how patient do I need to be with a coworker with mental health issues who lashes out at me?

A reader writes:

My coworker, “Minerva,” is okay most of the time. But she has unpredictable mood swings and has caused friction with virtually everyone in the team in the past three years.

Last week she called me at 10 pm to scream at me for a “mistake” I made which occurred because she didn’t give me the information required to do the calculation correctly. Among other things, she called me a “useless liar” before finishing her rant and hanging up. She apologized afterwards, then spent the rest of the day over-the-top complimenting my work. She hugged me repeatedly and even pinched my cheeks to emphasize how happy she was with me until I told her to stop.

There are many, many other examples of her rude outbursts towards people over trivial issues that no reasonable person would find offensive. Most of the time it’s not this extreme, but unpleasant and hurtful nonetheless. Just yesterday, my assistant mistakenly sent a company memo with a typo. It was not an embarrassing or offensive typo and required nothing other than “Oops there seems to be a typo here, let’s double check next time before printing!” Instead, Minerva cornered me at lunch and aggressively asked, “Do you not even train your staff properly?” When I explained one typo in an internal communication is no big deal, she said, “Whoa, why are you always so emotional?” and walked off.

I know Minerva is undergoing mental health treatment. As someone who has struggled with depression, I completely identify with her irrational anger and low emotional regulation. But I hate feeling like her punching bag when she’s going through lows.

My workplace is fortunately staffed with mostly understanding, decent people. Many of us have had private conversations with Minerva about her behaviour and how it affects us. To Minerva’s credit, she does try. Her rudeness has gone from a ten to maybe an eight or nine. She spends a lot of her non-angry time making up for her rudeness with exaggerated, unnecessary displays of affection. I believe she understands she is rude but struggles to rein it in when she perceives a slight.

Her boss is very well aware of the situation. While I don’t know the specifics, I’m certain her boss has made a lot of effort to deal with Minerva’s work problems. It’s not so much that people aren’t bothering to deal with it, it’s that we know it’s difficult for her to change and I’m not sure how to best respond given her behavior is affected by mental health issues.

What is my ethical obligation here? Do I exercise additional patience because she’s going through mental health issues? I am so tempted to tell her to tell her to F off, but each time I force myself to remain friendly and polite given her background.

Being understanding of someone’s mental health issues doesn’t mean that you have to put up with abuse or hostility. It means that if she slips up occasionally (like once or twice a year), you’d cut her some slack. It means giving her some space if she needs to cool off. It definitely does not mean that you accept treatment like this on a regular basis.

You can be sympathetic and empathetic to what Minerva is dealing with and still have boundaries around what is and isn’t acceptable in her interactions with you.

That means that if she calls you at 10 pm, you can let the call go to voicemail and figure you’ll deal with her at work the next day. If she does that repeatedly, you can block her number.

If she screams at you on the phone, or insults you, or is generally being unreasonable, you can say, “I’m not going to be talked to that way” and hang up. And truly, just say it and hang up — don’t wait for a reply or get into a back and forth. This isn’t acceptable, the conversation is over, goodbye.

If she corners you and aggressively scolds you about something minor again, you can say, “You’re out of line and I’m ending this conversation” and walk away.

When she’s over-the-top nice afterwards, you can say, “I appreciate the apology, but what I really need is for you to stop doing this.” Or perhaps, “I appreciate the apology, but the best thing would be to wait a day to cool off before addressing this kind of thing so that it doesn’t keep happening.”

And each time you have to hang up on her / walk away / cut her off, let her manager know what happened. As in, “Minerva called me at 10 pm last night, screamed at me about X, and called me a ‘useless liar.’ I told her I wasn’t going to be talked to that way and hung up. Can you please ensure this doesn’t happen again?”

Minerva’s boss needs to step up and be more hands-on here. It’s not okay to allow an employee to mistreat others on a regular basis, regardless of what’s causing it. You can’t force her manager to act, but you can put pressure on her by ensuring the problem is as visible to her as it is to you, and put it squarely in her lap to deal with, which might help her realize that her current approach isn’t sufficient or okay.

{ 446 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark*

    As always, mental health might be an explanation, but is not an excuse or a get out of social consequences free card, for being a gigantic, towering asshole to your family, friends, or coworkers. And one needn’t tiptoe around someone who is being a gigantic, towering asshole to them on the basis of rumored, notional, deduced, and/or ostensible mental health issues, either.

    1. Thoughts*

      Exactly this. If she really can’t help the way she acts, she should take a leave of absence to address the underlying issues.

      1. Nonny Maus*

        ^ This, even though sometimes in practice it’s not nearly as simple/easy as just that.

        But the underlying core of “Mental Health Issue” is NOT a get-out-of-jail free card remains. Often it means we have to work HARDER, or be more aware. I know I have anxiety and depression, and sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed those factors make it harder for me to NOT do certain behaviors that are annoying to my friends/family. So what my friends/family do is ‘gently’ and ‘lovingly’ call me out with a “Hey, we know you’re struggling right now, but you’re doing this again.”

        They understand I am not nec. meaning to do so. THIS is the core right here though, in that I THEN STOP OR TRY TO NOT DO SAID BEHAVIOR again. Will I slip or fail? yes. But I have to put in the effort.

        It doesn’t sound like Minerva’s putting in the effort OR whatever she’s doing is not enough. Which might mean she needs more tools than what she’s getting to go from an 8-9 down to a 2 at best. It’s not impossible, just difficult unfortunately, and requires self-awareness.

        I suspect on some level she is well aware she is not managing it well/doing enough, hence the over the top apologies/affection afterwards as if it ‘makes up’ for being an asshole otherwise. That’s a straight up abusive tactic, whether she’s doing it consciously or unconsciously.

        (All of this sounds way more judgey or self-centered than I mean it to, I’m just not sure how to rewrite/say it differently at the moment.)

        1. Snark*

          Yep. Like many men with anxiety, I manifest that through irritability, micromanaging, and curtness. This is terribly difficult for my wife and son to take, even if they know why. There’s a certain amount of tolerance there, because they do know I am trying, but I can’t abuse that tolerance serially without a meaningfully visible trend towards better managing my anxious impulses.

          1. Devil Fish*

            My anxiety comes out the same way and I find it so crucially important to have people in my life who will call me on my bullshit instead of coddling me.

            If I’m in a bad place I usually know I’m in a bad place but having my partner go through the checklist like “Do you need a nap? Do you need a sandwich? Do you need to talk something out?” kindly shames me into realizing I’m not managing it as well as I’ve somehow convinced myself I am.

            1. Not A Morning Person*

              I love those questions; they sound like a compassionate way to offer help and to suggest to you that you might need help.

              1. MayLou*

                I have a printout on the wall of our kitchen at home called “Everything is terrible and I’m not okay, 10 things to try before giving up” and it is as applicable to anger/irritability as it is to depression. I’ll see if I can find a link.

            2. EH*

              Yes! This.

              I used to have a teacher who said we should “neither punish nor coddle weakness,” and I feel like that applies really widely. I can feel compassion for someone who’s being abusive, I can refrain from lashing out in return, but I also need to refrain from enabling them. Coddling someone’s abusive behavior is destructive. It’s kinder to hold your boundaries and make it clear their behavior isn’t okay.

              1. Serin*

                This is so difficult! I’m married to someone who struggles with anxiety/depression, and I grew up in a family in which showing anger was Not Done, and when the spouse lashes out, I tend to placate like crazy because I just want to make it stop.

                If anyone has links to detailed resources for people struggling with *other people’s* anxiety and depression, I’d love to see them.

                1. Nikole*

                  Have you read any Captain Awkward? She has a lot of great articles around the question ‘my partner’s MH is affecting me’ what do I do now?

                2. LoliMarvel*

                  I bought a set up CDs from Dr. Tom Miller called Self discipline and emotional control. It helps me control my own outbursts but also helps me manage my own reactions so someone else’s outburst. It really takes me from being upset about how they reacted to being a little annoyed (which is way better). Dr. Miller talks about the horse and rider where the rider is our logical self and the horse is our emotional self. It is really great and has helped me a lot in work and at home. His style is a little much for some people but he goes ‘over the top’ to help us remember what he is saying. You can find them on Amazon. He has a book too. But I haven’t read it.

                3. Quandong*

                  I second Nikole’s recommendation for Captain Awkward’s advice.

                  Also, I was married in the past to somebody who struggled with their mental health, and it was the absolute worst time in my life. I am not going to write a novel here but it was a formative experience and took a tremendous toll on me.

                  If you don’t have support already, please consider regular counselling for yourself, as well as reading and joining support groups.

                4. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

                  Serin, I found the book “How You Can Survive When They’re Depressed” to be enormously helpful. Good luck to you.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              Mine too, and you both are lucky to have people in your lives who support you like that.

          2. Parenthetically*

            Yup. My main anxiety symptoms interpersonally are anger, a short fuse, and irritability. It is 100% ON ME to deal with that, and I am working on it, so I say with knowledge that it is some grade-A bullshit to be a grown-ass adult who regularly makes her own issues everyone else’s problem/fault.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I had (and to sone degree still have) PTSD stemming from childhood.

              Someone calked me out on this kind of behavior when I was about 19. Best thing that ever happened to me in terms of dealing with the world.

              Well that and a psychiatrist from that sane time period telling me I was an adult now and had the power to not engage.

              Mind…blown.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                Similar story, and same age range. It was my first love and I had lashed out in anger (I grew up in an angry household), and he swiftly nipped the relationship in the bud. It was the kindest thing he could have ever done for me because it forced me to work on myself. It took about 5 years to do so but my fuse is muuuuch longer now.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Interesting. It was a guy for me too. I was way into him, him not so much into me. I was kinda a douche behaving like he owed me something…not sure what I thought, but something. He wasn’t having it.

                  It took me a few years as well but it’s something I’ve always been grateful about, particularly when I see that same behavior in others…especially way grown up others.

                  Before about age 25 …ok… still learning to be an adult and navigate the world, after that, especially by about 40+ one really should have it together better. Sadly, so many, so, so, so, many don’t.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          I have anxiety as well, and I have to remind myself every single time I read a message that my brain twists into being short with me or rude and I think the sender is angry that this is my problem to deal with. That means not bombarding the person with messages, not trying to get them to make me feel better, and learning how to manage my emotions myself. We all know it’s not fun when it happens, but it’s also not an excuse to act like an asshole.

          I have no doubt that Minerva is suffering, but it’s not OP’s place to help her manage it beyond being a decent human being.

        3. JM60*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if the offer the top apologies are also a manifestation of the mental illness. It may be the mood setting in the opposite direction. Those apologies would make me a bit uncomfortable, and they really cross the line, especially with the touching. Regardless, the OP shouldn’t have to deal with any of it.

