over choosing to have kids. Don’t I know that my priorities are Wrong, that I am supposed to find my highest calling to be reproduction??? And the pearl-clutching ensues.

            The irony is that some of my reasons are genuinely based in selfishness. I like being able to do things whenever I want without having to take soccer practice or school schedules into account, I like having the ability to go where I want without worrying about childcare or preparing kids for a trip, I like driving a sports car that I will never have to worry about fitting a car seat into. I enjoy having a childfree lifestyle and yeah, that’s a selfish kind of enjoyment.

            But I figure it’s better to embrace my selfish nature than force myself to have kids out of some sense of obligation, then end up resenting said kids for making me change my lifestyle so drastically. (I also have some less-selfish reasons like, I have hereditary conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, I have executive dysfunction badly enough that I probably wouldn’t even be *able* to meet the logistical demands of parenting on a day to day basis and I personally think kids deserve better than the type of parent I’d wind up being – but I don’t always want to get into those very personal things with the type of person who feels entitled to comment on my reproductive choices in the first place, so I just go with “yep, I’m selfish, and I’m okay with that!”)

            1. Specialk9*

              I’m a mom, have always wanted to have kids, and I so love being a mom… AND I wholeheartedly applaud your knowledge of self and of the often-grim realities of parenting, and the tradeoffs. You made a great choice!

              (And that’s before the ways in which you’re very responsibly assessing skills vs requirements. I wish more people thought that way. And I’m sorry to hear about that hereditary condition, that sounds painful.)

              Good on you for a great choice, and not caving.

            2. Kat in VA*

              I’m a mom. I have four kids. I wholeheartedly applaud and support your decision to go childfree*. You should do what makes you happy and fulfilled, and if not having kids is your choice, it’s YPUR CHOICE and no one, ever, should be giving you static for that.

              *Not that you need my permission or approbation, obviously. I’ve had childfree friends confess in the past that they thought I’d feel judged or “get mad” because they don’t want kids, which honestly bewilders/ed me. Why on earth would I get angry about YOUR decision to have/not have kids? That’s YOUR decision, not mine!

            3. Len F*

              I think that being “selfish” implies unfairly putting yourself before the needs of others, to the detriment of others. Which you’re absolutely not doing. I think calling you “selfish” would be ridiculous. Who exactly would you be harming by not having children? Nobody.

              Rather, it is selfishness on the part of the speaker to expect you to conform to their beliefs.

              1. Ruffingit*

                “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” – Oscar Wilde

            4. AC Slater*

              I actually think it’s a selfless thing for someone to recognize that there are things they don’t want to give up for kids; and to choose to not bring kids into the world who would then end up on the receiving end of their parents’ resentment.

              There is nothing more selfish than people who have kids because they “want to” without carefully considering all of the consequences and ways their lives will change. It’s really a selfless act to recognize that wanting that freedom wouldn’t be fair to a kid who didn’t ask to be brought into this world, and to opt out of procreating because of that.

              I have serious admiration for those that choose to not bring kids into this world for some of the reasons you shared, Jadelyn, especially with the traditional societal pressures and expectations that still come with adulthood.

            5. Gadget Hackwrench*

              I was first-born and an accident and I swear to you, if it hadn’t been drilled into my mum’s head from young that having kids is simply *what you do.* I would not be here today. That sounds like I’m about to argue for having kids I’m sure but the thing is… despite heavy self deception and a brilliant public facade, she was never able to fool me. Ever. I have always known she resented my existence. It just wasn’t till later that I figured out WHY. I thought the problem was me not being ‘good enough,’ but it was my *existence.* I wasn’t planned. I wasn’t wanted or desired. I *happened to her,* and it completely derailed what she wanted for herself in life. You can put on a smile, and you can say ‘I love you,’ but kids are observant, and most observant of their primary caretakers, and their need for care cannot be satiated by deep resentment coated in a thin veneer of love. They need the real deal. Much as I’m grateful to be alive, I think it’s actually far less selfish to take the flack from society for not having a kid, then bring someone into this world who’s developmental emotional needs you *cannot* fulfill.

              1. Khlovia*

                Are you my doppelganger from another brane? I asked my mother once if she had wanted me. She assured me she had. Something in her tone and manner convinced me; but it was very confusing. I certainly wouldn’t have treated a child I wanted the way she treated me. I wouldn’t treat a child I *didn’t* want the way she treated me. Not until, much later, it occurred to me to ask myself, “But what did she want me FOR?” did I begin to make some rapid progress.

                In my case, it was the extended family that felt I was superfluous to the universe. At no point did she ever stick up for me, or admit to her sisters that she had decided she needed a child to perform certain functions for her, and had done her best to get pregnant on purpose, despite being unmarried. Yes, that was why I was an unwelcome embarrassment to the family, as I finally figured out way too late to do me much good. Heck, I even performed some of my functions correctly! I forced my father to marry her, didn’t I?

        2. BananaTanger*

          “Oh, you’ll change your mind when you meet the right man.”

          “Took care of that problem. Got my tubes tied in 2011.”

          [awkward pause while I smile pleasantly]

          1. Jadelyn*

            And you just ride the pause and wait to see how long it takes them to fumble back out of it, lol. That sounds amazing.

          2. JSPA*

            And there are still people whom, when you say “tubes tied in my 20’s” and “perimenopausal now” still think they’re being helpful when they tell you “sometimes they can reverse those things / miracles happen.” (Like it was easy to get them tied, by accident, and like I should really want a newborn, in my 50’s.)

        3. A tester, not a developer*

          The first time I agreed with my kid that I am, in fact, The Meanest Mommy in the World (TM) was a glorious day. He just kind of deflated before my eyes.

          1. Gumby*

            My parents usually just replied that yes, they took special classes to be mean parents. And they had the highest grades in the class!

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                My aunt used to casually threaten her sons that if they didn’t stop driving her crazy, she’d rip their arms off and beat them to death with ’em. Maybe that’s what happens when you *do* live in a plentiful-wolf area.

              2. Specialk9*

                My parents used to threaten to sell us, but I have switched that “to the fairies” because they’re imaginary, and not a much-maligned ethnicity. I hope nobody thinks I’m being homophobic when I say that. Maybe I should say elves, or orcs.

                1. Hobbert*

                  Ha. My mom did threaten to sell us to the fairies. I think it’s an Irish thing.

              3. Cubs*

                Thanks to the Junglebook my kids responded back to their grandmother that they wanted to be thrown to the wolves, maybe they could meet Akela. I raise such nerds. Go for orcs. They won’t raise them.

            1. PhyllisB*

              When my kids were driving me nuts, I would threaten to sell them to the lowest bidder. That always a “HUH???” out them.

          2. Jadelyn*

            My mother does this! And I think in literally those exact same words. She still does it whenever I give her crap about stuff (in jest, of course), and I’m in my 30’s now. She’s probably where I learned the “embrace your inherent awfulness” method of dealing with guilt-tripping, now that I think about it.

          3. Indigo a la mode*

            My parents always crowed about [whatever I was complaining about] being another point in their favor in the competition for Meanest Parents of the Year. There was nothing more aggravating.

            Now I just warn them that they’re in serious danger of losing their Meanest Parents award whenever they do things like spontaneously buy me a plane ticket to come see them or get me a lifetime warranty on my Costco tires.

            1. BookishMiss*

              Lol my parents too! And my dad would often refer to The Dad Manual, which only dads could ever look at, when he made some strange-to-child-me decision.
              One of these days, I’m going to get a blank book, write “dad manual” on it, and give it to him as a fancy gift.

        4. Wrenn*

          It’s fun, isn’t it? Any accusations of “you’re mean/evil/no fun/lame” are met with “yup! you’re absolutely right!” Really takes the wind out their sails because the expected response is for you to protest that you are not that thing and essentially beg them to take it back. When you simply agree, they often have nowhere to go.

        5. Weyrwoman*

          I learned this early as well! “yes, and” is such a great exercise for these situations. I’d like to call it Smug Acceptance.

        6. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s why my favorite response to “must be nice!” is “oh, yes, it definitely is nice, thanks.”

        7. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

          You are a woman after my own heart. I get called selfish for being happily child-free at 40. I really can’t wrap my head around that concept even. Doesn’t selfishness require a recipient for the withholding? I’ll confess to on occasion, and depending on the shittiness of the accusation, spinning a tragic tale of woe wielded like a scapel, or blunt object or like Sherman marching to the sea. I let no affront go unchallenged – unlucky is the stranger who engages on a bad day.

          Now guilt trips – those I am susceptible to, such being my saint of a mother’s weapon of choice. No sarcasm there, being gently shown how hurtful my behavior could be by someone so kind got the job done. But, when I figure out I’ve been played by someone guilt tripping…hard time getting past that.

          1. Wrenn*

            Are we sisters and I never knew my entire life?! Just kidding, but my mom is EXACTLY like that. Her disappointment in my poor behavior could cut me down to size like no punishment ever could. It’s not manipulative, she’s a genuinely kind, wonderful person. We very rarely argued because being mean to my mom is like kicking a puppy.

        8. Not a Mere Device*

          Also, “yes I’m selfish. That’s not a great qualification for parenthood.” (I am now past the age where casual acquaintances assume me to be fertile, and haven’t needed to answer that particular guilt trip/accusation in years.)

      3. Mirror*

        Yep, came here to say this coworker sounds like my grandma. And my dad. Ok that whole side of the family…

        I was made to feel guilty all the time for not wanting to call Grandma more than at Christmas to thank her for her gift. Then I realized, why does she never call me? And eeeevery time I called, she would complain that I never call. So I put it back on her, and she harumphed.

        She must be getting old because now she doesn’t even hide her insecurity. She was complaining that no one ever invites her to do anything and my Aunt snapped back that she tried to invite her to dinner 3 times last week but Grandma was too busy. Grandma’s response? “Oh I know I just like feeling sorry for myself.” -_-

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yes as to how to handle her… but would tend to hug a tantruming child as they are not yet old enough to be able to be in control :)

      She is.

        1. BF50*

          No it doesn’t.

          Giving the child a cookie or letting the child paint the dog or steal the toy reinforces negative behavior. You can hold a boundary while still being loving and kind.

        2. Det. Charles Boyle*

          Let’s agree to disagree. Children who are melting down usually have no control over their emotions (b/c they’re children) and need comforting, not punishment.

