I think my bad personality is sabotaging my good work

A reader writes:

I just had my one-year anniversary at a company I love, doing a job I enjoy. To say the road hasn’t been bumpy, though, would be an understatement. I work remotely (they needed a person to be in the city I’m in), so I’m often a little stressed about what’s going on at the mothership, and in the early months tangled with my two direct colleagues (conversational tone, but still arguments) about whose job it was to do certain roles.

I’m really embarrassed by this past behavior of mine. I should have taken a minute to see where the chips fell, or not gone so “THIS IS INJUSTICE!” immediately. Those two colleagues have been amazing mentors since (and generously agreed in our previous situations that neither side was completely right). Even so, I’ve internalized it as I was wrong (I was!) and that my personality is bad.

Since then, I’ve had other issues: Once, a non-work-related Twitter argument led to that person to find my boss’s email to complain about me (bosses were not pleased by the Twitter person, even though it wasn’t work-related, but I know I dodged a bullet). And yesterday, a colleague I never work with was pretty rude (blew a set phone call; did work he’d asked me to do, wasting my time; took credit for my work). I stayed calm but pointed out how unfair this was and he started yelling, a lot. When I told my mentor about this and mentioned how it’s always something with me and that I’m a liability, one of her responses was, “Well, you can get territorial, and you do need to learn not to take things personally.”

This stressed me out more. Not only is she absolutely correct, but given that territorial thin-skinnedness is a perception of me in the office, I don’t know how to change it, or to move on maturely from past mistakes, rather than catastrophizing that each new mistake will remind everyone of the laundry list preceding it. (I spend a lot of time still apologizing for my past behavior in self-deprecating, jokey ways.) Worse, I don’t know how to change my behavior to take perceived slights not so personally, and to not get SO wrapped up in fairness, justice, etc. — especially knowing that those are childish things to get hung up on in a workplace the way I am.

I should probably mention now, my workplace is AMAZING. I was put on a PIP two months ago to make one area of my work better, and my boss treated it as a true collaborative learning experience and coached me through it, and my work has blossomed in that regard, and beyond, since. In other areas, I’ve been told repeatedly how well I’m doing, how my work is growing, and so on, and in the last year I’ve learned so much professionally and interpersonally from my bosses and our CEO. They invest in employees, they don’t fire us for dumb Twitter arguments, they’ve stuck with me despite my hair-trigger personality.

I’ve had one truly abusive workplace situation that led to firing, and a couple of layoffs due to the media industry collapsing, all of which has made me even more paranoid and irrational. Please help me. I can’t let my unintentionally bad personality sabotage another good job.

Therapy is what’s going to fix this.

There are some other things you can do meanwhile, but they’re not going to get at the crux of the issue, which is that there’s a reason you’re taking things so personally. You’re not just irrationally deciding to act against your own self interest; you’re doing it for a reason. And that reason is almost certainly wrapped up in thought patterns that started well before you were of working age. Somewhere along the line you learned that you need to fight to protect yourself, and that might have been a really useful defensive strategy at the time you developed it — but it’s not serving you now. At all.

Therapy will help you figure out where that came from, and how to re-wire your brain so that you’re not reacting in ways that will hurt rather than help you.

You’re also doing a really unproductive thing where, when you make a mistake, you decide it’s because your personality is “bad” and you’re a “liability.” Your personality isn’t bad — I mean, maybe it is, maybe you tell terrible jokes and cut in lines and never listen to your friends talk, but there’s nothing here indicating that’s the case. But what you’re doing is reacting poorly to something in the moment (probably for reasons — see above) and then defaulting to “ugh, I suck.” You probably don’t suck; you just have something going on that you need to get control over. But defaulting to “I suck” actually lets you avoid dealing with it — because if it’s just your “bad personality,” then nothing can be done about it, right? It’s actually much harder — but much more useful — to instead look at what’s really happening and why and commit to changing it.

So truly: therapy. It’s how to dig into and learn to change this.

Meanwhile, while you’re working on that, you’ve got to stop making those self-deprecating, jokey apologies about your past behavior. I know it probably feels like a way to say “hey, I know I messed up; I’m not clueless!” But it’s almost definitely keeping those incidents alive in people’s minds much longer, and is putting them in a position where they probably feel they have to say something reassuring (“no, it’s fine!”). If you’re trying to move past this, you’ve got to stop referring to it.

Similarly, stop doing things like telling your mentor you’re a liability. I mean, yes, if you want to have a serious conversation about your work quality where you try to figure out if you should stay in this job, that might be a place that could come up. But if you’re just saying it casually — which is what it sounds like — you’re going to harm your own reputation and also make her uncomfortable, because it’ll sound like you’re fishing for reassurance.

I think you’re doing both these things because it’s a form of self-protection. At some level, I think you feel like if you say negative things about yourself, then you take the wind out of any criticism others might have. Or if they do give you that same criticism, it’ll hurt less because hey, you already acknowledged it yourself! And if you don’t say negative things about yourself and just go on happily doing your work, it would be a much bigger blow if someone else does criticize you — like the rug is being pulled out from under you when you thought you were safe — so it’s better to remove the rug yourself rather than to have it snatched away by someone else. Does any of this resonate? I might be off-base, but this is so often what underlies this that I really want you to think about whether it might be what’s happening for you.

And again, therapy will help you figure that out.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    The “mothership” line made me chuckle.

    I also think therapy would be a good option. Also, maybe avoiding twitter arguments with strangers. If you have a problem taking things too personally, arguing with people on social media isn’t a good idea. You don’t want something silly you said at 1 AM on twitter to come back to haunt you and affect your employment. May not be fair but it’s the world we live in now. And if your bosses get contacted again about a silly twitter argument, they may not be as patient.

    1. Kiki*

      I agree. LW, I would try taking a break from twitter until you’re able to speak with a therapist. If you can’t completely take a break from twitter, I would unfollow or mute accounts that tend to rile you up– keep your ecosystems to friends, neutral accounts, and positive things. Arguments on twitter have never solved anything!

      I grew up in an adverse environment where I developed certain coping strategies that helped me survive, but later inhibited my ability to thrive. Therapy, and taking a few deep breaths before reacting, really helped me and I can’t recommend it enough.

      1. mamma mia*

        I disagree with this advice in that I don’t think OP needs to stay away from social media; I think she just needs to be more careful. If you want to argue with people on Twitter, create an anonymous account. That way OP can sort of use it as an outlet for the defensiveness and sense of justice that you have (calling out idiots on Twitter is fun. I get it!) without having to worry about any repercussions at work.

        1. Jennifer*

          It’s really not that difficult to figure out who is behind an anonymous account.

          Plus, it’s really not good for the OP’s mental health. They need to focus on healing. Fighting with hateful people on the internet may feel good in the moment but it doesn’t really help you long term.

          1. mamma mia*

            As long as you’re not stupid and posting any personal information, it’s actually really difficult to find out who is behind an anonymous account so I’m not sure where you’re getting that idea from.

            I also fail to see how Twitter arguments are bad for OP in the long term because honestly, who thinks about a Twitter fight more than three minutes after its conclusion? OP is having these issues with people at work. If she can temporarily express that frustration with anonymous strangers on the internet, that is a GOOD thing.

            1. T. Boone Pickens*

              I get the impression that OP works for one of the big players in the media industry…possibly ESPN based on their ‘mothership’ comment. If I’m correct, OP is going to baited into significantly more Twitter arguments by trolls due to where they work and those trolls will turn and complain to OP’s boss. I don’t think OP can afford to create a ‘burner’ account in this case because if it gets discovered that OP is behind the burner account, it’ll be a really bad look. I think OP is going to need to go cold turkey with getting off Twitter.

              1. boo bot*

                I think this is wise, if it is indeed the OP’s situation.

                I don’t think there’s anything wrong with recreational Twitter arguments, if you enjoy that sort of thing, but if their job is something like this, definitely don’t leave it to fate. What happens on the internet stays on the internet… forever.

            2. aa*

              “I also fail to see how Twitter arguments are bad for OP in the long term because honestly, who thinks about a Twitter fight more than three minutes after its conclusion?”

              I left Twitter because I felt it poisoned my mood for the entire day, and I know plenty of people who feel similarly. People have different experiences and reactions.

              1. anon today and tomorrow*

                This. If someone stops thinking about angry, dismissive, baiting Twitter comments three minutes after they read them, good for them and I envy that quality.

                But some people let them fester and ignoring the entirely is what works for them. There’s a reason why a lot of apps let you mute or block certain things. It’s so you can be active about avoiding things that will annoy you for the rest of the day.

                Also, it’s not just a “twitter fight”. Just because it happens on social media doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to OP. You’re still the person writing or venting online as you are offline. Those tendencies don’t go away once you step away from the computer, and I wish people would stop trying to separate them.

                1. mamma mia*

                  I never said it wasn’t relevant. I feel like a lot of responses to my comment are putting words in my mouth. Like, when did I ever say that the internet was not real life? I didn’t. I’m saying that it’s categorically better to argue and blow off steam with strangers than with people who you know or your coworkers. That can’t be denied. Even if it’s “unhealthy”, it’s still an outlet for those feelings and could be easier than just deleting the website entirely!

                  I was trying to help the OP in her direct situation, not plan for her long term mental health (which is something I don’t feel qualified to do but its nice that everyone else does). OP did not say she had a problem with social media. OP said she had a problem with someone from Twitter snitching to her boss about an argument had on there. My solution was a practical way to avoid that happening again. That’s it. All of the other issues require a therapist.

                  But yeah, people who would let a Twitter argument bother them to the extent described by some people here definitely need to just stay off the site.

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  Over the weekend, NPR had a story about how / why ‘holding on to bad feelings’ was probably an evolutionary advantage back on the savanna, and isn’t now. It’s much more common for people to hold on to the bad feelings than to let them go.

                  OP, it is hugely helpful to learn to let them go. Good luck to you.

                3. Nessun*

                  I agree, it can be very hard to let go of a comment online, even when logic/common sense/etc. says to do so. I get the argument that if you have something you need to get off your chest, doing so in an anonymous fashion can allow catharsis and prevent retribution/negative fallout, but there’s a lot of value in just stepping away and finding a different outlet.

                  I’ve agonized over comments I’ve made on social media, though there’s never been any major consequences, so I’d say find your outlet elsewhere. If something bothers you, channel that annoyance into a gym session (punch a bag? throw a medicine ball? up the reps or speed?) and don’t engage.

              2. Surly*

                Yes. I have colleagues who will rant and rant about Twitter fights for most of the afternoon. Sometimes it’s better to just remove yourself if you (general you, or OP) find it’s riling you up.

              3. une autre Cassandra*

                I don’t want to universalize my experience, and I’m not off social media entirely nor do I intend to be, but as one point of data: I took Twitter, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger off my phone. I now look at them only on my home desktop, and check in on Twitter rarely. (Facebook I pop into a couple times a week.)

                Stepping away from Twitter and Facebook, and removing my ability to scroll through either on my phone, made an almost immediate and powerful difference in my mental health. Like, it shocked me how much better I felt. (My issues aren’t very similar to the LW’s, but I do deal with fluctuating levels of depression and anxiety, and I’m finding that limiting my interactions with Facebook and Twitter really helps me manage those ups and downs.)

                Not saying it’s a cure-all, but it might be worth stepping away for awhile and seeing if it helps.

                1. Micklak*

                  I had the same experience. I took Facebook off my phone and felt an immediate improvement in my emotional state. If I every feel the need to scroll through something I go to Imgur and look at pics of chonky cats.

                  I was a little surprised at the suggestion that the LW could forget about twitter comments after 3 minutes when the whole tone of the letter was about brooding and obsessing over slights and shortcomings. Pouring energy into twitter fights, even anonymously, is just nurturing negative energy in your life.

              4. BookishMiss*

                Yes. I left Twitter because my anxiety skyrocketed every time I’d log on, even if I was just looking at We Rate Dogs or something similarly innocuous. I pop in every so often, but my headspace is better as a result, which makes my work and work relationships better in turn.

              5. ooo*

                Yep. Even if you don’t get into arguments there, Twitter is not great for a lot of people’s mood or mindset. It’s like getting blasted in the face with a fire hose of all the bad news of the day, and watching innumerable people argue endlessly instead of doing something more constructive. If I spend too long on Twitter, I end the day feeling buzzy and kinda flattened out, wishing I’d used all that time on something else. (And I find that I tend to use it as an escape to avoid dealing with my issues, so there’s a mental health aspect there too that OP might want to consider.)

                I don’t have anything against social media, and I know a lot of people can manage their time on the internet better than I do. But “Just get off Twitter for now” isn’t the worst advice for this letter writer’s situation. I mean, there’s no downside — literally billions of people have never used it and don’t seem to be any the worse for it!

              6. Vemasi*

                This. To your question of who thinks about Twitter fights for more than three minutes, the answer is “people who should not be fighting on Twitter.” There is a significant section of humanity for whom social media is an anxiety-inducing mess (me included). It has to do with the things that make social media so addictive–the short, intense high from receiving likes and responses, and the sudden crushing, lingering pain and defensiveness from being argued with and criticized by a stranger, leading to becoming very invested in meaningless arguments. I even have to take breaks from commenting on THIS website, because I start to hang my hopes on the responses when really, browsing AAM in the morning is a tiny, minute part of my life, not the place where I get all my social validation.

                It seems like the LW is likely to be one of these people, since this is the very issue they are writing about–not doing well with criticism, self-deprecation, and lashing out in ways they later regret. I would advise LW to take a break from Twitter, or at least switch to browsing only, until they get into therapy. They might find their mood has stabilized a lot.

              7. OP - Leslie Nope*

                Yup – this! I didn’t realize HOW much it soured my mood until I took a few weeks off (no easy feat; I’ve tried and failed at this many times before), and then saw how quickly my mood would turn from light to sour, versus perma-sour, 24/7, which has helped me stay off Twitter. If only those sorts of “see how good this is for your mental health!” benefits would rub off to, say, keeping my kitchen clutter free every night, or folding laundry as soon as it’s done.

                1. MsSolo*

                  Apparently the trick to working more beneficial things into your routine is to pace them out, so each one has time to become a habit before you add something else. So once you’re comfortably off twitter, then start a habit of folding laundry that you maintain for a month and take stock if that’s working for you. Once that’s ingrained, move on to the kitchen, and so on.

                  (I say this, but I rarely make the effort to keep something up long enough to become a habit, so I’m not the best life coach on this front!)

            3. Jennifer*

              Everyone handles things differently. People have said things to me that were so vile and hateful I actually teared up. I’ve talked to other WOC who’ve said similar things. It CAN poison the rest of your day. I still use social media but purely for fun now. The hate is not worth it.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                With the last election, about tge middle of the campaign, I noped out of social media.

                I have a couple FB groups I belong to and a private group of real life friends, but I literally go months without checking it. I haven’t been back on Twitter since I quit.

                My -everything- emotionally immediately improved…and has stayed that way. I will never ho back to the way it was before.

                1. londonedit*

                  I did the same in 2016. Between the EU referendum and the whole Trump thing, I totally noped out of Twitter. I said to myself that if I missed it, I could always reinstall the app – but I’ve never missed it. I keep Facebook to a trusted circle of friends who don’t post endless political screeds (and I hardly post any personal information on there) and mainly follow fun or foodie accounts on Instagram. I don’t need social media drama in my life!

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  @ londonedit It sounds like we pretty much did the same thing.

                  Facebook had me *just so angry* all the time. I’m still angry re the *election…and everything that’s happened since, but I don’t have it in my face 24/7. Likewise Twitter.

                  I also keep FB to a trusted group of friends who mostly talk about their lives/complain/etc. Whenever I check in, I do pretty much the same thing.

                  It helps keep me in touch with the people I care about who are a long ways away from here but at the same time not letting myself get overly emotionally invested in things I have little if any ability to influence, much less change. Since joining FB to begin with was something I did after my son died so that I could keep in touch with people I know IRL…it’s like I came full circle when I purged “friends” and quit checking in every 20 minutes.

                  *Brexit annoyed me as well. I was seriously considering emigrating, but I still wanted to be in the EU…anything other than GB/Ireland is just not an option for me vis a vis Europe, so …

            4. pleaset*

              “honestly, who thinks about a Twitter fight more than three minutes after its conclusion?”

              Depends on what the fight is about. Sometimes I leave Twitter or other online spaces thinking “Damn, these seemingly normal people are way more racist, or at least tolerant of racism than I’d realized” – which can be depressing.

            5. Dahlia*

              I dunno, the time a guy threatened to murder me for talking about queer rep in books kind of stuck with me.

              1. RVA Dogzilla*

                Ik we don’t armchair diagnose, but I do feel like even Alison would agree that THAT guy has some serious mental health issues. I’m so sorry you had that happen!

            6. Kiki*

              Everyone handles their frustrations differently and the OP is free to keep arguing on the internet if they really get something positive out of it. I have personally found toxicity on social media tremendously affected my mood and how I responded to real life events. While the person seeking out LW’s place of employment could just be a chance encounter with someone who takes things way too far, it seemed to me like it could be a sign that LW is engaging heavily with a really toxic part of Twitter.

              I relish some good Twitter drama, but taking breaks has helped me make sure I stay level.

              1. OP - Leslie Nope*

                Yes this!! As I mentioned in an update above, I had TWO incidents happen — one shortly after I wrote Alison. It still takes all my effort to not link to those tweets in this comment to prove my tweets weren’t bad, and instead look at the big picture: I’m engaging with a part of twitter that can be toxic, is a VERY small in-media bunch, and where even what seems like a benign criticism to me can be perceived differently. And knowing how trigger happy I am, I’m sure the tweets that didn’t rise to the level of boss complaint haven’t all been A+ winners either. A break has been really good, especially since I’ve generally had to be on Twitter and engage with the platform for work since 2013 — being at a media company that doesn’t force it and would love nothing more than you to not be online at all is actually a gift I’m leaning into!

            7. Krakatoa*

              Those who have trouble truly letting go of the past are the same kinds of people who might remember pointless online arguments years after they occur. Having it as an outlet may not be beneficial in those cases, and it sounds like the OP might be someone who has trouble letting the past be the past.

            8. NW Mossy*

              We tend to think about a fight online well after its conclusion for all the same reasons that we think about conflict that happens in person, on the phone, or via telex – sometimes, a particular turn of phrase or specific tone just cuts us far more than it seems like it “should.” This is why there’s a meme about trying to fall asleep and having your brain hijack that time to review all of the things that didn’t go precisely to script earlier in the day/week/lifetime – it’s a really common experience.

              I have left online communities because of specific interactions that just rubbed me wrong. Objectively it’s “not a big deal,” but something about it just stuck with me in a way that sapped my enjoyment enough that I left. Should I be better at letting that stuff roll off? Perhaps. But I’m also a human with feelings, and after a certain point, I’m going to stop apologizing for having a non-rational feel on occasion.

            9. thestik*

              “I also fail to see how Twitter arguments are bad for OP in the long term because honestly, who thinks about a Twitter fight more than three minutes after its conclusion? ”

              People who work for content farms like Little Things probably do. Twitter arguments make for irresistible clickbait.

            10. Nope nope nope*

              Thank you for showing us how online disagreements can start to go off the rails. You may be able to forget the disagreements after 3 minutes, but I suspect there’s a lot of collateral damage.

        2. anon today and tomorrow*

          I don’t really think creating sock accounts to fight with people online is great advice. Whether it’s for social justice, anti trolling, or whatever else, it never leads to anything good. I think the type of “sense of justice” people get from yelling on the internet doesn’t tend to be healthy and just makes them more worked up.

          I second the advice above to just mute or block certain things that bother OP. Tweetdeck is great for muting and blocking certain words or phrases.

          OP, I find if I really need to write passionately about something, I open a blank word doc or a blank email with no recipient in the address line and write my rant there. It lets me vent my frustration or passion without the harm of anyone seeing it.

          1. Star*

            I found a rather large group that led to quite a bit of good during at least two major hurricanes (it wasn’t as effective when Puerto Rico got hit, but we still tried). People were up for day straight logging requests for help that came in through social media, when they couldn’t get through to any emergency services. When their phone batteries died, so did their chances to keep trying to reach authorities, but people worked to make sure as many of those reports as possible got to the authorities. After the initial rescue, those same people helped organize deliveries and fundraise as much as possible. That isn’t all they did, that was the largest. So I would say it “never” leads to anything good is a massive exaggeration. (The only reason I don’t consider myself part of them right now is because I’m fighting incredibly severe health issues and have no energy to spare for anything. My even commenting today is unusual because my pain medication decided to actually work. The friends I made there help me keep going, which is something good that came of it too.)