          1. Salymander*

            +100
            Good lord, the cheek pinching. And all the hugging. That would really annoy me, even more than the yelling and nasty remarks. Especially as the cheek pinching is some kind of apology for the yelling and insults. Like, if you really are sorry, just apologize with words and maybe a nice cup of coffee? I don’t want anyone at work to be pinching any part of me ever for any reason. Yikes.

            I suffer from depression and anxiety, plus ptsd. I know how tough it is to get through the day sometimes. And yet, I fail to see why screaming at someone, insulting them, and then pinching their cheeks and pawing at them like my own overenthusiastic and boundary challenged grandma would help matters. Also, what about the mental health of everyone else in this office? All that yelling, insulting, and cheek pinching must be stressing everyone else out, too.

          2. Baru Cormorant*

            Agreed. The extra apologizing is almost manipulative, like it erases her rudeness and starts her over with a clean slate, or even makes up for future rudeness.

            I would definitely “hold a grudge.” When she’s trying to be nice, I’d say “Thank you for saying that but I’m still upset by what you did.”

          3. Luna*

            I agree, I would be so uncomfortable with her doing that to me. I already don’t really like being touched without warning, especially if it’s someone not part of my close family. A coworker doing this? I wouldn’t put it past me to slap her hand away and back off, and then being deemed the ‘culprit’ of things because I come across as aggressive.

            And the cheek pinching feels so condescending, like she’s treating the coworker as a small child. That would extra annoying because, as grown adults, I would hope she could treat me like an adult, too.

        4. Decima Dewey*

          I’d find the over the top apologies/affection afterwards almost as annoying as the screaming at me over nothing.

          You’re sorry, fine. Let me alone to lick the wounds you inflicted.

            1. Else*

              Agreed. They’re demanding so much unwanted interaction and forgiveness from the person she’s harmed. It sounds to me like Minerva wants or displays a really high emotional intensity in most of her interactions that is just too much for most other people, whether it’s positive or negative. That kind of person in your environment is like navigating around a gyre in the water – it’s constantly causing distortion and threatening to drag you into it.

              1. Nikole*

                Agreed. I just wrote a comment about this but I actually think refusing to accept the apologies/compliments would help reduce this outbursts – because I think Minerva is getting the feeling that her behavior is okay because she apologizes for it.

            2. Kat in VA*

              Especially when you realize these apologies are not meant for *you* to feel better, but for *her* to feel better.

              “I know I was a raging asshole and I’m feeling bad about it, but if I make this overtly ostentatious display of sorrysorrysorry, then I don’t have to feel so bad about being such a jerk because LOOK I AM BEING SO NICE NOW.”

              And if the apology is refused? Well, gosh, aren’t YOU the bad guy who won’t let bygones be bygones?

              Like one of my daughters who yells LOOK I SAID I WAS SORRY, OKAY and then gets pissed off because her sister won’t just accept her apology and GET OVER IT, GOSH.

              The excessive Apology Performances are not for your benefit at all, and should be treated for the empty, hollow displays that they are.

            3. Quandong*

              Me too, Decima Dewey. I would also be enraged with the invasion of my space and the touching. That is so Not Okay!!!

          1. Light37*

            They read as very performative to me. It’s not so much that she’s sorry as she’s learned she can behave badly as long as she puts on a big show of remorse later.

          2. Massmatt*

            Yes, they are both inappropriate (hugs and CHEEK PINCHING in the workplace?!!? No!) but I am cringing just imagining the syrupy fake sweet apologies and exaggerated praise.

            You want to be compassionate but there is real risk that without boundaries and expectations Minerva becomes a missing stair (to borrow a phrase often used at Captain Awkward). You don’t want Minerva to be snarling and screaming at people (at 10PM?!) and have everyone just shrug and say “oh, that’s just the way Minerva is! “ and tiptoe around her. And the best people will move on, leaving only Minerva and her cowering enablers.

            Minerva’s manager needs to work with her intensively to minimize if not eliminate these outbursts. Going from a severity of 10/10 to 8-9/10 is not much improvement.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Whenever I get the “That’s just how X is…” BS, my reaction is “I don’t care, it’s not acceptable and I won’t tolerate it.”

              1. Luna*

                I forget which comedian it was, since I saw this years ago… but he had a routine on what certain phrases mean. One of the examples was “Oh, that’s just Gerry being Gerry” meaning actually “Gerry is a f%#!§ing douchehead”.

      2. Alton*

        I think this is a great point–there is a limit to how much someone can be accommodated. There are people who have to go on leave of absences or even long-term disability because of mental health diagnoses.

    2. Felix*

      I think LW is cutting Minerva too much slack. Imagine if this wasn’t a coworker, but a spouse (or partner, whatever). This would be a cycle of Minerva being emotionally abusive, then apologetic, then being abusive again with not intention of actually changing. She is gaslighting you. Even LW’s comment about her being at an eight or a nine, as if that is actually any better, sounds exactly like someone in an abusive relationship.

      LW needs to recognize how toxic this actually is and call it out, to both Minerva’s face and the people with authority over her. How Minerva deals with that, at this point, is her own issue.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Co-signed on the abusiveness. I’m shocked that an “8 or 9” is considered improvement, and I think it emphasizes how extremely awful her behavior is and how exhausted OP and her coworkers are by the abuse.

        I would seriously want to punch someone who called me at 10 p.m. to scream and call me a useless liar, then turned around and pretended to be rainbows, unicorns and sunshine the next day. I especially like Alison’s scripts about appreciating the apology, but the abusive behavior needs to stop. Because it does.

        1. Nea*

          Triple signed. It’s not even that Minerva is rainbows and sunshine the next day, it’s that Minerva has merely changed the inappropriate, unprofessional, boundary-ignoring behavior from overtly negative to falsely positive. Cosmically speaking, Minerva is simply using different methods of establishing her dominance over LW via insulting actions, be it yelling names or infantalizing touches.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            OMG yes, I’d have a flight/freeze reaction after about five minutes of forced hugging and cheek-pinching.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I am shocked that the behavior being described in the OP is the result of Minerva dialing it down from a 10 to an 8-9. You mean it used to be worse? What was a 10, throwing chairs? hitting people?

          Minerva sounds like a nightmare and an office missing stair, and I wonder how many people in the office have already left or are looking because of what she continues to get away with. I know I would.

          Finally, I bet Minerva is not the only one in OP’s office with mental issues. Wonder how many people have medical conditions that her behavior is making worse. Sheesh. The management needs to step in, like, yesterday.

        3. Parenthetically*

          Absolutely. Like, is she being PRAISED for this “improvement”?!? If I’m managing Minerva… well, she’s fired. But if that’s off the table, she is bringing it to a 2 or 3 (mildly irritated tone, TOPS, no eye-rolling even) immediately and permanently or she’s gone the first time, that day, no further warnings.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, this is a situation where they bent over backwards so far that they fell over. Whether they’re formal or informal, PIPs or requirements for improvement require improving *to a standard*–just being less bad isn’t enough for retention.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Even with a PIP, I’m with Parenthetically… This shit needs to stop immediately, today. No time for improvement…improvement needs to be a done thing or Minerva needs to be gone.

            2. Flash Bristow*

              “they bent over backwards so far that they fell over”

              Fantastic analogy.

              Minerva would be getting hauled up and put on a behaviour plan if I had my say. It’s not fair for everyone else in the office. They can’t just pussyfoot around Minerva’s issues. They need addressing.

            1. Snuck*

              I read far to far down this page to find people willing to say this..

              Make it stop, or go.

              And bring it down below a 4… for every day interactions below a 2.

              She’s used up all her ‘one offs’, and she’s using overt positivity to manipulate, dominate or inappropriately interact. Hands off, mouth shut, do your job, stop it.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                People aren’t advising the OP to fire Minerva because they’re not Minerva’s boss and therefore don’t have firing authority.

        4. JM60*

          Technically, 8 or 9 is better than 10, but it’s nowhere near acceptable. The problem is that getting use to a 10 can make 8 or 9 not seen as egregious as it is.

          I agree on the rest, but I sometimes feel the need to point out things that are technically wrong.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Agreed 100. Accommodations for mental illness include flexible work hours, perhaps private work space and extended deadlines. Accommodations do not include listening to her rant, accepting ingenuous apologies and unwanted touching. First of all, this is making you miserable. Secondly, it’s not helping her deal with her problems because everyone is shouldering the burden. “No. You can’t talk to me like that.” She now has to find a way to communicate a concern. “Please stop these compliments. It’s condescending and doesn’t change the fact you called me a liar.” She now has consequences for her actions.
        “You’re too emotional.”
        “Again, you are making a personal attack and I’m not going to listen to it.”
        Her problems are not your problems. You don’t want to make them worse, but you can’t fix them. Especially by enabling them.

        1. PJs of Steven Tyler*

          This is really good feedback – the consequence that she is currently not facing needs to become more apparent to her. You can’t treat people like garbage and then fawn all over them – everyone immediately knows that you showed how you REALLY felt ten minutes ago while you were screaming. I try really hard to be honest with everyone but not hurtful, and that sometimes means I have to suffer the discomfort of letting someone live with their mistakes for a little while. It’s not fun for anyone but it’s necessary and it may very much help her understand that she can’t keep doing this.

      3. AKchic*

        I agree.
        A lot of abusers will use a mental health diagnosis (real or not) to abuse people (partners, parents, siblings) and avoid responsibility, culpability and changing their behavior because they don’t actually *want* to stop. Some will even use it to get worse.
        I had a friend convinced her then-partner of over a decade had Asperger’s based on his preferences, routines, and exacting demands. Her son is autistic and she has her own mental health issues. She was being driven into meltdowns and was hospitalized because of his abuse and she could not see it. Within three months of breaking up and getting away from him, her mental health improved so much, it was like night and day.

        Sometimes… a person is just abusive and wants a handy excuse to BE abusive.

        1. User 483*

          Even if he did have Asperger’s, that’s still not a reason anyone else would need to tolerate abuse.

          1. AKchic*

            Agreed. And he most certainly doesn’t have it. Once a diagnosis was made for the son, he started using the diagnosis to change *his* control tactics to somewhat match.
            Oh, kid needs a set routine… well so do I, but different, and must be catered to as well.
            Oh, kid has allergies and would benefit from a service animal? Well… I’ve got conditions on that as well (that have never been made known in the decade together previously).
            Halloween costume shopping was ridiculous. He had very specific costume requirements for HER, knowing she wouldn’t wear it in front of people and would instead choose to just not wear a costume at all.
            He was so much like my 1st ex-husband that it was hard to be in the same room with him.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Ugh, there are coping techniques for Asperger’s/ASD. (One of my sons was diagnosed in 7th grade and had two years of therapy with a professional who specialized in ASD and had a waitlist a mile long; I had to be present at the sessions.) If your friend’s ex was serious about himself having it, he should’ve gotten tested and diagnosed himself and then gotten himself into therapy where he would have learned how not to be an accidental ass to his loved ones. But I have a feeling that he did not want coping techniques or improvement. He just wanted a free pass. Good on your friend for finally getting away from him!