          1. Alli525*

            Exactly, and there are many, many studies to back this up. Yorick sounds like they’re putting too much stock in Dr Spock.

        3. Thlayli*

          Nope. The best way to deal with a tantrum is to give them a cuddle and name their emotions without judging. “Oh, you really wanted the red bowl. You’re sad that you don’t have the red bowl.” Works every time and calms them down at least 50 times faster than ignoring or punishing. Also teaches them to express their emotions instead of just screaming.

          Btw I’m not a massive fan of every aspect of “attachment parenting”, but this technique actually works brilliantly.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’ve never tried to hug a tantruming child until AFTER they have calmed down. I’m not sure it’s physically possible.

        The effective way to deal with a tantruming child is to take no notice of their actions or words, and to continue on with whatever it was you were doing. That gives them time and space to work through the extreme emotions.

        (In a way, it’s respectful: “You are having emotions, and I am going to let you handle them on your own, because you are capable of that, even if you haven’t figured it out yet, and even if you don’t believe it. I’ll leave you alone to practice.” I used to literally say, “Come find me when you’ve calmed down again.”)

        Later, when the kid is calm, it’s appropriate to express sympathy for the extreme emotions (because they were real even if they were inappropriate), or for the thing that was behind it (it IS frustrating when someone doesn’t listen to how you want your sandwiches cut), and to coach them through what -would- be an appropriate response.

        And this may seem off topic, but I think that many of the tantruming tactics could really work with this woman.
        So instead of cuddling them, say sympathetically, “I can see you feel hurt that I didn’t want your sandwich. That’s too bad.” But never say anything else. And ignore the histrionics, but simply leave them to her to handle.
        Or, “I’m glad to see you’ve worked through that upset!” when she’s done, in an encouraging way.

        1. Mellow*

          “The effective way to deal with a tantruming child is to take no notice of their actions or words, and to continue on with whatever it was you were doing. That gives them time and space to work through the extreme emotions.”


          It may be AN effective way to deal with tantrums, but that depends on the context. Because it’s not so effective for many of us when in a movie theatre, on an airplane, in line at a store, or in a restaurant. We wish instead that such a child would be dealt with right then and there, as on an airplane, or whisked away altogether, when possible. (Of course, this doesn’t include crying newborns and infants).

    4. Wrenn*

      For sure. The best response to a temper tantrum (from any age of person) is to be incredibly bored by the whole thing. No matter what shenanigans they pull, you are one step away from falling asleep because the whole thing is just so tiresome. Don’t react. Just wait for them to be done, preferably by ignoring their entire existence while you wait, and if that’s not an option, imagine that they are a mildly interesting insect flapping its wings about and buzzing.

      She wants a reaction, badly. Give her nothing. If a response is unavoidable, be bland and blunt. It’s difficult because it’s natural to match the energy of other people around you, or at least feel like you should, and that’s what she is counting on. There will likely be a “burnout burst” phase where she REALLY gives it all she’s got to get a reaction, but if you continue to give her nothing she will, if not stop completely, stop targeting you and focus her ridiculous behavior on someone else.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yep. When someone wants drama, the worst thing you can do to them is to refuse to give it to them.

    5. Chloe*

      OP here… This is SO very true! I unlocked this secret a few weeks ago and shared it with other coworkers. They seemingly couldn’t help but become involved in her drama though. I quickly noticed that feeding her need for attention was adding fuel to the fire, so I would usually just try to have a 1 word reply and then get quiet. She would then try to guilt-trip me for being quiet, and would actually start loudly mocking me! The funniest part is that you and a few others have likened this to children’s behavior (which is very accurate). Well, the woman I’m referring to in the post is 62 years old! I don’t understand how somebody can get this far in life with so little self-awareness. Anyways, thanks for your comment!! :)

  3. CatCat*

    I’m definitely in the “ignore her” camp. I think any response just invites her to argue and whine further.

    1. On Fire*

      I would be *so tempted* to do a cool stare with a raised eyebrow, and say drily, “How very childish,” before turning away to ignore everything thereafter. I think the cool stare/raised eyebrow/ignore entirely would be okay. “How very childish” would probably NOT be okay.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I’d be tempted to say “Who pissed in your cheerios?” or “Well, aren’t you just a ray of sunshine.”

        I would NOT say those things. But I would be tempted as hell.

    2. BeenThere*

      I am too but part of me thinks if this were in my office, instead of ignoring I’d go one step further and start loudly singing a song so as to drown it out. I don’t know what’s wrong with me (in case you were going to ask).

  4. Snubble*

    I genuinely wondered if this was one of my relatives, but she’s not in a small office. This is, as Alison suggests, not something you’re going to be able to fix. The internal logic that makes this seem like a good way to control her world and get the reassurance and love that she wants is going to stay that way, unless and until she decides to work on her stuff. The best you can do is persuade her, through repetition, that love and reassurance do not come from you and will not come from you.
    There will probably be outrageous sulks until she writes you all off as unfeeling monsters who hate her.

    1. Jadelyn*

      This is a good point – OP, be prepared for a potential “extinction burst” if you and the rest of the staff commit to ignoring her shenanigans. If she’s used to getting some reaction out of everyone, and that stops, she may double down on the absurdity for a little while until it sinks in that she’s not getting anywhere and she gives up.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or, she may never give up; I think if it’s driven from some deep needs, it may continue.

        But one thing about pretending that you don’t care about someone’s behavior is that, eventually, that becomes true.

      2. Chloe*

        Jadelyn, your comment was all too accurate! Anybody who ignores her shenanigans is at first scowled upon, then mocked. And then she DOES double down! She will bring that person loads of food, and act super syrupy nice to them for about a week… then when no reactions occur, she finally starts to ignore them (and the victim rejoices).

  5. Mystery Bookworm*

    Assuming blunt conversations and the boss don’t make any difference….

    I often find playing little mental exercises can help with things like this. Stuff like imaging that you’re all character on a show (like Scrubs, for example) and she’s just mugging it up for the audience. Or imaging how the 3rd person narrator of the novel based on your life would write out this scene.

    Little (internal, not shared out loud!) games like that can sometimes help with emotionally distancing myself a bit, which could help keep this from being so taxing on your day.

    But it’s ok that this gets to you, even if you know better. We’re human and it’s natural (healthy, even) of us to respond to this stuff. So if those games don’t work (or don’t work 100%) know that other people have been there.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      If only you could share the games out loud. You and your coworkers could draft up BINGO cards and the winner gets a breakfast sandwich. I imagine her huffing about something in an otherwise quiet office and then 2 coworkers spring up from cube village, each trying to yell, ‘BINGO!’ faster than the other.

      I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s just a fun thought.

        1. Specialk9*

          Bingo by IM.

          Though I’m torn on whether that’s actually bullying, or the victims of her bullying finding the only recourse they can since management won’t protect them.

      1. AKchic*

        I’d do this right in public. I’d want it known. Why? So she’d catch on and *maybe* change her behavior.

        1. Yorick*

          Unfortunately, this would be interpreted as bullying the coworker, even by third parties.

          1. Fiennes*

            It’s also the kind of thing that people will then do a second/third/fifth/tenth time, to far less deserving candidates, until you have a really ugly office culture on your hands.

          1. Wintermute*

            It is, in a way, but if it’s an attack it’s a counter-attack not an unprovoked aggression. It’s saying “return to sender” on their attempts to emotionally manipulate you, perhaps a little more stridently than many would, this is very much a workplace context thing. I don’t think it would *in general* be advisable, but depending how dysfunctional your workplace is…

      2. Robots*

        I have done this, creating bingo cards around a co-worker’s persistently unpleasant behaviour and sharing it with a friend on my team so we could play. In the short term, it really did help to cope with the co-worker, because at least if you got caught up in one of their rants, you’d sort of get a reward out of it.

        Eventually I did come to feel bad about not being more mature about things, but even in the shorter term, it backfired because my team member would bait co-worker in order to complete the bingo card faster, so we just got more rants…

    2. Washi*

      Yep to all of this. The other thing I do is immediately thinking about what a great story this will make to tell my friends and contemplating exactly how I will structure my re-telling for maximum effect. It’s gotten to the point where I almost enjoy these ridiculous interactions because I’m already picturing the entertainment it will bring later.

    3. LSP*

      +1 if you OP can conjure Ron Howard’s voice in her head for these moments:

      Guilt-tripping Coworker: “So I guess MY half a sandwich wasn’t good enough for you.”

      Ron Howard Narrator: “It wasn’t”

      Or the “it’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” opening:

      Guilt-tripping Coworker: “Fine! If no one is going to eat the food I bring in, I’m just never going to bring in treats ever again!”

      “It’s Always Sunny” theme music, with the title: Guilt-tripping Coworker Brings in More Food

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Oooh, I nominate the narrator from Jane the Virgin to handle some of the meta commentary.

        1. smoke tree*

          I love the Office camera expression and use it regularly both at work and in life. Just looking for confirmation from somewhere out in the universe. I imagine myself as Martin Freeman though.

        2. wendelenn*

          I nominate Patrick Warburton as The Narrator/Lemony Snicket from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

          “woe is me. . . woe is me. . . ” “You are hearing the cry of the Suffering Martyr Coworker”.

          1. Ellex*

            Patrick Warburton was unexpectedly brilliant casting and I will now have to imagine him sitting in the corner of my workplace narrating my ongoing issues with the IT department.

      2. Violet*

        Oh wow, I love the “Always Sunny” solution here. That’d be sure to make me giggle in the face of frustration.

    4. Not So Recently Diagnosed*

      My coworker and I used to make up “drinking” games where we had to take a swig of coffee every time someone did something on the list. So like, if a problematic coworker passive aggressively blamed someone else for their mistakes, we’d text each other “drink”. It made us laugh and helped us get through the day.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        I do this! I have my own “drinking game” with things like “wearing double denim” or “wearing the same skirt as me from [that store]” or “Loud Laugher laughs loudly”.

    5. Barefoot Librarian*

      I thought I was the only person who did this kind of thing LOL. It really does help. I couldn’t have survived at my previous job without this little coping tool.

    6. ginger ale for all*

      I mentally replay a movie scene where Judy Garland sings and dances to the tune of “I don’t care!”. It’s worth a google search in my opinion. The movie it came from is ‘In the Good Old Summertime’.