        3. Snark*

          It seems straighforward to take a break from arguing on Twitter, a platform designed around largely anonymous and brief reactions and famous for its social justice conflicts, if you’re trying to curtail your overheated snap responses to people when issues of fairness and justice are in question. Not forever, maybe, but if that’s a groove in your brain, it makes sense to take a time and break that dopamine-hit reward cycle.

        4. Jodi Harrison*

          I was a complete a-hole on one particular platform on social media for a couple of years, thinking that I was venting my frustrations and showcasing my devastating, rapier-like ability to take down idiots, all in a safe space. When in reality I was just being an a-hole. People try to distinguish “on line” from “IRL,” but what you do on line _is_ in real life, and it is extremely difficult to segregate the two in terms of the way you treat people and the way you think about yourself and others.

          If the LW needs to work on not taking things personally and not getting into petty arguments, continuing to engage in counterproductive behaviors on line is a bad idea, regardless of whether that behavior is anonymous or not. For myself, I was a worse person in the real world when I was indulging my least pleasant tendencies online, and one of the best things I ever did for myself was to get out of the echo chamber where a faceless crowd cheered me on for be super-mean to people I didn’t even know.

          1. SwingInTheShade*

            “Online is real life.”

            This is so very important. You cannot separate the two, and trying to is what has led to people being so invasively violent with their words online.

            Deleting social media apps from my phone helped immensely when I needed a break for my mental health.

            1. Jennifer*

              And it’s no coincidence that violent words online lead to violent actions in the world.

            2. Mari M*

              I have been committing myself to being authentic online the way I am offline, and (un)surprisingly what I’ll say when I’m being authentic is less inflammatory — and much more PG-13!

          2. Jennifer*

            “People try to distinguish “on line” from “IRL,” but what you do on line _is_ in real life, and it is extremely difficult to segregate the two in terms of the way you treat people and the way you think about yourself and others.”

            So much this! If you are a jerk online (general you) you are a jerk IRL. Social media is real life. You don’t have two separate personas. It’s all you.

          3. Agreed*


            This is more true for many of us than we wish to admit. I admire your self-awareness and your doing the hard work of breaking free.

            1. Agreed*

              . . . which is not to say that everybody has to be nicey-nicey about everything at all times. Bad actions and bad ideas need to be called out and resisted. But we can ask ourselves: Is this twitterfight actually useful to anybody? Do the positives of my being a jerk to an invisible online stranger outweigh the negatives–negatives for my own mood and mental health, and negatives for the real-life people who have to interact with my twitter-raged self?

              1. RVA Dogzilla*

                Calling out and resisting bad actions/ideas doesn’t have to equal “being a jerk” though. IME, it is rare that being a jerk is more helpful/gets a better end result than being kind, or at least neutral. But I also agree that it’s a healthy plan to decide if the argument will be useful/helpful, or simply contribute to the problem prior to engaging in it.

                But I concur, wholeheartedly, that Jodi Harrison is worthy of admiration for realizing there was an issue, accepting responsibility for their part of it, making the external changes to stop contributing to it, AND (the piece de resistance) doing the work of self-reflection to figure out where that was coming from, and to make sure they didn’t do it anymore.

          4. ChimericalOne*

            This. As Aristotle said (um, rough paraphrase of the philosophy), “You are what you repeatedly do.” You have to practice things like kindness, restraint, generosity, giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t, other, less pleasant habits become well-worn neural pathways for your brain.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Parents used to say, “you are who you hang out with”.
              We cannot learn how to do x if no one in our group is doing x.

              OP, old wounds don’t heal quickly if the wounds keep getting picked at.

              I have all the sympathy in the world for people struggling to get over a toxic job and/or struggling with finding a solid work place. Added complexity, I think it is super easy to just keep putting ourselves in harsh environments. We get so use to the harshness at work we do not even think about how much harsh stuff we deal with in our personal lives. I am a big fan of cutting back on social media and cutting back on news. We have to find time each day for positive inputs. And these positive inputs can be as simple as reading a self-help book or teaching yourself a new skill that you have always wanted to learn.

              Start a gratitude journal. I know it sounds corny. Decide to spend 15 minutes just before bed, thinking of something you are grateful for and writing it down in the journal. I find I sleep better sometimes when I do this. See, people who spend time thinking about what they are grateful for have less space in their brains for the harsh stuff. You can do this because I see you have written things here that are good in your job. Tonight I saw a large male cardinal, really pretty with unusually long tail feathers. I’d write a sentence or two about something like this. You don’t have to write about something monumental, just something you enjoyed.

          5. RVA Dogzilla*

            Just a personal story to perhaps shed some more light on this. I wrote to an advice column a few years back because I wanted to know if I was in an abusive relationship. I didn’t think it was abusive, but other people around me (even my boss!) said that it was. So I wrote in and explained the situation, asking for advice. Is it abuse? Should I leave? How should I protect the kids? Etc.

            My letter was posted. I was actively reading the comments. And there was one guy (yes I know it was a guy, he said so) who wrote a comment like “Wow, this one is really sharp! “Is it abuse? Should I leave?” If you want to leave your partner, just do it! You don’t need to write to an advice columnist for that!” I responded, and said thanks for making light of my situation. I’m sorry I don’t have all the answers like you do, but I *WAS* confused and *DID* need advice, and oh by the way, if people stopped writing in, you wouldn’t have anybody to troll!” He promptly apologized after seeing my reply, and said that he just affected that persona, essentially, online, and he didn’t mean to insult me. I tried to be gracious, and said thank you for the apology, but you should know that there are real people out there with real problem, and it’s hard to know from inside the problem exactly how big it is from the outside.

            1. Jennifer*

              Yep, he’s not a good person. He may rationalize it as some have here by saying it’s just blowing off steam online, but he is hurting people. Maybe your conversation with him made a difference.

              1. RVA Dogzilla*

                I apologize that I got caught up in my own emotional response that I failed to make my point, which was exactly as you said: he said it did make a difference and that he was often snarky (no offense to, and not to be confused with, AAM’s own Snark!) online, but that me resopnding to his rudeness made him rethink it. I have no idea if it worked. But he managed to come across the internet as remorseful, so I felt good enough about the end result.

                Also: left the husband, kids are fine, and ex and I are plenty friendly enough and get along fine. He knows why I left, knows what he was doing, and agreed with it all. Hasn’t changed any, but he’s no longer my problem, so to speak :) Thank you for the kind words, Jennifer and Jack Be Nimble!

            2. Jack Be Nimble*

              I’m so sorry you went through that as you were preparing to leave an abusive relationship.

          6. Jack Be Nimble*

            When I was in high school, a classmate (who had grown up in a refugee camp in Sudan, and was preparing to attend university) died changing a tire by the side of the road–the car slipped the jack and crushed him. It was a horrible loss, and the first comment on the news article said, in effect, that he was stupid and deserved to die.

            I don’t remember how I replied, but I still think about it every now again. I hope that the man who left the comment (it was public, attached to his Facebook profile) had some kind of change of heart and became a better and kinder person.

            1. RVA Dogzilla*

              Wow. I’m so sorry for your loss. That is awful. I, too, hope that internet stranger learned better!

          7. OP - Leslie Nope*

            Yes this!! I kept siloing my bad behavior into “Twitter” and eventually “Twitter + road rage” and then the +’s of things that made me blow a lid just kept adding up:
            – coworker yelling at me (yes that guy is a dick but still)
            – rude interaction with a family member
            – my neighbor’s f*#$ing Sparklett’s bottles that block my doorway and twist my ankles

            And I finally had to realize that if I want to learn to not take things personally — which is a HUGE problem for me! — that these behaviors aren’t all separate behaviors.

        5. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

          For someone who’s already struggling with negative self image issues like OP is describing, social media does not help and in some cases makes it worse. I cannot comment on tweets because I will get sucked in and give it more real estate in my head than it deserves. Some people can comment and forget minutes later, but I know that I can’t so I don’t participate in that way.

        6. seejay*

          You know who thinks about Twitter fights for more than three minutes?

          People that can get baited and trolled.

          And OP sounds like that type of person. Those are easy to sniff out online and people that like to argue will intentionally bait them just to get them to react because it’s fun. If you can get them going enough, you can get ammunition to send off to their boss to get them in trouble.

          Yeah, OP has already shown that they’re not the type of person that needs to be engaging in fights on Twitter for any reason because they can’t disengage from them. If they’re getting into arguments enough that someone goes far enough to contact their real life boss, it sounds like they’re easy to bait which means they’re emotionally investing themselves in the arguments which means they’re not able to let them go which is not good for their mental/emotional health and they need to be stepping back until they can get a few things sorted out.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I worked for a woman who enjoyed hurting people. She would go out of her way to insult, hurt and manipulate at every opportunity. I once mentioned I had seen a construction worker take a nap at lunch and she said I should have told her so she could take his picture and send it to the news media.
            You didn’t have to do anything to her, to make her want to hurt you. Those people are out there, and they’re online trying to start fights and hurt people because it’s fun for them.
            Don’t let them manipulate you, OP. If you see something you want to call out, do it in a restrained and respectful manner. The response will tell you if there’s going to be an interesting discussion, or if it’s a monster trying to hurt you. If it’s a monster, leave. They’re showing their true colors and you don’t have to do any more. If they get violent or abusive, report them.

            1. Cathie from Canada*

              Reminded me of the recent Washington Post news story where a woman snapped a photo of a black female subway employee in her uniform eating in one of the trains, and posted it online — I guess she was annoyed to see an employee eating when the train customers aren’t supposed to bring food onto the trains, and when she asked the employee about it, the employee basically told her to mind her own business.
              Oh, I bet she really wishes now that she had followed that advice
              Her snarky, pointless, mean-spirited little post and photo blew up on her — it was seen as racist, sexist, and class-ist, turns out the subway employee had to eat where she did because she was working two shifts that day and was on her way from one station to another, and the employee was horribly embarrassed by the uproar. The woman was slammed by thousands of people and ended up deleting the post, but not before she lost a book contract for her first novel – her publisher no longer wanted to be associated with her.

        7. Starbuck*

          Whether it can be tracked back to them or not, getting in those sorts of arguments can be pretty stressful! You’re right that some people can brush them off pretty easily, but maybe OP can’t. And it would be hard not to worry about that happening again, even if they do take extra precautions going forward.

        8. selena81*

          I agree that an anonymous account may be a good outlet. It works for me at least: kinda like how some people like to write in their diary, except i want that to be more interactive. I suppose some people would call me a troll, but it’s not like i am constantly looking for a fight, i simply want to occasionally say ‘you are a moron’ to people i find stupid. And other times i give out one compliment after another.

          Of course ‘anonymous’ goes way beyond a false name: your job or education or inside-information can all be things that identify you (i once stumbled onto a college classmate talking about an exam: knowing that the account was from someone in this 20-graduates-a-year degree program made it very easy to identify the person behind it).
          I make sure to sprinkle in some disinformation about where i live and work so as to be more anonymous.
          (of course i understand that i’m not really really anonymous, it’s just a technical illusion and i’m not an idiot: if i ever do get found out it would be embarrassing but not criminal)

    2. VictorianCowgirl*

      I agree, and am really concerned if the twitter arguer was able to dox OP and find her place of employment, maybe unless they already knew each other.

  2. WMM*

    Wow, I’ve never been so pleased by a response. Therapy has been both transformative and validating for me, and I was thinking the whole way through reading OP’s letter than I hope therapy is in the cards for OP.

    OP, you need to learn to forgive yourself. Your work relationships are only going to get better when you can learn to move on from mistakes and lose the self deprecating jokes. Therapy is hard, but the right therapist will help you find the pace that you can both tolerate and benefit from. You are worth the work!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I thought Alison’s answer was both gentle and direct. OP is indeed worth the work.

    2. boo bot*

      Agreed. I particularly loved this line: “that might have been a really useful defensive strategy at the time you developed it — but it’s not serving you now.” There’s something so compassionate and, I would argue, so accurate, about recognizing that we develop defense mechanisms because at some point in our lives, *we needed someone to defend us.*

      I know I used to do the preemptive self-deprecation thing, and I was always baffled that it came across as defensive (which of course it does) because I never expected it to soften criticism – to me it was a desperate attempt to say, “Please don’t think that I’ve committed the further sin of being oblivious to how much I suck.” I think it was also – less consciously – a way of saying, “I know this is terrible and I don’t know how to stop.”

      What helped me was therapy. (Specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you re-wire your brain out of the self-destructive patterns it’s entrenched in. I had spent a lot of time being frustrated by talk therapy, because I already *knew* what was wrong with me, and I even knew why, I just didn’t know how to *fix* it. For me, CBT was how to fix it. I leave this here for anyone with a similar frustration!)

      1. TootsNYC*

        “that might have been a really useful defensive strategy at the time you developed it — but it’s not serving you now.”

        This is explicitly what my therapist pointed to–it was almost 100% his focus.

        And I also found CBT useful.

      2. Jadelyn*

        There’s a quote I saw over the weekend: “You became the person you needed to be in order to survive. Now, it’s time to work on becoming the person you need to be in order to thrive.” I think that sort of mentality helps us forgive ourselves for having developed these bad habits and harmful traits – reminding ourselves that there was a reason for it originally, and that’s okay, but we don’t need to stay in that pattern now that we’re not in that situation.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Top notch advice from Alison. OP, you do know how to pick who to write to, that is for sure.

    3. OP - Leslie Nope*

      Agreed! I am biased because I’m the OP but this answer was just so kind and generous in ways I have NEVER been able to be to myself — even when I’m trying to remind myself that I’m great. In fact, I’m really really glad this started on “Go to therapy” because a lot of the “Focusing on what’s good / try to manage your stress” type advice just hasn’t worked for me. I’m in therapy, and we’ve JUST scratched the surface on moving away from insecurity to dealing with shame, so Alison is saying exactly what I need to hear and work on (and finally have the right therapist with which to do this).

      Really working on learning to forgive myself – I so, so want to, and then am mad that I can’t, which is a fun cycle for no one. But reading my original letter is really eye opening, because having some distance from it makes me see what I usually can’t (and what you did): a person who is really, really bogged down by the type of shame that isn’t serving them anymore.

  3. High Score!*

    I’d suggest staying off social media for awhile as well and try to phrase things in a positive way. Like, “thanks for pointing that out! I’ll revise it to include your suggestion!” Rather than “I’m so sorry for being horrible.” Even if you don’t feel it at first, it will eventually sink in

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, absolutely. It can feel cathartic and entertaining to just reduce that asshole on Twitter to a smoking, glassy rhetorical crater, but I have been finding that it’s all the negativity of interpersonal conflict with none of the resultant social friction or consequences that makes picking arguments in real life costly and unpleasant. And as a result, you keep going for that little dopamine hit of the killer turn of phrase, and it really poisons your thinking.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        This is the situation that XKCD 386 was written about. (Link to follow, for those unfamiliar with its URL patterns.)

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Second this.

      I come from a long line of women who Must Have The Last Word and I can confirm that learning not to engage in arguments on social media is a lifesaver. I just avoid them. Facebook is mostly for looking at pictures of kittens.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wit and mental quickness can be used in a good way. It does not have to be used in a negative way. The tricky part is figuring out the good ways of using it.
        OP, you might find it interesting to watch people who are mentally quick yet funny and look at how they handle things. You don’t have to use humor yourself if you prefer not to, but you can think about how they found humor in a situation and used it for good ends.

        1. OP - Leslie Nope*

          Yesss to all of this. Or as another coworker put it: “Have you ever admired someone specifically because of their great Twitter feed” which, lol.

          Also, I am VERY MUCH A Woman Who Has To Get The Last Word and being off Twitter has really helped with that!

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Add to this “Thanks for pointing that out” line – this is how I was taught to stop apologizing, and it’s been a good change for me. If you are a chronic over apologizer, instead of saying, “I’m sorry for being late,” try, “thank you for waiting for me.” (or in your case, instead of “sorry for being such a liability,” try “thank you for all the time you’ve spent helping me develop professionally.”
      =You get the benefit of acknowledging that something was sub optimal rather than feeling like a jerk who doesn’t notice, but it’s less fishy for reassurance than self-deprecation and hopefully leaves the other person feeling good.

      1. OP - Leslie Nope*

        Definitely going to start doing this – bc yeah, it’s gotta be CRAZY awkward to have to manage someone’s self-loathing on top of managing the project that is (or isn’t) getting done!

    4. Holly*

      Saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” has helped me reframe so many issues where I was too hard on myself.

  4. Amber Rose*

    Oh god, please please please stop putting yourself down/apologizing for stuff. I have been on the other side of that and it’s SO uncomfortable and awkward, particularly since I usually stopped caring about the thing ages ago but now I have to babysit your feelings about it.

    I used to do it too, mind you, but once I was on the other side I realized how badly I needed to cut that shit out. One really useful trick I learned was to re-frame negatives as positives. Thank you instead of I’m sorry. It’s not, “sorry I did X” it’s “thank you for helping me with X.”

    The next thing is, for unfair stuff, stay calm, write the email, and DON’T SEND IT. Just delete it. Although in the case you mentioned above, there is never any excuse for yelling at a coworker. Ever. That was bullshit and something you didn’t deserve period. You may have been a little territorial there, but that doesn’t mean the other person was right in any way.

    Stop taking the weight of the world on your shoulders and learn to recognize when and where to stand up for yourself, and when and where apologies are necessary. Therapy is going to be the easiest way for you to learn that stuff.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah. People try to go for the self-deprecating apology to bring everyone in on the joke of how terrible they are, and it comes out like you’re turning up up your belly and groveling in the hopes that they’ll take some pity and hate you less than you hate yourself. And OH GOD it’s so not great to be on the other side of that. Do you chuckle along? Do you do the emotional labor of arguing with them about how much they should think they suck? Do you just try to move on? So awkward.

      1. boo bot*

        I know this question is rhetorical, but I have one answer, which has gotten my friends who do this to mostly stop around me, and got me to stop when I was the self-deprecating person.

        I either ignore the statement/”joke” completely, or if it’s someone I care about, I say “I don’t think that’s the case,” or “that’s not true,” and keep talking like they didn’t say anything, and I do it every time (now by habit I also do it to strangers, though I tend to say “I doubt that,” just in case they actually are the worst person ever – I mean, *someone* has to be.)

        I also used to be the self-deprecating person when I was young, and it was by far the most effective thing – acting like I’d clearly made a faux pas kind of gave me permission not to keep doing it, oddly. Like, it’s cringe-inducing for the person making the self-deprecating comments, too, but I know that to me it felt mandatory – like my inherent shortcomings were so glaring that I *had to* acknowledge how wrong it was for me to be there.

        Basically, I approached normal conversations the same way I would now handle it if I accidentally wandered into the Situation Room with with a TV camera and no pants on.

        1. Star*

          The visual of someone walking into the Situation Room with no pants on actually made me laugh out loud. In public. Definitely worth the quizzical looks I got.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Idk, I’d much rather be around self-deprecating people than ones who are boastful, arrogant, or overly self-promoting.

        1. TL -*

          Those aren’t the only two options – and if it’s a person who is thicker-skinned, I’d rather have the boastful or arrogant person, especially in a work context.

          It’s really, really hard to give meaningful feedback to someone who is always jumping in to tell you how awful they know they are. Most of the time, I don’t need to hear how you know it’s awful, and it was rushed, and you can definitely do better, you’re sorry it’s so awful. I just need to tell you the three or four specific ideas I have for making it better.
          And honestly, if I say, “it needs to be stored in dropbox, not googledocs” and you go off on a tangent about how you’re an idiot with computers, I don’t have faith that you actually heard me over all that self-flagellation AND I’m annoyed that you’re putting words in my mouth – I didn’t call you an idiot, I just want the documents where I can find them.

    2. Anononon*

      Yes, agreed regarding the self-deprecating comments. Best case scenario is what you said where the other person has already moved on and now you’re bringing it up again. Worst case scenario is that it is still an issue, and now the other person has to figure out if they want to awkwardly lie and say it’s not or awkwardly agree with you.

    3. Beth*

      Yes, this! I have a friendship that actually has pretty much ended because my ex-friend can’t seem to stop doing this, and it’s hit a point where I just can’t say anything remotely negative (or even neutral) around her without triggering it. I’m not willing to deal with the guilt trip or base our entire relationship around constantly reassuring her, she’s unable or unwilling to stop dishing it out despite me asking, so I can’t talk to her much anymore. If it can have that much of an effect on a friendship–where we’re relatively invested in the other person and already care about them on a personal level–it’s going to be worse in work relationships.