              1. AKchic*

                Like I said – he wasn’t an Aspie at all. No diagnosis, refused any and all requests for any kind of couples or individual counseling. He was just a controlling abuser. I’ll refrain from diagnosing him myself, but as I said, he reminded me so much of my own abusive ex (who was/is a diagnosed NPD) that it was hard to be in the same room with him.

            2. Else*

              Gross! I’ve heard of other people doing that when someone else in the household gets a diagnosis or is ill. I think there’s a certain sort of person who will react to anything that puts more focus on someone else even temporarily by trying to co-opt and one-up it. I’d guess narcissism, but I’m not a mental health specialist and that seems to be a cultural go-to for lots of things right now, so… – anyway, something along those lines.

        2. Isabel Kunkle*

          Thiiiiis. I’ve known several people in my social circle (and dated one in high school) who did or do just that. And honestly, it doesn’t *matter* why this hypothetical person is repeatedly calling people and screaming at them/having tantrums at 3 AM in other people’s dorm rooms/sending three-page hate mail for perceived slights/etc. They’re being shitty and nobody’s obligated to put up with that.

          Being understanding of mental illness can mean, to piggyback on Hey Karma’s note about work accommodations, not giving people crap about having to suddenly cancel stuff, go incommunicado for a while, or just not be super energetic and cheerful. If you’re a *close* friend or family who’s *knowingly signed on to the situation*, it might mean sitting with someone while they process some things, or checking in regularly, occasionally reassuring folks when the anxiety acts up, or once in a very great while (I myself would say far less often than yearly) tolerating but calling out a certain amount of anger or control issues or whatever. (Occasionally being terse/snappish is one thing, but proactively contacting you to yell at you? Dude. I’d have cut off all contact there and told my manager ASAP.)

          Once it goes beyond that…you are not getting paid to be Minerva’s shrink, or anyone else’s, unless you’re actually getting paid to be their shrink, which is a totally different set of protocols that I have no idea about. People can conduct themselves in ways where others are at least OK with being around them 80% of the time, or they can deal with other people not wanting to be around them, regardless of why.

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          Ding ding ding. I was with a guy many years ago who had clinical depression. He would say (and this is a direct quote) “I cant help X, I’m ill…”. Yeah that lasted hearing him say that about four times. I noped right out of there.

          1. Flash Bristow*

            Oh, I can commiserate with that. Had a co-worker who for various reasons I also knew socially… he insisted he couldn’t cope with work because depression, social anxiety, all the people. Ok… but when he was seen out clubbing every weekend? “oh, that’s part of me getting better!”

            Eventually he was fired, but our employer had to be careful to jump through all the hoops and it took a while. Sigh.

      4. FormerFirstTimer*

        THANK YOU! Minerva might have mental health issues, but she also has all the hallmarks of an abuser. The fact that she’s gotten away with it for so long at this job (and probably longer in her personal life) is just reinforcing her abusive behavior as acceptable.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        Absolutely this jumped right out at me as “I’m so sorry I promise it will never happen again…” until the next time.

        OP needs to put up a freaking wall except for when it’s absolutely necessary to interact.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      A big “hell yes” to this. Mental health is never an excuse for behaving abominably. It does not give you a “pass” to abuse others. OP, you don’t have to exercise any additional patience or refrain from addressing her bad behavior. Alison’s advice is bang on.

      Knowing she’s struggling with mental health may help you deal with her from a place of compassion, but it’s Minerva’s responsibility to manage her own mental health. It’s important for her to feel the consequences of her bad behavior—sometimes those are “wake up calls” for someone who thinks they’re holding it together when in fact they aren’t. It gives her a chance to reassess her treatment regimen and approach, as well as whether she ought to take leave because she’s not managing her mental health. This is similar to the letter, yesterday, about substance abuse. Sometimes people believe they’re more functional than they are, and they don’t realize that they’re slowly slipping into more extreme and unacceptable behavior.

      Additionally, I want to emphasize that it’s not your role or responsibility to manage her mental health for her. It sounds like you’re concerned that drawing boundaries will adversely affect her mental health (while discounting her effect on you and your coworkers’ mental health!). Ultimately, determining how to manage her mental health (e.g., by tip-toeing around her) is not your burden to bear. Not establishing boundaries with her is actually worse for you and for her. So if you’re able, reframe your efforts to draw boundaries and hold her accountable as supportive, because it is.

      1. Snark*

        Oh yes, absolutely, OP does not need to feel the need to manage Minerva’s reaction to being told she’s being an asshole.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. The OP’s mental health is important, too. Just because someone doesn’t like the message doesn’t mean the messenger should avoid saying it.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “Sometimes people believe they’re more functional than they are, and they don’t realize that they’re slowly slipping into more extreme and unacceptable behavior.”

        This is such a good point. I think it’s lucky for everyone that Minerva isn’t the boss. Lucky for Minerva too, because she gets to feel the consequences of her actions.
        Sometimes I feel sorry for my boss, who is a terrible tyrant. Everyone tiptoes around her moods. I suspect she has bipolar disorder. But she never gets any authentic reactions or has to feel any consequences because everyone is scared of her. This is sad for us, but also sad for her. She’ll never get better.

        1. RC Rascal*

          But there are other Minervas out there who are bosses. I worked for one. Mine was a VP at a major corporation. It was horrific. Due to the power dynamics in the manager/ employee relationship you can’t push back on the behavior without serious consequences.

          1. Goldenrod*

            Yes, it’s so true! And it is horrifying. My tyrannical boss is a VP too. It would be crazy and total career suicide to push back.

            Sorry if I implied otherwise. No, no, it’s not smart to push back against someone with that much power over your livelihood. Those types of bosses never learn to change their horrible ways because no one is in the position to push back on them.

          2. Anon for this*

            I know TWO people who worked for Harvey Weinstein. Spittle-flecked screaming rants, threats, doors slammed until they broke, etc was par for the course. As were the cards of apology sent with bouquets and dinners at great restaurants. They were the yin and yang of the same whole.

            One person lasted several months—I believe a record, left when a great job came along. The other left when hit with a flying 3 ring binder. This after being missed with the first thrown object (that day), a stapler.

            Neither of these people were sexually harassed, but still referred to him as The Monster. Ugh.

      3. Jadelyn*

        “It’s important for her to feel the consequences of her bad behavior—sometimes those are “wake up calls” for someone who thinks they’re holding it together when in fact they aren’t.”

        Seconding this, from experience. I’d been struggling to self-manage my depression, enabled by my fiance who was still in that phase of “love will make everything better right?” and thought the best way was just to coddle me and put up with everything I did or said when I lashed out. And eventually, that all fell apart, because my behavior was taking such a toll on him – I was lashing out from pain, not because I wanted to be cruel, but the effect on him was still the same regardless of intent or lack thereof. We separated, I finally got actual mental health treatment, and after a year or so of demonstrating that the difference was real and sustainable, we wound up reconciling. Our 10-year anniversary is next week, and we wouldn’t have gotten here if not for the wake-up call that came from my suddenly experiencing consequences for my behavior.

        When you coddle or enable someone with mental health issues, sometimes that’s the worst thing you can do for them.

    4. MDD*

      Also, let’s be clear that these ARE abusive behaviors. Abusers will love-bomb their victims in order to “make up” for their raging fits of abuse, because they want their victims to stick around and remain compliant targets. It’s a way of keeping you emotionally off balance, and is also a form of gaslighting because they want you to talk yourself out of believing that this is “really” abuse since there is so much love and kindness and apologies afterwards. There is NO excuse for abusive behavior — I don’t care how depressed you are (and I’m speaking as someone with life-long major depressive disorder). Also, I can’t possibly see that “reining herself in” from a 10 to a 9 is actually “trying.” She’s not trying.

      This is something Minerva needs to address with her therapist, frankly. And if she doesn’t, there should be real consequences for failing to get her behavior under control. You can already see how little effort to change she puts in when there are no consequences for her.

      The one thing you can do is refuse to be a compliant victim, so stop accommodating her abuse. And name it AS abuse, every time you report her actions to her manager. Use that word, it will more likely light a fire under them to resolve this.

      1. Ethyl*

        “they want you to talk yourself out of believing that this is “really” abuse since there is so much love and kindness and apologies afterwards.”

        Exactly, plus it helps the victim to rationalize that the lovey-dovey person is the “real” person and that the violence and abuse are the aberrations, and if only the victim would behave differently, or say the right thing the right way, or not chew so loud, or or or, then the abusive person wouldn’t come back. That isn’t how it works.

        LW, Minerva is who she is. There’s no magic words to get her to be someone different, no amount of empathy or understanding that will stop the abuse she dishes out. The best you can hope for is that, by setting and maintaining real boundaries about appropriate work behavior, she learns to control herself at work. Best of luck.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I’d caution against deciding whether or not Minerva is “really trying” or not based on how much change is visible. “You’re not even trying!” gets leveled at non-neurotypical folks so often (ask me how I know) that we should be careful about perpetuating that.

        It’s still okay to say that, whether she’s trying or not, she’s not succeeding, and that’s not okay. Let’s just stay focused on the results, not the effort.

    5. ThatGirl*

      Yep. My husband is both a therapist and someone who struggles with his own mental health issues, but on the rare occasion when his irritability (a symptom of depression!) causes him to lash out, he not only apologizes but owns it and does his best to not repeat it.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I was always taught “sorry means I truly regret my actions and will try never to do it again” .

        Which got me into trouble when I wouldn’t apologise just to keep the peace, because I *wasn’t* sorry! And I used to be very confused at people saying “oh, I’m sorry” in sympathy, if for example I’m not feeling well.

        But it’s a good starting point. If I say I’m sorry, I mean it – and I’ll try hard not to repeat whatever I did. Congrats to your husband for owning and examining his actions. It isn’t always easy.

        1. Isabel Kunkle*

          Yeah–it’s one of those interesting quirks of English (not sure about other languages) where there’s Apologetic Sorry, which is as you describe (ideally), there’s Regretful But Not Really Apologetic Sorry (“I’m sorry I can’t come to the party,” where, like, you don’t feel guilt about it but you wish you could, or want the other person to think you wish you could), and Sympathetic Sorry (“This situation sounds awful and I truly wish it was different.”).