    7. TardyTardis*

      I’ve had days where I looked around to see if the Please Shoot Me people were filming that day (horrible stench coupled with plumbing problems and then the copier died).

    8. Chloe*

      I love this! Co-workers and I often discuss how our office could be a successful TV show, with all of her antics and the boss’s complete resistance to address the problem. It definitely helps to find humor in the situation. Headphones also help. A LOT!

  6. Midge*

    Your coworker regularly *berates* your boss? That (in addition to all the other unreasonable and obnoxious behaviors) is not ok! Alison has given this advice in the past, and I’m surprised she didn’t include it here: it sounds like you have a boss problem more than a coworker problem. Your coworker’s behavior is unacceptable, but the fact that your boss allows it to continue may be the bigger issue.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, maybe I’m just worn out by talking about so many different varieties of bad management, but I usually reserve “your boss is more of the problem than your coworker” for bigger stuff. I agree that the boss should have shut this down long ago, but there are plenty of managers who are decent managers but don’t get much involved in interpersonal weirdnesses unless they’re truly derailing the office. (To be clear, I can’t imagine being this manager and not addressing it. But I’m not going to go to “the boss is the bigger problem” over this kind of thing.)

      1. LGC*

        I mean, I hear you, but also this lady is actually being openly disruptive. So I can see why people would jump to assuming LW really has a boss problem – that was my first assumption as well.

        On the other hand, the boss may just be as stunned as the rest of the office. I’m not going to lie, tantrums by adults aren’t unexpected where I work…but also I work in a VERY unconventional office. And most adults don’t slam doors because someone refused their shared food.

        1. Wintermute*

          I would agree because of the fact that the boss is allowing a co-worker to “berate” him in a way that’s public enough the LW knows about it. That tells me that the environment is not healthy here and the manager has little control. Because I can’t imagine a fully-functional workplace with effective managers that enforce high standards and hold people accountable where you could semi-publicly upbraid your boss without consequences.

          That speaks to waffly management practices and an unwillingness to have hard conversations that is beyond the norm (and the norm is fairly bad for those traits already).

          Of course in the boss’ defense, I would bring up my old chestnut: the coffee or tea analogy, which you kind of touched on. When people violate a norm in little ways it’s easy to respond. Most conversations are sort of “semi-scripted”, like a computer game dialogue tree, you know what they might say, you have a few planned responses to the common things people might say in that situation. We see amazing scripts here all the time for people with less confidence or that are newer to the workplace but we rehearse these things all the time in our head– “That hasn’t been my experience with John as a manager,” “I don’t think we should say things about Katie we wouldn’t want her to hear,” “Just so you know, I looked into it and [wildly illegal and unethical thing] is actually against [the ADA / Equal Employment Opportunity Act / Fair Labor Standards Act / National Labor Relations Act / RICO / fair wage law], I don’t want us to get in trouble!”

          But when someone goes WAY off the script, we freeze, our brains are like a computer, we have to abort execution on “normal_social_interaction.exe” and boot up “Figure_out_what_the_heck.exe” and online all our social and analytical skills. This process of “wait, hold on, back up, what did you just say about your co-worker putting a curse on you?!” takes time, and in the meantime we sort of default to our background process. And because humanity is a social species our default background process is conflict-avoidant (defaulting to aggression when confused situation wouldn’t be great for us as a species long-term, but you’ll notice that many predatory animals will do just this)

          Which brings me to the coffee or tea analogy. If you ask someone if they want coffee you expect a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Some people might as if they can have tea instead, which might throw you for a second but you’ll recover fast enough because the data on this is still in the mental function offerCoffee().
          If, instead, they stand up, and start crying and yelling about how they thought they knew you better than this and that every knows coffee does not exist and they can’t believe you’d betray them by joining the Barista Conspiracy… you’re not going to know WHAT to do or how to respond. You freeze, you apologize, you don’t say they’re being unreasonable because you’re trying to figure out what is happening to you and what information you might be missing that would cause this response.

      2. Midge*

        I understand drawing that line. From what we know it seems like she may already be derailing the office with her tantrums, but maybe not from the boss’s perspective. That said, as someone who’s not a manager but sees a fair amount of workplace dysfunction that someone *should* be managing, I know it would rise to that level for me.

      3. Fiennes*

        I think it’s also worth noting that some otherwise really great bosses/managers have a particular personality type of employee that’s more problematic for them to handle. Or a kind of conflict that pushes their buttons. Or a blind spot. There is no such thing as an absolutely perfect boss or manager. But I wouldn’t write someone off as “the whole problem” based on one isolated weak area.

    2. Chloe*

      Well technically yes, the boss IS a major problem in this (and other) issues! Unfortunately, she’s the director of the department and has no boss who oversees her. I could write a whole other question on dealing with our boss’s incompetence LOL. She has effectively “checked out” and expects her employees to handle problems by themselves. We all wish she would step up and set some kind of boundaries our guidelines for the office.

      One of my other coworkers consistently shows up late, does little to no work, lies to get time off, and comes to work half drunk. The boss ignores it because she dislikes confrontation (same reason she has not addressed the guilt-tripping coworker). The boss proceeds to sit at her desk planning vacations and playing around on Facebook all day, ignoring any office issues. Sooo… yes, it’s definitely a boss problem as well.

    1. The Hobbit*

      I’m tired just reading that. I have a coworker like this (though not with the bringing in goods, but she’ll tell me – I’m in charge of one of the jobs she’s responsible for – every single time she completes a task, even though she should only tell me when it requires some action on my part), and it’s incredibly draining, because this person basically expects to be reassured at work that they’re valuable. I do make a point of thanking and praising her when she does something really great, like solving a problem that had been plaguing us, but I just don’t have the time and energy to praise her every time she does the job she’s paid to do. In this case, the coworker is expecting praise for something people don’t even want her to do. It would drive me insane.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        > I just don’t have the time and energy to praise her every time she does the job she’s paid to do.

        Do you have the energy to tell her *this*? This isn’t a hidden snark, it’s a genuine question, because I know it can be hard, especially if you’re not her overall manager. But still, if you can point out that it’s using time that could be spent on something else, maybe that could help? Or you can just blame yourself and how busy you are and how the interaction breaks your concentration badly. (Or – how do you react? Maybe if you switch to “great, thanks” while not actually giving her eye contact?)

        Okay, this is me, trying to fix all the things. I’ll just get back to work on my own stuff now. :)

        1. The Hobbit*

          Honestly, at the moment, I don’t. She’s going through a very difficult situation we’re all aware of, at the point of saying anything not positive would be framed as unkindness (we’re a very tiny company, which adds to the ‘not having the time’ factor). She’s also supposed to retire soon, perhaps this year, so with her over-the-top reactions to everything she dislikes, I just let it go.

          And trust me, it’s very distracting, because she’ll IM the workgroup every time she finishes something, and then ask about 3 times if we saw her message, and then IM me personally (if I’m on a break, for example).

          Basically, there’s just not enough attention to keep her happy. And I appreciate you trying to fix things! Thank you! <3 (Not sure you'll even see this, but thanks!)

  7. Antilles*

    I’d just ignore it as much as possible. From the outside, it seems like this is all a LOOK AT ME, PAY ATTENTION TO ME thing. So I’d just completely disengage from her in any way that doesn’t directly affect work. Don’t give her that opportunity to vent, don’t give her that attention. Just turn right away, put in some headphones (if office culture allows it), and stay clearly focused on your work. If she walks up to you and stares daggers, you pretend not to notice for a good 10-15 seconds before looking up. Etc…

    1. irene adler*

      Yes. Boss needs to set some guidelines/rules for this woman. And establish consequences for violating them.

      Drama queens. I just hate ’em!

      Ours would bring in food for any -and every- occasion. But that was because she wanted to binge on cake or cookies herself. So when it was time to cut the cake for the birthday gal or guy, there’d be a big slice already gone.

  8. Myrin*

    It actually sounds like your office is already dealing quite well with this, OP, since you don’t mention that she’s ever actually successful in guilting anyone. I can 100% understand the aggravation – this would drive me up the wall! – but I’m honestly not seeing much more that you as a simple coworker can do here.

  9. Apostrophina*

    I have no advice for this, OP, but I wish you all the luck in the world. My mother was the home-based version of this type of person, and only dying stopped her, though her final illness slowed it down a bit.

    I think people like this are playing to some weird self-image sometimes, and to be honest, I suspect the feeling of being an underappreciated provider may be a crucial *part* of that image, not just a side effect.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The feeling of being an underappreciated provider may be a crucial *part* of that image.

      I think this is a good insight.

      OP, if you can frame her performance in your head as “here she goes on the underappreciated provider monologue again” it may help to ignore it–there is no appreciation that could get it to stop because the performance requires being never appreciated enough.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Try to say it in your head before she does and see how much of it you can get right.

        1. GingerHR*

          I’ve done that before with the winners’ speeches in motor races. It’s disproportionately satisfying when you get it right, and whilst it doesn’t solve the bigger issue here, might actually help the OP live through it!

      2. High Score!*

        A benefit of being an engineer – we just say stuff like that out loud. It means we’re not popular, but being left alone to do actual work is a huge benefit.

      3. TootsNYC*

        And I wonder if you can also summon up a certain amount of sympathy. Or, at least, regard it as a handicap she has, one that’s all about her own weaknesses, and not at all about you.

      4. Lissa*

        Yeah, the underappreciated provider thing is a huge part of a lot of people’s self-image. Look at all the memes on social media that focus on the meme-poster silently doing it all while nobody understands, being the “Giver” while everyone else takes, etc. I know quite a few people who really like telling people how much they suffer quietly. :)

      5. Pomona Sprout*

        This reminds me of those moments on The Big Bang Theory when someone says something that pushes one of Sheldon’s buttons and Leonard says, “Here we go” as Sheldon winds up to deliver a tirade.

    2. Just here to say...*

      My mom was like this, too. Sending you solidarity vibes.

      Your note on this being her self-image is spot on. No matter what OP and coworkers do to accommodate the problem person, she will find a way to validate her self-image as an underappreciated provider.

      OP, do the ignore route. Also, be as uninteresting as possible. That’s helped me as the daughter of someone like this. You can’t fix her and if you try to fix her environment for her, it’ll be like a game of whack-a-mole.