      If you can, try looking at the feedback you get as if it’s given to a stranger. If you had to give that feedback to someone, what kind of response would you want from them? A lot of the time, a brief acknowledgement is plenty, and turning it into something bigger than that just makes the situation uncomfortable. When you do decide you need to apologize, keep it private, brief, and sincere; turning it into an extended joke doesn’t actually come off well in real life, most of the time. “I know I messed up when I did ___. I’m sorry about that, and I’m working on making sure it doesn’t happen again” is all that’s needed or wanted, generally.

      1. That Work from Home Life*

        Seconding this! Another option is to write it in a separate program like word or notes.

      2. Lucy*

        In Outlook, you can type “donotsend” or similar irreconcilable string into the To or Cc fields and it will not send the email until you’ve corrected the address.

        donotsend could not be recognised. Send email anyway?

        YE GODS NO /hyperventilating/

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Honestly, jokes like this are almost as mortifying for the audience as they are for the joker.

      We all mess up. Let me tell you about the time I condensed a huge collection of books onto half as many shelves as I was supposed to because apparently I can’t do basic arithmetic and miscalculated how many linear feet I needed. Yup. So I wasted not only my own time but that of the coworker who had to help me.

      You don’t need to grovel. Just go to your supervisor and say, I misunderstood XYZ and made PDQ mistake because of it–how do you want me to remedy it? You’re allowed to keep your dignity at work even when you’re not having your best day.

      1. spaceygrl*

        I want to echo everyone’s thoughts on how uncomfortable / distracting self-deprecating comments are much after the fact for the people who hear them.

        Just recently, my company had a contract worker who just wasn’t working out. We had to have multiple meetings to go over the same thing over and over. One day, he was leaving my office after what I thought was a very productive meeting, and he stood up and said “I hope you don’t hate me, just dislike me a little bit.” I understand it was meant to be a joke, but it made me sooo uncomfortable and I was just gobsmacked. I didn’t know what to say – I don’t hate or dislike any of my colleagues. They’re just colleagues. I understand he wanted me to say something like “Oh, I don’t hate you” but that’s never something I’d say to anyone anyway. He kind of stood in my doorway waiting for me to respond and finally I said “why would you say something like that? It’s so weird.” And then he stammered and explained “oh, I meant it to be a joke, because xyz… etc.” He went ON and ON explaining how it was meant to be a joke. I got it. It was a joke that didn’t land. You don’t ALSO have to explain the joke to me. Later, after another meeting, he apologized AGAIN for the hate/dislike comment. It was so awkward. We’re colleagues, dude. Let’s just get stuff done. I can’t manage your self-esteem.

    5. Grace*

      Yes about the people putting themselves down thing. I have a close friend and housemate who has that good ol’ depression-anxiety combo, and while I know her brain is sabotaging her, being on the receiving end of “I’m a terrible person, you must hate me, you must want to kick me off the lease, why on earth do you bother being friends with me, I screw everything up, I’m a failure, I’m so sorry you’re stuck with me-” is really exhausting. The worst one is “I’m so sorry I keep dumping this stuff on you” because I mean… Yeah, the emotion-dumping does suck – but I’m not going to pile on her when she’s already in that mindset, because it’s not going to help and I’d rather she learn healthy coping mechanisms instead of just keeping it bottled up for fear of me hating her.

      That said, I’m very grateful that I’ve been given carte blanche to go “Oi, you’re doing the thing again, go take the meds that you clearly forgot to take this morning.” Before that point, I had no idea how to deal with it and just awkwardly stood there, but now at least I can tell her that most people don’t regularly have those thoughts because they dropped a fork on the floor, so she needs to go take some store-bought serotonin because her brain isn’t doing its job properly.

      1. Renthead*

        Your frustration is valid and you absolutely have the right to lay down boundaries in this relationship (or any other). And if your friend has told you it’s cool for you to remind her to take her meds, I’m in no place to say you shouldn’t. But as someone who suffers from another disorder that I take medication for, I can say I’d be livid if you took this approach with me. Psych meds are not some magical fix-all. For one thing, antidepressants work in a gradual way that requires build up over time, and their effects, to the extent that they help at all, are highly unlikely to be undone by one missed pill. And while the med I take (not an antidepressant) IS the kind that works right away/ starts withdrawals right away, it still doesn’t magically solve all of the issues that go along with my disorder. I doubt any psychotropic does. I can’t stand the “wow, someone’s off their meds!” mentality because it flippantly dismisses the complex, ongoing work that goes along with managing a mental illness. Just something to keep in mind for future situations with other people.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Some anti-depressants work that way, and others have a faster effect. And it’s different for different people, besides. I know (from crap experience) that I can miss ONE dose of my meds without much effect. But if I miss 2 doses of my meds (such as evening and then the next morning), my mood spirals badly; and if I then get my meds into me and a night’s sleep, things are magically better the next day. (The hard part here is that sometimes I only realize I’ve missed doses because I use those daily pill-dispenser things and I can see the pills that should have been taken.)

          My personal peeve is someone who takes a comment about situation A and points out that it doesn’t apply to situation B. In this case, Grace SAID that before her friend gave her this permission, “I had no idea how to deal with it and just awkwardly stood there”. She didn’t go charging in with her friend, and I doubt she’d do it with you.

    6. ursula*

      This is good advice. I can readily forgive someone for making a mistake at work (especially if I see them learning from it), but it is a major drain to feel like I’m being manipulated, even unintentionally, into reassuring them and managing their feelings.

      It sounds like you might be prone to a type of thinking called catastrophizing – LW, if you google that phrase you will probably find some info and exercises from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that could help you.

      I know therapy is expensive and many of us just can’t swing it. But there are some truly great workbooks out there that you can buy online that will help you process some of these feelings and recognize your patterns/triggers/fallacies in your thinking (like catastrophizing!). Lots of people start with Mind Over Mood and explore from there. Good luck, LW, and I’m proud of you for trying to address this.

      1. Qosanchia*

        I’m not OP, but I definitely use self-deprecation pretty heavily. Thanks for the resource recommendations, those look really helpful!

    7. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Have you ever seen a dog apology-piddle? It’s when they’re sorry and they know they’ve done bad and they want you to know it, so they pee a little on the floor. It’s the dog equivalent of groveling. And now the human has to clean up the floor.

      That is generally not the effect you should be going for.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Oh gosh. One time I brought my new puppy to a pet store. She went to sniff a cockatoo who was not impressed, fluffed up all its feathers and screamed at her.

        She just sat down and peed. No yelps or other noises, didn’t run or anything. Just. “I’m sorry please don’t eat me” pee.

        Definitely not the greatest look for people.

      2. Qosanchia*

        Wow. That comparison seems like it would be very effective at keeping OP from self deprecating thought patterns.
        Oh wait, no, actually that seems calculated to make them feel worse, because shame is definitely an effective motivator for OP, right? That’s what’s led to the current super healthy patterns, right?

        1. Oh So Anon*

          I get where you’re coming from, but that seems a liiiiiiitle bit too harsh of a read. It’s an illustration of how anxiety about showing up appropriately can lead to a vicious cycle.

          1. Qosanchia*

            I mean, it is literally a comparison to a puppy peeing on the floor. And then supported with the line “Definitely not a good look for people.”
            I understand that flinging self deprecation around is causing emotional labor for other people, and that’s something we should work to avoid, but perhaps literally comparing someone to a bad dog peeing on the floor is not an effective way to do so? It seems like something that makes the poster feel like they’ve scored some kind of points, more than something that will resonate with the listener and cause some amount of reflection and re-evaluation.

            1. Star*

              It may not be a great comparison but assuming that it was something said by the poster to score point (and then actually posting your assumption), is worse. So is the manner in which you expressed it- sarcasm and snarkiness aren’t always appropriate, and is uncalled for here. Expressing that it might be hurtful to people is one thing, jumping straight in to attack is another. Attempting civil discourse is almost always a better option.

              1. Qosanchia*

                Huh. I guess I can see how that would be an accusation of intentional cruelty. I apologise for that (to the whole thread, really), it was careless, and more than a little rude. In retrospect, snide remarks are probably an exceptionally poor way for me to respond to percieved splash damage. I’ll try to keep that in mind when engaging in comment threads where I feel some emotional investment.

            2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

              Um, I’m sorry if it came off too harsh. I did think the analogy could be a bit mean, but I thought I phrased it so it wasn’t. I guess not. Sorry.

              I know thinking of an leaky apologetic puppy would help me to stop over-apologizing, because it’s such a memorable picture in my head, and also puppies make everything better.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Wow. I think going from “that might not be the most sensitive comparison to illustrate the point” to “that was clearly calculated cruelty” is a bit 0-60, here. Honestly, I read it more as a bit of mild humor than anything else. No need to go for the torch and pitchfork just yet, I don’t think.

          1. Qosanchia*

            The cruelty comment on my part was definitely a bad hyperbole, and really only served to escalate something that should have stayed civil.
            Thanks for the kind reminder. I’ll try to check myself in the future

      3. OP - Leslie Nope*

        THIS IS SUCH A GREAT ANALOGY. And it is totally what I do (I’m not thrilled about it but I’m trying to notice it).

    8. Star*

      Writing the stuff but not sending it is something I’ve been doing for a number of months now and it’s been shocking cathartic. It gets it out of my system and because I’m not sending it, I’m not getting back something that could get me worked up again. I recommend not writing it in an email draft with the sender’s email address or in a reply box on social media because there’s always a chance you may accidentally hit send.

      I personally don’t delete mine, I put them all in their own little private file, but that’s mostly a matter of personal preference. Sometimes I end up making a point that’s good to use in a context that’s not as emotionally charged or I come up with a turn of phrase I think is funny or clever. Going back days or weeks later and reading it is some interesting self-reflection, for me. I guess it’s similar to journaling? I’ve never been good at that, since it lacks any kind of prompt.

    9. OP - Leslie Nope*

      This is the biggest thing I want to work on, more than even the trigger happy stuff. I do it so often I barely notice it but every cringe-y reply on this thread of something someone has gone through with a self-deprecator (like the temp coworker who asked a coworker to just dislike instead of hating him, gahhhh) are words that 1000% could have come out of my mouth. And as a writer/generally funny person, I think I’m playing them off well……but like a person whose boss is getting emailed about their tweets, I’m clearly, well, not.

      Anyways, thank you for this (and everyone on the thread) because it’s really helped hearing about how its received instead of just sort of knowing its probably awkward, but then assuming its better than people thinking I’m bad + unaware by saying nothing to caveat my basic existence.

      Incidentally noticing that I do this so much with friends too – i.e. being stressed over a new man friend the last few weeks. Making a conscientious effort to text friends things like “I’m feeling anxious about X” rather than “Okay I know I’m crazy but what do you guys think about X” which was how I always default couched having ANY EMOTION OF ANY KIND. Trying to just accept that my friends and loved ones know and can see the anxiety and love me anyways, so all that couching is superfluous. Easier said than done, but really trying to separate how I feel from who I am, and to stop word vomiting my shame onto others as a way to alleviate my guilt.

      1. animaniactoo*

        One thing I would suggest: When you find yourself doing the self-deprecating thing, stop and apologize for doing it – in as matter of fact a way as you can and then move the conversation back to whatever you really needed to talk about. Create variations for how you want to word that apology, because then you’ll have them available to use when the situation calls for it, and you won’t be stumbling around trying to find the words and send yourself into a spiral of *wording it in a self-deprecating way again*.

        So for the example you used here, you could pull back and say “Ugh. Sorry, I don’t need to call myself crazy so that I can ask for your opinion. I’m working on not doing that anymore and I apologize for having done it there. Back to the topic at hand: What do you think about X? I’m feeling anxious about it because Y.”

        Run it by your therapist, but part of the reason this can help is because it works on 2 fronts. 1) It allows you to highlight and own what happened in the moment, helping you to be more conscious of it AND take an active step about it even though the moment has just passed. So it helps you feel that you have more control over it despite just having done it. 2) We hate doing things on purpose that we don’t want to do. So if you don’t want to be giving that apology, part of your brain will start to automatically cut off the impulse to do the self-deprecating thing so that you don’t have to do the apology thing again.

        It won’t work in isolation and you do need to work on active things that you will do instead upfront (like just saying “I’m feeling anxious about X”) and having those available to do, but in combination, it may be a useful thing for you.

    10. selena81*

      Write that angry email on paper so you don’t accidentally hit ‘send’ out of habit. /talking from experience

      In general i think it would be helpful to try to see things from the other side: it may help her understand how awkward it is if someone keeps saying ‘i am so sorry, i am so sorry, i messed up, i do not deserve your love’.
      Apologize and move on already.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In the meantime, is there someone you can trust to run your communication through to ensure that you’re not doing these things? Because Alison is right that this is going to take some work on your part, but as a short term measure, having your emails proof read is probably not a bad idea.

    And stick with email communication as much as possible so that you have time to think about what you’re saying and can get feedback. Immediate forms of communication are not helpful in these types of situations.

    1. facepalm*

      I second this suggestion. I have a friend who has a horrible temper and also some issues reading social cues, and that friend will often call me up or message me and say “Here’s the situation, here’s what [over the top crazy thing] I am doing in response. Is that reasonable?” And I will say, “Friend, that is a terrible idea. Instead of this 7-paragraph email vilifying someone who wronged you and trying to get them fired, how about a 4-sentence email instead saying, here’s what went wrong, how can we ensure this doesn’t happen again?” I think having the sounding board helps and the filter of a non-involved, neutral party can help give a more neutral, less emotionally charged perspective.

    2. OrigCassandra*

      Ooooh, agree. The person who has been my beta reader when I’m emailing students in tricky situations is retiring, and I so appreciate her help… and am seeking another beta reader.

    3. Kate*

      I can second this. I have a running deal with a colleague of mine to do “a$$hole checks” on one another’s emails.

    4. JT*

      Agree with this. I recently discovered (in my 30’s) that I have Aspergers. I can focus way too hard on what is just and if people are telling the absolute truth. I find that having a person I can talk through my frustrations with while I am heated gives me the opportunity to have a more rational conversation with actual coworkers.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        Hello, fellow Aspie! Always happy to meet another of us. I discovered it as an adult, too. :)

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Ha, I always thought people who do that had bad examples growing up.
        I’m interested now – how does a physical brain variation cause a strong sense of justice? I’ll google it.
        I love that I’m always learning something on AAM!

        1. WomanFromItaly*

          I was diagnosed at 40 and for me at least I tend to have very clear ideas of right and wrong, and to feel that if someone is in the right how they present that doesn’t matter (unless they’re abusive, which always matters). The rest of the world is not with me on this, because in general we are supposed to care about things like “not alienating the people you have to work with every day” and “chain of command” and a whole bunch of other things that supersede who is actually right. This is annoying, but I am outnumbered a zillion to one and thus do my best to suck it up and deal. Unless racism is involved.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            But there is a big difference between something that is UNJUST (like refusing to promote women or minorities) and something that is merely INEFFICIENT (like requiring cover sheets on TPS reports). I have tons of respect for people who will go out of their way to fight injustice. But I lose respect when people go all Norma Ray to fight the “injustice” of TPS reports.

            1. selena81*

              Well, most aspie’s won’t think that bad housekeeping makes you A BAD PERSON. It’s more a matter of ‘we AGREED on this standard dammit’: we love following clear rules, so it is disrespectful (to me and to the people who made the rule) if you make a show of not caring

              Jury is still out afaik: it could be that aspie’s are indeed less capable of feeling empathy (less capable in terms of brain chemistry: that doesn’t mean they actively want to hurt someone of course), or it could be that they are hyper-sensitive and withdraw as a means of self-protection

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I also have a strong sense of right and wrong, but I’m sure I’m not autistic. I seem to be too far in the opposite direction of too much empathy and identifying with others. (if I understand autism correctly, not a bit sure of that!)
            I also think people in the right should be given more credit, and people should be less concerned with propriety and chain of command when there is injustice or oppression or other bad things. The more I see, the more propriety and chain of command seem to have been created to *enable* oppression.
            I think I’m like this because I was raised by an idealistic mother in the late 60’s – 70’s when compassion and anti-racism and anti-chauvinism were taking hold in our culture.
            I came around to agreeing with not alienating colleagues (or people I know socially) – partly because I might be wrong about them, so I should find out more, and partly because it does make life easier.
            I’m still often the only person in the room who speaks up about injustice or oppression.

      3. Claudia*


        You may just be responsible for one of the biggest revelations of my life. Your comment felt familiar in a way, so on one of my many tangents I researched how Aspergers manifest in adult women and I was gobsmacked; I was reading about myself. Every single criteria triggered a memory or emotional response. I’ve spent the last hour in tears (of relief). I’ve always felt “defective” somehow – I was even diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago at age 26.

        While adhd provided so much insight to why I am the way I am, I’ve always felt even MORE different than my peers. This would explain so much. I feel like a literal weight has been lifted. I feel like I can finally define what I’m struggling with and seek the proper support/help! I can’t thank you enough!!!

        1. JT*

          Claudia – that’s awesome – I’m glad it helped. Aspergers, while no longer an official diagnosis, is still very much a term many people use to explain a certain subset of people with ASD. It manifests differently in women. I just discovered this about myself about a month ago. AANE does free phone consults, but I have an official appt in July. I am still trying to decide how to deal with it at work. I have told only a couple people because I don’t want anyone to not give me certain assignments because of what they assume are my weaknesses. I am willing to do things that are uncomfortable. Anyway, you might be interested in this: https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/costs-camouflaging-autism/

        2. selena81*

          Women are severely underdiagnosed. As are high-functioning autists.
          A lot of that has to do with social expectation and the ability to compensate

    5. Jaydee*

      Yes. My former boss and I would read each other’s emails or letters “for tone” in certain circumstances. Both of us are pretty even-tempered, but sometimes we just get a little too close to a situation, so it helps to have someone a step removed who can bring some objectivity.

    6. NW Mossy*

      On the flip side, I’ve seen it be really effective for people to talk more and email less when unintentional tone in email is a problem. I’ve managed and worked with many people over the years who appear to be really tough cookies if you’ve only ever emailed them, but their in-person/voice manner is warm and engaging. Purposefully showing people that side can help the other party read your emails in the spirit in which you’re writing them, buying you the benefit of the doubt that keeps awkward turns of phrase from turning into Judgments.

      This approach can be tougher to use for spur-of-the-moment conversations, but it’s worth a try when you have the next response on an issue and can control when you deliver it. Spending some time (either alone or with the aid of a trusted confidante) working out talking points for a meeting/call you’ll have two days from now gives a similar bit of distance from the emotional aspects of the topic and test-run some ideas for how to deliver points in a way that will help them land as desired.

      1. Jadelyn*

        YES. I’ve got a couple of coworkers whose written communication is terse to the point of rudeness, but when we talk in person or even just over the phone, it’s clear that it’s just an issue with their written communication skills.

    7. Lucy*

      I am probably too appeasing and diplomatic in emails; spouse can be belligerent. When he asks me to beta angry emails I cut out typically 25% of the content, 50% of the adjectives, and 75% of the emotion. When he returns the favour, he points out that they won’t know I’m annoyed unless I say so.

    8. Elise*

      Yes, as a person who does not typically have issues with responding appropriately, there are times when I still really need to have someone read my emails for tone when I’m feeling heated about something. I had a coworker who was new to the professional working world, and she would have me read hers as she did have some issues with “putting people in their place” via email. She has gone on to be very successful and tactful in email so a trusted filter can be a wonderful thing.

  6. TT*

    Thank you Allison for consistently encouraging therapy in people who write in. Therapy still has such a stigma attached to it, but NO ONE helps me regarding my interpersonal problems at work the way my therapist does, and you are so right that problems at work such as the one described in this letter often come from destructive thought patterns put in place long before the job started!! So yes to reiterate: THERAPY!!

    1. Jenno*

      Seconding this because there are people out there who think, “Why would I go to therapy? I’m not depressed, anxious, obsessive-compulsive, or [insert diagnosable mental illness here].” Therapy isn’t only for mental illness, which I think is the source of the stigma, unfortunately.

      It’s those *destructive thought patterns* that even a mentally healthy person can have, that can be unwound during therapy. My case, for example: early in my career, I hated being praised. I cringed the whole way through my performance appraisals when they were entirely positive! In the space of a single 50-minute session, my therapist helped me connect my discomfort with praise to having been taunted on the school bus in middle school by kids who didn’t like that I read books on the bus. I’d internalized being recognized as smart as a negative experience. As soon as I stopped metaphorically listening to the kids on the bus, I was able to accept praise gracefully. I hope the OP finds the process to be as illuminating and ghost-banishing as I did.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        You made me think of grief therapy. OP might still be grieving the events in her past, which is totally understandable. Grief is not just for funerals, OP, it’s for many crappy things in life.