          There’s also Boston Sorry, which means: “I need to get off/on this subway train, and if you don’t step lively in three seconds you’re going to get an elbow in the kidneys.” But that’s a different story. :P

    6. hbc*

      And even if you consider it an excuse, that doesn’t mean “well, let’s keep going, we have to accept every aspect of this.” If I get a condition that involves hand tremors that so far can’t be controlled by medication, I don’t get to be a surgeon or nail technician for a while. If my boss finds something for me in the short term that keeps me employed and useful without making others suffer, great.

      “Not raging at coworkers” is a requirement of most jobs, which means you need a way to avoid rages or avoid coworkers, whether the cause of your rages are a result of choices or biology.

      1. Pommette!*

        Exactly – and I think think that your analogy is really on point.
        It may be that Minerva is genuinely unable to control her outbursts. That wouldn’t be her fault. But if that is the case, she needs to find a way to avoid situations likely to spark her outbursts, and/or situations where others are likely to be exposed to them. Hopefully she can find a way to do that while continuing her work. If not, though, she should (or her employer should require her to) take a medical leave of absence.
        Allowing the outbursts creates an unsafe and disrespectful work environment for all of her coworkers.

    7. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Right, we have a friend in our social group who is a complete asshole to everyone and whenever he is called out on it, shrugs and says he has Asperger Syndrome and can’t help himself.

      1. Observer*

        That’s such baloney and needs to be called out. Plenty of folks with Aspergers are NOT jerks to the people around them.

      2. Morning Flowers*

        Yeah, as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, and who has a family full of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, that’s not an excuse and not okay (and feel free to tell him so, sheworkshardforthemoney!). OP, people with mental illnesses or neurological disorders legit have it hard, but even if they literally actually *can’t* help themselves from bad behaviors you aren’t obligated to accommodate that.

        Set your boundaries, stick to them, and if you feel them wobbling out of sympathy, remind yourself that “tough love” acted out consistently and respectfully is what teaches people about consequences and limits.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Don’t you DARE let him get away with it! Not accepting bad behavior is the first step toward changing it.

      4. Jadelyn*

        Has he ever said that around someone else who also has Aspergers or autism? Because I have friends in both those groups, and very few things piss them off as quickly as someone using their autism/Aspergers as a “freedom to be a jerk” pass.

        In my experience, my friends with autism-spectrum disorders actually far prefer to be bluntly called out on something if they misstep, so they don’t have to play guessing games to try to figure out what they did wrong that upset someone. The responses I’ve gotten to the occasional “Whoa, that’s really not okay” moment have mostly been “Oh shit, I’m sorry, thank you for telling me. Can you give me some specifics on what I did wrong so I know how not to do it again?” The response has NEVER been “¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Too bad, autism!”

        1. Morning Flowers*

          Again, as an Asperger’s lady, this is completely true, both the free-pass-attitude-makes-me-mad and the please-for-the-love-of-God-tell-me-what-I’ve-done. (The blunt calling out is often best done privately and politely, but still! Help me out! I don’t wanna hurt anybody!)

        2. Robin Ellacott*

          Yes! One of my best friends has Aspergers. She is a delight and a great friend. I’ve never found her offensive (her bluntness is refreshing and when she gets super focused and enthusiastic about something I usually find that charming, and I learn a lot). She is a little off key occasionally, and is painfully aware of the fact and actively tries to avoid it. The one time she said something really tactless to me, I laughed and said “man, that was blunt!” and she was HORRIFIED. I was amused, not annoyed, but she tries so hard to follow her rules about What Not To Say that she was far more upset about the slip up than I was.

          TL;DR: Autism / Aspergers does not make someone an asshole. Not caring about whether they hurt others makes someone an asshole.

        3. Luna*

          Yes, please! Please, tell us when we said something that was more tactless than we might have thought! I have lost friends and have had difficulty making new ones decently because I was never told, hey, what you just said was really not okay.
          To be fair, I honestly didn’t know I was on the spectrum until I hit my 20s, so most of my behavior previously made a lot more sense in hindsight. But communication is always a two-way street! Please, say something. Even if it’s blunt, even if it may sound rude, say something. At least then everything’s on the table and you can actually change things.

      5. Fact & Fiction*

        Ugh. I chose to leave an online gaming community in part because they had someone with Asperger’s who would regularly and routinely harass the female members of the community to the point we banded together to complain about it multiple times. The community leaders would slap him lightly on the wrists and he would behave to the letter of the law whatever limitations they placed on him up until whatever deadline expired, and then he would be right back to his old shenanigans.

        Ticked me off to no end that they kept letting him get away with that behavior, so that was one of the reasons I left. It was incredibly unfair that our enjoyment was severely curtailed by someone else using their diagnosis as an excuse to harass other people and I was regularly made to feel like the “bad guy” because I was unwilling to put up with it or just mute him in voice chat or participate in group events where he was with him muted (which when you’re playing a team game and he’s on your team can be a significant detriment if you can’t hear any of that person’s callouts).

        The fact he could stop his harassing behaviors (stalking us throughout voice chat channels (specifically the women, rarely was he chasing after the guys that way), spectating on other people he KNEW we were playing with after asking if he could join our teams and being politely declined, asking us multiple times in a short period of time to join our teams, repeatedly trying to talk to us when we asked him not to such that we had no choice BUT to mute him, discussing extremely inappropriate things in chat even after asked not to, plus many other things I’m not even thinking about right now) when he HAD to and then pick right back up again afterward…and yet the community leaders were willing to just keep letting him chase off our female members left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth.

        I’ve known other people with autism/Asperger’s who may miss certain social queues if you are not direct with them, but they do not use that as an excuse to deliberately and systematically harass people.

        And as someone with anxiety/depression, I agree that it is always upon us to manage our conditions. And when we’re not succeeding like we think we are, it is definitely the kindest thing to sit us down and professionally discuss what is going on so that we can take the steps we need to fix things.

        1. Jadelyn*

          The key there is that social cues get missed IF you’re not direct about them – not that social cues, once directly addressed, are subsequently ignored. “Didn’t get it until someone bluntly told them what was up” may be autism/asperger’s. “Continued to do the thing after bluntly being told to stop” is just someone using autism/asperger’s as an excuse. I’m sorry you had group “leadership” that wouldn’t step up and do their job to deal with someone like that.

          1. Morning Flowers*

            Yes, yes, yes. My Asperger’s father and my Asperger’s brother will make the same foot-in-mouth mistake; when you tell my father, he doubles down, when you tell my brother, he STOPS. This makes my father a jerk and my brother a decent guy who has Asperger’s.

            And this same general philosophy applies to honestly 99% of how a neurotypical person should assess and respond to a mentally ill or neurodivergent person!

        2. Snuck*

          This sounds like a lot more than Autism….

          Maybe intellectual delay, or a sociopathy…

          But given the intelligence potential/IQ of people with Autism matches neuro topicals on the bell curve… the chances of it being intellectual delay are the same as they are for the rest of the population.

          What we know about the majority of people with ASD is that they generally prefer to follow rules and guidelines, and will work very actively to be part of social circles (far more than non ASD people can ever realise! Every minute of the day they are working!).

          So I’m going to call this guy an ass, and say “if this is ONLY ASD then he’s probably got a bunch of undiagnosed challenges as well”

      6. Flash Bristow*

        Sorry, you said “friend” ? Your choice but if they’re like that, I’m not sure either “friend” or “in our social group” should apply much longer…

      7. Don't Get Salty*

        For someone with supposed difficulties reading social cues, like someone with Aspergers might have, he sure knows how to read the room and invoke his “Aspergers” to evade any consequences.

        How about a preemptive strike on anyone who uses you as a verbal and emotional punching bag, no matter the cause, and letting the consequences ensue. I’m willing to bet either that his behavior diminishes, or he finds another group to harass.

    8. Ellen*

      Dealing with someone else’s mental health issues at work right now, my bosses wanted to know what I did to deserve the abuse, and I no longer dare to speak to that coworker at all, even a little bit, which is hard because we share a small room. See also: job hunting

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Omg. “What did you do? You know he’s like that!” I want to throw up. Good luck on your job hunt. I’m cheering on your search!

    9. AKchic*

      Exactly. She does it because she has been allowed to do it. She will stop when she is no longer allowed to do it and when there are actual repercussions to her behavior.

      At this point, management actually needs to manage her, and possibly manage her out. I don’t know why people haven’t left yet.
      Having mental health issues aren’t a license to be a complete satchel of Richards.

      1. Jadelyn*

        “satchel of Richards” This is glorious and you have done a wondrous service to humanity by sharing it.

      2. fposte*

        Or she won’t stop because she can’t or doesn’t have the tools to, and that’s too bad, but it doesn’t mean she gets to keep her job. Expecting co-workers to put up with abuse is not a reasonable accommodation.

        1. AKchic*

          if Minerva isn’t doing it to her bosses, grandbosses, and every single person she is frustrated by / with; then yes, she *can* actually control it, and has some tools in which to cope. They may not be the best tools, but she is semi-functioning (enough to get a job, and not get arrested for her outbursts); therefore her outbursts should not be tolerated or given a pass when directed at LW or at LW’s subordinates or any of Minerva’s subordinates (if she has any). Right now, in classic abuser trope – it appears that she is only lashing out at those who she considered beneath her, or people she considers of no consequence. That suggests some level of control.

          1. fposte*

            But it doesn’t matter from a practical standpoint, because the issue isn’t that it’s a bad choice, the issue is that the behavior is incompatible with a workplace. She’s terminated even if it isn’t a choice. The choice factor only influences our internal narratives about her.

    10. Engineer Girl*

      Yes please! Appropriate boundaries are actually indicators to the mentally ill person (anyone really) that you’ve breached appropriate behaviors. Enforce them for your mental health and theirs.

      Minerva’s actions are classic abuser cycle. Abuse -> Apologize-> Over the too nice to suck you in again.

      Walk away to break the cycle. And let Minerva’s boss know.

      The accountability will push her into an appropriate place. She’s not delusional, she knows when she’s done wrong (hence apologies) so that means she is accountable.

    11. smoke tree*

      Not to mention–just because Minerva is acting out doesn’t mean her mental health takes priority over everyone else’s. I’m sure her behaviour isn’t helpful to anyone else in the office who may be struggling with their mental health more quietly.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Gods, this, so hard. I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD (the crap trifecta!), and someone treating me like this would make all of those 10x worse. If management wasn’t willing to rein it in, I’d be looking for another job, or taking a mental health leave myself.

      2. emmelemm*

        Exactly. I have my own mental health issues, and if someone called me a “useless liar”, I might or might not be able to shrug it off, or I might go down into a bit of a spiral.