    3. Wrenn*

      You’re probably right. If so, there is literally nothing you can do to change that person’t perception. You could build her a gold throne, sing epic songs in her honor, proclaim every Friday to be Jane Appreciation Day, and she would still be upset and “unappreciated” because you failed to bring in her favorite flavor bonbons one single time.

      I was reading about a psychological thing called attachment panic, where in an effort to reinforce interpersonal relationships people go to bizarre lengths to elicit an emotional reaction out of the other party. Now this was applied to romantic and familial relationships, usually with one party being an undemonstrative type of person while the other is very emotionally open, but the situation with this coworker reminded me of it. She, for whatever reason, feels the need to make sure that she is appreciated and accepted, and her method of obtaining these things is to go to great lengths to have others reassure her. She’s oblivious to the great irony that by behaving as she does she is ensuring that she is neither appreciated nor accepted.

      1. Chloe*

        Interesting! I just looked up info on attachment panic, and it sounds very much like what’s going on here. It also explains how the guilt-tripping coworker describes her home life. Whilst complaining about her husband (who has more of an introverted nature), it’s always “he doesn’t appreciate me”, “he just does his own thing and ignores me”. I can’t even imagine dealing with someone like this at home!

        Also, she has referenced how her church doesn’t appreciate her, even though she bends over backwards to help at all their events. I guess she must have attachment panic in all relationships, professional or otherwise!

        I do usually try to consider what a person may be going through psychologically before getting irritated with them. However I have a really tough time dealing with people who are oblivious to how their actions effect others! And, as you accurately stated… to the great irony that their actions have the OPPOSITE effect of what they’re seeking!

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      I experienced this too with a mother and stepmotherish person. It sucks and you have my sympathy.

      OP, if there weren’t enough reasons already to ignore this behavior, this is just another one. I found with my mother and stepmotherish person (and a few coworkers, though not to this extreme) you can’t win. If you accepted the half-sandwich, you might’ve faced your coworker thinking you weren’t thankful enough.

      1. Jo*

        I once had a flatmate who would blow up about silly things – she had a deludedly high opinion of herself and of her own importance. It’s sometimes just easier to accept there’s not much you can do about people like this, except give a calm, collected response and see her tantrums as being about her rather than what anyone else has/hasn’t done, but don’t do what I did and feel you’ve got to tiptoe around her. Despite what I said about giving a calm response, you would probably be justified in telling her to cut it out/put a sock in it/grow the F up.

    5. SS Express*

      I thought the same thing. My sister is a bit like this – not to the same extent as this coworker, but she often makes things more difficult for herself than they need to be then complains and sighs about how difficult they are. For whatever reason, it’s important to her to see herself as someone who is really put-upon.

    1. Antilles*

      Especially since it was apparently offered on the spot after co-worker had already eaten part of it. It’s one thing to both be going to a meal and pre-plan “hey, you want to split something?”…but to eat half the sandwich and *then* offer the rest? Uh, no.

      1. Tardigrade*

        I was imagining the kinds of sandwiches that already come in halves, but I still wouldn’t want that either.

      2. bonkerballs*

        I mean, I have several coworkers that I would eat their leftover half a sandwich if it was a good enough sandwich, but there are also lots of coworkers I wouldn’t. What I don’t have is anyone who would be *offended* by me saying no thanks. That’s just too weird.

    2. Midge*

      Yes, that was such a weird reaction! I also do not want half of a sandwich that a coworker bought for themself, without talking to me about it, and then decided they didn’t want to finish.

    3. Kelly L.*

      Right? Like…I’m probably hungry enough to want my own whole one, you know? On top of everything else weird about it.

    4. Queen of Cans and Jars*

      I used to have a coworker who for some reason would ALWAYS offer part of her lunch. No idea why she did it, because half the time she’d do it after I already ate my lunch. Thankfully, she wasn’t offended when I said no.

      1. ElspethGC*

        I know a couple of people who grew up being guilted by parents for not offering to share. If they had *anything* – gifts, snacks, breakfasts, lunches, toys, money – they had to offer to share it with anyone else who happened to be around. Regardless of whether or not they actually wanted to share, of course. Your coworker may have just been in the habit of always offering to share.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m going to craft a fan fic here in which she felt that she never got good lunch box trades when she was a kid, and so she is determined to do better as an adult.

    5. Jadelyn*

      Same. How is it weird to not want *someone else’s* *half sandwich* and instead choose to get a whole sandwich for yourself? Like…I don’t necessarily like the same food you like, and if I’m gonna put something in my face it’s going to be something I’ll actually enjoy, not just whatever happened to be handy.

      1. boop the first*

        I’m sure a lot of it is just *knowing* that accepting anything from this specific coworker is going to put OP on a mental list of “suckers who owe me something” forever.

    6. smoke tree*

      I feel like she likes to intentionally offer things she knows others either won’t want or won’t reciprocate (like the gifts for every holiday??) so she can feel like a martyr. I can’t see any other reason why she would do this.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        She’s definitely a martyr. I would also NEVER eat the food she brings in or accept any gifts from her. Any buy-in on the LW’s part just reinforces the martyrdom narrative.

      2. Birch*

        This is such a good point. She must not get any happiness out of providing something people actually want–she needs that opportunity to complain about it.

    7. Persimmons*

      If she’s weird enough to offer me something she already bit into, why would I want baked goods from her house? Her sense of cleanliness sounds shaky at best.

    8. Lissa*

      Not gonna lie, if it was the kind of sandwich that came pre-split into halves I’d be all over it. But yeah, not weird to not want it…

      1. Kat in VA*

        Even if it was pre-wrapped in halves – I want my OWN sandwich. A whole one. Plus, I’m a little picky about condiments – one of the more common ones is mayonnaise and I hate mayo with the fire of a thousand dying suns. I would politely say “No but thank you though!” and then be amazed, like OP, that someone threw a fit because I wanted my own (whole, chosen by me, preferably condiment free) sandwich? Just…dang.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I feel you on this. I hate most condiments including mayo, and I’m not interested in ANY sandwich that wasn’t ordered and prepared according to my specifications. And I’d never tell St. Coworker the Martyr that, because I’d bet the farm she’d be just the type to say, “Oh, a little sauteed slug sauce* won’t hurt you,” and act like I was a freak for not wanting to eat it.”

          *Sauteed slug sauce being whatever condiments were on the sandwich, because that’s how about appetizing most condiments are to me

        2. Alica*

          All of this! I pretty much hate all condiments – mayo, salad cream, ketchup, mustard….Thank goodness for hoisin duck wraps, my standby for when I have to buy a sarnie from a supermarket.

          I have a tendency to eat plain roast ham sandwiches for lunch – I don’t even bother buttering the bread most of the time (didn’t like butter as a kid, and as I’ll eat it that way I may as well save myself the calories). My colleagues all think it’s terribly boring, but it’s what I like! (self admitted full blown picky eater. it’s mostly sauces I have an issue with.)

  10. Sandy*

    Oh mannnnnn one of my colleagues is like this and it drives me BANANAS.

    My “favourite” was the time I went for coffee with another coworker (we are an office about 40, it’s not small) and when I came back, she loudly and exasperatedly said “well, I guess I didn’t want coffee!”

    I went with blunt, now I go with ignore. It’s all you can do.

    1. AKchic*

      “It was a private meeting. You understand what ‘private’ means, Delores?” followed by a *look*.

      Act like a child, get treated like a child.

    2. SoSo*

      Years ago when I worked in food service I had a REALLY similar instance with a coworker. It was a national chain cafe-style restaurant and we always had a ton of food waste/leftovers that we couldn’t sell for a variety of reasons (food item spent more than 4 hours in the table warmer, baked goods came out cracked/broken, order was made wrong, etc) and they were divvied up between the line cooks and the cashiers. Line cooks (myself) got first dibs on the hot food items, while the cashiers got first dibs on any baked goods, breakfast items, coffees, etc. If there were any left after the respective groups had a chance, others could come take what they wanted. It was a good system, but there was one cashier who was such a brat about it that she always threw a fit when she didn’t get her “fair share.”

      Finally one day, when we’d had a few extra packs of white cheddar mac n cheese (the holy grail!), myself and my coworker took the leftovers to eat. We’d been at the tail end of an 8 hour shift that started at 5 AM and were exhausted, and the cashier in question came over to our break area loudly proclaim “Well I guess I’m not going to get any of that, am I?” I was sleep deprived an annoyed, and I just looked at her and said “Nope, you’re not. But if it’s that important to you, maybe you should get a different job.” She never said anything after that.

    3. Chloe*

      Oh my gosh, that’s all too familiar!! The guilt tripping coworker used to pull that all the time. Everyone in the office owns a car, plus we have access to many cafes and restaurants. There’s no reason for one person to be the mule. Get off your butt and get your own coffee!

  11. ThatGirl*


    I agree that the boss is a big problem here — he should be curbing her impulses as much as possible, not be flabbergasted by them. And he has the authority to say “you need to take your lunch unless there’s a pressing reason not to.”

    The rest of you… yeah, I’d probably get fed up and say “Petunia, nobody asked you to bring this food in. You can’t be upset when nobody wants to eat it.” or “yes, I preferred to get my own sandwich.” etc.

    1. A Username*

      I think being direct is bound to backfire, because in my experience, people like this excel in painting themselves as the victim, with someone else as the aggressor.

      Coworker: Oh I guess my half of the sandwich wasn’t good enough for you!
      LW: No thanks, I was craving an egg McMuffin
      Coworker: How could you be so CRUEL to me, BULLYING and MOCKING my sandwich choices and rejecting my GENEROSITY? (scurries off to HR to report LW)

      1. ThatGirl*

        This is certainly possible, but I feel like it can’t go worse than it already has.

      2. AKchic*

        Let her. Let HR see the ridiculousness and call her out on some of her ish.

        “Oh, while we have you here, we have reports of you not taking your lunch as is required. We are now formally reminding you, and this will be your one and only verbal warning; unless approved of in writing, you are required to take your lunch every day and if you don’t, you will be receiving a written warning. Unless you have scheduled an appointment during your lunch, you must return from your lunch no later than 2:00 pm for the rest of your shift.” (or whatever arbitrary time)

        HR can be effective in stopping some of her things. They can also tell her that bringing in food is actually a liability and that needs to stop as well.