      2. Lucy Montrose*

        Therapy isn’t only for mental illness, which I think is the source of the stigma, unfortunately.

        Here are some non-stigma reasons that I have balked at therapy:

        –It feels like a statement that “you’re not ready to truly participate or contribute. Go sit on the sidelines for a while and wait until you’re better.”
        “A while” could easily turn into the length of a career, and I’ve long been suspicious that people might use the therapy suggestion like “you look tired”… as a passive-aggressive attempt to get the other person to take themselves out of the game.

        –If I’ve exhausted someone’s patience by asking them too much for reassurance, what does that mean for our relationship going forward? At the very least, how long do I need to wait until I’m allowed to tell them things that have been bothering me again?
        At worst, is that effectively the end of our relationship; because the increased self-monitoring I will need to do in order to stay within their new boundaries may mean I don’t get to play as active or important a role to them anymore, and I may no longer get to collaborate with them on anything important beyond a peripheral or small-talk level?

        Because, presumably, therapy will make me balanced enough that I don’t feel the need to talk to them, except maybe for small talk.

        1. TL -*

          Most people don’t sideline their lives while they’re in therapy. I went to therapy (partially on the suggestion of another person) and nothing about my life stopped or paused while I went; I just dealt with things better as they came up, including work stuff.

          If the only things you have to talk about with your friends is stuff that’s bothering you (what about the stuff that’s bothering them, too?), I think therapy will help you figure out how to build a different sort of relationship, one that doesn’t center around only bad things. If I gave up complaining for Lent, my friends and I would still have lots of stuff to talk about, even though venting and complaining are regular parts of our relationships.

          In healthy friendships, you absolutely do lean on your friends for emotional support – it’s just not the majority of your interactions/every day/all the time. The point of therapy isn’t to become 100% self-sufficient for all emotional needs; it’s to get to a point where you can self-soothe/regulate for everyday stuff (and if you need daily/constant reassurance, that’s a self-soothe need) and know how and when to reach out for extra emotional support, as well as providing support to your friends when they need it.

        2. Allya*

          I agree with TL, and I’m really sorry that your perception of therapy is so negative. My experience with it has been far less, “Go sit on the sideline,” and much more, “You’re struggling, so let’s get you back in the game.”

          Certainly there are some people who use the suggestion to try therapy to mean, essentially, “I don’t think you can cope with this, so go away while other people handle it.” But especially those who you’d otherwise think of as being on your side are probably making the suggestion in good faith. The people who have recommended therapy to me have been people who tried it themselves and found it made a difference in their lives, and they wanted me to get the same benefits they experienced (and when I recommend it now, that’s the place I’m coming from. “I care about you, you seem like you’re struggling, maybe you could try bringing in a coach with expertise in the things you’re struggling with to help you figure out how to manage them.”)

          When you described the reasons you listed as “non-stigma”, did you specifically mean they didn’t involve stigma against people with mental health problems? I ask because while that’s true, it sounds like you think of therapy as something that puts people into a passive role within their own lives, preventing them from succeeding at work or connecting meaningfully with other people, and that’s a different kind of stigma.

          Therapy isn’t the answer for everyone and you definitely don’t have to get it if you don’t want to! I’m not trying to convince you that you should change your mind and find a therapist tomorrow. I just think that, “Have you considered therapy?” should have the same emotional baggage as “Maybe you should go to the doctor about that persistent cough?” Not none – it’s probably something that should only be said between people who are close or when advice is asked for – but it’s also not a negative comment on your value as a contributor to a project, as a friend, or as a human being.

          1. Lucy Montrose*

            Thanks for your replies (both Allya and TL)

            The funny thing is, I am in therapy! But growing up, I did hear it often in the context of being in trouble. Sort of a “soft” detention. Indeed, when I got disciplined as a child I went to the counselor quite a bit, detention almost never.
            I just plain felt that kids who were winning at life didn’t have to go to the therapist. I wish kid-me better understood that a therapist is like an older friend and/or mentor… not a punishment, or a scarlet L for loser.

            it sounds like you think of therapy as something that puts people into a passive role within their own lives, preventing them from succeeding at work or connecting meaningfully with other people, and that’s a different kind of stigma.

            This isn’t how I see therapy per se, but it is how I see the work of social calibration. I see polishing my social skills as a thankless, joyless task, something that keeps me chasing my tail and using up valuable time. You put it very well: “in a passive role in my own life”… in which my judgment and instincts are unreliable, and I have to do whatever my “betters” say; because after all, they have a better track record of success than I do.

            1. Allya*

              It sucks that when you were a kid, therapy was framed as a punishment! I’m glad that despite that, you’ve found it worth pursuing.

              What you say about your experience with social calibration sounds really difficult. That’s not something I necessarily relate to (social skills are one of the few things I /don’t/ have hangups about, lol!) but I do know the feeling of just – being aware that you’re making mistakes or coming up short and being helpless to change it and feeling like your life is going into stasis because of it. I /think/ that’s something therapy can help with (not just solving the original issue but also dealing with the feeling of stagnating), because I’m seeing the kind of fuzzy shape where positive change might one day be in my own life, but it’s not quick or easy.

              In one of your other comments, you said, “I guess I’d sum it up as, “working on yourself instead of having a successful life”” re: developing your social skills. I get that, and I think one thing that has helped me is to reframe it from “work on self Vs have successful life” to “work on self –> have successful life”. Probably the next step is, like, “work on self = have successful life!” or something, idk. I do get down about how much stuff I have still to do to get my life together and feel good about where I am, but on the other hand I’ve come a long way already and huge amounts of the credit go to therapy, so at least continuing in therapy feels like a concrete thing I can do to keep progressing in the direction I want to go.

          2. Lucy Montrose*

            Those are some good suggestions. I wish kid-me had thought of a therapist as a mentor– not a punishment or a scarlet L for loser.
            To get you back in the game more quickly (instead of forcing you to stay on the bench) is a good way of putting it.

            The fact is, when I got disciplined as a kid I was a lot more likely to go to the counselor than detention. Plus, I felt that kids who were winning at life didn’t have to go to therapy.

            It sounds like you think of therapy as something that puts people into a passive role within their own lives, preventing them from succeeding at work or connecting meaningfully with other people…

            I don’t feel that way about therapy per se, but I do feel that way about social calibration. You put that very well: “puts you in a passive role in your own life”. The work of polishing social skills does feel like it takes me out of the action and on a parallel, inferior, track. A sentence to sit on the sidelines, chasing my tail, waiting for my life to happen.

            Because social skills do seem to be among those rare skills in which the destination, not the journey, really is the only thing that matters.

            1. Oh So Anon*

              I very much get where you’re coming from, yet here’s something to think about:

              If making emotional support a smaller part of your interactions with others means that you have very little interaction fodder outside of small talk and that you feel your life is grinding to a halt as a result, that’s suggestive of some combination of the following:

              (1) You might have some issues with how you’re establishing rapport and commonality with others
              (2) You don’t have enough going on in your life outside of the things that are creating frustrations for you

              Condition 2 is something that can lead you to using complaining and support-seeking as your conversational default, which is an example of Condition 1. Lessening the degree to which Condition 2 is an issue (either by adding positives to your life or decreasing negatives, both of which therapy can help with) means you don’t have to sideline your life. The point of therapy is not to completely eliminate the need for talking about issues with people; it’s about bringing your relationships back into balance so that they can be mutually satisfying. Relationships that are *mostly* about interactions where you’re seeking reassurance are often times ones that are about getting your needs met much more than you meeting others’ socioemotional needs.

              This isn’t about a final destination of perfection or people being “better” than you because there’s no such thing as perfectly polished – it’s about learning to shift the balance so that you and others can come away feeling a bit better.

          3. Lucy Montrose*

            Those are some good suggestions. I wish kid-me had thought of a therapist as a mentor– not a punishment or a scarlet L for loser.
            To get you back in the game more quickly (instead of forcing you to stay on the bench) is a good way of putting it.

            The fact is, when I got disciplined as a kid I was a lot more likely to go to the counselor than detention. Plus, I felt that kids who were winning at life didn’t have to go to therapy.

            It sounds like you think of therapy as something that puts people into a passive role within their own lives, preventing them from succeeding at work or connecting meaningfully with other people…

            I don’t feel that way about therapy per se, but I do feel that way about social calibration.  You put that very well: “puts you in a passive role in your own life”. The work of polishing social skills does feel like it takes me out of the action and away from meaningful tasks… and on a parallel, inferior, track. A sentence to sit on the sidelines, chase my tail, and crawl instead of walk.
            I guess I’d sum it up as, “working on yourself instead of having a successful life”.

          4. Lucy Montrose*

            BTW, I hope you didn’t end up getting multiple replies. I sent off a total of 4 (!) that just disappeared. Very sorry if you ended up with duplicates– and could I be shown how to fix it? Thanks.

  7. Cautionary Whale*

    This actually sounds somewhat like how I used to be to an extent. I do still take things a little more personally than I should, and sometimes let my stress show. But ultimately, what helped me stop, was a “fake it til you make it” attitude. Just be friendly, do not act reactionary, and observe how other people act to kind of mirror the best behavior. I also found friends at work that, once in a while (while outside the office and NOT frequently) I could ask if I’m doing fine. I know sometimes I can be not self-aware, so it helped to get some mental back up. So far, all good. I would not recommend doing that all the time with people at work.

    What truly, truly helped though was seeing someone else doing a cartoonishly exaggerated version of this. I saw how much burden that put on other people and quickly realized everything I did not want to do at work.

  8. Snark*

    In terms of some concrete, immediate action to take, as Alison said, stop the jokey, self-deprecating apologies right away. The rest will take time, but that’s one thing you can stop doing, and stop spending so much time doing, today. Apologize simply, directly, and seriously – and then leave it alone. Apologies sour quickly when they’re laid on too thick or too long.

    And the other thing is, while this will get easier with therapy, watch your reactions. When the feeling of unfairness and injustice starts rising in you, stop. That’s now your cue to take a beat and really consider your response, whether it’s appropriate, and whether you need to respond in the moment or wait until later when you’re not reacting with emotion. That’s no longer a reaction you can trust. It can be real and trustworthy, but right now it’s off the rails.

    1. Heidi*

      Agree about the apologies. The joking apology has a high risk of sounding like the OP is not really taking the past behavior seriously. Where an apology is warranted, make it sincere without the expectation of forgiveness embedded in it.

      And of course, keep turning out the high quality work. It can really help rebuild relationships if people know that they can rely on you for that.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah. It comes off like “Let’s all help me flagellate myself so you can see how bad I feel about this and you can forgive me for it right away!” And it’s inherently, of course, a little manipulative, in that people are going to want to resolve it so they can stop watching you whip yourself.

        1. Jadelyn*

          This is just making me think about BDG’s video ranking all the Dark Souls bosses on how good or bad of a workplace boss they’d be. There’s one boss called The Lost Sinner who “eternally punishes herself for the sins of her past” and BDG’s commentary on that was:

          “It’s important to have a boss who recognizes their flaws, but it’s bad if your boss locks herself in the conference room and flogs herself eternally. I booked the conference room for 3:00, I need to get in there!”

          Don’t lock yourself in the metaphorical conference room of self-flagellation, OP. You’ve acknowledged your mistakes, and now it’s time to work on moving on.

        2. Lucy Montrose*

          This is what’s so insidious about the idea in pop psychology that others can read your emotions like a book, that anyone with even a modicum of awareness of social cues can instantly decode you. You start to think that others can see your faults before you’re even aware of them. And you’d better nail that down, showcase that you’re self-aware before you have a chance to be criticized as unaware. You’d better win the race.

          Beware of nice, pleasant messages from Psych World. They tend to be embraced, en masse, without sufficient question.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Interesting thing here. OP, when you decide to stop the self-deprecation, your mind will have more space available to process what is actually being said.
      I grew up in an environment where I had to think of something to say. So instead of actually listening, I was running around inside my head saying, “think of something, think of something!” So I decided years later to stop doing that and see where it put me.

      The first thing I learned was nothing was as bad as I had imagined. There was no need for a comeback most of the time.

      The next thing I learned was that I could use the freed up brain space to effectively stand up for myself if necessary. Here’s a catch, I had to learn that people usually listen if someone is logically explaining what happened and why. I did not believe they would and I realized just how judgmental I was acting.

      And the third thing that happened was I gradually saw that I am good at standing up for me when I need to. I never thought about that. I started thinking about the idea of using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. Now that is pretty silly, right? Yet that is what I was trying to do with my words…. because at one point in life I had to.

      I did not need to any more. So my go-to reminder was to tell myself that I had to give people the same chance I wanted them to give me. Keep phrases handy such as, “Uh, not sure what you mean here….” let your voice trail off. Give the other person an opportunity to back track or apologize or clarify.

  9. AnonToday*

    I don’t mean to armchair, and please delete my comment if it comes off as so, but

    I saw a lot of these personality traits myself, and through therapy, i found that i was constantly on the defensive because i was attacking myself more than anyone else ever could. the self-deprecating jokes are harmful things to say to yourself, and you had to spend ample time thinking of things within yourself that you aren’t happy with to come up with them. think about that for a moment. your post is full of negative language directed towards yourself, and that started within you.
    now, this isn’t to say that you haven’t endured hardships and that your coworkers are always right, but the first step to take (in therapy) is to start being kinder and more supportive of you. this will stop some of the hair-trigger defensive responses.
    Be kind and supportive of yourself OP! you deserve it

    1. Colette*

      One of the interesting things about our brains is that they believe what we tell them. So if you tell yourself you are terrible, you will believe it. If you tell yourself that you are competent and kind, you will believe that.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      A handy rule of thumb you can start using right away, OP, is “If I can’t say it to a good friend or a loved one, then I can’t say it to me, either.”

      And there are always ways to reframe things.
      “Gosh, I am such an idiot, I spilled coffee down my best shirt.”
      Can become:
      “Dang. My best shirt, too. I think I should look into getting a different travel mug that does not spill so easy.”

      Here’s a hidden learning experience. We can put ourselves down and successfully avoid how to remedy the actual situation. It can become a crutch for avoiding how to set ourselves up for success. If my pattern is to tell myself I am an idiot for spilling the coffee I will probably ruin a few more clothes before it dawns on me that the travel mug is the actual problem. Next time you assume something is your fault, ask yourself what could be contributing factors for the problem.

  10. desktroid*

    This letter could almost describe me. Alison’s advice is spot-on. I’ve had my share of issues and a few years of therapy, initially for anger management (which was the surface issue), but there’s more work to be done and, thus, more therapy required.
    So do this sooner rather than later – I just turned 60 and I certainly have not helped myself at work.

  11. Shelly574*

    Before I started seeing a therapist, I had a lot of theses same patterns. I really thought that if I “insulted myself first” than other people couldn’t do it. It was a deeply and intensely unhealthy pattern of behavior that I had to learn to let go of (along with a lot of other unhealthy behaviors). I was so scared someone would realize how “incompetent” I was, that I protected myself that way.

    Please reach out and find someone who can help you through this. Therapy can help and working through these things will make you not just better at your work, but much better at life. You are in my thoughts, OP. You can get through this and the fact that you know there is a problem means you are more self-aware than many.

    I would also add that whomever yelled at you is completely in the wrong. Unless a train is barreling towards you at 100 miles an hour and you need to get out of the way, yelling at work is never appropriate. So, don’t beat yourself up about that one.

    1. Elise*

      +1 to the yelling comment. I thought the same when reading. It’s not OK to yell at work and you didn’t “deserve” that OP. I just got out of a job where the boss would yell and then apologize later. It messed me up, and I’d never subject others to that.

  12. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Yes, yes, yes to therapy. Because all the stuff you’re attributing to a “bad personality” is actually a pattern of learned behavior that you can change. As someone who also has a history of catastrophizing, I’d suggest finding a therapist who can do cognitive-behavioral therapy. But whatever therapist you work with should be able to help you start changing these patterns fairly quickly. Good therapy doesn’t necessarily require years and years to show results. You can do this.

    Please stop occasionally and remind yourself that you are getting good feedback from your mentors, and that your boss coached you successfully through a PIP. Trust me, managers don’t do this for employees they consider liabilities. At a guess, they probably think of you as a good employee with some quirks.

    So please start checking out therapists. Try to interview at least three before picking one to work with. And meanwhile, stop mentally judging and labeling yourself.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Co-signing that therapy can start working right away. It did for me too.
      I’m not sure about interviewing therapists. That may help you eliminate obvious mismatches, but other indications will only come through working with them. If a therapist is making you uncomfortable, and you tell them and they continue to, that’s a sign it’s not working. If a therapist is inconsistent – one week she didn’t want to do EMDR, the next week she wanted to jump into it without preparation – that’s a sign she is not competent.
      And of course, if a therapist is making you feel bad about yourself, that’s a sign you need to move on.
      However many you try and however long it takes, it’s worth the effort! You will be amazed at the difference a good therapist makes. :)

    2. Lucy Montrose*

      I lost a client today. Very abruptly. As in, at 3 pm I was making plans with them to meet the rest of the week, and by 4 pm I’d gotten the email from my company that said “client has decided not to move forward”.
      I tried contacting the client to ask for feedback– ghosted. I called my company– they said the client had requested that somebody replace me, and only gave vague explanations for why they decided not to stick with me.

      In my mind, rejection + ghosting + only vague feedback has always = they hate my personality. And they hate it so much, I was so offensive to their gut instincts, that they want me out of their lives as soon as possible, with no explanation, no chance for redemption, and no constructive feedback. They don’t care if I fail to correct my personality flaw, make the same mistake with somebody else, and lose them too.

      Obviously the darkest possible interpretation. But even the healthier interpretations still come out as, other people sure are fond of getting rid of me. Other people’s gut instincts sure love to make swift, irreversible decisions about me. So, what kind of person am I, if it’s that important to others’ happiness that I’m not in their lives anymore?

      Watch enough people react that way to you, and you start to think your personality is bad. And in my case, it’s made me dislike and distrust gut instincts themselves. After all, when other people use them about me, it’s primarily meant loss and defeat for me. Why should I hurt other people, take experiences and connections away from them, by following my own gut instincts?

      I just hate that there’s no coming back from being the wrong person. It’s very hard for me to move on from a rejection, because I keep seeing it as a connection/opportunity lost forever.

      These feelings still sting even without the self-loathing to complicate them. But at the end of the day it’s better to NOT have that additional layer of misery. It’s been hard for me to fight that layer (yes, in therapy) but I’d still rather purely tackle the sense of loss.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Maybe do some role-playing with your therapist or people who will give you honest feedback?
        It sounds like the client was intimidated. Maybe they feel generally threatened, or maybe they’re threatened by therapy.

  13. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Oh, OP – Alison said it better than I ever could and I agree with everything she recommends. However, I especially second her advice to stop throwing yourself under the bus. Mistakes happen and apologies may be in order, but there is no need to present yourself as The Eternal Screw Up.

    I grew up in an abusive environment with rigid, extremely fundamentalist parents. If I spilled my milk, it was because I was a willfully disrespectful child disobeying God’s law to obey my parents in every single thing they told me to do – that included not making a mess, ever. The first time I made a mistake at work (after school job in high school) I thought I was not only going to get fired, I was never going to get a job again. I was 15 years old. That habit was hard to break in my first ‘real’ job after college, and I did a lot of what you did. I figured it was better to fall on my sword than to get pushed onto it; it kind of worked with my parents, so why not with my boss?

    I know it’s not easy to ignore that impulse to be sorry for everything you (think you) did wrong, and to catastrophize mistakes into so much more than they are. But you owe it to yourself to address this kind of thinking and reaction. Please, be kind to yourself and keep us posted.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “The Eternal Screw-Up” and “better to fall on my sword than to get pushed onto it” absolutely and perfectly describe my self-concept and a significant part of my philosophy of life!

      I really honestly don’t know any better way to handle things. If you’ve screwed up as much as I have and are as lacking in actual marketable skills and worthwhile accomplishments, attempts at positive self-talk are just unconvincing lies. Which is much of why I find cognitive-behavioral therapy deeply unconvincing and even rather insulting.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        And ugh I said unconvincing twice. In future, I should read over my comments before posting them. At least it conveys meaning, even if it is awkward.

    2. Jadelyn*

      Also? People will believe what you tell them. If you emphasize your past mistakes every time you interact with someone, that’s how they’ll think of you, even if the rest of your work product is stellar.

      I had to learn to stop teaching people to disregard me, and it was hard, but well worth it. I doubt I’d have the reputation I have now (and the promotion that was no doubt influenced by said reputation) if I’d kept on making self-deprecating jokes the way I used to.