    12. Harper the Other One*

      Yes, yes, yes. My partner went through some genuinely awful mental health struggles, including a lengthy leave from work, and managed to remain professional, even with colleagues who infuriated him. Mental health issues might be a reason to be sympathetic with late arrivals, lack of focus, frequent appointments, and many other things but it is not a “get out of jail free card” for treating people poorly.

    13. Anji*

      Amen to this. I’ve worked with the Crazies, and it always astounded me how management turned their cheeks until the environment was too toxic to bear. SMDH

    14. Helen B*

      Yes, utterly, 100%. Mental health problems are not a license to abuse people, no more than having diabetes is a license to pass out from a hypo when you’re driving on the motorway. Thank you Alison for the coaching about how to have boundaries.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I’ve learned so much from this blog. Four years of reading gave me what I missed in twenty five years of working.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I have mental health issues. It is my responsibility not to make my issues someone else’s issues (with the exception of a formal patient-therapist relationship).

      Some days that means I spend a lot of time off by myself because I just can’t find the energy to be more than civil to people. But civility is the minimum standard, not the maximum.

      1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

        *high fives you* I took a mental health day last Friday because I was stretched so thin, I was afraid I’d snap while I was at work. Work wasn’t the source of my stress at all but I really like my coworkers and didn’t want to projectile vomit feelings all over them.

      2. Notmyrealcommenterhandlethistime*

        Came here to say the same thing. I’ve had a mental health issue my entire life. It is my issue, you are absolutely entitled to decline to subscribe to them. I am obligated to accept your feelings about the way I treat you, even if I don’t agree, because they are your feelings. If I choose not to change/address my behavior, that’s on me and I have to accept any professional consequences.

        Probably going to be an unpopular statement, but I suspect Minerva is probably an asshole, mental health issues or not.

        You are entitled to a civil, professional work environment (and so is she). I hope things work out for everyone but if Minerva has to go or you have to leave, it’s not your fault.

      3. Minocho*

        I had a day where I left about 10 minutes early one day, in the middle of a conversation, because I was about lose it in a seriously unprofessional way. It was not particularly professional to leave, either, but leaving abruptly can be fixed a lot more easily than yelling at a coworker can.

      4. Anononon doo doo doo doo doo*

        I second this. I also struggle with mental health and I have a great team who keeps me functional, but it is MY responsibility to treat everyone with respect and to keep my crazies under wraps.

      1. Marthooh*

        She spends a lot of her non-angry time making up for her rudeness with exaggerated, unnecessary displays of affection.

        This kind of apology is worse than meaningless. Minerva is demanding her coworkers’ constant attention, either to be furiously rude or to fawn on them. Her manager needs to talk to her about the whole cycle of behavior.

        1. fposte*

          This is, weirdly, the part that really frosts me. Even if she were perfectly nice the rest of the time, wtf is with pinching somebody’s freaking cheeks at work? That’s not a solution to a problem, that’s a problem.

      2. AuroraLight37*

        Agreed. Her “Aww, so sorry!” is useless if she doesn’t look at her choices and rein herself in.

    2. smoke tree*

      I find it troubling how many people tend to be more accommodating toward mental illness when the person is acting badly. I wonder if there is some subconscious impulse to take mental health more seriously when the person is acting antisocially, which lines up more neatly with stereotypes about mental illness. How many people have struggled to keep their mental health in check at work, only to have no one take them seriously when they ask for accommodations, while many people seem to be willing to bend over backwards for the Mirandas who treat everyone like crap?

      (I don’t mean to target the letter writer, who sounds very thoughtful. It’s just a pattern I’ve noticed.)

      1. Grand Mouse*

        Very well stated. You’ve put words to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Mentally ill people who behave badly are excused, but mentally ill people who are mistreated don’t get the same compassion. I’ve dealt with serious mental illness and like I wouldn’t dare show even a little (even just being on the verge of tears) and other people use it to stomp on others? Ridiculous.

        (For the record, I’m not saying how much I had to repress my emotions is a good thing. I really could have benefited from even a little emotional outlet)

  2. jblack38*

    As a licensed mental health professional, I can confidently say that mental health issues do not give someone a free pass, so to speak, to treat others like crap. Alison’s advice (as always) is solid. Keep good boundaries with your co-worker!

      1. Quill*

        Gotta love the “anxious about offending people, comes off as too formal” branch of trouble too.

      2. jblack38*

        I’ve had clients use their mental health issues as an excuse to treat others however they want. It’s never a fun conversation when that happens.

      3. From That Guy*

        Outstanding! What a great line, thank you Gdub, you nailed it on so many levels.

        However, to get to the point. The issue is not Minerva’s mental state or lack thereof it is the disruption to the office and overall effect on production. Her outbursts need to be documented on a daily basis, fed back to her on a daily basis and then take the necessary steps to either stop the behavior or her suffer the consequences thereof.

        I am sorry you have to deal with this individual. Now is the time to step back and document, document, document. I wish you peace.

    1. Moray*

      Likewise. I don’t think I would beat around the bush at all with any explanations that what she was doing was unacceptable, no matter how firmly I could state them: I would hang up without a word if she starting to verbally abuse me over the phone. I would walk away without a word if she started doing it in person.

      And my words, when she went into OTT apology mode later, would not be particularly sympathetic.

      1. Media Monkey*

        i was just imagining how i would react to the next day apologies (spoiler – not well). this sounds totally unsustainable. how would bosses react if her apologies were not accepted and everyone was very cool with her? Would it be treated as a consequence of her behaviour or a failing on your part?

        1. Moray*

          I think “I realize that you’re sorry” is enough to not be rude.

          And following it with “the next time you’re going to start shouting or insulting me, you need to walk away” isn’t rude, either.

          Also, if she goes for a hug or otherwise gets grabby? “Please don’t touch me.” Also not rude. Just self-respect, IMO, and I would explain that to higher-ups if they confronted me about it.

          1. Minocho*

            Oooh, yeah. I’ve had people I’m having an issue with try to force hugs on me, and act like its a serious breach of politeness to refuse to hug. I’m having a problem with you; we may work it out eventually, and I can be civil, but I’m not normally a hugger anyway, and I seriously am NOT interested in hugging you.

            Ugh.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              I’ve had good luck with, “I’m really not a hugger,” or, “I’m not feeling like hugs right now,”and putting my hand out for a handshake with a big, friendly smile. Not only does it stop the hug, buy putting my hand out it kind of blocks the person from coming in closer without being really awkward and aggressive.

              A lot of the time I’ve found it’s not so much the lack of hug that bothers people, it’s that they feel a little embarrassed and awkward that they read the social cue wrong. If you stay friendly and calm it’ll pass a lot faster.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            All of this. “I understand your sorry. Thank you for apologizing. That said, do not call me at home again.” That is not rude, it’s direct.

            “Please don’t touch me.” is never, ever rude. You get to say that to anyone.

            “You are out of line. I’m walking away.” Is also OK. If she gets huffy or passive aggressive (“Why are you so emotional?”) You can ignore it or simply respond, “As I said, you are out of line and I’m not going to tolerate it.”
            Being direct is not being rude as long as you stay calm and don’t name call or add other insults in.

      2. Isabel Kunkle*

        Right? I’m recalling a Captain Awkward strategy now, of just redirecting explanations/excuses to what needs to change.

        M: “I’m so so sorry!”
        Person: “Thank you, but you need not to ever do that again, or I’m filing a complaint with HR.”
        M: “But mental illness!”
        Person: “That must be tough, but you need not to ever do that again, or I’m filing a complaint with HR.”

        Lather, rinse, repeat. Only works if HR’s willing to act, of course.

    2. Hummer on the Hill*

      Second this. And I can’t see mention of this anywhere in the comments, but she pinches the OP’s cheeks??? I’d bat her hands away and say “Please don’t touch me” in a calm, dead voice. Someone else commented that in other scenarios, this would be an abusive relationship, and you would be told to go far far away. No one is doing Minerva any favors by not calling her on her behavior. You can feel how you want, but you behave like a professional. I hope the manager has the backbone to address this.

      1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        The unwanted touching is a serious problem in its own right, even if there hadn’t been other kinds of abuse leading up to it. Minerva has boundary issues, and they show up in many ways. She needs to be told very firmly that she is not allowed to do this.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        Yep. Demeaning and so very inappropriate.

        “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” seems to be a harmful pattern in workplaces, where the good employees keep their heads down and get their work done, while being forced to tolerate the incompetent/obnoxious/harassing employee that management can’t be bothered to deal with. People quit jobs for less! Employers need to sit up and take notice.

  3. atalanta0jess*

    I work in mental health, and I’ll say this. Most therapists I know do not allow their clients to berate them.

    You get to have boundaries, even when the person has MH struggles. You get to have the SAME boundaries that you do with other people even! You might express those in a different way, you might understand her behavior in a different way (e.g. “she is really struggling” vs. “wow, she’s a huge a-hole”) But you do not need to have a different bar for what acceptable behavior is. In fact, there is an argument to be made that having a different bar is kind of stigmatizing, you know?

    1. JessaB*

      Yeh it’s like when families raise their autistic or developmentally delayed kids as if whatever they do is “so sorry the kid has x and they can’t control that stuff, you just have to live with it” instead of “OMG that’s going to take three times as long to teach them as a kid without x, thanks for telling me so I can try and nip that in the bud.”

      And people wonder why some adults with x have no self control, and no coping skills whatsoever, they’ve been told they don’t need them and they’re not responsible for anything since they were littles.

      Which is to say Minerva has to be held accountable for her actions no matter what the cause of them. That and I bet a lot of people close to her family wise have always taught her that she doesn’t have to be held accountable (if she does have a mental health issue) because “people like you are incapable of learning to be accountable.”

      1. annakarina1*

        My mom works with kids with developmental disabilities, and she is understanding but doesn’t let kids try to play on her sympathies or manipulate her to get what they want. And she did mention how a family she knows would tell their able-bodied kids not to let their sibling with disabilities get whatever they want or push them around, so that’s good that the family didn’t make special exceptions or have low expectations of their kid.

      2. Anonforthis*

        Or she grew up with people who had the same issues and treated her the way she’s treating others. Not that it’s an excuse but sometimes this results from never having experienced appropriate role models.

    2. smoke tree*

      Yeah, I think at a certain point compassionate impulses can take a turn toward condescension. I’m not any kind of health professional, but I can’t imagine it’s actually very helpful for someone who’s struggling to keep receiving the message that everyone’s expectations of them are incredibly low.

    3. Lobsterp0t*

      I would even say, especially when MH is involved, boundaries are important – because by modelling them you empower the person to set them for themselves, too.