      3. Specialk9*

        I’m thinking it might be worth doing some preemptive reporting of her, especially by co-workers she hasn’t a already accused. This is all creating a very hostile work environment (even if not the exact definition of that term).

      4. Kat in VA*

        In a perfect world (office?) the exchange would go like this:

        Coworker: Hey, you want half this sandwich I don’t wanna eat?
        LW: No, but thank you, I’m feeling like an Egg McMuffin.
        Coworker: Cool beans.

        Work continues. Having to duck someone who’s “generous” like this has to be freaking exhausting.

        Off topic, but I marvel over how dysfunctional offices can be over super simple things. Right now, the husband is dealing with an office manager who really, really doesn’t like to spend money (she has a budget, she just doesn’t want to use it). She only buys dark roast coffee K-cups for the Keurig. No light or regular blends, certainly no decaf, no tea or hot chocolate. Just dark roast coffee. Then she stopped buying creamer entirely. First it was the flavored creamer (standard vanilla), then regular creamer. Nope, drink it black. Then today, there was no coffee AT ALL. For a company with about 200 people. I told him to just bring a box or two of our own coffee pods (Blue Mountain) and keep it in his desk. I also got him two things of vanilla powdered creamer so at least if he DOES have to drink the black-as-Hades coffee, it’s cut with something.

        Sugar, however…sugar, they have in abundance. It’s baffling.

        Sorry, hijack over.

        1. Birch*

          The office coffee wars posts are my #1 favorite. I’m currently boycotting office coffee because in order to buy-in, we have to give money to one person for the coffee and A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON FOR THE MILK. There should be some kind of logistics training for people in charge of simple office things.

        2. Gadget Hackwrench*

          The first place I worked out of college, the second year I was there, they bought a Keurig… with a COIN SLOT. Now see I did not CARE because I drank tea and hot cocoa and I had my own teabags and cocoa powder in my desk, and had to heat my water in the microwave anyway. All well and good until my boss called me into his office to talk about how I wasn’t ‘supporting the company.’ My transgression, apparently was continuing to use my own tea and cocoa when they had tea and cocoa for the Keurig, and if I didn’t use it they were going to lose money on having gotten it. They were really counting on me switching to the Keurig since it wasn’t just a Coffee Pot… yadda yadda… even though they NEVER asked me if I wanted to use the Keurig, or if they should get pods for me. I did the math and realized that the company was making a PROFIT off the Keurig, not just offsetting the cost of the thing. They were scummy in a lot of other ways too… but that one stuck in my craw for a while. They were pissed at an employee for not being a source of Keurig coffee profit. BIZZARE.

  12. Been There*

    I have been there, with an ineffective and conflict-avoidant supervisor. For the better part of a decade.

    One person did try the techniques suggested, but I think the problem was that the people who were problematic in these ways were always on the search for ways to react emotionally, and even the most straightforward and measured response to their behavior would be perceived as highly emotionally charged and confrontational.

    In retrospect, I should have been more assertive. Looking back, it feels like I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I could go home every day, but the negative emotions and fear of retribution caused me a lot of stress. Even if it didn’t help, I should have stood up for myself and others. Maybe if we had been more consistent in that, our supervisor couldn’t have avoided really addressing the issues that made it such a negative work environment at times. But if the person in the OP’s office is anything like my situation, I wouldn’t hold my breath for the actual scripted language suggested above to go over well. They are the right responses, but make sure you are prepared for the long game.

    1. Specialk9*

      I’ve tried several variations of possible responses with abusive people. I had an abusive sports coach, and I talked back when he was being completely horrible, in a way I had been trained NOT to do. It didn’t help. Not like he could have gotten meaner or louder or redder in the face as he screamed at a bunch of teenaged girls, whether we won or lost. I’ve tried other behaviors with other people, and my lesson learned was that you can’t win, except by leaving. I hope you can come to forgive yourself, and not take on responsibility for behavior that someone else chose to do.

  13. Inspector Spacetime*

    I speak from years of personal experience (from growing up with my mother) when I say that all you can do with this kind of behavior is blissfully ignore it.

    When she doesn’t get the attention she’s bidding for, she’ll sulk, but at least it’ll be quieter haha.

    1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

      Agreed. I saw several of my relatives in the description of the co-worker. As time goes by it starts to become so predictable it’s slightly amusing. I well remember the time I went to a family function where my mother announced to a table of people what an aunt would do from the moment she got arrived to when she sat at the table. She was 100% right and we all got a good laugh.

    2. Ally*

      I was also going to comment the same thing. This sounds like my mom, in her personal life and the things she complains to me about her work. The behavior will not change. I would guess that any kind of effort to address the behavior directly will result in extreme defensiveness and a lot of overdramatics. You would immediately regret engaging with her.
      I think Allison’s advice is on point.

    3. fposte*

      Yeah, there’s a little bit of my dad in here. I think with a parent it makes a lot more sense, in that it is actually their job to provide for their child, and I also understand my dad’s life enough to know why he sought this kind of satisfaction even when it was weird. But it can be exhausting to be the target of.


    I had a coworker who did the gift thing one year…she declared bankruptcy soon after. But she was also bi-polar, which I think played into it. That year she was also my secret santa and ended up giving me over 15 gifts (the limit was 3).

    1. Kittymommy*

      I has one who did this type of thing as well. She would by me and others lunch (inprompted and not asking first) and just leave it on my desk, generally something I never ate. I’d ask her to stop (multiple times) and she would cry because I was “being mean”. She would them complain she didn’t have money to buy food for her family, take home backpacks of food from the schools (2-3 every week) and then try to give that food away because “the kids don’t like it”. I ended up leaving because if her.

    2. Thlayli*

      It’s a sign of massively low self-esteem to over-gift. They feel like they have to buy people’s affection or regard because they aren’t worthy of it themselves.

      In fact, a lot of what she is doing sounds like low self esteem is playing a part in it.

      I have no idea if it would work or not, but OP this might be worth a try: to deal with people with low self esteem you praise their efforts. So you could try saying something like “wow you must have worked really hard on all those cakes.” You don’t have to take one or continue the conversation (“I have to get back to work”) but this sort of little comment MAY give her the validation she is desperate for.

      Or it may not. Hard to say.

    3. loslothluin*

      My half-brother from my dad’s first marriage did this with gifts one year to my mom (his stepmom). He said he couldn’t make up his mind about which crystal pitcher to buy my mom, so he bought ALL of them. Then, about a year later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia (his maternal grandmother was also schizophrenic), and the doctors said the gift giving thing was an indicator of it for them.

    4. Chloe*

      My guilt tripping coworker may have also been bipolar – I researched a whole host of mental conditions in hopes of finding some way to deal with her.

      And yes, she would do that same thing for secret santa!! The boss would have us all write down 10 gifts we would like, and the secret santa was told to choose 1 or 2 items. WELL, Ms. Guilt-Tripper would purchase ALL 10 items, then get angry at how expensive Christmas was. She then destroyed our secret santa event, suggesting instead that we do White Elephant and give gifts that we had laying around the house. We swtitched to that… and she proceeded to purchase elaborate gifts for everybody else in the building, except for the people in her own office.

  15. Not Australian*

    Yep, this is all very familiar – except that for ‘co-worker’ read ‘mother’. In my family we used to say that there was no such thing as a gift without strings, and that’s exactly how this co-worker is behaving.

    Giving something doesn’t necessarily create an obligation in the recipient; either give a thing generously and without expectation of return, or don’t give it at all – it’s really that simple.

    We ended up just treating it as ‘performance art’, but then we could walk away from it. Nevertheless, it might work for the OP…

    1. WFH Lurker*

      I love the idea of treating it like performance art. Once I started viewing loopy behavior like this from a close relative as if I were viewing an act in a play, it stopped bothering me.

    2. Specialk9*

      Have you figured out, in your own life, how to give gifts without a single string, or do you just avoid gifts because you’ve been conditioned to be wary?

    3. Kat in VA*

      I’m sorry you’ve been conditioned to believe there are no gifts without strings. I have extra cookies. Want one? Cool beans, here’s a cookie. Nothing expected other than the pleasure of sharing. Here you go. That isn’t a transaction – it’s me giving you a cookie because I have three of them. Now, the deep dark secret is I actually like you…plus if I have three cookies I will probably eat all of them and get sick because I am an adult but a terrible one, but mostly because I like you and would like to share the pleasure of a cookie with you.

      I just realized you said “in your family” and I gave a big explanation of “gifts” at work in my world. I am truly sorry you haven’t been able to get gifts in your family without someone tying an expectation to it. That is a drag.

  16. Mananana*

    As Alison and others have said, ignoring her is probably the best option. Because your co-irker is a bottomless-pit-of-need. NOTHING shall satisfy the beast that is her insecurity. Nothing. At. All. If possible, try to view her with pity, as it must be horrible to live with that much insecurity.

    Or you could try the comedic-route of exaggeration. She brings in gifts then complains that no one got her one? Go with it. “We are the WORST people on the planet. We are ungrateful reprobates who don’t DESERVE your largess. How can you even THINK of bringing us gifts when we are so horrible? It’s a wonder you don’t quit right now. On the spot. Just pick up your stuff and leave. Because we obviously don’t deserve you.”

    1. And So it Goes*

      Oh, that is good! My only other suggestion involves a bit of time and effort. The boss only cares about production (so what else is new?) so on that note try and document just how much this 5 year old is costing the company. And go en mass and talk to the boss. Sadly it still may not do any good. Otherwise, go with Mananana’s suggestion! Good luck!

  17. Nanani*

    This is favor-sharking.

    Do something unasked for, and create an obligation in the recipient of the “favour”

    It’s used for all kinds of nefarious ends, and it doesn’t matter what ends this coworker has, that shit needs to stop.

    1. Snark*

      I’m imagining a favor shark. “Well, I guess nobody’s going to bring ME a seal from the feeding frenzy! HUMPH”

      1. Hills to Die on*

        One of these days I will learn not to drink anything while I am reading these.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        Favor Shark: “And after I brought in seal pups last week! And did anyone thank me? No!”

    2. Lissa*

      Yup! I used to have a “friend” like this who would do things like offer rides home from an event if you were on his way and then demand gas money days later. Often an unreasonable amount considering he wasn’t even going out of his way.

  18. Lizabeth*

    Is her work being done well, in a timely manner and no drama? If not, your boss should really be putting her on a PIP or walking her out the door.