  14. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    There are few comments here and they all touch on the same thing. You are putting the responsibility for your feelings onto others. First there’s the idea that you are going to react badly, which will make people tiptoe around you/avoid you, because “that’s the way OP is.”
    Cut it out.
    Secondly, you are taking their discomfort with your reactions, reshaping it into, “I suck, I’m terrible” thus putting it back on them to console you for acting badly toward them.
    Don’t do that.
    Thirdly, stop bringing up old events/interactions. You’ve seen that if something is bad enough, management will step in with PIP, so you can improve. Nobody can step in and say, “it wasn’t that bad” and change how you feel about it, no matter how many times or how many ways you ask.
    Stop fishing to see what people are thinking about you, because mostly, they aren’t.
    And finally, therapy. Because that way you will learn to internalize the three things I point out and have a much more peaceful work life. Trust me.

    1. sheepla*

      “Stop fishing to see what people are thinking about you, because mostly, they aren’t.”

      YES. Once you realize this, life in general gets easier.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I am not a big fan of the fishing for what others think concept.

      Matter of fact, I had a friend who said, “Quit fishing for compliments.” I was startled because it made no sense in the immediate conversation. I said, “I have no idea how you just got that out of what I said.” She said nothing. Time passed. One day I sneezed and my friend said, “Quit looking for sympathy.” I said, “That’s a weird thing to say.” Again, she said nothing.
      I started thinking that this was probably stuff she was told at home and had nothing to do with me.

      It’s actually pretty healthy to enjoy receiving and giving praise. If you feel like you have long dry spells in life then you can keep a kudos file. I saw that idea here on AAM. I was impressed. Collect your kudos on paper and put them in a file marked “kudos”.

      Practice giving praise. Use it sparingly and use it strategically. For example your cohort formats a document for you in a manner that is really great and easy to handle. Tell them. They will probably do it the same way the next time because they will remember your cheers. Giving cheers can be even better than receiving them.

      1. Allya*

        This is true, but there are healthy ways to seek praise and less healthy ones, and when people talk about “fishing for” things they generally mean the less healthy behaviours.

        Insulting yourself so people will disagree and reassure you isn’t healthy because a) most people don’t want to hear someone they like being disparaged and b) it teaches your brain that insecurities = facts that can only be challenged by someone external to yourself. A healthier approach is to say, “I’m feeling insecure about X, would you reassure me?” which conversely teaches your brain to be aware of what you’re feeling (an important step in self-soothing) and, assuming you have a reasonable support system, that you can ask for things directly to get your needs met.

        That said, I think we agree that giving and getting praise is healthy and probably something that should be more normalised in society. Maybe we should consider being more explicit that seeking compliments isn’t a problem, only that passive-aggressively manipulating people into giving them is. I have a similar aversion to the criticism of people for being “attention seekers” (like, so what? People like getting attention, that’s normal!) so I definitely see where you’re coming from.

  15. OrigCassandra*

    Hi, OP! I have been you, and sometimes (less often over time) still am. Alison’s right — this is going to take some hardcore self-work, with or without therapy — but I have some in-the-moment suggestions to stem the bleeding while you do that work.

    * If your social-media accounts are under your wallet name but don’t need to be, pseudonym them (or, perhaps even better, keep the existing account but make it 100% anodyne, and create a second pseudonymous and possibly private account).

    * Start listing (privately, of course) what sets you off. With luck, you won’t need to do this very long because the patterns will be obvious. Your goal here isn’t self-punishing — it’s building your self-governor, and knowing when you need to set it running. (Be aware that it isn’t just people or subject matter that may set you off — lots of people have time-of-day or last-food-eaten or suchlike patterns without necessarily realizing it!)

    * Wear or have a token, inscrutable to others, for you to glance at and/or touch when you’re inclined to respond unproductively, as a reminder to do better. I used to wear a “shield ring” (yes, it was heraldic-shield-shaped) for that purpose.

    * Instead of mentioning your past behavior, tell your bosses and mentors that you’re working on being a more collaborative colleague. Every once in a while, ask them how you’re doing at that. The important thing, though, is to keep that as a frame in your own mind! “I’m gonna be a real help to my colleagues!” is a better aspiration than the self-punishing “I’m gonna stop being a total jerk.”

    * When you get it right in the moment — and you will, I promise you will! — reward yourself. A private fist-pump, a note in your journal, a coffee/tea or a nice lunch, whatever works for you.

    If you’re willing, update us, please. It may well be a goodish while before you feel ready to. Believe me, I of all people get that. But if I can get better, I’m betting you can too.

    1. BirdBath*

      “The important thing, though, is to keep that as a frame in your own mind! “I’m gonna be a real help to my colleagues!” is a better aspiration than the self-punishing “I’m gonna stop being a total jerk.””

      I really like this advice, and I needed to hear it today. It makes me think about how when we train dogs, we tell them what to do (sit!) instead of just punishing them for doing something bad (no! don’t jump up!). I think treating yourself in a similar way where you frame it as making positive choices rather than berating yourself after making mistakes is nice. It’s a more concrete way to think about self-compassion.

  16. Anon who commutes*

    This rings very true for me as well, but how do those of you in therapy work it around your job? Especially interested in anyone who commutes long distances. I have a negative job situation currently and I know that my personality is adding to it. I have been successfully in therapy for other issues in the past, but cannot for the life of me figure out how to work it into my schedule given my commute and limited PTO.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Can you a) take a long lunch and b) visit a therapist near your workplace? That’s what I’m currently doing, and I am able to make up the extra time (usually about half an hour) at the beginning or end of the work day. (My usual lunch break is one hour. On appointment days, I take an hour and a half, and the office is close enough that I can grab a quick lunch before my appointment.)

    2. BlueWolf*

      Is there an online-based therapy option you can look into? I believe there are some options for telephone or video-based therapy that may have more flexible hours than a traditional in-person therapist.

      1. Anon for this*


        There are a couple of reputable sites that work with my insurance (Dr on Demand and Amwell, I think) that do teletherapy. It’s been fantastic – a $15 copay for each session, and a lot of the therapists do non-business hours. (My therapist does a few appointments in the evening as a supplement to her regular job.) Therapists have to be licensed in the state you live in, so that limits the selection a bit, but the logistics around finding someone with convenient hours and a good location when we’re a two-working-parent family with young kids were super daunting. This has been a good option for me – it’s maybe not quite as good as in-person for developing a good relationship with your therapist, but it’s 90% as good, and that’s way better than not getting therapy at all.

    3. LSC*

      Depending on how long your lunch break is, if you can find a therapist near your office, that could be an option – it is what I do at the moment.
      I’m not sure where you live, but also, when I used to live in NYC, my weekly appointment was at 8pm. Therapists are aware that regular business hours are difficult for most patients, so many work early mornings and late afternoons/early evenings. Hopefully that is also the case in your area.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I’ve always had weekday evening therapy appointments. A therapist who only works bank hours won’t get many clients!
        Some work Saturdays too. I’m pretty sure my therapist does.

    4. Jennifer*

      There are some therapists that will work with you via Skype or over the phone. You can go to therapy first thing in the morning and work an hour later if your boss will allow, or go in early and leave early. I just told my boss I had a standing doctor’s appointment every Friday.

    5. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

      I commute 45-60 minutes each way to work. I’ve set my appointments biweekly after work, with a therapist near my home who has appointments available until 8PM. It took a while to find someone who checked all those boxes, but it was worth it for me to have someone nearer to home than near my work. I also have an appointment on my calendar with no information set for an hour and a half before my appointment so that nobody schedules a last minute late afternoon on me. I also work somewhere that I can say “I have a conflict, can we reschedule to X:XX?” without significant pushback.

    6. SansaStark*

      I had one therapist who worked nights and weekends. I also worked out with my job that I leave an hour early 1x a week and come in an hour early that day for my current therapy. I didn’t say it was for therapy but I used an Ask-A-Manager-type script saying something like “it’s nothing serious, but for the foreseeable future I have a weekly medical appointment that requires me to leave an hour early on Mondays. What would make the most sense for how to make up that time or would you prefer that I just use PTO each week?” They were very reasonable and just told me to come in an hour early on the day that I’d be leaving early. If you’re adding a commute into that, I’d suggest finding someone near your office.

    7. Qosanchia*

      Thanks for asking this question! I have the same one, and I might not have thought to actually pose it.
      To piggy back on the question in a pseudo-suggestion, is there an EAP at your work you can take advantage of? My understanding is that it’s not a full substitute for therapy, but (and this is my question) maybe the EAP line can help with connecting you with therapists and sorting out scheduling? It might be easier to grab a 20-30 minute window fit a phone call to do a bit of planning with a professional, than it would be to work out a full therapy schedule on your own?

      1. EMW*

        I’ve found my EAP options way more limiting than my insurance options. In an ideal world I would have used my six free sessions and then continued to see the same therapist covered by my insurance. This did not work at all. I struggled to find a therapist that didn’t practice faith based (christian) therapy. I tried one through EAP, didn’t like her, and now found one through my insurance instead.

        1. Qosanchia*

          Ah, boo. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found a better one finally. I haven’t worked myself up to call ours yet, so I have no idea what I’m going to turn up there

    8. BRR*

      My therapist’s last appointment is at 9 pm. I’m not sure how common that is but hopefully there are enough out there for people with long commutes.

    9. EMW*

      I have an arrangement with my boss to adjust my hours to accommodate a reoccurring medical appointment. You can try finding a therapist near your workplace to take a long lunch or duck out of the office for an hour and stay later/earlier to make up the time.

      I will say, it is very difficult to find a therapist in general. I recently tried to find one and discovered that 90% of the ones in my area are faith based (aka Christian therapists) and not what I’m looking for. I first went through EAP, but there just wasn’t enough options for me so I went through my insurance instead. A lot will have a lower charge for out of network people, mine charges $70/session if you don’t bill through insurance.

    10. Shelly574*

      I see my therapist before work, so I end up coming to work about 20 minutes late on those days. I make that up by taking a shorter lunch or working an extra 20 minutes at the end of the day. My Drs office is just around the corner from my job, so it is easy to head there and then come to work. The only downside is sometimes, after a rough session, I need to drive around for five extra minutes to calm myself before I interact with colleagues.

  17. MommyMD*

    Beyond hitting the like button or leaving a few words of positive comment don’t interact with anyone from work on social media. Never break this rule. If the world must know of your strong opinions of things use another account.

    1. Morning Glory*

      Sounds like the LW didn’t engage with anyone from work on social media, it was a stranger.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, and I want to emphasize that that person was a random asshole who went way too far! This is not yet more evidence of the OP’s bad personality! A lot of people fight on Twitter without bringing anything to a stranger’s workplace!

        That is not to say that the OP shouldn’t stop fighting on Twitter.

      2. MommyMD*

        Then she needs to mark her accounts private and not use her real name or identifying info on twitter if she wants to argue. It’s common knowledge your employer can monitor your social media and many jobs have been lost that way and job applicants turned away.

  18. Amber T*

    Oomph, the admittedly some bad decisions + self loathing is really an awful combination.

    The self loathing part is what’s going to be the most challenging, and Alison is absolutely right that therapy is going to be the biggest help. It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to take work. As someone who’s gone through the “I suck as a person” ordeal, here are some things that helped me.

    – Take time to respond to anything. If it’s an email that gets you angry or upset, take a walk around the building, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, just away from the computer. Take a breather. Immediate responses if you have a temper or are sensitive to some things are rarely a good thing. No email has to be replied to in 30 seconds – take five minutes. If it’s in person or a phone call, take a deep breath, say “let me think about that and get back to you,” and do just that.
    – Would you call any of your colleagues a liability? I doubt it. Stop being so mean to yourself. WAY EASIER SAID THAN DONE. But if you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts overall about yourself, pause, think, and respond to yourself. “I didn’t handle X well and I should work on that, but I am still a good worker, especially when I need to do Y.” Your company sounds great, but if you genuinely sucked at everything, they’d let you go. It’s already been proven that they’re willing to work with you so that you improve. You add value to the company. You don’t suck.
    – Get off Twitter. Twitter is made for immediate reactions, and that’s something you need to work on. Having that app on your phone or basically within reach is going to be super tempting. (Honestly, deleting Twitter was the best thing for me – I missed it for a bit, but I don’t miss that soul sinking feeling.)

    1. Justin*

      In a weird way, I actually want to support your point about Twitter with the opposite story. When my MH was poorer, I didn’t use twitter (not for any reason, I just never did). Had I been using it, hoo boy, bad things might have occurred. I started using it for professional reasons last fall, and having been in therapy for a year, it’s actually really useful…. but ONLY after getting to where I wanted to be emotionally/mentally.

      1. MommyMD*

        Yeah it’s never productive in any way just to use social media to rant about opinions and argue to the hilt with people you are having zero effect on. It just puts you in s state of frustration and anger. SM can be a great platform for networking and advocating change but ranting fights are just a negative black hole. And they make someone look bad.

        1. Star*

          Indeed. I’ve actually developed some of the most amazing friendships I’ve had in my entire life, once I moved into circles that focus on advocating and support. They don’t automatically jettison people that are negative, of course, but there are ongoing conversations on how constant negativity is so damaging and is really supportive of people who are trying to do better. The only sad part is that it can be really hard to find the better areas on Twitter. Though that’s not so surprising considering just what- and who- Jack Dorsey is willing to let run around the site consequence free, but still sad.

  19. AnonEMoose*

    Other folks have said lots of great things about therapy, so I won’t repeat that. I do wonder, though, OP – you mention a previous abusive work environment. It might be helpful to you to spend some time considering how much of the behavior you’re concerned about now was learned in that previous environment.

    A toxic work environment can mess with your thinking for YEARS afterward, in various ways. Partly because behaviors you learn to survive in that environment are not as well adapted to an environment that isn’t toxic. So it might be worth doing some thinking (and talking through with a therapist) about what you’re doing/thinking now that might be related to that previous situation.

    You seem to want to change, OP, and that’s a huge, positive step. I agree with those saying to stop the self-deprecating jokes and (where you can) thoughts. A good therapist can help you with that; in the meantime, I know there’s stuff out there about negative self-talk and reframing it in a more positive way.

    I wish you luck, OP. I don’t think you have a bad personality. I think you are someone who’s been treated badly and has learned some survival tactics that now aren’t serving you well, because your environment has changed. Please do send in an update when you can!

    1. LizardOfOdds*

      YES. Came to the comments to say exactly this. As a survivor of a toxic work environment where I stayed for over a decade, I really believe that toxic work environments can be just as mentally and emotionally abusive as a bad marriage. It takes intentional, dedicated time to recover from the abuse after you finally do leave. OP, don’t underestimate the impact an abusive workplace can have on your own behaviors, *especially* when justice is one of your core values.

      The good news is that it’s possible to move past these experience and learn new behaviors, and it sounds like you’re in a supportive work environment where it will be OK for you to do that.

  20. LaDeeDa*

    You have gotten such great advice here about how to stop putting yourself down, I want to offer up some things you can do before you get into an argument or get your hackles up. You have to assume that your colleagues are coming in with good intentions and that they either know something you don’t know or they don’t know something you know. So instead of going from 0 to “OMG what you are suggesting is UNFAIR.” stop and ask some questions. “I hadn’t thought of that approach, can you explain more about how you go there?” “How do you see that working with my suggestion?” “Which approach do you think meets our goal of…?”
    We usually all have the same common goal, and if we don’t it is often because one party hasn’t been given the full details or the groups haven’t agreed on a goal. So just questioning and talking it out can often prevent a bunch of what you mentioned.
    If someone has presented your work as their own, it can contribute to feeling territorial. That is a problem with that person, it says more about him than you. I would address it with him or do things to prevent it from happening again, as in changing a word document to a PDF and including a header/footer with your name and the date. I even convert PowerPoint slides to PDF when I am giving it to certain people, I don’t want them altering my message- more than I don’t want them to steal it.
    Being aware that these are issues is the first step! Good luck and I hope you will update us so we know how you are growing!

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Depending on the environment, it can be good to send all or most documents as pdfs, unless you know the recipient needs to make changes.

  21. A Simple Narwhal*

    I 100000% support the idea of going to therapy. I wrote a response to the LW who was asking how to back out of disagreements with their boss a few weeks back, and I think it definitely applies here:

    I have found myself a lot happier at work now that I’ve stopped getting emotionally invested in it. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my work, not at all! It just means that I’m not tying up my identity and self-worth in what happens at the office. There aren’t wins and losses anymore, just how we proceed.

    And the only way I was able to get to that point was through a combination of therapy and leaving a toxic job.

    The biggest relief/epiphany I have ever felt came shortly after I put in my notice. A project I had spent a LOT of time on was cancelled when I was about 90% done with it. Normally this would send me into a panicky tailspin – oh my god they cancelled it because of me, if I was better/smarter/faster/something they wouldn’t have cancelled it, I must be terrible at this and since I’m my job, I must also be terrible – and so on. But instead, I felt nothing. It was just objective information about work I was doing, so I was able to just be like – cool, I’ll stop working on it. Once I was leaving I think I realized that nothing happening at my job actually mattered anymore and any fear or stress I had, well, what were they going to do, fire me? So I was able to take the information in objectively and proceed accordingly. It honestly felt like I was seeing for the first time in my life.

    But ignoring the nuclear option to find a different job (and because it sounds like you’re in a healthy company and you’re just trying to make an internal change), I really recommend exploring why you’re putting so much personal stock into your work. I worked (/am working) with my therapist, and I realized that my entire family is suuuper into the importance of employment and the appearances that came with it. So I was forcing myself to take work that I thought looked prestigious/cool, even if I hated it and was miserable. And I stayed long beyond the point that I should have left because I believed/was taught that everything would always work out or be achievable if you worked hard enough, so if I was struggling and miserable, I mustn’t be working hard enough and should try harder. And I was constantly shrouded with the fear of losing a job (also haunted by previous awful workplaces – workplace ptsd is totally a thing), and what that would mean to my family or my worth as a person, so with that hanging over my head, how could every little thing or action not be super emotionally charged?

    I also had to recognize that usually there isn’t a greater meaning in workplace things. If I want to go with solution X and it’s decided to go with solution Y, it was just decided that Y was the direction we were taking, nothing more. It didn’t mean that I was stupid, or they didn’t like me, or I was bad at my job, or some other hidden meaning. If you think that a decision is a referendum on who you are as a person, of course you’re going to see things as winning and losing.

    SO that’s 2+ years of therapy in a nutshell, but long story short, I had to really dig in to why I was putting so much weight onto things at work. I think if you recognize that you are a separate and complete person outside of work, and that your self-worth has nothing to do with your job, it really helps you separate things out.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, the fact that OP is fixated on “justice” at work, and “their territory,” suggests to me that in general they are over-invested emotionally in their work. I used to be like this when I was younger and had less going out outside of my job, but now I don’t have the energy to be so absorbed; as long as they work is getting done and my boss seems reasonably happy, I’m happy (and eager to go home at the end of the day and get to my real life).

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Cheers to that! I’m way happier overall in a job that ceases to cross my mind once I leave the office. (And surrounded by similarly-minded people. It can be a real challenge to be a this-is-just-a-job person surrounded by a THIS-JOB-IS-MY-REASON-FOR-BEING crowd.)

        ***Amending this to say that there is nothing wrong with being passionate about your job! Those people do a lot of great work and a lot of us benefit from that passion and drive, especially in non-profits, schools, social services, etc. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and not at every stage of your career/life.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I think it’s great to be *passionate* about your job, but any time your sense of self feels threatened by your coworkers there’s something that’s gone astray there IMO.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Our culture sends messages that work defines you and should be your passion, yet when you leave a job, that work is immediately turned over to someone else. Was that new employee’s personality in a holding pattern until they started the job?

      Work is a series of tasks. You can enjoy doing the tasks, you can be passionate about the company’s end product or message, but it’s important to separate your self-worth from the job. That’s what you carry with you from one job to the next.

      1. Cathie from Canada*

        One problem I have with sit-coms and dramas on TV now is how unrealistic they are about work — on TV, your work is all-encompassing, your office is your home, you work 24-7, you don’t have a friend or a relationship outside the office, you spend every holiday celebrating with co-workers, you tell your coworkers all your problems and expect they will help you solve them, or else you get into pointless dramatic feuds with coworkers that never get resolved, etc. etc. It is completely dysfunctional and awful — and I wonder whether it makes some viewers think that this is the way workplaces are supposed to be.