      I also agree with the commenter just below this who said “compassionate impulses can take a turn toward condescension” – yes. Absolutely. I think it can be really disempowering if you just go “well it’s obviously not within your gift to address this” – so different from “look, you’ve made it clear you are struggling – I don’t know if that’s connected to the words coming out of your mouth, but regardless, those words are not okay, and this type of comment/tone of voice/volume is not appropriate at work, no matter the reason.”

  4. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Minerva’s health (or indeed any other facet of Minerva’s life, experience and personality) does not absolve her or the company of the requirement to ensure staff are not abused, harassed or bullied.

  5. CatCat*

    A+ advice. This isn’t behavior you need to quietly put up with in the workplace. The behavior is unacceptable, period.

  6. Sorrel*

    This really gives mental health a bad name – it really should have no (or very little) impact on the situation. Especially as it’s a longer term issue.

    1. Quill*

      So much this. There’s a world of difference between someone who is occasionally short with people and someone who flies into a rage, then hypercorrects in boundary-pushing ways.

      The first one is “person who slips up occasionally,” and the other is “person who is actively making people miserable.”

    2. Stitch*

      My Dad is a pediatrician specializing in neurological issues. He does his best to emphasize to patients and their parents that they have to learn to control their behavior. Because having diagnosed issues like ADHD or Asperger’s won’t save the kid from getting into legal trouble if they do something.

      1. Anonforthis*

        Plus their lives will be miserable. I know a guy who has the attitude that he doesn’t have to control himself, cause ADHD. He can’t keep a job, routinely loses partners and friends and the resulting instability exacerbates his mental health issues.

  7. Natalie*

    “how patient do I need to be with a coworker with mental health issues who lashes out at me?”

    Way, way less patient than you have been.

    If you find yourself freezing up in these situation, practicing one or two “this conversation is over” lines ahead of time can help. Or in a pinch, just hang up/walk away without saying anything.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yes, this – practice saying those words out loud. OPs got a ton of socialization to overcome.

    2. Grumpy old owl*

      Yes. I work customer support and while most customers are fine, we do get that handful that thinks it’s perfectly ok to treat us as their personal punching bag. Our supervisors have made it clear that while we should still remain polite, it’s perfectly ok to remain firm and, if the customer gets like Minerva (lashing out, calling names, etc.) we are allowed to go “I won’t be talked to like that and am ending this conversation” and end the call on them.

  8. Mel*

    Yup, I work for a woman like this.

    Her anxiety makes her lash out, and what calms her down is seeing someone else get anxious (I guess so mentally she doesnt have to?). So instead of fixing problems that are going on – she pulls me away from my work to yell at me. She will do it repeatedly.

    Luckily shes only my boss on some projects, but they are the worst projects.

    1. Morticia*

      That’s really unacceptable behaviour. You didn’t ask for advice, but can you go over her head to discuss her treatment of you?

      1. valentine*

        she pulls me away from my work to yell at me. She will do it repeatedly.
        What if you don’t go, or she starts yelling and you go back to work?

        1. Mel*

          Its hard to explain without too much info, but I can either try to continue working and she will yell in front of clients, or we can step off to the side.

          I have professional standards and I don’t think its appropriate for clients to see her fit.

          I said below but It is what it is. Not great but my job has other perks.

          1. Luna*

            Put your professional standards to the side and let her yell at you in front of clients. They will see what you have to deal with, and probably take their business elsewhere, if not complain to your boss or someone even higher up what unprofessional attitude that is.
            Maybe realizing that her attitude is actually harming the company (and it making money) will make her stop… or make her so anxious that she’ll do herself and everyone a favor and go on medical leave for anxiety.

      2. Mel*

        I knew about her going in. One of the interviews focused on the fact that it’s my job to do what she says and keep her happy.

        It is what it is. Not great but my job has other perks.

    2. LurkNoMore*

      My mother is like this woman. She’ll stew on a problem and will get anxious that everyone else is not as worried as she is. Mom will then nag people until they get upset and get as anxious as she. It’s not that she calms down then, it’s just that now everyone is matching her anxiety level, which she feels is the only way to get things done. It’s exhausting.

      1. Grace*

        There was someone like this at my school, a few years ago – she was lovely most of the time, but she’d corner people outside exam halls and gabble facts and statistics at them interspersed with I know nothing, I’m going to fail (even though the litany of facts she could recite off the top of her head was ridiculously long) until they were just as upset and anxious about the exam as she was, and then she’d wander off and do it to someone else. It only took one-and-a-half exam seasons before everyone just started avoiding her when it got to that time of the year – we all felt a bit mean about it, but she seemed to think that the best way to cope with stress was to make sure everyone else felt just as stressed as she did. Maybe it made her feel like her anxiety was justified, or something.

        1. JessaB*

          Which would absolutely make me fail the exam. I have enough trouble with panic disorder to be triggered literally into a panic attack near to exam day, especially if it’s maths. I can do maths but I cannot do basic arithmetic without my fingers to multiply and add on. I mean I was at the supermarket yesterday and was keeping a tally of spending on my note pad so I didn’t go over how much cash I had and it was like 16 + 7 and I was toting up on my fingers.

          In order to pass a test with the quadratic equation I basically had to rote memorise outside the classroom door and literally scrawl it at the top of the paper right before the test, because I cannot memorise that stuff permanently, it will not file maintain. I would utterly want to murder this classmate because my need to pre-stuff certain concepts into my head until I get into the testing area, is the only thing that allows me to pass things I actually can do quite easily if you give me the stupid formula and a calculator.

          If I’d realised that more concretely back in Uni, I’d have made it part of my ADA package that I’m not required to memorise the formulae if I can show I know how to USE them.

          But seriously this classmate would have ruined my honours degree.

          1. cmcinnyc*

            I honestly think this is a tactic with some hyper-competitive people. Yabble all their stress at the competition–it relieves them and panics you. So I have zero compassion or tolerance for this and will bluntly tell the person to shut up and go F with somebody else.

            1. JessaB*

              I never thought about that you have a valid point. It might not even be consciously done, but it makes em feel better to have the other person panicked.

      2. Majestic Space Whale*

        That’s… literally my mother, actually, and I have never heard this put so eloquently before. But that actually makes perfect sense and I feel validated in the knowledge that I am not the only one blessed with such nonsense. My sincerest commiseration.

      3. Parenthetically*

        I have this tendency when I’m feeling anxious — when I’m freaking out, and other people are calm, it feels to me in the moment like I’m the only one taking The Problem seriously, so I start trying to get people to see how bad it is. It’s validating to my anxiety to have other people worked up about it, too. But I recognize this is a pattern and I’m working on it!

        1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

          It’s good that you see that! I’m the person who stays calm (NB, I have anxiety – have learned to manage it mostly well) but I’m excellent at marshaling forces to tackle issues when they need to be tackled.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You are being abused, her “need” to share her anxiety is not an excuse. Your company is awful for harboring this kind of person and not eliminating them from a chain of command at very least.

      You deserve better. You deserve to feel safe on all projects, with all your colleagues and managers.

    4. Lobsterp0t*

      That sounds really horrible.

      I would suggest a slight reframe, only so you can mentally hold her accountable – her anxiety makes her anxious, her lack of boundaries and respect for others enables her to lash out with minimal justification.

      You deserve better from her – if she was compassionately anxious, it would be way different, right?

      That’s such a shame, I hope you have a good Team You at work.

  9. SomebodyElse*

    Yikes did Minerva get a new job… I’m thinking about the letter where the LW was chased out of her office by the panic attacked office mate. (The one that would throw things at the LW)

    I think this will be a largely repetitive comment section, because the overwhelming sentiment will be that you do not need to put up with this. And you should end any and all conversations that are over the top (Including the hugging and cheek pinching (WTF)) and inform Minerva’s manager and your own.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      WTF indeed. I think the over-the-top hugging, cheek pinching and performative faux-pologies would bug me even more than the initial inappropriate behavior.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          RIGHT?! At the very least, I’d reflexively jerk away, I think. Very few people touch my face…ever. My DH. Medical professionals. Friends applying makeup. A coworker PINCHING MY CHEEKS would be RIGHT. OUT.

      1. WellRed*

        My god, right? LW, do you not realize you don’t need to be hugged/cheek pinched (WTAF?) or manhandled in any other way at work? I would have told her to F eff long before now.

        1. valentine*

          do you not realize you don’t need to be hugged/cheek pinched (WTAF?) or manhandled in any other way at work?
          Everyone’s walking eggshells, though it serves no one, but I can see where they’re afraid to stop in case Minerva’s level eight or nine shoots back to a 10 or more.

    2. Quill*

      On the one hand I have sympathy for the panic attack coworker (I did once stab an aquaintance with a fork when she snuck up behind me during a panic attack and attempted to hug me to make me feel better – I was mortified but no blood was drawn, I’d like to think we all learned a lesson about why I get to sit with my back to the wall and securing consent before touching people…)

      On the other hand, when you find yourself actively throwing things at people as opposed to having an involuntary startle response, you gotta be WAY more proactive addressing things, for everyone’s safety.

      1. Feather*

        When my startle-reflex was much worse, earlier on in my PTSD treatment, I often preemptively would tell people who gave any indication of being huggers/etc “you need to be ABSOLUTELY. SURE. I have seen and agreed to this hug before you try to move close to me because I like you and I really don’t want to break your nose or dislocate your shoulder by accident.” >.>

        Some people had to test this, but generally since I HAD said it explicitly first, I felt this was a good learning curve for them as to why we do not ignore explicitly stated boundaries. And none of them were ever injured. As such.

        But yes, very very much so.

        1. JessaB*

          I almost put Mr B through a window, he came up behind me in the kitchen whilst I was doing dishes and I, hearing impaired, did not hear him coming. I turned and was about to collar and belt grab and toss when I realised it was my fiancee who had just moved in with me.

          And worse than getting tossed somewhere I had one boss who could not learn that touching me from behind A: activated my PTSD, and B: made my damaged back seize up. Every time he did it, he ended up having to send me home cause I couldn’t sit anymore and had to take knock me out meds and lay down.

          1. Feather*

            Oh lord poor you AND Mr B.

            Re boss: ARGH. I wish I could say “I do not understand why people have such a hard time realizing *touch needs consent*”, but I do: socialization, habit and entitlement are all things that are genuinely hard to kick. :| But man it is not that hard! If you are touchy you don’t even have to stop touching everyone as such! Just . . . establish consent and awareness first! Sigh.

            1. JessaB*

              Worse, the first time he did it, I explained in detail why he should not DO that, he was just this kinda touchy feely (not skeevy or creepy) type person, and he’d forget every so often. He finally learnt, but it took a bit to train him out of it. I was about ready to put up a giant sign “Do Not Touch Me From Behind”

            2. Boobookitty*

              I know, right? I was talking with a woman earlier this week when she started to cry. She is one of my best friends (I’m also a woman) and we were walking outdoors socially, and I still asked before patting her back and shoulder if it would comfort her or if she would prefer not to be touched.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      The cheek pinching part made my head retreat into my torso. I can’t imagine someone doing that to me without me freaking out and slapping the person away. How inappropriate and uncomfortable!