  19. Scotty_Smalls*

    Since she is doing alll this for attention, just ignore it. You don’t have to tutor her on not having tantrums at work. Just ignore her behavior. When possible redirect, so if she’s having a tantrum and you need something from her, just ask her unemotionally for it.

    “Nobody appreciates me!”
    “Drusilla, do you have the progress reports?”
    “I buy food for everyone!!”
    “Drusilla, can you send the invoice please?”
    “I guess my food isn’t good enough!!!”
    “I’m off to eat my lunch”

  20. The Photographer's Husband*

    Oh my word, I think that’s my mother-in-law!

    Kidding. Sort of. Not really. Please send help.

    1. an infinite number of monkeys*

      Oh yeah, I had one of those. I divorced mine, but if you like your spouse, that might be a little drastic.

      1. AKchic*

        I’ve banned mine from my house, after 10 years of suffering and smiling and “just get along”. No. No more of her dramatics and bull. I’ll not be held hostage to an emotional vampire and drama queen. He doesn’t like it, he knows perfectly well where the door is.

      2. The Photographer's Husband*

        In my case, my wife is unfortunately the target of all the neediness. My presence has actually acted as a pretty decent buffer for situations where we’re both there together. MIL is generally on good behavior when I’m around. But I can’t stop the texts and random phone calls that go directly to my wife. Fortunately though, she is very good at disengaging and keeping an emotional distance. I just owe her a back rub or something whenever she’s done dealing with it, haha.

  21. Cait*

    She sounds like someone’s nightmare mother-in-law.

    And no, I don’t want anyone else’s half sandwich either, weirdo.

  22. Sarah*

    It sounds like your coworker has a lot of issues around moralizing food. The thinking goes; food is bad, the foods I like are very bad, and my wanting to eat the foods I like is evidence of my bad, bad nature. So how can I contextualize this evidence of badness? By making it a product of my environment! If everyone else in my office is eating the same bad food as me, I’m no longer exceptionally bad, I’m merely average. So I must feed my coworkers all the food that I like, which is bad, and once they eat it, we’ll all be bad together. Your not eating the food means that her cunning plan doesn’t work, which means you are the reason she is still exceptionally bad, which means you are the big meanies for ruining her life.

    Unrelatedly, I had no idea my mother got an office job.

    1. Yorick*

      I think this is really reading something into the letter that isn’t there.

      The food is the same as the gifts. It’s a way to feel that her coworkers don’t appreciate her and the whole world is against her and poor, poor, poor her.

      1. Lance*

        Yeah, this doesn’t sound like it’s anything about the food, but rather about a need for positive attention (the food just happens to be a large means of seeking it).

  23. WFH Lurker*

    One thing I learned a while ago that has worked like a charm with the MIL, who is much like the OP’s coworker, is “Never chase a martyr”. I started ignoring her shenanigans years ago and she stopped deploying them against me. Win.

  24. KR*

    Another voice in the choir telling you to ignore ignore ignore. I like to go with pretending you can’t hear her and if she addresses you directly while tantruming, ignore her the first time and then if she repeats say, “What? I wasn’t paying attention.” Make it seem like the most boring thing in the world for her to be passive aggressive and rude. Bonus points if you can put your headphones on when she starts having a fit or start having a calm conversation about Teapot reports with another coworker, only to go back to talking to your annoying coworker the second she acts like an adult. Think the whole “I don’t speak whine” parenting line.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Yes. I imagine the OP and another coworker blinking twice at her, looking back toward each other, and calmly continuing the work conversation with no indication that they even recognized the offender.

  25. Snark*

    Having dealt with this sort of person in a community organization I’m a part of, I have concluded that the cool, analytical look with no comment is the way to go. Just give her a look that’s kind of blank and cool, blink a few times, and then carry on. Don’t engage.

    1. LilySparrow*

      Yes, this. Mr. Spock thinking, “what an interesting life form.”

      The one time I threw a tantrum past toddler age (I was maybe 4-5), my mother just stared at me in genuine astonishment and said, “What on earth is wrong with you? Are you all right?”

      Never tried that again.

      She’s being bizarre. I wouldn’t say the words out loud, but it’s okay to look at her like she’s being bizarre.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Ah, Mr. Spock. He does provide perfect responses to fraught situations.

        “Captain Coworker, I must advise you that you are acting illogically. There is no need to solicit a response to a voluntary act.”

      2. Snark*

        I was channeling more of a Jane Goodall “this primate’s social dominance behavior is fascinating” vibe, but Spock works just as well.

  26. Shiny Door Knob*

    I had a co-worker EXACTLY like the one described in this letter. My co-worker took things even further, by assuming every conversation happening around her was somehow about her or how every joke told in the break room was at her expense. She was extremely paranoid, whiny and basically acted like a child. I went the route that Allison suggested and she eventually left me alone and stopped speaking to me altogether. The problem, however, began to escalate with other employees because she began growing super angry, to the point of threatening violence. I know you’re not supposed to diagnose people when you’re not a doctor, but I seriously thought she had some kind of mental problem. She ended up quitting and walking out when the boss refused to side with her after she threw her one millionth tantrum over nothing.

    1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

      “My co-worker took things even further, by assuming every conversation happening around her was somehow about her or how every joke told in the break room was at her expense. She was extremely paranoid, whiny and basically acted like a child.”

      I worked with someone like this. It was EXHAUSTING. She was the reason I quit my last job. It was SOOOOO toxic. She also needed attention – but not like the way the LW states her co-worker is. It was way more cut throat and personal.

      It’s interesting. I work in a really small office (less than 15 people when everyone is in the office, but on average maybe 8 people) and am not known as warm or friendly. I am a warm and friendly person but years and years of working with some wild and weird co-workers has given me strong boundary making skills. The end result is in this small office where boundaries are practically non-existent I come off as slightly cold. However…this is also the job I’ve kept the longest, been happiest at, and have had no issues with co-workers. Allison – I thank you! I found this blog about a month before I started this job and it was wonderful for giving tips on how to create / enforce boundaries. I came into this place prepared.

  27. irene adler*

    If she were to direct her whining at me, I’d be inclined to respond to her with, “You’re not aging well, are you?”

    Yeah, ignoring is about all one can do- unless boss ups the ante and directs her to cease this behavior.

    1. Alli525*

      That seems like it could be taken out of context… straight to the HR office with an age-discrimination complaint. Especially from someone as sensitive and tantrum-prone as OP’s coworker.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        What if it’s phrased more like “I thought most people passed that developmental stage in kindergarten”?

  28. ENFP in Texas*

    There is no way to “win” or “appease” someone who is determined to play the victim, which is basically what guilt-tripping is. “Oh, poor me, no one appreciates me and I don’t understand why…”

    In the words of Joshua…


  29. Engineer Girl*

    Playing the victim card is emotional abuse. It’s meant to control.

    I found several tactics:
    When they use sarcasm, take it literally, and be in cheerful agreement about it. “I didn’t want coffee anyway!” “Oh, good! I’m so glad we didn’t ask you then!” And ignore.

    Slamming – be direct “please stop slamming drawers. It’s disruptive and unprofessional”. When they come back with an angry comment you state “it needs to stop now”. Follow this with the “don’t mess with me” mom look.

    On complaints – “no one asked you to do that, so they are under absolutely no obligation to reciprocate. Either do it without expectations or don’t do it at all”

    You will be called a bully and abuser. Because emotional abusers call others abusers But they will cut that stuff out. If they whine to boss then tell boss what you said. And remind boss you expect to work in a professional workplace and you can’t attract good people with bad drama.

    1. Yorick*

      Since this person likes to play the victim, she’s likely to make a complaint. I wouldn’t do or say anything that others might also interpret as mean.

      IMO that script for slamming is way too aggressive for a peer. But I might say something like “could you please keep it down?”

      1. Engineer Girl*

        They aren’t a peer if they are acting like a child. And the statement is factual.

        The whole point is to NOT be condescendingly polite. It leaves no room for argument.

        And if they complain? You address it with boss. “I expect to work with adults and her antics prevent us from achieving our work goals.“.

        These types of bullies try to get compliance through fear of retaliation. Make sure it doesn’t work for them.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree that these aren’t necessarily MEAN, but someone who overhears this will likely think you’re bullying the coworker.

          Maybe your location or industry is very different, but these scripts are way too aggressive for places that I have worked or spent time. The only time I think someone could get away with this is when talking to small children.

          I mean, you just can’t say “it needs to stop now” to someone who you don’t have authority over. Especially with this woman. If you try, it will not go well.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Well yes you can say “it needs to stop now”. Because it’s interrupting your work.
            The key is to not be angry when you say it. It needs to be done in a firm, conversational, neutral voice.
            These types will always consider boundaries “mean”.
            Pushing back against tantrums is not bullying.
            One of the key things to do is to explicitly call out the behavior. “Slamming drawers is unprofessional”. She know it’s true so she has a harder time pushing back.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        BTW, it is never “mean” to be clear and direct. I’m so tired of everything being labeled “mean” these days.
        “Mean” is doing something with intent to harm.

        1. MLB*

          Thank you. Just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you have to be excessively polite. I would start with blunt statements and then move to ignore – headphones help :-)

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Thank you. A plain statement of fact is not mean. Tone of voice could make it so, but here we can only discuss the words. That’s why we talk about scripts, right? (And why Alison’s recent podcast about tone of voice in work conversations is such a good resource.)

    2. AKchic*

      All of this.

      They can’t play their victim card if you take the deck of cards away.

  30. animaniactoo*

    I advocate an entirely different sort of bluntness (but still, calmly):

    “My sandwich wasn’t good enough for you!”
    “These are my tastebuds and I don’t understand why what I put in my mouth should be more important to you than it is to me.”

    “He won’t pay me for lunch! He has to pay me. Kvetch kvetch.”
    “Well, you know he’s not paying. It’s your choice.” (although Alison correct about having to pay point – the overall message I am going for is “all of this is your choice” as a reflection back to her every time)

    “Nobody bought me any gifts!”
    “You know we don’t do gifts/holidays. It was your decision to get gifts for everyone.”

    “I’m not bringing in food any more!”
    “Okay. Up to you.”

    However, I would ignore the comments about how much harder she’s working than everyone else. There’s just not a way you can “prove” to her that your workloads and challenges are equivalent. The best you can do is:

    “I just had to do X, Y, znd Z and it took me forever”
    “Yeah, me too.”
    “Mmhmmm.” as you continue working showing that you’re clearly not listening to her.