  22. Alton*

    One thing that stands out to me is that it’s not super clear how many mistakes you’re actually making and whether you’re judging them accurately. Conflict isn’t always going to be your fault (or not 100% your fault, at least) but it sounds like you’ve gotten into a pattern of acting like it is.

    For example, the Twitter argument–do you feel that you said things you’re not proud of? I think it’s a good idea to stay out of Twitter arguments, especially if you take things very personally, but you don’t say if you actually did anything wrong or not, and sometimes people suffer retaliation from internet trolls even if they didn’t do anything wrong. What are you using as the basis for the idea that you “dodged a bullet”? There’s a difference between feeling that way because of something you did (“Man, calling that person a poopyhead didn’t make me look good, and I hate that my boss saw that”), feeling that way because there are risks you’d rather not take even if you haven’t done anything wrong (“I really don’t want vindictive strangers finding out where I work”), and feeling this way because you think anything like this will automatically be a mark against you. The first two are things you can learn from, but the last one really isn’t, because it isn’t true. You can’t take responsibility for people always being happy with you, or always expressing their unhappiness in reasonable ways.

    Or the co-worker who yelled at you–why are you the only one who’s a liability if he was the one who lost his temper and yelled? I don’t know if you expressed yourself well when you confronted him or not, but it doesn’t sound like he behaved well, either.

    1. Roja*

      That’s what’s striking me reading this also. Sounds like there were two incidents early on in OP’s tenure at the company. The rest just doesn’t seem like that big a deal, honestly. Twitter is terribly contentious; that’s not evidence of a “bad personality,” and even if OP was the most territorial person alive (which they’re obviously not), they seem to have otherwise excellent relationships with their coworkers.

      OP, I do think therapy would be useful, but not only for the purpose of learning how to react well in stressful situations. I think it would also be really useful for taking a step back and taking less responsibility and shame on yourself than it currently sounds like you’re doing. I can think of people in my life who have genuinely crappy personalities I don’t want to be around. It really doesn’t seem like you’re like that at all. So you have things you want to fix to be more professional, well, so do we all! That doesn’t make you unlikeable or a bad person.

    2. Another Academic Librarian*

      After the way the OP described the incident with the co-worker, I expected Alison to recommend one other course of action–make sure you’re being mentored by the right people. In some situations, “you can get territorial, and you do need to learn not to take things personally” could be helpful, honest feedback; in others, it could be the mentor poisoning the well, intentionally/unintentionally helping to reinforce the OP’s view of being a liability, showing tendency to blame the victim of workplace conflict, generally not being good at constructive criticism/advice, or a number of other possibilities. From the outside, there’s no way to tell. But if you’re getting a lot of this type of feedback from this particular mentor, you might want to consider look more closely at that relationship and whether you should be investing so heavily in what this mentor thinks of your behavior.

      OP, you say your boss is wonderful, and that you have had a good experience working with them, being coached, etc. Have you checked in with them about the issues you’ve described in this letter? Did you tell them about the interaction with the yelling coworker? Doing so may help you double-check this mentor’s assessment of your faults, with the added benefit of getting some clarity on what workplace behaviors you should work on changing.

  23. Elizabeth West*

    First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEEE! (just had to get that in there, lol)

    Second, this is me me me. This is me with undiagnosed anxiety. This is me, argumentative and defensive, with my anxiety presenting as anger rather than fear. This is me before meditation (and currently not in therapy, though I should be). This is me all over.

    OP, I second, third, and fourth therapy. You may not have an anxiety disorder; I’m not trying to armchair over here. But you said you’re “paranoid and irrational.” You absolutely can harbor anxiety from prior bad experiences and it can get you into some less-than-helpful thinking patterns. Therapy can help.

    As for right this moment, a little mindfulness practice can too. There are three elements: intention (to be mindful, or in the moment); attention (to inner and outer experience), and attitude (the state of mind you want to achieve).

    When something triggers a strong feeling from you, take a deep, slow breath in through your nose and let it out slowly through your mouth. [intention] Focus on that breath and think to yourself, In flows rest; out flows tension. This will physically calm you and give you a moment to tell yourself, I am feeling tense/angry/upset for X reason. [attention] Now I’m going to let that go and focus on what I need to do next.[attitude]

    It’s not for everyone, but it has really helped me.

  24. animaniactoo*

    OP, I would like to more specifically advise that you look for somebody who specializes in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), along with psychoanalysis.

    Psychoanalysis will help you figure out *why* you’re doing it and work to find and work through those hurts for where else they pop up in your life and are self-defeating. It will probably help you with understanding and interacting with the people that helped form the bad patterns that you currently have.

    But CBT is very specifically about identifying patterns and purposely creating new responses to get new feedback and rewire your brain so that you automatically reach for the newer, healthier response. Because it worked better. Your brain will recognize and catalog this on levels that are not completely conscious, but are so necessary to develop. So your habit over time will become to reach for it automatically instead of struggling to manage to get to it.

    In combination, both of these are likely to be something that gives you some immediate relief (CBT is a much faster process than psychoanalysis), and long-term healing. Absolutely you should check that with the therapist when you have your consultation with them – but this is my advice as someone who was a self-sabotaging angry at the world and confused little mess, and what I learned in therapy.

    Other take-aways:

    • Be completely honest with your therapist. If you try to tailor what you’re saying so that your therapist will “like you”, you’re self-defeating.

    • Not every therapist is right for every patient. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, or like you are making significant progress, move on and find another one. That should both be a few sessions in and a few months in and however far along you are with the therapy process. For me, I need someone who could show me sympathy and understanding but would also straight up tell me that the thing coming out of my mouth was bullshit and I knew it was bullshit and she knew that because she knew I was smarter than that. And then work through why it was, and what I needed to do about it. That is not an approach that would work with everyone, but it was what I needed and responded to best. Find someone who can give you what you need. Even if it takes a few attempts to figure out what that is.

    1. SilverIris*

      Hiya Ani, good to see you. I like your suggestion for CBT in particular, it’s a very good type of therapy for gaining practical skills, which I think could be very beneficial for our OP.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Good to see you too! Hope all is well with you and yours.

        Thanks, I liked your “pause” as a good step for being able to reach for the rest of the pre-chosen responses and give them a chance to happen. That’s a really beneficial tool to have in the toolbox.

  25. MicroManagered*

    OP I just want to offer to you that you are ahead of the game in recognizing this pattern and reaching out for advice about it. That tells me you don’t have a “bad personality” at all, and in fact, your letter is how I know you have the capacity to change these behaviors that aren’t serving you in your work life!!!

    I have worked with so many people who had some pervasive negative patterns like you describe: being defensive and territorial, seeking forgiveness/validation over and over for past mistakes, etc. and I hold out no hope for them ever changing. You know what the difference is? They could never write the letter you wrote. They could not understand their own behavior enough to realize it’s a them problem, nor could they be brave enough to actually ask advice about it!

    Good luck to you!

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Yes! Absolutely this! OP, when I read your letter, I knew you were going to be fine in the end. You are being honest about your actions and you genuinely want to change. More than that, it sounds like you’re willing to do the work to change. And seconding MicroManagered in that you probably don’t have a bad personality. I don’t think your workplace would have invested in you otherwise.

      It’s going to be hard work, but you will get there because you want to get there. I have also known people who would never, ever even acknowledge that there’s a problem. And if they did, the problem was with everyone else. Now, this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a problem with everyone else, but you can’t change other people, only yourself. If a person isn’t even willing to acknowledge their own part in a problem, there’s very little that will likely change. But that’s not the case here. That you’ve asked for help and are you’re willing to do the work means you’re halfway there. The rest of the way might not be easy, but you will make it.

      Please keep us updated on your progress. Wishing you all the luck!

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Absolutely. To build on that, something I’ve noticed is that many of the people who never acknowledge that their role or behaviour in a situation might have been an issue are often the same sorts of people who have a knee-jerk -but-well-meaning “don’t be so hard on yourself!” response when someone else is appropriately taking accountability for their actions or being open about not meeting their expectations. Maybe OP’s spent a lot of time around people who do this.

        This is the kind of situation that can send a message to people like the OP that acknowledging a problem on their end is bad in the same way that being self-deprecating can be. It’s a vicious cycle that can really discourage someone from being openly reflective and leads to worse behaviour over time.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    Second, third, fourth, etc., everyone above who has advised you to walk a lap or go get a drink of water to cool off before you respond to things.

    My mother has a lot of these traits. I’m not sure what the basis is, although I do know that her parents held her to different standards than they did her older brothers (she had to work in the family business but they didn’t because their sports were more important, even though she was also a star athlete; her parents pooh-poohed her graduate school aspirations. They loved her, but they were limited people in a lot of ways). She has always taken things personally and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting for her and it’s exhausting for us. Brother can’t take time off to join a family trip? Well, he could take time off to visit his wife’s family! He always chooses them! But his wife’s family trip fell in between work projects for him; ours did not. It wasn’t personal, it was logistical. Even when Mom knows it’s not personal, she feels as though it is, so there is a lot of really unnecessary hurt.

    You don’t need to live like this.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Self-esteem in general can be a big part of this too. While I hope I never guilt-tripped people as it sounds like your mother does, I have been known in the past (and the uh, recent past) to take thing personally, or wonder if certain things were personal, when it wasn’t warranted.

      Things like, my college room-mate never being home. I wonder if she’s avoiding me? Does she not like living with me? Do I do something that bothers her? I tried not to dump that on her, but I did make a couple of comments, and she clarified that it wasn’t anything to do with me – she was just hanging out with her boyfriend. In another situation, I hadn’t heard from a friend in awhile – he must not want to talk to me anymore! Even though we never had an argument and there’s no reason I could point to for him to want to ghost the friendship! Oh wait, never mind, he was just busy and travelling a lot…

      As I’ve gotten older and worked at this, I’ve a) learned to accept that worrying about extreme outcomes won’t prevent those outcomes – if a friend is going to randomly ghost me without any discussion, or if a boss randomly pulls me into an office and fires me one day without warning, or if it turns out someone secretly hates me but has never said anything, there probably isn’t anything reasonable I can do in “advance” to stop those things from happening. I’ve learned b) to use my words more when I *am* worried about something (i.e. “Hey, haven’t been talking as much lately, is everything alright?”) instead of overanalyzing and getting anxious based on zero data, and c) I’ve tried to internalize that I’m probably not actually “more awful” than other people, most likely most people around me don’t have a problem with me, and I shouldn’t be going through life assuming everyone around me barely tolerates me.

      Anyway, I’m sorry your mom has that issue, and expresses it the way she does. Ironically, by constantly looking out for slights, she makes it more likely that people really *won’t* want to be around her.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        “Ironically, by constantly looking out for slights, she makes it more likely that people really *won’t* want to be around her.”

        Bingo. It’s caused a huge amount of tension with my siblings. Siblings have their own issues, but I can’t convince Mom that always interpreting those in the worst way is just making things worse.

        I’m also trying to teach her to remember, as you pointed out, that other people have stuff going on. She’s been complaining that one brother hasn’t called in forever. But his super-reliable assistant is leaving for graduate school and a colleague on whom he relied as a mentor, and who was supposed to run several major projects with him in the next two years, died suddenly, so Brother now has main responsibility for all of that *and* has to hire and train a new assistant. He was overworked to start with and now he’s absolutely swamped. And he and his wife have small children. Mom, he does not have time to chat. Period.

  27. SilverIris*

    I used to be a pleaser as well, my self worth was deeply wrapped up in other people’s perception of me. When people were happy with my behavior, I felt like a good person; when someone was unhappy with my behavior, I felt worthless.

    Therapy really did help with this. I learned to separate my behavior from my core being, and how to separate other people’s feelings from how I feel about myself. I also learned to stop apologizing in unnecessary situations, which was diluting my sincerity.

    While you are working on therapy piece, I hope you can step back and create some emotional boundaries at work. One way to do this is to “practice the pause,” where you intentionally delay responding to simulation (emails, Twitter feed, etc) by 60-90 seconds. You get an infuriating email? Stand up, stretch, take some deep breaths, walk around your office. Pause. This lets any fight-or-flight stress response chemicals dissipate, so you can literally be in different frame of mind when you choose to respond. It takes less than 2 minutes for the spike in stress chemicals to come back down.

    When your stress chemicals spike, everything feels personal because your body is preparing you for a fight or flight. Your body doesn’t understand the difference in stress chemicals caused by a saber tooth tiger or a mean email, so it interprets them both the same. That’s why mean emails can feel so threatening, you are not crazy your body is just reacting to chemical information. Give yourself time to outsmart your body before reacting. Practice the pause. Let your chemicals sort themselves out, pause. Just this one simple change can give you a lot of control over your reactions. I wish you the best!

    1. MayLou*

      That’s an interesting article but I don’t think it’s helpful to the OP right now. They are spending so much time convinced that they’re doing things wrong, that their personality is unlikeable, and that they are a liability, that a list of habits you can cultivate to be seen as likeable will almost certainly end up being a list of ways they are failing (that’s how brain weasels work).

  28. Ann Perkins*

    Oh goodness, this feels like my husband could have written this. He doesn’t do the self-deprecating comments much but is overly invested in justice above all else and has a short fuse at times about it. Staying off social media helps him a lot – he has admitted that there’s a noticeable difference when he’s not active in facebook groups and such. He’s done therapy as well and anti-anxiety medication.

    Yes to therapy. If you need to, put a couple little reminders on your work desk to help you refocus. I tell my husband that it’s more important to be kind and gracious than it is to be right sometimes. Best of luck to you.

    1. softcastle mccormick*

      It sounds like my husband, too! He’s such a hot little potato at work sometimes and it cost him a job, once. We had a Very Serious Talk about how to manage emotions at work and he’s really improved the way he reacts and his personal perceptions of Workplace Justice/Fairness. I’m glad I’m not alone in having a husband who can get like this in his more challenging moments.

  29. cmdrspacebabe*

    I definitely agree re: stopping with the self-deprecating comments about past mistakes. I know a few people who do similar things – e.g., making jokes about how ‘annoying’ or ‘rude’ they are for making a request. While it’s a nice sentiment (“I recognize that this might be inconvenient for you”), it can actually be pretty counterproductive. In a lot of cases, I wouldn’t have had a second thought about the situation, except that THEY made it clear that THEY thought they were doing something ‘wrong’… and then did it anyway. Trying to make light of it can actually make it sound worse, not better – it can make it seem like you’re fully aware of the problem, but choosing not to solve it because it’s not important to you (or you wouldn’t be joking about it).
    The best way to make things Not A Big Deal is to just not treat them like a big deal. A quick, casual “Whoops, sorry, I see this and will try to avoid it in the future” tells people you’ve seen the problem, and that you’re planning on dealing with it, without making them feel like they need to reassure or absolve you.

  30. GillysGotIt*

    Just pointing out that “Don’t take things so personally” is overused more often than not. When you’re in a work situation and your colleagues and management do things you disagree with (taking credit for your work, for example), and you speak up about it – that’s not taking things personally. That’s taking issue with a professional issue – and hopefully you’re handling it professionally at once.

    People like to use this phrase whenever someone is upset at anything in the workplace, and it can even be a silencing method – someone tells you not to take things personally and suddenly you’re not standing up for yourself when you should be. People say it reflexively – it’s kind of becoming the new “Calm down!”

    My point here is, please don’t let that phrase or way of thinking stand in the way of you doing what you think is right when your co-workers do something you don’t agree with.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is that the OP is taking things personally — not just disagreeing professionally with their emotions at an appropriate remove. They’re getting overly emotionally invested, and it’s causing problems.

      1. GillysGotIt*

        But I don’t think a situation it becomes personal rather than professional just because emotions become involved. In fact I don’t think a clear definition of “taking things personally” exists, which is why I feel it’s often misused – intentionally or not.

        If my colleague and I are having a heated but respectful disagreement about a work project, and I enthusiastically express why I think my way will work better, and she enthusiastically expresses why her idea seems better to her, and then our manager chooses to go with her idea – and I voice disagreement with the decision, expressing concern about the repercussions – none of that is personal. I’m giving my professional opinion based on professional experience and skills in my professional environment – not needlessly bringing personal history and experiences into the situation.

        Maybe this is why the phrase rankles me so much – when I’m most passionate about an idea that winds up getting used in a distorted way or just tossed away altogether, and then I wind up being right about its effectiveness in the end, people have told me not to take it personally. And yet everything I’m investing in the process comes from my profession. And once someone uses the phrase, you either keep fighting and look overly emotional or give in and feel silenced. It’s not healthy.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          There is a difference between enthusiasm and being a bull in a china shop. It sounds like OP is over invested.

          I used to be this way too and it took me a good 10 years (and deterred health) before I finally pulled myself out of it emotionally. After some significant mental work I realized that as an only child I was actually at quite a disadvantage when it came to working closely with others despite all my groups sports and work in college – because those are all similarly goal oriented. Work is different as goals can become personal and therefore agendas shift and can be hard to navigate. There’s a subtly that’s necessary as an adult that can only be learned the hard way, I imagine.

          And I can attest that my (minor) research into my group of friends and former colleagues supported the theory that those that didn’t get daily EARLY constructive disagreements from peers/siblings, never learned how to choose their battles and still work together. The flip side is that many of us also become people, pleasers, which is a twist onto this lack of skill, basically making us miserable.

          Even if OP is a middle child, surrounded by love and fighting, emotionally detaching is still a skill that needs to be learned and a therapist can help.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I agree with this so hard.

            My son was an only. I was well aware of this *thing* being raised by (3) onlies, so I made a very concerted effort to try to mitigate it with my son. Group activities, cooperative learning, etc., etc., etc. when he was young. It worked somewhat, but only somewhat because sole focus was on him with no sharing with siblings.

            One year my sister and I got into a huge altercation. Way past the age of physical fighting, but she hit me. I brushed it off but my son then age 17 let her know that he wasn’t having that (yeah he shouldn’t have talked to his aunt that way). This was *right after* he and I had just had a disagreement and he walked out in all his “I’m almost an adult you can’t tell me what to do” fury. A couple months later I needed something and my sister was there for me. He never did figure it out because only a couple months earlier we were pretty literally at each other’s throats.

            I compared it to him doing an about face and coming back to defend me the day of the “Great Christmas Eve Fight of 2003.” He kinda got it…but I think he just never could wrap his head around how siblings are with each other…even one who doesn’t really want to interact much (ahem) with the other one but nevertheless feels like she should drive up to where her sister lives and take her out for lunch.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I get what you’re saying, but that’s not how OP is handling things. She’s letting it get to her on a deeper level than simply passionate support of an idea/way of doing things.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s often misconstrued, it doesn’t mean that if someone is yelling at you that you should just accept it and stay silent when theyr’e stealing your work.

      It means that you shouldn’t let it infest your mind and emotions, sending you into an inward spiral like it seems to do with the OP. You need to be able to say “This is on you, you’re out of line and don’t speak to me like that.” but without then crawling into your own head and picking apart yourself, taking it to the core of your being. No, this person should never have that power over you. Ever.

      1. Washi*

        Right, if someone’s yelling you and your reaction is “I am a liability,” or even yelling back, that’s taking it too personally. If someone is yelling at you and you say “Please stop yelling at me” or “let’s discuss this another time” and walk away, that’s responding professionally in a way that is still standing up for yourself.

        Basically I think what happens when people take things personally is that they are reacting as if their entire worth as a person has been threatened. And if that were what was happening, of course you would react really emotionally! But the thing is, the vast, vast majority of the time, whatever is happening has absolutely nothing to do with your worth. The fact that some guy is yelling at you says everything about him and nothing about you, just like someone could come up to you on the street and yell “moron!” and it means absolutely nothing about you. When you can hold onto that core of self-worth, you can react from a place of security, which frees you to both stand up for yourself effectively, and also apologize sincerely when you’re wrong and take the steps to make it right.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yep, yep. In the end it’s a cycle that has to be broken.

          It’s easy to fall into that mindset, especially if you’ve been abused or victimized by manipulation over the years. You’ve been conditioned to accept these people’s words for truth because of the past people who you believed were superior in some kind of way and therefore must be correct seemingly sided with them [said the same awful abusive lies to you], etc.

          I have had to survive this exact thing in my life. I truly internalized it all and it turned me into a hermit and anti-social being to “save” the world from my presence. It’s an ugly thing and a mental road block that can be demolished with the right set of tools.

  31. Lily Rowan*

    Alison, I just want to thank you for taking on this question, and for your answer. Obviously (see above!) it resonates with a ton of people, and definitely therapy is the best place to start re-training your brain around how you think about yourself.