      1. JessaB*

        I honestly thought cheek pinching was a habit of certain cultural norms attached to grandmothers. I know my Jewish one did it and my friend’s Italian one did it, it may on the other hand just be a grandmother thing.

        I’ve never seen it on kids over school age except at confirmations and bas/bat, bar mitzvahs because it’s embarrassing and grannies exist to embarrass kids in front of their guests. Like the video reel at weddings.

        I cannot under any circumstances see an adult doing this to another adult. I mean really?

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          And at work! In your personal life with a “grandmotherly” type who knew you as a child, maybe you give them grace to still treat you as the child they knew, but it does not translate well for the workplace.

          1. pope suburban*

            This! I worked with an old-fashioned Southern grandmother at one job when I was still a pretty fresh grad, and she would still never do something like a cheek pinch! She’d limit her grandparental feelings to a word of advice here and there, and never about something inappropriate to work. Plenty of people who feel warm toward/protective of younger people understand and maintain healthy workplace boundaries.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Let’s talk about that “cheek pinch” and repeated (!) hugging. THAT ALONE is inappropriate enough that I’d be bringing it to her manager.

      1. rubyrose*

        And the second one – I think I would be slapping the person doing the pinching, with a very loud “I told you not to pinch me! Stop it!”

  10. SheLooksFamiliar*

    People can be forgiven the occasional explosion. When it’s a regular occurance, please push back. I hope you can practice the words, ‘That’s not acceptable and I’m leaving/hanging up now,’ until they feel natural.

    Those words felt odd and uncomfortable to me at first, and I was afraid of coming across as cold or inflexibible. But sometimes we have to do something uncomfortable but necessary for our own state of mind.

    1. Smol Book Wizard*

      That’s the kind of response I spent way too long NOT saying to my ex-roommate. Advice from one who’s been there – no matter how long you’ve put up with “surely the last time they’ll act like this,” it’s never too late to start changing your responses. They may not ever respond or acknowledge. But I have found also that there’s some healing and strength in just hearing yourself saying the words asserting your self-worth and solidarity, whether or not the words seem to sink in to their intended listener.

      Some other samples I tried to practice (maybe applicable for workplace as well as roomming)
      – “I will talk with you about things you want to change, but I am not okay with blaming and guilt tactics.”
      – “I can’t give you the answer you want for that right now, but I will get back to you when I know more.”
      – “That doesn’t seem to be a fair way to look at the situation.”
      etc.

  11. Rey*

    It doesn’t sound like Minerva has done that much in the time this has been happening, because you say she moved from a 10 to an 8 or 9. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has driven off at least one coworker who was tired of being emotionally abused like this at work. (Or, has started embedding this kind of behavior in new hires who believe this is acceptable in your work’s culture.) If Minerva’s manager doesn’t work with her to make a bigger change soon, I think this could have negative, widespread, and long-term effects.

    1. Moray*

      Minerva’s manager should working with her. They should also be sending her home when she starts to behave like this. If she’s not functioning at work, it’s perfectly logical to decide she shouldn’t be at work.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      If it were a different kind of work problem, who’d consider that as progress?

      “Fergusina, I see you only set fire to half the breakroom! Way to go!”

  12. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Although I have some sympathy for her issues, I have none for her behavior. She is verbally abusive, full stop. While there are reasons for her behavior, those don’t mean it’s acceptable. Alison’s suggestions are spot on, and if not being allowed to lash out and abuse people makes her worse, that’s not on you, OP. Honestly, her manager is pretty horrible too, for letting this go on. It’s creating a toxic workplace, and the good people, like you, who don’t deserve this are likely to leave for a normal, non-abusive environment. And once you let toxicity have free reign, you wind up in a downward spiral of good people leaving or not staying or not accepting a job there, and the only people who stay are people who think this behavior is normal. You may already be well on that path, unfortunately, if everyone is treating her as a broken stair and stepping over her rather than fixing the problem.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Some days I wish I could have grown up ignorant of these types of issues, but at least I know how to handle it now, and I can try to help other people!

    1. Feather*

      This. The best possible read one can give her manager is that they genuinely aren’t *aware* that Minerva is behaving this way. Which still implies they’re way too disconnected from the rest of that office.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Well, Minerva the two negative interactions described were outside the office, while the positive compliments were in the office. If the ‘Minerva is abusive’ narrative is correct, that would be on purpose, to keep the manager in the dark. Abusers can be very good at grooming their support system.

        Either way, the right solution is to make sure the manager is aware. In writing, with details – date, time, context, witnesses, paraphrase and quotes if you can remember.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Also, the first Minerva in this is a typo, I do not want in any way to imply that Feather is Minerva

        2. tri fold brochure*

          That is a very good point. Don’t answer her calls outside of work anymore, LW. Either she will leave a rant on your VM that you can take to HR as a Exhibit A OR she won’t leave a rant. The former is clearly helpful in demonstrating the scope of the problem. The latter would be significant information about what you are truly dealing with here.

  13. Justme, The OG*

    Her behavior is not okay. What she’s doing is abusive, I recognize the cycle from a previous emotionally abusive relationship. Undergoing treatment for mental health issues is not an excuse for her to be awful to you.

    1. Cranky Neighbot*

      Yeah, I thought something similar, although I could be wrong. She behaves badly and then she apologizes in a way that demands consolation.

      I wouldn’t interpret her actions this way if, for example, she lashed out, apologized sincerely but briefly, and then noticeably made an effort to act differently.

    2. Marie*

      Agreed. The apologies afterwards are the next phase of the same cycle of abuse, and everyone is enabling the abuser by refusing to enforce boundaries.

      Many, perhaps most, abusers don’t wake up in the morning jazzed to abuse their loved ones and coworkers. Most have untreated or treatment resistant mental health and/or thought disorders.

      Minerva is never going to treat her issues head-on insofar as everyone indulges her. They aren’t doing her any favors in the long run.

  14. Eillah*

    OP, think of it this way: You are ultimately doing Minerva a kindness by setting a firm boundary that (theoretically) forces her to work on her behavior. It’s not a kindness to allow people to behave this way when they aren’t well.

    Signed, someone with depression who spent years working on lashing out issues.

  15. WhatTheActual*

    Wow Minerva sounds like a nightmare to deal with. Even gas lighting you about “being emotional” when responding to her insanity. Do what AAM suggests, and good luck!

      1. Snuck*

        A lot of Minerva’s behaviours are very juvenile… either she’s never developed coping/emotional skills past middle school, or she’s got health issues, or she’s abusive.

        Whatever the cause… she’s now an adult.

  16. Quill*

    Behavior like Minerva’s is a large part of *why* I have mental health issues… Yelling at you (especially calling you at home at night to yell at you!) is well beyond the line of excuseable behavior, which is more “this person is occasionally curt with people / needs more advance warning of changes than most.” This isn’t a case of conflicting needs (which can happen) it’s a case of “Minerva’s behaviors, whether or not they are a result of her problems, are not acceptable, and she needs to find a way to mitigate them.”

    1. Tinker*

      Samesies.

      Behavior quite a lot along the lines of Minerva’s is why I seem to have a bunch of annoying triggers that relate specifically to phones and their user interfaces — I was commenting to a friend recently that, having switched to Android, I’m likely not going to switch back to iOS because I’m suddenly now much more comfortable with receiving phone calls when my phone screen looks different from the way it worked when my phone was a vector for emotional abuse.

      Putting myself in this situation, my immediate reaction is along the lines of “NOPE, there are not a lot of operating systems for phones and I will not be having you ruin this one for me too.”

      1. Quill*

        I do NOT allow my phone to ring anymore… or for messaging services that aren’t just plain texts to notify me on my phone. There is nothing you can say to me that can’t wait until I can get in front of a computer or have the time to sit down, with a small and obvious exception for emergency family members, who I have trained not to leave voicemail.

        1. AuroraLight37*

          I’ve been silencing my cell for years and it was a great decision. Pretty much nobody needs to call me that urgently, and if they do, they can send a text.

  17. Librarian of SHIELD*

    When she’s trying to make up for these rude outbursts with over the top niceness, I think it’s okay for you to let her know that’s not helping. “Minerva, I get that you feel bad for snapping at me this morning, but I’m still upset about it and I’m not ready to pretend like it didn’t happen. Can you please give me some space so I can finish up the work I need to do on the X project?” She’s trying to assuage her guilt, and that’s normal and understandable, but she’s taking it too far and making people even more uncomfortable on top of already having treated you badly. It’s okay for you to opt out of that cycle.

    1. Malarkey01*

      I really like this response. I like it because I think she’s using the apology as a wipe the slate clean and forgive and forget moment. I think pushing back, just like your script, makes her understand that her behavior has consequences and that she will be help accountable for her outbursts. It also relieves the LW fro having to deal with what sound she like is obnoxious apology behavior.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Apologies are great.

      Extended conversations that focus attention on the person who is making the apology are tedious and frustrating experiences in trying to get the offended party to forgive and forget the offender, and are an avoidance technique for the offender not to have to own and change the behavior.

      I have started drawing big boundaries on people who do that. UGH.

    3. Amethyst*

      My 11 year old nephew has been lying up and down for the last year, over little stuff and big. It’s gotten so bad that we’ve resorted to telling him that “it’s not an apology when you continue to do the same thing repeatedly. Apologies do not wipe the slate clean, and people do not forget.”

      Has it helped? No, but it’s cut short the additional rambling/excuses he’s prone to do after giving the apology.

      I would probably say that to this woman when pressed hard like that.

      1. E*

        I’ve heard a couple of analogies for this. One is take a dinner plate and smash it on the floor; you can put the pieces back together but it will never be the same item again. The other is squeeze all the toothpaste from a tube, then ask someone to put it all back in; can’t be done. Apologies mean nothing if the behavior does not change.

        1. Amethyst*

          Yeah. We’ve done that. He’s got a brick wall for brains, lol, so nothing is really sinking in. He also has some…issues…that I’m not comfortable talking about in detail, but suffice it to say that he’s emotionally stuck at 6, & he has a horrible biological mother to thank for that. (He is technically my step-nephew; he’s my sister’s boyfriend’s son.) He’s better than he was 2 years ago, but there’s a lot of work to do before he matches his physical age.