    And finally: Boundaries are something you enforce by refusing to cave to demands. That doesn’t mean that she’ll respect them and stop trying to tear them down. It just means that this is where you put up your side of the wall against her demands and refuse to participate in them. You can’t change her. You can only change how you react to her. Stop talking about what other people want or are willing to do. That’s already been established. Move on to repeated messaging “You know this is how it works – this was/is up to you/your choice/your decision.”

    Pass it around to everyone: “I didn’t buy a ticket for this guilt trip, so I don’t need to go on it.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      I should mention that every reflection back on her should be followed up with a move on to something else. If she keeps trying to talk about it, “you already know my opinion, I can’t/won’t keep talking about this, I have to get X done.” and go do X whether X is getting lunch or finishing an e-mail.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Pass it around to everyone: “I didn’t buy a ticket for this guilt trip, so I don’t need to go on it.”

      Literally. Put it in a word doc and make copies and give everyone one to hang in their cube.

    3. MLB*

      The only problem with some of your suggestions is that the responses are too long and explain-y. When you provide too much information to someone like this, it gives them more ammunition to continue. If she’s going to respond to the whining, she needs to keep it short, sweet and to the point. And I would only engage if she speaks directly to me. If it’s more of a sarcastic statement to the room in general, it’s best to ignore her.

  31. Bea*

    She’s so ridiculous and is one of those miserable shts who needs to be miserable and unappreciated.

    I tried bringing food at my old job, nobody really was in it. So I stopped. No big deal. Mostly due to dietary differences, made complete sense and my feels weren’t crushed.

    My next job was thrilled with treats and we all brought things as we felt like it.

    She needs to be ignored like a child’s tantrum over not getting to eat only chicken nugs and candy canes for breakfast. Absurd woman, I would just let her have the fits.

    I would also return any gifts given in a “I don’t feel comfortable accepting this” way. Leave them on her desk if necessary.

  32. Bea*

    Oh and she needs to take her efing breaks. Depending on state laws allowing her to work is a huge fine waiting to happen if it gets into the right ear. That’s on your boss though.

    I’m exhausted by having to force people to follow the frigging labor laws there for their own benefit. That will never not get under my skin.

  33. Akcipitrokulo*

    “Oh, dear.”

    To everything.

    In same tone of voice.

    Note I would try talking first… explain this is not good, people are not sympathetic and it annoys them and don’t want her to be unhappy of people see her that way… but then just rinse and repeat.

    If she brings that up, remind her of conversation. Then rinse and repeat.

  34. Iris Eyes*

    I think she might be trying to get you all to care for her but it is massively backfiring. Helping her redirect her efforts into things that you would appreciate her doing might help. Her boss is really the one who can make an impact here and should learn how to appreciate her in a way that speaks to her for doing her job well.

  35. Sharlot*

    I’ve dealt with a lot of similar neuroses, and as a boss I would honestly say the best course of action would be to say something like this, “Brenda, I know how much you like to share your food. This office does not grant favors in response to monetary or work items. I’m going to need you to focus on your work and only bring in enough food for yourself. Otherwise, I’m going to have to put you on probation for disturbing other coworker’s work.” Then be sure to follow through and of course make sure the message does not fall on deaf ears.

    1. Sharlot*

      What I mean is this is likely the best response for people with this type of neuroses because I’ve had to personally deal with them for a very long time.

      1. Sharlot*

        Another thing that’s frustrating about this type of neuroses is that the person is very sensitive emotionally and for whatever reason learned early on (all the way to childhood and teenagehood) that you have to give something up to get something else (like haggling). The other part is that this person is having trouble being affirmative with what she needs(many people have trouble with this) and so therefore goes passive aggressive with the guilt tripping and probably doesn’t feel heard very much in the first place. Therefore it’s important to stay sensitive and firm with this individual; make them feel listened to but also maintain healthy boundaries.

        1. fposte*

          I think you make some good points there about why this person behaves this way. However, I’d say that with a co-worker, it’s okay if she doesn’t get her needs met or feel listened to if doing so is a disruption; a response that’s therapeutically beneficial isn’t something you can expect of a workmate.

        2. MLB*

          Why do they need to cater to her needs? She’s a co-worker. All they have to do is work with her and be civil. She’s acting like a child – the why isn’t important. She’s a grown adult and needs to behave as one and the rest of the office doesn’t need to be “sensitive and firm”.

  36. Minocho*

    While I didn’t act out like this, I discovered I have a similar internal emotional response. I was upset when a friend told me to stop bringing food to her house to share when we got together for our tabletop roleplaying game sessions (this was a change from previous games at her place). I was very upset and hurt – and yet, I knew in my head that her request was reasonable. It took me some time to work out what my issue was with this request.

    In my family, all our gatherings heavily involve food. Food is an integral part of my love language, I guess. And I felt like my friendship / caring was being rejected when I was told not to bring food to share anymore. Once I understood where the emotion was coming from, I was able to sort out my emotions regarding the request.

    With regard to this coworker, acting out on those hurt feelings is completely inappropriate. I didn’t push back on my friend’s change, as it’s her house and it’s a completely reasonable request. And I made the decision after my previous job not to bring food in to work because I believe it made my previous employer, who already had an issue with women in technical roles, disregard my technical expertise, and I refuse to allow that to happen at new job.

    Just a thought as to what might be behind her actions, if such insight might be useful. She seems to lack a lot of self-awareness, however, if her “hurt” feelings are this poorly managed in a professional environment…

    1. Bea*

      I too had the same internal reaction years ago regarding a request not to bring food to a friend’s house. It was terrible and I felt a lot of shame involved. It’s also linked to my ED that was in full swing at that point. I was sad that the one family I felt safe eating with shut me down.

      However like you, I figured it out on my own time.

      The difference here is she’s being abusive and there’s no way she deserves to be understood or given any slack. You don’t get to hurt others because you’ve been hurt, we’re adult humans and not wounded wild life who only have basic instincts. It’s dangerous to pad the consequences for these people with sympathy, it’s used as fuel on their justification fires.

      1. Minocho*

        I am somewhat disconnected from my emotions – it takes me quite a while to analyze and understand what I’m feeling (…thank you, father that believes all emotion is bad…), so I am usually pretty Spock-like outwardly, and a mess of unknown emotions waiting to be sorted out internally.

        I probably spend TOO much time self-analyzing, and I wish I were a little more normal in the emotional intelligence department, at least it prevents a lot of inappropriate emoting in public, except for very rare exceptions.

      2. Specialk9*

        Exactly what I was thinking! Wow that’s great, doing all that work to sort through the big feelings ambush.

    2. Sharlot*

      It’s amazing how many people lack proper emotional regulation. For those who didn’t learn it as children, it’s even more difficult to learn as adults. It’s an integral part of Emotional Intelligence (which fortunately can be learned! Yeah! See “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” book by Travis Bradberey & Jean Greaves. Good book.).

  37. Jennifer*

    I have a friend who likes to gift people a lot and then gets annoyed when it’s not mutual (ditto who treats for lunch, etc. which is why I insist on dutch). I think it might be a Silicon Valley sort of thing because it sounds like she perennially works with assholes, but also I just say “don’t give gifts to people who don’t appreciate them.” I wish she’d do that. But this lady really takes the cake. The giant PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE screaming, good god.

    “what is one to do when boundaries are set, but clearly ignored?”

    This is a question I’ve been asking all my life. I know a lot of people who refuse to respect boundaries and I am so sick of being lectured by others about “Boundaries! They Exist And Why You Should Have Them! Just Say No!” Nobody has an answer for “what to do when they just run you the hell over like a bulldozer while you scream no to the skies, and the only way to stop them is if I set off a nuke but I’m not willing to set off a nuke.” My therapist is stumped on that one, lemme tell ya.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I’ve found that imposing consequences works wonders. You may lose friendships. But they will be replace by healthy froendships.

      Saying “no” is only the first step.
      Creating consequences is the next step.
      Continuing to enforce consequences is the next several steps. Even when they do extinction burst escalation. Even when they pop up after several months and try again.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          It’s so highly specific on the situation.

          Abuse from a coworker. Tell them you’re not going to put up with it or you will
          – end conversation
          – get up and leave
          – hang up the phone
          Then do it.

          Late inputs
          Let manager know it was late. Don’t cover for them
          It’s not ratting on a coworker to let boss know that you aren’t getting inputs.

          Wanting you to cover for them
          “That won’t be possible.”. Don’t give explainations why.

          The important thing is to let them know that continued interaction with you is contingent on them acting respectfully.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      The thing about boundaries is, no one’s going to enforce yours for you. So if you say “I’m not going to accept X” but then you end up accepting X, you’re not actually setting a boundary.

      But the other thing is, assuming you’re a self-supporting adult, you always have a choice. Sometimes you decide not to enforce your boundary because it would involve setting off a nuke. In that case, it might be emotionally helpful to frame this as your choice (“I could have set off the nuke, but I wouldn’t be happy with the result, so I chose to accept X instead”) instead of just something awful that a boundary-stomper did to you.

      (But try the nuke sometime. It’s probably not going to be as bad as you think.)

  38. smoke tree*

    I had a coworker who was a much milder version of this, and it was still annoying. She didn’t do the gifts, but she would routinely come in hours late, spend most of the day chatting, and complain constantly about how busy she was and how there wasn’t enough time in the day to get things done. Meanwhile, I was working basically double time.

  39. Narise*

    I’m literally picturing turning her antics into a drinking game around the holiday’s. Everyone picks one of her words and have a flask at their desk. When she says gifts one person takes a drink, when she she’s nobody, someone else and the physical actions are for everyone! Continue on to see who lasts longer crazy co-worker or those playing the drinking game.

    1. BeenThere*

      If you can’t drink at work (like a lot of us) then you could always make BINGO cards with her antics on it!

  40. Akcipitrokulo*

    From another article I was reading… use “Why would.. ?”

    “Why would you want me to eat your sandwich?”

    “Why would you try to control my food?”

    “Why would you give me an unwanted gift ?” (accompanied by placing it back on her desk).

  41. Free Meerkats*

    I think after the nth repetition of “I’m not bringing in food any more!” I’d respond with, “I’ll bet you $100 you can’t go a month without bringing in food; put up or shut up.” then slap down the Benjamin I kept handy just for the occasion.