  32. Artemesia*

    It took me a long time to learn that:
    1. being self deprecating doesn’t excuse bad work or make it seem less bad (privately figuring out what went wrong and fixing it is what makes you look and be competent)
    2. being self deprecating helped create a narrative of incompetence (or whatever bad thing you are self deprecating about) EVEN when you are great at it. ( I think I assume it would evoke ‘oh no you are FABULOUS’ rather than hmmmm ‘maybe she isn’t as great as we thought’.) People will believe you when you tell them you are a loser with a bad personality.
    3. being hard on yourself comes across as needy and immature (not as hard working with high standards).
    So yeah, get the help you need to stop doing this. I learned slowly — wish I had gotten therapy decades ago and my life would have been happier. A very little therapy really helped me and while I have had a good career with a lot of success and a life with a lot of happiness, there was a lot of unnecessary misery along the way that could have been avoided.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      “being hard on yourself comes across as needy and immature” – this is a good way to articulate something I’ve struggled to name, and OP also mentioned something about immaturity in their post. There is something to that.

      I have some extremely self deprecating friends and I find them hard to take – I feel like they’re usually doing it to cut off some complaint before I can make it, like it would be petty for me to bring it up since they’ve already acknowledged that they’re being selfish/a downer/annoying right now. The outcome is that I don’t bring it up, but I do leave the interaction with a bad feeling about them, so I don’t think it’s working as intended.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Absolutely this. When self-deprecation comes alongside a behaviour that’s an issue, it really does come across as though it’s a deflection tactic. And this is coming from someone who used to be pretty self-deprecating.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I also think deadpan self deprecation is like, a 400-level conversational gambit. When done cleverly it can be absolutely hilarious (in that British humor style) but it’s very hard to pull off, and a lot of people imagine they’re being dark-funny like that without realizing they’re coming across very differently.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      I…. tend to feel pretty much the opposite of #2 there? I usually do assume that people who think they suck at something are actually much better at it than they claim, whereas people who brag -or just assume they know it all – are actually incompetent. The Dunning-Kruger effect is so, so real.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        So here’s a question: how do you perceive people who kind of hit a middle ground? They’re not telling you that they suck, but they are telling you what they can do. Is that necessarily bragging, or might it be useful information?

        Similarly, if someone is good at something but they keep saying that they’re not, what message is that sending? Politeness? Humility? Potentially a lack of understanding of what is expected of them? An inability to appropriately evaluate themselves and others?

        There’s lots to think about there.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Oh – that was in answer to your second paragraph. In response to your first, I guess I feel… neutral. Not really any assumption either way. Though “telling people what you can do” may come off as bragging.

          2. Oh So Anon*

            Humility isn’t about believing that you suck at things, it’s about recognizing that you and everyone else can’t possibly know everything. Humility also doesn’t negate being confident and secure in what you do know. Like, I am very good at intermediate-level Excel. That doesn’t mean I think I know everything, but I’m pretty solid about the extent of my knowledge and expertise.

            The most humble people out there are always learning and acknowledging others in providing them with new knowledge and perspectives.

            To be perfectly honest, valuing “I suck” as an appropriate performance of humility as can be extremely dangerous professionally not only to yourself, but others if you are in a leadership role. Of course it’s more important to ultimately show rather than tell your knowledge, but consider all the reasons why someone may not get the opportunity to show before telling. This kind of thinking can prevent people who aren’t automatically assumed to have the right knowledge or experience from ever being able to contribute to the best of their ability.

      2. Allonge*

        I fully agree that Dunning-Kruger is real, but I think this is a slightly different problem.

        If I say that I have 10+ years of experience managing a budget of X, with an average of 300+transactions per year, and have about 3-4 transactions rejected for correction per year, as well as overall 3 logged serious mistakes, I am entitled to say I am pretty bloody good at managing a budget of this size. If I hear that from someone else, I am not going to tell them that oooh, you should be more humble, this is bragging and I don’t believe you are as good as that.

        If someone tells me they suck at managing a budget, I believe them and do not give them that task, if I have the decision. Which is another reason why self-deprecation is dangerous.

        If someone who made the same amout of mistakes as I did over the same period and under similar circumstances, they would be misrepresenting their record if they said they suck at it. That is not humility, it is a lie. Humility would come in if they (and I) mentioned that this was working together with really wonderful people, that the system itself was well set up to prevent mistakes and there was really good internal control applied. The result is not just mine, in other words. But it is mine, too.

        Dunning-Kruger is a different story, for me. If someone says I am meticulous and they did a simple task with 12% mistakes, that is D-K. Just as an experienced person who would ask someone else to check their work, just in case, that is D-K. The humility needs to be demonstrated, for me.

  33. Dee-Nice*

    Hi, OP! You say you have a bad personality, but you actually sound like a good person who really wants to be their best and is having a hard time working on counterproductive behaviors. I hope therapy is useful to you.

    This might be completely irrelevant, but I suffered from internal anger for years over perceived slights, “justice” vs “injustice” etc, and it took me a long time to realize that it stemmed from my abusive/dysfunctional/controlling parent growing up. I had spent so many years striving to do the “right” thing and be “right” in disputes and arguments, that it filled me with rage when I felt I had done everything I was supposed to be doing and no one seemed to care. I really had to learn to let things go and see events from different perspectives. Nobody gives me Good Girl Points; I try to remind myself that I am CHOOSING to do whatever I think is best in the moment because given the chance, I wouldn’t choose any other way.

    Anyway, best of luck! You are hardly alone in your issues, but you are rare in your capacity to seek growth!

  34. ThinMint*

    OP, acknowledging this behavior is a good first step. You sound like a thoughtful person who is open to trying things differently. I wish you luck!

  35. voyager1*

    I wonder if some of your behavior is because you are feeling anxious and you are working remote.

    “I’m often a little stressed about what’s going on at the mothership”

    That line jumped out at me. Is this your first time working remote?

    You are probably reading into things that aren’t there in emails. Also being on Twitter makes that reflex worse. One of the reasons I limit my Twitter time and stick to instagram when I need a break at work is that quick to draw anger that Twitter brings out I don’t need to be having at work when reading emails.

    Hope this helps.

  36. RTFE, please.*

    LW is being too hard on themselves. The fact they are asking the question, was on a PIP and took full advantage of it and improved, and is starting the self reflection path. Along with therapy, I would also recommend coaching from someone who specializes in Emotional Integence or read related material.

  37. CoveredInBees*

    Also, check to see if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program. This is an outside company that can help connect you with a therapist near your home or office. They might also cover the cost of some of the sessions. All of this is completely confidential. If they don’t and you have a spouse, your spouse’s EAP might cover you too. In my case, my spouse’s employer covered 5 sessions when I had post-partum anxiety and that limit only applied to the PPA. If I or my spouse had a new issue, that count would reset.

  38. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    While you’re going through the setup for therapy [it can take awhile, I know from personal experience, sigh], I suggest journals. This will help you to get it all out there and written down. You can go on for days if you’d like but it’s in a private area in your life and it spills out on paper, not to your colleagues who you’re trying to create and keep a good image with.

    If you can find a support group, even better. Then you can express your difficulties to people who are similar and are there to listen. Then you can have a safe space you can let your guards down while keeping them up at work. It makes a world of difference if you’re not completely locked up inside your own head. And often when you write it down and re-read it you see a lot of things clearer yourself. You can also see what others see when they get the unfiltered version of yourself and see why it pushes them away in ways.

    This is really a manifestation of stress and anxiety it seems like which can be treated, you can make it better and it’ll make it so much easier for you. You deserve it.

  39. spaceygrl*

    I agree with everyone’s comments on therapy. In the meantime, because finding a therapist that works for you might take some time, I’d like to suggest an app that I have found SO wonderful and helpful for me to reframe my thoughts or at least get me to realize my thoughts. The app is called Moodnotes. It might have a small fee (can’t remember, but if so it’s like $3), and what you do is open the app to record a feeling and then it presents you with a face that you can make sadder or happier or just “meh.” Then you Add detail and it asks “What is happening at the moment.” You can write as little (nothing) or as much as you’d like (my boss said this, then I did this, etc.). THEN you select your feelings and they’re divided into positive or negative. You can give each one a percentage (doesn’t have to equal 100%) and you can have both positive AND negative feelings at the same time. Finally, and here is the part I’d recommend for you, you can enrich the entry. It asks you to select Traps: All-or-Nothing Thinking, Blaming, Catastrophizing, etc. What I like about this app is after you have a few entries, it gives you trends. e.g. for me, 82% of my thinking traps are blaming and 71% are “should” and “must” statements. And my biggest feelings are: tired, content, happy, eager, cheerful, anxious, engaged and stressed. It can then show you trends for the past week, 3 months, 6 months, or the whole time using the app. This might be helpful for you to look back on information and also to provide to a therapist.

  40. TyphoidMary*

    Hi LW — It’s so clear from your letter that you care about doing good work and treating people well. I thought I’d add, I think your self-awareness and dedication are both really good indicators for your ability to be risilient and grow. You can definitely bounce forward from this! It can seem overwhelming to try to change an aspect of yourself, but you’ve ALREADY done so much. Ultimately my hope for you is that YOU will reap the benefits of having less stressful, loaded interactions, and if it improves things in the workplace, well, that’s an added bonus!

    Thank you for your vulnerability in this letter, and for modeling for the rest of us the ability to articulate when you are ready for growth.

  41. Scarlet*

    OK – what is UP with people going after someone’s job for a disagreement online? I feel like I keep hearing more and more about this (on AAM and otherwise). Is it just me or this becoming some kind of norm?

    IMO someone who does this deserves the consequences they’re trying to inflict on others (i.e., losing their own job).

    1. thestik*

      I think it’s an offshoot of the mob justice tendency that’s been downright celebrated in the media.

  42. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I really recommend therapy, but I also recommend trying to find a group of trusted friends/mentors who you can bounce things off of. Here in the Friday open thread, other online groups, your therapist, friends, family, etc.

    I had a job where I frequently felt like I was some rigid, demanding diva with poor social skills and no comprehension of my subject area. But when I’d relay those stories to other people like “look how badly I screwed up”, they’d be horrified at my employer! It turned out, my workplace was really toxic, and because I’d been there long enough to be part of the ecosystem, I’d just assumed there was something wrong with me for failing to thrive there, and that I was the problem who needed to change. When the reality was, the workplace was toxic and the change I needed to make was removing myself from the situation entirely.

  43. Oh So Anon*

    OP, I think you might get a lot out of reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott as well as the Radical Candor blog. A lot of it is aimed at managers, but there’s a fair bit on how to be someone who’s good at soliciting constructive, candid feedback.

    There’s a subtle (okay, maybe not so subtle) difference between being quick to call out your own mistakes/shortcomings and making value judgements like “I suck” in response to making mistakes. They can both come across as being hard on yourself, but the latter doesn’t making it seem like you’re open to being reflective and willing to take responsibility for your actions. It can send the message to managers that you don’t actually want to change your behaviours, and it can also come across as manipulative at worst.

    In a professional setting, there’s a big difference between saying “I’m not sure I handled [situation] as effectively as I needed to” versus “I’m so terrible, I’m a liability”. Openly critiquing your behaviours isn’t always a bad thing; it shows reflectiveness and vulnerability and can really start a conversation on how to improve. FWIW, I’m not sure I’d want to work alongside anyone who is incapable of admitting that they don’t always hit the mark. Something I can’t stress enough is that saying that being able to say that you didn’t do something right is not necessarily the same thing as putting yourself down. Nor is it necessarily a sign of lacking confidence; really, you absolutely don’t want to be confident about doing something you know you shouldn’t stand behind. When you conflate these things – as many people do – it makes it really challenging for you or anyone else to hold you accountable.

    I don’t think you have a bad personality at all, OP. You actually seem conscientious about figuring out what’s going wrong. It just sounds like you need to learn how to communicate that not only to yourself, but the people around you. Best of luck!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Thank you; I was struggling to articulate this difference, and you did it beautifully.

      I also think there can be specific situations where consciously displaying feet of clay is useful. For example, I work with a lot of students who (for many reasons) are dealing with impostor syndrome. Part of that work, for me, is being open about my own difficulties, errors, and struggles, by way of demonstrating that you don’t have to (and in fact can’t) be perfect in this field — you have to drop that expectation of yourself if you have it, in fact.

      One of my self-governing behaviors is an internal check about what I’m trying to accomplish when I trot out the ol’ feet of clay. If it’s not something like lifting up another person who needs it, I try to shut myself up.

  44. Food Sherpa*

    Perhaps your employer has an Employee Assistance Program that can help with this. In my experience, short term counseling helped me re-write the way I handle troublesome interactions. My work and relationships improved dramatically.

  45. Michaela Westen*

    Hi OP, I agree that a therapist could help you. It can take a few tries to find a good therapist who suits you, so don’t get discouraged if the first or second or third one doesn’t work out. It took me three tries to find the angel I see now.
    The first was ok but not great, and he was easily distracted to talk about his own stuff – I was paying for his time, let’s focus on me… the second one was a disaster who tried to undermine my self-esteem and judged me, and this in spite of having a PhD and a lot of specialized training. The third one, the angel, is a wonderful person with a social work degree.
    I used to do some of the same things you mention – take everything personally, and fight for justice in inappropriate ways. I learned both from the way my parents treated me. I kept working on it and made progress.
    I agree with not putting yourself down and not reminding people of your past mistakes. Also try not to remind yourself too much, as it will make you feel bad about yourself. Tell yourself good things in positive ways. For example, say “I’m good at my job”, not “I’m not bad at my job”. IME positive statements work much better.
    You sound like a good person who has had unfortunate experiences, not a bad person. I’m sure you will make good progress. :)

  46. litprof*

    Alison’s advice is spot-on! I’d also like to make a plug for Brene Brown’s work on courage and vulnerability. She has a TED talk and a recent Netflix special (along with several books) that are excellent. Brown has helped me learn that being willing to experience vulnerability is the key to learning, growth, and ultimately to happiness. We often act defensive or territorial because we are afraid of failure and criticism. Solid relationships and meaningful human connections come from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even when it is scary. This applies as much at work as it does in other interpersonal relationships. Good luck, OP – you’ve already taken the first step by recognizing areas for growth and wanting to change. You can do this!

  47. Evie K*

    I got tremendous value out of taking a mediation class that focused on conflict resolution. It helped me understand that conflict was almost never about the current issue and that it’s almost never personal- particularly at work. Our conflicts there are almost always about jobs that have to meet opposing needs or where employees are given conflicting instructions from different layers of management. We’re not “selves” at work. We’re avatars of our functions.

    The class was also nice because it was one weekend & it was focused on practicing skills, not feeling about things. Therapy has always been a mixed bag for me since it’s hard to find an action oriented therapist, not a feelings oriented one.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Hiya, when you say action oriented therapist, do you mean somebody who works through mindfulness or other physical methods, or do you mean somebody who practices CBT or DBT as more “active” method of changing behaviors rather than focusing on the feelings driving the behaviors?

  48. ooo*

    100 percent agreed with everything Alison said. And: If you want one single reading recommendation that can make a huge difference in your mental health before you even make a therapy appointment, I would so, so strongly suggest checking out SELF-COMPASSION by Kristin Neff.

    There are a lot of great books out there, but it addresses the most basic thing you can do to start feeling better quickly — the advice is simple, the logic irrefutable, the research scientifically sound. (And you can start practicing self-compassion right away, by reminding yourself that you’re good and lovable even though YOU’RE SKIPPING ALL THE EXERCISES like nearly everyone does. :-D )

  49. Sue Wilson*

    OP 1 immediate thing you can do today to change your reaction to your co-workers is that when you think you HAVE to response to some injustice? Ask a question instead. So that co-worker who wasted your time? “Hey Joaquin, I was of the impression that you wanted me to do X in addition to Y and that we would present the whole project together? But I see you’ve done X and you’ve already presented it X and Y. Did I misunderstand something?”

    Self-deprecation is actually different from the view that you may not have the full picture or the full understanding to know something. You need to switch from “oh I’m horrible” to “oh I’m not sure what happened.” That slight difference means that it’s much more likely you and the person you’re talking to will be much less defensive.

  50. Jan Levinson*

    Alison, thank you so much for posting this answer.

    I’m starting therapy next week (for non work related issues), and am really hopeful the stigma around seeking professional help is starting to go away. I was hesitant for so long because I was embarrassed to admit that I needed help. Thank you for normalizing therapy, it is honestly so important.

  51. Jerm*

    All good advice given by Alison. But don’t forget, some people can be jerks. You really don’t have to engage emotionally when they are doing their thing.

  52. Kat in VA*

    Here’s a good thing – while you’re piling on yourself, OP, you’re also realizing that you have a hand in events as well. A lot of people don’t even get to point. They just assume everyone around them is a jerk and nothing is their fault. I’m much rather a cranky coworker who realizing they’ve got some involvement in the issues at hand who takes the time for self-examination than a bulldozer who just does a lot of damage and goes along their merry way, assuming they’re always In The Right. The former can be corrected positively over time; the latter? Almost never.

  53. yala*

    This all…sounds really familiar.

    I’ve got a reputation in my department for being defensive and aggressive. I don’t MEAN to be. It’s just hard not to feel attacked sometimes, and that’s on me and my poor coping skills (and yeah-up, some trauma that I’m now going to therapy to work out). For me, when mistakes are brought up, I reflexively try to explain myself. I’m not (always) trying to justify what I did, it’s just that I don’t want people to think I’m being careless with my work (sometimes I am. That’s another issue), or I want my supervisor to know *why* I thought X was the right thing to do in this situation so they can explain to me in a way I can apply to future situations.

    But at any rate. It does not make for a good personality at work.

    I’m going to therapy for it. It’s been…mixed success (tho that’s also because not too very long after I started therapy for work-related problems, I had a handful of personal problems that took precedence in the sessions). I’m going to see about getting on medication for ADHD sometime soon.

    Sorry, I wish I had good advice, but I just wanted to say that this:

    “I don’t know how to change it, or to move on maturely from past mistakes, rather than catastrophizing that each new mistake will remind everyone of the laundry list preceding it. ”

    Hit me like a punch in the gut.

    That’s where I am right now. It took me two weeks do finish a project that shouldn’t have even taken half that because I was so UTTERLY TERRIFIED that I would have mistakes in my work, and those mistakes get weighed against all my past sins. Knowing that I’m under that kind of scrutiny means that it’s even harder for me to control my reaction to criticism because every little thing feels like it could be the Killing Blow.

    All that to say…I feel you, and therapy is definitely the best option. You’re not a terrible person and you don’t have a terrible personality. You just have some personal work to do. Best of luck.

  54. Overeducated*

    Just on a different tack…issues of territoriality came up a lot in my workplace in the last year as we went through a big transition and people were concerned with getting stuck with work they hated/losing work they liked/not getting recognition for what they were doing. It was really frustrating for me as someone who tends to be more “where can I pitch in?” and less “what do I get to be in charge of?”

    I know that good work doesn’t always speak for itself and there are issues of gender and self-promotion at play too, but in this case as things got shaken out, it actually did work out that way…not that I put my head down, did good work, and then always got my way, but I put my head down, did good work, and got performance awards and positive reviews where territorial coworkers indicated they did not. And part of what my boss praised as part of my performance was being a good team member, helping out wherever possible, and trying to support coworkers even though they were being frustrating enough that my boss recognized it. Even now when I think that I’m right about something, or could do something better and faster than someone else, I sometimes have to make myself step back because I know that insisting would be disrespectful to my coworkers and that would be worse in the long term than winning in the short term (again, even though I think I’m right!).

    So maybe it might help to reframe “your good work” as including those interpersonal elements and relationships, and thinking of your work as your overarching contributions to the team, work environment, and common goals rather than accomplishments you get individual credit for. As these situations come up, perhaps weighing your options in that sense could help a little in deciding how to respond.

  55. TwitterBelles Are Ridiculous*

    I would fight fire with fire on the TwitterBelle who decided to include your boss in some non-work related spat. I would dig up some trash on them and send it to THEIR boss. (Assuming they’re employed because most of those types aren’t). But then, I’m a petty butch bitch.

  56. Blitzkrieg*

    In addition to therapy, which I think would be enormously helpful in dealing with the emotional defensiveness here, a course on conflict resolution might also be a good idea. This will help focus on what you want to achieve practically when going into a conflict. I’ve found this to be very helpful over the years. Using a strategic Conflict Resolution type of lens also forces you to take some of the emotion out of the situation.

  57. Shamanonymous*

    So, this may sound a little crazy, but bear with me here.

    Therapy, yes, for sure. But in tandem with therapy, consider trying psychedelics. There’s some interesting research about how substances like psilocybin, ayahuasca, iboga, MDMA, etc., can rewire neural pathways and help users break self-destructive patterns of behavior.

    I used to have some things in common with you. I still have some stuff I’m working on. I still have to push back against some of the negative chatter in my head. But now I recognize the negative chatter in my head as just that, and not The Objective, Horrible Truth About Me. I’ve found these substances, combined with therapy and meditation and other avenues of self-reflection, enormously useful.

    Some of these substances are legal in Canada and Mexico, if legality is a concern for you.

  58. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

    So, we’re a bunch of nice people at Wakeen’s and, reading your letter, I honestly think you would fit in here. We’re kind and we’re flawed and sometimes things get messy and sometimes we have to apologize to each other and sometimes we have to remember that Glenda is weirdly prickly about XYZ so step around that with her, etc. etc. We love people who are trying to get better because we all are also!

    About the only thing that wouldn’t work is the excess apologizing and the self depreciation. That drains energy from other people when you do that. So cut that out but otherwise, take a breath, feel some acceptance, and move toward your best self. Alison’s advice is great.

  59. SenseANDSensibility*

    It’s not a bad thing to want fairness and equity in your workplace. In fact, when things seem or are unfair (ie: one person continuously slacking off while others busy their butts working hard all the time), that’s what creates feelings of hostility & injustice amongst coworkers and between bosses/employees. Unfortunately, too many bad bosses out there never address thee inequities or injustices and the poor mgmt cycle continues. Therapy is a really good idea though; if nothing else, you can vent about your annoying coworkers and bad bosses to your hearts content and get it all off your chest.

  60. EJane*

    Ohhhh boy, I’ve been here. My experience of this kind of insecurity and territorialness was a result of being relatively new to the work force and shoved into a role I didn’t fully understand–tech startups, amiright–and later on, as a side-effect or byproduct of me discovering, coming to terms with and figuring out how to work with a panic disorder that went from nonexistent to disabling in about eight months.

    I’m speaking from my experience, here, so please pick and choose as it fits.
    1. Alison is right in that therapy is your best course of action. In addition to the pattern of needing to fight, I would put money on you being in situations as a child where your worth was directly correlated to your actions or what you could do for someone, instead of your inherent value. I experienced something like that, and it sets you up to feel like you constantly have to prove yourself, and assure the people around you that you haven’t forgotten about all the things that count against you while minimizing your successes. (Your experiences as a kid might have involved someone with a very, very long memory, who would bring up things you did wrong, no matter how small, weeks or months or years after the event or action.)
    Here’s the trick, though: emotionally healthy people understand that every act of wrong-doing has a statute of limitations that corresponds to its severity. Accidentally knock into someone? They’ll have forgotten about it ten minutes later, and if you apologize an hour later, they’ll probably struggle to remember what happened.
    Cuss out a coworker in a fit of rage in front of others? Everyone will remember that for a WHILE. But that doesn’t mean you need to apologize repeatedly and bash yourself in front of others. Apologize sincerely, once (maybe twice to someone who was personally offended) to all parties involved and then demonstrate your sincerity in your behavior.
    Self-deprecating jokes can do a couple of things: 1, they, like Alison said, keep your mistakes and struggles fresh in your colleagues’ minds LONG after they would have otherwise forgotten; 2, they demonstrate insecurity; and 3, they can, for some, cause managers or colleagues to wonder if you’re taking your own weaknesses seriously. What they don’t do is demonstrate a sincere and ongoing desire to learn from past mistakes and continue improving.

    Regarding the territorialness: I was REALLY BAD about this for a long time. I hoarded my job tasks and was reluctant to contribute to company SOP documentation, because I felt that if someone else could do my job, then they wouldn’t need me any more. If someone else did something that was supposed to be my responsibility, it felt like a direct threat, and/or like they didn’t think I could do my job well.

    9 times out of 10, none of the above apply. There are a myriad of other reasons your colleague could have done the work he’d asked you to do: he realized he needed it on a different timeline, he had the free time, he wasn’t sure where you were on the project and wanted to just get it done, he forgot he asked you to do it in the first place. Or, maybe, he is genuinely a jerk. That’s also possible.
    Also, when you say “it’s always something with me”, it raises a question of whether or not you are taking ownership of your own mistakes. This depends, heavily, on your actual PHRASING, but is worth noting.

    I made a couple of shifts in my language and outlook that helped me curtail this behavior pretty effectively, and helped me keep it under control after I started at a new job and then was diagnosed with PTSD and maxed out on all my meds a month later–and super frightened about keeping my job, proving my worth, and coping with a fast-paced environment while managing multiple panic attacks a week.

    First: Look forward, not back. Change “why is it always something with me?” to “this is a pattern. What can I do to address it?” Switch from “I keep making mistakes and am a liability to the company and a drain on my colleagues” to “I’ve made choices I’m not proud of, and I would like to leave that in the past. From now on, I’m going to learn from those experiences, and do x, y and z moving forward”. It’s okay, by the way, for those action items to be as small as “I’m going to make myself wait ten minutes before replying to a Slack or email when I’m annoyed”.

    (perfect example: in the middle of writing this comment, I was told by one of our technicians that something I’d scheduled needed to be an onsite, not a remote session, which means we’re running half an hour behind. It would be really easy to beat myself up for this [I didn’t ask enough questions, I should have confirmed with the client, I should have asked the previous technician who worked on this, I just screwed over this tech’s entire afternoon] but it’s way more productive to decide “Okay, next time I get a case I’m not familiar with, I’ll call the client directly to make sure we’re on the same page”.) Looking forward also gives you a way to productively contribute to concerns your mentors or managers might raise.

    Second: Take those previous negative interactions, write down what you wish you had done differently, and turn that into a step-by-step. i.e. a couple weeks ago I got really, really irritated with a technician who has tardiness issues, and snapped at him. Later on, I wrote myself a quick list of things to do before talking to a tech about issues: 1. breathe 2. check their time entries for conflicts they didn’t put on their schedules 3. ask him if everything is okay/he got to the location safely 4. the tech isn’t stupid. He knows he was late. Don’t respond as if he’s oblivious.

    Third: You have worth and value as a human being. By virtue of being alive, you are deserving of basic human rights, autonomy, and opportunities for self-improvement. No amount of being even the world’s most draining coworker will change that. (Start kicking puppies and flinging rocks at strangers, and we can revisit that autonomy thing.) You are not a failure, you are not a miserable human being, and you are not a cause of pain and suffering for your coworkers. Frustration, perhaps. Additional effort, probably. But your colleagues and supervisor also clearly think that you’re worth keeping around, based on your description of your experience with your PIP, your colleagues’ willingness to act as mentors for you, and the fact that you were included on that project with the bullish colleague in the first place. These aren’t comfortable things, sure, but they are indicative of some level of trust and value.
    Remember that.

    Also, go to therapy. For real. That shit will change your life. Betterhelp is a good resource if you struggle to find time to make appointments. (I message my therapist every friggin day, she’s a goddamn lifesaver)

  61. Gumby*

    Another way to think of the repeated apologies, jokey or not:

    One of the things we learned when competing gymnastics was “Don’t advertise your mistakes.” Sure, the judge probably saw the extra step or the legs apart or whatever but there is still no need to draw attention to it. The more it is minimized in the judges’ heads the better your score will be! And on rare occasions you might even get away with it entirely.

    Which is not to say don’t give one (1) sincerely deserved apology.

    Also, it is not “territorial” to object when someone takes credit for your work. There are other posts which address how to deal in that situation in more depth that you may want to seek out. Because… ugh.

  62. Argh!*

    Agree 100% on Alison’s response to this. LW is self-sabotaging after the fact more than during these dust-ups. Being a bit insecure the first year in any job is normal, and being insecure about relationships with people you don’t meet in person is even more anxiety-provoking.

    During the first year you move from not knowing anything to being fairly secure in what you do, but your coworkers don’t know exactly where you are on that scale at any moment or for any given task. They will get it wrong, and it’s up to you to be revealing not about your faults, but about where you have gotten in your learning process.

    We don’t feel insulted or worried about territory when we truly don’t know what we’re doing or what the boundaries are. Take it as a sign that you’ve grown in your position and you’re somewhere between newbie and old hand at this point.

    Also, catastrophizing is just bad for your health, and sharing it is bad for your workplace relationships. Your colleagues need to feel that you won’t want to jump off a bridge if they make a mistep.

    If you work in the kind of place where catastrophies really do result from small things, then dust off the resume and start looking for NextJob.

  63. theelephantintheroom*

    Wow, this whole thing could have been written by me.

    I started therapy a little over a year ago and it has helped A LOT (along with antidepressants). As Allison said, probably something happened during a developmental stage (mine is family drama—SHOCKER) that caused you to develop this as a coping mechanism.

    The good news is that with the right therapist and a willingness to be EMBARRASSINGLY open with them, you can fix this.

    It’s terrifying, but so worth it. I wish I’d done it 17 years ago.

    Good luck!

  64. theelephantintheroom*

    Wow, this could have been me at one point.

    Allison is 1000% right with suggesting therapy. I used to have very similar issues (and I still struggle) and it (along with antidepressants) has helped SO MUCH. As she said, you probably developed this tendency as a response to something that happened when you were young and now you can’t stop.

    It’s terrifying, but so worth it! I wish I’d done it years ago, but as my therapist told me, I probably wasn’t ready. Therapy isn’t going to be helpful if you’re not in a place where you can reflect on your own shortcomings and really dig. Based on your letter, though, it sounds to me like you’re ready.

    Good luck!

  65. Anon Right Now*

    Oh wow. I work at a company where junior employees get thrown under the bus on a regular basis, so I understand the need to get defensive, but you MUST RESIST. It’s counterintuitive, but being defensive doesn’t actually give you credibility – it just adds fuel to the fire. I’ve mastered the art of taking in a neutral, factual tone at all times. I don’t take the blame for anything that isn’t clearly my fault. Even when people deliver negative feedback in an accusatory tone, I just say “OK I will do [insert whatever they asked]” and move on. With the more manageable project directors, I actually try to be positive. I validate their ideas and make them feel smart. This works wonders – the difference it makes to your job when people like you vs when they don’t like you is astronomical.

    And then I go home, add yet another grievance to my draft of the negative Glassdoor review I will eventually post when I leave the company, and continue applying for jobs.

    1. Anon Right Now*

      P.S. Also want to add the point that the minimum to keeping your job is to not be a source of pain or trouble in the eyes of your managers. It’s better to be boring and competent than a stressful employee.

  66. LGC*

    …well, this was an experience. Possibly one I’ve had myself. (Multiple times.)

    So, first of all, I agree with everyone that 1) therapy will help and 2) please stop beating up on yourself, LW! If I had to guess, you tend to cycle between lashing out at people you consider “threats” and then feeling like you’re a personal failure for lashing out. That’s a heck of a rollercoaster to be on, and not a pleasant one, either.

    But also…this’ll sound really weird, but practice caring less about the consequences. One of my big issues was that I tend to feel like everything is an impending disaster, so I naturally think that everything is SRS BZNS. And I used to stress constantly about making mistakes and getting myself fired. But once I allowed myself to make mistakes and entertain the notion of what would happen if I did get fired (like, it’d suck, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world), I managed to chill out quite a bit. Not entirely, but I’m working on it.

    As for the Twitter egg who tried to dox you: Like, Twitter egg, my dude, it’s 2019, I hope most employers can see through their garden-variety “you said mean things about me on the Internet!” doxxing. I’m glad yours did, LW (I’m trusting that you didn’t do anything too egregious, and you said it wasn’t connected to your work). That said – I’m totally in agreement that there is very limited good in tweeting while angry, or using Twitter in a way that’ll get you angry. (Not to proscribe it entirely, but I think that a lot of people think they need to Be Informed and then end up ODing on outrage.) I’ve rarely regretted not posting something on the Internet, myself.

  67. OP - Leslie Nope*

    Hi everyone – OP here. So, truly overwhelmed by the amazing and kind response Alison has offered, and by all of your comments — (unsurprisingly) I am terrible at internalizing good things about myself for more than a few seconds, so slowly reading all of these comments and seeing the kind, affirming reactions has been HUGE for making me slow down and remember why I do not, in fact, suck at all. If nothing else, thank you for that!

    Onto updates:
    – I wrote this letter to Alison about a month ago, and things have been MUCH better since. As Alison and many of you were spot on to notice, therapy has 100% been the answer. I’d been in therapy consistently since the beginning of 2018, but about 12 weeks ago, I switched back to an old therapist who was a much better fit for me and things have been tremendously life-changing in terms of really dealing with the tough stuff instead of joking and self-sabotaging it away from my conscious. Didn’t realize until, well, today, that finding the right therapist is largely what has helped me notice this shame spiral instead of just engaging in it, which is about the time I wrote to Alison.

    Indeed, it was literally this past weekend in therapy that we finally got out of just “I feel anxious and insecure and people are hanging out with” Problem of the Week, to the deep, in my bones capital S-Shame I feel, and how fear/shame rule everything around me (even when I think I’m doing great!). I got Alison’s note that this story was going live this weekend too, and as I was rereading what I wrote into her, the shame LW-me felt about who they were leapt off the page for me in a way that I hadn’t noticed AT ALL when I’m living my life every day — which bums me out deeply, but in a galvanizing way that makes me excited to have identified what I want to work on. Alison answering this email now, plus that therapy session identifying shame, feels like a sign that good things are on the horizon, with a lot of (good) painful work to be done by me on the way.

    To cope with stress, I started practicing transcendental meditation through a non-profit. I do it about 1 time a week, which is a lot less than the twice a day goal, but hey, it’s the only mediation I’ve stuck with at all. I also finally picked up yoga for the 8,000th time, and am working on being okay with knowing for some reason I will be mad and competitive for 54 out of 55 mintues and not immediately quitting because of this, instead of waiting for the class where limberness and joy overtake me while birds sing in the background. Both of those exercises in patience haven’t had direct payoffs yet, but I imagine they can’t hurt, as I work out what the best way to deal with my emotions are long term.

    What has had a direct payoff, like many of you suggested, was getting off twitter. I had YET another person-emailing-my-boss, which is exactly as horrifying as it sounds. In both cases, the transgression truly wasn’t that bad: criticizing fellow publications for seemingly biased editorial on Twitter. (Read: the “I hate this article” type tweets) But, we work in a small industry, where it’s easy for someone to pick up the phone to their friend/my boss to ask what gives. And even though in both cases my bosses agreed with the criticism, being in my boss’ inbox ONCE for a tweet complaint, much less twice, is mortifying enough to abandon any Norma Rae fantasies I harbored about picking the “Why didn’t they complain about other people’s critical tweets on the same topic???” fight.

    The second Twitter dustup was actually a good way to show maturity to my boss too: I told him I understood where he was coming from, and that I would be getting off Twitter for a while anyways – not out of petulance, but because I didn’t want it to impact my work. Everyone was appreciative and it’s never come up since, while my focus on work and my recent features doing well have come up instead.

    I debated the private account thing, but as many of you clocked, for me, Twitter brought up a lot of jealousy/annoyance/resentment, who knows what else, all at lightning fast scroll — if I’m being really honest, a lot of the “This article is bad!” type tweets came from this attitude. Even if an article is bad, does the world need my tweet on it to know that? Idk. I worked REALLY hard to set up an RSS reader for news to not feel like I was missing out, and kept a backup account that I would use ONLY to scroll through, not engage, and ONLY if I really felt like cold turkey was making me even more wound up, especially given that I work alone, live alone, etc which can be lonely. For whatever reason, this time quitting has worked. I’ve mainly been off the last four weeks, and every so often I’ll log into my backup account and like clockwork: the first two minutes are all “WeRateDogs!! So cute!! I can do this!!” and in less than five minutes, even if no single tweet was Very Bad, taking in all that info leads me to feeling surly and eye rolly and viscerally on edge. I have finally accepted that Twitter can be good and fun, and also not good for me (right now, or perhaps ever!). I am a little bored without it, but overall this has really, really, really helped me not feel primed for a fight all the time, and to let workplace annoyances be just that — something you laugh about with sympathetic coworkers.

    Past that, I am really trying to find ways to work on what many of you said about things like learning to healthily own your mistakes, without putting the onus on others to assure you that you’re doing okay. Have had a lot of guilt over the fact that I do that naturally, and the goal isn’t to manipulate the other person, but like many of you pointed out, to protect myself. A LOT of these comments have been hugely illuminating, and I plan to go through and answer on most of the threads, but wanted you all to know the high-level update, and how much this thread has meant to me. Literally printed out a lot of comments to put up as I teach myself to savor what I like about myself, instead of glossing past it as “yes, yes, BUT look at my list of faults, good ma’ams!!!” Cannot thank you all enough for boosting this NOT SUCKY JUST ANXIOUS woman’s self esteem to magnitudes higher than it has ever been.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’m so glad Alison and the AAM commentariat could help you, OP, and I wish you continued progress and good work!

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      Good update OP. I’m glad the TM is helping. It works for a lot of people.

      I do “time outs.” Seriously just like giving a child a time out, when I am overwhelmed I make myself take one, in a room, all alone for a set time period. No one is allowed to bother me while I’m doing it.

      It started when my son was about six or so and I was overwhelmed one day and just could.not.anything at that moment and I went “you know what…Mommy is on time out for 30 minutes…I’m sending myself to my room.”

      Son had been on time out enough over the years he knew that it meant no talking to anyone for X#of minutes so for whatever reason he didn’t interrupt me then…or any other time either. I carried this over to work and maintain doing it to this day (like 26 years on) and it really works.

      TM is a similar type thing in that it makes you just close out all of the noise for a while. It’s amazing how recuperative, even just 10-15 minutes of it, that it can be. Please keep it up.

      FWIW I do think you are justified at being pissed at someone (anyone ever) stealing credit for your work and I don’t think you need to tolerate being yelled at at all…not even a tiny bit.

    3. animaniactoo*

      Hey OP, so glad to hear you’ve got stuff moving in a good direction. I think it may also help to remember one of the key things that I learned in therapy about working on yourself: You’ll backslide. You will. It’s a natural part of the process as we seek what feels familiar and comfortable even when that’s not healthy and not where we want to be. When it happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, take a moment, take a deep breath and focus on picking yourself up and moving forward again. Keep on working on it and you’ll make it there. Rooting for you!

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Cosign on the backsliding thing. Any time we try to change a behavior/habit/whatever it’s highly unlikely to be a “one and done” type thing. I’m currently trying to stop smoking again. I did well for two days (!!!) then I came across ½ pack I’d stuck away for emergencies… I wasn’t looking for smokes, I’d forgotten about them, I just came across them looking for something else. Well…we can all guess how that went. But, and this is important, I’m back on the smoking wagon and am now two days on…fingers crossed.

  68. RUKiddingMe*

    I’d like to point out that while yes everything Alison said, OP is justified at being pissed at others taking credit for her work and shouldn’t have to tolerate being yelled at…a lot, or even a little bit.

  69. Luna*

    I get what the boss is saying, but I agree with some other comments: I think it’s perfectly justified to be ‘territorial thin-skinned’ if it comes to someone stealing credit.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      This. I mean someone steals credit for your work and you’re just supposed to roll with it? I get particularly fluffy that it’s a male coworker stealing credit for a woman’s work and then thinking it’s ok to yell at her.

  70. Justlikeyou*

    Wow, this is such thorough and thoughtful advice. I was in a similar place and a couple of rounds of therapy (cbt) was unbelievably helpful. I’m about to go back for another set of sessions just to tune up. A fresh start can be helpful but a friend told me leave with your head held high, and I’m still at the company but in a job I’m much better suited for. Still anxious at times but that’s because workplaces are weird and it’s hard to know the truth sometimes. But just keep doing better every day and don’t beat yourself up, people are focusing on your mistakes way less than you think xx

  71. Janet*

    Oh, Alison, this is truly the most insightful and inspiring answer. You explained why, even though I’m not a bad person or an incompetent person, I am always over-reacting in negative ways when I feel cornered and stressed. Those childhood mindsets are just. so. hard. to overcome. (I’m the daughter of an alcoholic and a military brat. And, much as I’d like to say I’ve put all that behind me, well, at the ripe age of 55, I haven’t. Not really.) Just as you said, therapy–with the right person–is the solution. A lot of my life circumstances have changed recently and I can see that I should schedule some appointments. Thank you!

  72. Crash McQuaid*

    Don’t be so hard on yourself OP. Everyone makes mistakes, and nothing that you described here is jaw-droppingly bad, or even out of the ordinary. You’ll be alright.

  73. Stacy*

    Freestyle journaling like the kind used in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron works as a good, cheap therapy for me. It’s helped immensely with getting away from the kinds of thoughts the OP describes. You can put those thoughts onto the page and forget about them the rest of the day.

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