  42. Sharlot*

    It’s amazing how many people lack proper emotional regulation. For those who didn’t learn it as children, it’s even more difficult to learn as adults. It’s an integral part of Emotional Intelligence (which fortunately can be learned! Yeah! See “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” book by Travis Bradberey & Jean Greaves. Good book.).

  43. Jay Bee*

    I know this is a big jump, but I knew someone who was constantly providing food for people and surrounding themselves with lots of food to distract from the fact that they weren’t eating any of it. Everything was a big production about shopping for the food, making the food, transporting the food, forcing the food on other people. Everything to distract from the fact that they themselves weren’t actually EATING any food.

    OP’s colleague seems to have more issues than just food, but there might be something bigger going on here that’s worth taking into consideration when dealing with this colleague.

  44. Anna*

    I also have a coworker who is sometimes like this. Honestly, predictably the same time each year (for some reason she acts like this really badly for the first part of the year). She’s told me before she struggles with depression and I wonder how much that is influences this behavior she shows around the office. Every so often, our boss will talk to her and that settles things for a while. For me, and others, ignoring her and a non-emotional response is best, otherwise I feel like confronting her and getting involved in her tantrum-y-ness will just rope you in more. I’d say approach your boss about this and get her to talk to her.

  45. Lunch eater*

    I wonder how to deal with some of that behavior. There is a weird thing going on in my department where “not having the time to eat lunch” is somehow seen as a badge of honor and i find it super annoying. The work we do is not nearly as time-sensitive that we can’t take 15 min to eat, and it is also perfectly acceptable to eat lunch during meetings (everyone does it up the the CEO). I have two colleagues who will constantly complain loudly that they “had to” skip lunch yet they chit chat for 25 min away from their computer.
    Or better yet, they complain that they had to skip breakfast… when they come in the office at 9:30-10 am. How about eating it before you come in? /rant.

  46. Hipkat*

    I imagined the blunt responses delivered by Mr. Data from Star Trek. They’re perfect.

  47. Michaela Westen*

    “(Oh, and feel sorry for her loved ones because while this is ridiculous in a coworker, it’s truly toxic in a parent or other close relative.)”
    This behavior was probably learned from her family. At least one of her parents probably does the same thing.
    Yes, feel sorry for all of them! And if anyone reading this is living with that, leave!

  48. MrsMurphy*

    I feel for you, OP. That sounds exhausting!

    I‘m going to try some of the methods pointed out here – my colleague isn‘t half as bad, though. She is simply determined to find the bad side to everything and seems to have this office martyr complex. Whenever she complains about having to work overtime (after her boss told her it‘s fine for her to leave) or having to work through her lunch break (when two people offered to cover for her), I just respond with a smile and tell her that I respect her choice. It shuts her right down.

    My inner mantra to battle the guilt trip is simply this: I am not responsible for other people‘s happiness. Repeat until guilt fades.

      1. MrsMurphy*

        Exactly! The thing is, I used to be like that, at least in my head – I based all my happiness and self-worth on my performance at work, and made myself so unhappy with that. The life intervened and I got a reality check to last me a lifetime. Nowadays, one of my managers once described me thus: There‘s calm, and there‘s truly relaxed, and beyond that is some zen-like state we call MrsMurphy.

        I rather prefer it that way!

  49. loslothluin*

    Just don’t respond to anything. She thrives off of this due to the reactions she gets from y’all. If you don’t respond or react, it’ll take the “fun” out of it for her, and she’ll stop. There are some people that get their shit and giggles this way, and they don’t know what to do when people don’t react how they anticipate.

  50. Annoyed*

    “Stop (insert annoying behavior here). This is work, not a social occasion. Doing (behavior) is out of place and inappropriate. Do not direct your (behavior) towards me, or include me in any way whatsoever going forward.”

    No “please,”. It is not a request.

  51. Videogame Lurker*

    A lit of people have suggested ignoring, except I have found in my own personal experience of ignoring the irritating (to me) escalates to try and get a reaction, but if I under-deliver, the person gets bored and leaves me alone faster.

    At work, (with special needs/behavior education children) I have found that under-delivery works to diffuse the emotional situation. Of course, kids are busy learning to self-manage and I help where I can with that.

    “No one gave me gifts, even though I gave everyone gifts!”
    “I don’t gift.”

    “My half of the samdwhich wasn’t good enough for you!”
    “I have my own lunch.”

    “No one appreciates me!”
    Sorry, had to bite back a sassy remark stolen from my Grandma about how no one is irreplaceable and that someone else will fill the position.
    “I have work.”

    And return gifts/food “offerings.”

    Sounds far too much like a cousin’s MIL who did “favors” for her daughters they didn’t ask for and guilted them for not being appreciative enough. Said daughters got married and moved out, limiting her opportunities for such tricks.

  52. Retailrat*

    I know I’m late to the party but I have to comment, for the first time ever. If it was in a retail environment I would have said you were working with a person I work with. The only difference is she doesn’t bring much food in, I’m the one who does that (that always gets eaten so it’s welcome). The whining over working extra, unasked, time and then complaining about not getting paid for it, the temper tantrums, the self-importance and victim behaviour, these are all familiar. If she threw in a few fake epileptic fits when she didn’t get her way or someone else got attention I’d say she had a twin.

  53. LizM*

    Having worked with Drama Llamas, the best reaction is not reaction. A parenting blogger I follow calls it “unruffled” – respond to the situation with minimal emotion.

    “I’m not in charge of timesheets, that sounds like something you should address with Boss.”

    “I decided not to do gifts this year, because it’s not in my budget.”

    “I decided I wanted a breakfast sandwich.”

    Keep it matter of fact, and leave out any value judgments. If she tries to bate you into a conversation, leave. “Oh, I think I hear my phone.” or “I’m on an urgent deadline, excuse me.” Only respond if her complaint is directed at you in a conversation. If she’s just sitting at her desk complaining, tune it out as much as possible.

  54. WS*

    Ugh, I had someone I supervised refusing to take breaks. She didn’t want to be paid for them or leave early, she just seemed to think she was so important that the place would fall apart without her, and loved to talk about how she NEVER took a break (she did spend plenty of time gossiping, though, so maybe she just didn’t want to miss out on anything juicy). Fortunately, in my country it’s illegal to work more than 5 hours without a 30 minute break, so we negotiated that she would take that 30 minutes even though everyone else got an hour. It made things better for everyone else.

  55. Kitty*

    Ignoring it probably is all you can do, but it’s still super distracting and not ideal. How has she not been fired or at least put on a performance plan already?

  56. Former Employee*

    I don’t think I ever encountered this in my work life. However, I had to get people in my personal life to stop buying me things because I really don’t want more stuff and most of what they’d buy would be things I don’t want anyway.

    One friend will buy me a book now and then, but they get them at thrift stores, so it’s no big deal if a particular book doesn’t work for me.

    I know we aren’t supposed to diagnose people, but “lunatic” isn’t a diagnosis, it’s a one word description of behavior so outside the norm that virtually everyone else who observes it or hears about it agrees that it is inappropriate/unacceptable.

  57. CM*

    There’s actually a third option here besides ignoring and rebuffing, which is having an empathetic response to someone who’s clearly in a lot of pain and doesn’t have the social and emotional tools to express it.

    Everyone’s right — she’s doing these things to try to provoke a reaction — she wants someone to say they appreciate her hard work, or she wants to feel connected to her coworkers and she believes that giving people things will create that connection. One of the ways to make this behavior stop is to help her get what she wants in a healthier way. It’s the OPPOSITE of what a lot of the comments here are recommending — she’s hungry for praise so withhold praise even more; she’s hungry for connection so make it clear you want nothing the hell to do with her — if she’s hungry for praise and connection, find a way to help her meet those needs that doesn’t involve her having to provoke people like this. Maybe express more appreciation for the work she does day to day, or include her in group lunches or something — or just have an honest conversation about THIS — not about why she needs to stop doing whatever she’s doing; about what it is she feels she needs and whether there are other ways of getting it.

    The objection that people sometimes have to this suggestion is “We don’t OWE her appreciation and belonging. She can’t EXTORT that from us. She’s not ENTITLED to it.” But I think part of having relationships — even relationships that take place at work — is that you need to care a little bit about whether other people’s needs are being met. Not because you’re obligated to, but because that’s kind. If this turns out to be a simple thing where verbally expressing appreciation once in a while or having a team lunch every couple of months will help your coworker feel less isolated and insecure, to me, it’s worth it to pay that price.

    But you won’t find out if your only response is to try to make her STFU.

    1. Khlovia*

      You’re a very kind person, CM. You may be ignoring a certain real risk, though. Experience suggests that this type of person is a bottomless pit, that nothing that any outside source can offer her will ever be enough. Moreover, if LW tries this, the co-worker is likely to zero in on LW as her only source of warm fuzzies. LW will find herself unable ever to take a solo lunch or coffee break, or buddy up with anyone else.

      If I had magic powers, I’d tell LW to show this post and commentary to her boss and say, “I will try CM’s idea *as a reward for Coworker’s good behavior*; if and only if you have a boss-type conversation with her (see scripts here, here, and here) laying out what constitutes good behavior. We’ll try positive reinforcement for a while and see if it works; but you have to have my back.” And then I would use my magic powers to endow LW with superstrength, boss with a sudden rush of brains to the head, and Coworker with one shining moment of lucidity during the conversation with the boss. And then hope for the best.

      But then I’d be overcome with guilt for putting LW into that position; so never mind.

      1. Mellow*

        I agree, FWIW, especially on the “bottomless pit” note.

        These problems are beyond what coworkers could and should be managing. The workplace isn’t a substitute for a therapist, but it is a necessary environment for drawing and maintaining healthy boundaries – which are exactly what emotional vampires refuse to accept , and precisely why they need professional help.

  58. Mel*

    I know we’re not supposed to play arm-chair psychologist, but this sounds just like my older sister who has borderline personality disorder. She loves being generous, but that generosity needs to be acknowledged and fawned over or else she gets upset. And then she cuts ties with anyone who calls her out on her behavior. (It’s helpful that we live across the country from each other and I mostly witness this over Facebook. I’ve also learned that catchups with her are good for the first 2 hours, and then something always happens.)

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