    4. LGC*

      It’s more than that, I think – she’s also turning the focus back on herself because look, Minerva is SO upset over what happened between her and LW, can’t you see how torn up she is? Consciously or not, she’s trying to pull sympathy and consolation from the LW, and the effect is the same – to diminish LW’s feelings in favor of her own. At best, it’s emotional vampirism.

      Which is all the more reason to be firm with her, or to remove yourself from the situation if that’s not possible!

    5. June First*

      I would be tempted to just give her a long look and say, “You called me at 10pm and yelled that I am a useless liar. I am not talking with you now.”
      Granted, that might make her try harder. But maybe using her own words might help.

  18. DonnaNoble*

    I’ve dealt with coworkers like this before and it’s an extremely uncomfortable situation. I hope that you can provide an update on how things go, OP!

  19. Justin*

    I mean, I empathize, as before my treatment became effective (in my case, I got a better therapist who wouldn’t let me off the hook in sessions), I struggled with emotional dysregulation for years. BUUUUT it was still my own choice to treat people poorly if I happened to do so, and social/professional consequences are entirely appropriate (nay, required) for mistreatment. Doing so is not punishing someone for being ill (it’s not like people are making fun of her and calling her bad names while she’s mostly kind but a little unusual); it’s a consequence of mistreatment.

    But yes, her boss needs to be more direct, and you are being too nice, basically. Sometimes we have to say, “Hey, person, I know this is hard, but you need to stop.” I wish people had told me this, socially (though I was lucky I never brought it into my workplaces), far earlier than they did.

  20. BRR*

    I was worried this might be a tough answer about some behavior that’s sort of on the line but for you LW, tell her to F off. This is so far over the line that you don’t need to be sensitive to her background. I second Alison’s advice to end the conversation and when she apologizes after tell her you need for her to not do it in the first place. This is not a high bar at all.

  21. The Brazilian Hobbit*

    Being patient with a coworker with mental health issues is giving them some time to cool off after a hard conversation or some leeway if they make a minor mistake because they were having a bad day. Allowing yourself to be abused is not good for anyone – including your own mental health, which matters too. Alison’s advice is solid. I know it sometimes feels like you’re being mean or cruel, but you’re not. You’re just protecting yourself. Put boundaries in place, stick to them and keep her manager aware of every incident until they do something to mitigate the problems. Good luck!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1

      OP, a lot of commenters here are speaking from experience. I have a diagnosed, under treatment mental health issue (OCD). It is not a license for me to yell at people.

      Things you can do to support coworkers with mental health problems:
      1) Don’t make jokes about ‘crazy people’ (could not believe I had to say that to someone… smh)
      2) Do not call unpleasant behavior ‘crazy’ (ditto). Call it ‘inappropriate’ or ‘harsh’ or ‘immoderate’.
      3) Be generally pleasant
      4) Respond positively to their reasonable requests (‘please don’t touch me without verbal consent.’)
      5) Listen to the occasional complaint

      Things you do not have to do:
      1) Accept raised voices and character slurs
      2) Listen to constant complaints / unhappiness – you are not their therapist
      3) Accept unreasonable requests (‘leave our shared office 2 – 10 hours/week while I am having a panic attack’)

      Alison’s pegged good responses, but you may need to practice them, out loud. We are heavily socialized to ‘go along’ and ‘play nice’, but this is a ‘stand up to the bully’ situation.

      1. The Brazilian Hobbit*

        I love “inappropriate” as a way to describe unpleasant behavior for whatever reason – it’s pretty clear in saying it’s not okay at all. It can come with qualifiers (for work, for a friend, etc), but it can come alone and it’s pretty much all they need to know – the behavior is not okay and it needs to stop.

      1. The Brazilian Hobbit*

        I know, right? I say that as someone with my own mental health issues who sometimes (definitely not all the time, but it happens) doesn’t behave as she should – OP shouldn’t take even 3 weeks of this treatment, let alone years!

  22. Amber Rose*

    Being understanding means not holding a personal grudge. It doesn’t mean letting someone run rampage all over you. You’ve all very clearly shown her that taking it down to an 8 or 9 is acceptable, and so she doesn’t have to change anymore. So she won’t. There’s no consequences here. She gets a talking to from her boss, does the Bart Simpson “look down and say sorry in a fake sincere voice” and gets away with everything anyway.

    If you were dating this person, what would you do? Being abusive and then being very nice to show that she “understands but is struggling so hard” is pretty much the most common manipulation abusive people use. Just because you aren’t in a romantic relationship with this person doesn’t mean all those same techniques aren’t wrapping you around her finger.

  23. Liz T*

    This is horrifying. I have a mood disorder and can at times have a shorter fuse than I ought, but a) it’s something I continually work on through therapy and medication and b) I WOULD NEVER TREAT PEOPLE THIS WAY. This is appalling, vicious behavior. She needs to be put on probation immediately and if she does this ONCE in the next, say, 6 months, be fired. (And if she conveniently does it again right after that 6 months has passed, right back on probation, last chance.)

    All of which I say because it sounds like people have been pussyfooting around her, so immediate firing might not be the best route.

  24. banzo_bean*

    My partner works with someone like this- its been a constant for nearly the last 4 years. It’s just the two of them in an office, and he manages her. It can be quite uncomfortable esp when his boss/her grandboss is around. I honestly don’t know how you deal with someone like this when you’re required to work closely with them all day/everyday and telling them the conversation is over because of their bad mood isn’t really an option.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      He manages a Minerva? Can he get permission to send her home without pay on days when she goes over the top?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Can’t he fire her? Then fix the problem by replacing her with someone who isn’t going to eat away at his soul over the course of time? You work with someone for 40 hours a week, having this kind of abusive relationship going on will have negative effects on him and you in the end. It will erode his relationships outside of work when the constant stressers eat away at the centers in his brain that will start accepting the bad behavior.

          Doing all the work himself is a better choice and should be sustainable for the length of time it takes to replace this woman.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      I can’t tell for sure if your partner is the manager or the managed, and who is doing the exploding, but, assuming that your partner is the ‘her’, and the boss is the exploder:

      1) Document all outbursts (date, time, context, witnesses, quotes if possible, paraphrase if not).
      2) Check for anything that refers to a protected class (gender, race, religion usually)
      3) Get her resume’ up to date and prep for possible job hunt (esp the ‘walk away fund’)
      4) Partner thinks through what final outcome she wants, carefully, thinking hard about whether the boss is full-on abusive (eg, yelling + honeymoon; gaslighting; see _Why Does He Do That_ for full details) or someone who might be responsive.

      *IF*
      * Partner wants boss removed *and*
      * There’s a reasonable chance of it (ie, boss is not owner’s nephew or similar):
      Take the documentation to HR or the grandboss; bonus points for protected class references, those are ‘hostile workplace’ signals. (I just saw my company stomp on someone for ‘unprofessional communications’, so it can happen even without the full ‘hostile workplace’ scenario)

      *IF* partner thinks boss would be responsive: During a quiet time, ask boss, ‘Hey, do I usually do good work? Do you value my presence here?’ (if answer is no, get out immediately)
      If boss says yes (which they usually will), then say, ‘well, there’s something that would make work even better – not getting yelled at. Can you try taking a breath, or walking outside, or something other than yelling at me to cope with your stress?’

      Or more briefly: get boss a stress ball or some physical distraction (those mini basketball hoops? a mini-golf hole?) and hand it to the boss with ‘hey, when you feel like yelling, can you use this to relieve your stress instead of me?’

      Otherwise, job hunt. Four years is plenty of time in one job. ‘Ready for a new challenge’ is all the reason she needs to give.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        oh, just saw the ‘her workload would be xferred to him’, implying your partner is the manager, changes the advice. In that case, partner:
        Tells his boss he’s going to address the behavior with the chance of firing her
        Tells her ‘being neutral to pleasant is a requirement of employment’ , using documented examples of unacceptable behavior (‘raised voices, as you did x day’ or ‘name calling, like “liar”, as you did on y day’)
        Documents both that conversation and any outbursts
        Fires her at the next outburst.
        If feeling really generous – at next outburst, sits and watches her through it and when she’s done, say, ‘this is exactly what I was talking about. Next time you pull this, you are fired.’

        If for some reason he can’t fire her, then 1) job hunt and 2) don’t react to her outburst. Like a toddler, say, “I’ll be working on X, you can talk to me when you can do so professionally.” The less reaction partner has, the less she’ll yell (though there will be an extinction burst to test his boundaries).

    3. NW Mossy*

      He can manage it just like any other performance issue. He needs to name the issue clearly, give feedback consistently, and progressively step up the consequences if he doesn’t see the behavioral changes needed to stop the problem (no yelling, no excessive apologizing, etc. in this example). If she can’t or won’t make meaningful and sustained progress over a reasonable period of time (weeks, not years), he should fire her or lay out the case to those who can.

      I speak from experience on this – when this kind of behavior stuff happens, the manager MUST act for everyone’s sake. It benefits the employee to have clarity about expectations and accountability, it benefits the work because there’s less value-destroying misbehavior getting in the way of producing it, and maybe most importantly, it benefits your partner in his own career as a leader.

      Having these conversations is HARD, especially when you’re concerned that the receiving party will take it poorly. It’s also an essential skill in managing well and getting good results from direct reports. If you don’t take the opportunities you get to develop it, you’re robbing yourself of a tool you need to be effective. It’s like trying to build a house without a hammer: in theory you can, but it’s harder than it needs to be and more stuff doesn’t come out right when you use the wrong tools.

  25. blackcatlady*

    Even pinched your cheek??!!?? You are not an adorable toddle that just solved a puzzle. You are a grown up professional worker. That’s where I would have drawn a big bright line in the sand. Immediately back away and calmly say do not touch me. I agree with the other posters above. I’m sorry Minerva has mental health issues but it is not a free pass for gross misbehavior.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yeah, what the hell? Boundaries! Come on!! I think I’d rather be screamed at over the phone at 10pm than have a coworker pinching my face.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree. Your response to her post-outburst behavior should be:

      1. Thank her for her apology. Don’t say “it’s okay” or anything you’ve been conditioned to say when someone apologizes. Say “Thank you for apologizing” or “I accept your apology” but do not add ANYTHING that suggests everything is fine now that she’s said the magic word.

      2. If you feel like it, add “I need that to not happen again. It was completely inappropriate.”

      3. When she goes to touch you (PINCH YOUR CHEEKS, OMG), grasp her wrists and pull her hands away from you and say “please don’t touch me.” (I know some people will say don’t say please, but I think this is one of those situations where please translates as an icy demand and not a polite request.)

      1. Feather*

        Agree, re #3. It also maintains everything YOU do as being Absolutely Civil and Polite, which – while it maybe shouldn’t be necessary – is also helpful should this become a more complex issue and involve supervisors/etc.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I completely agree with Rusty’s suggestion on how to accept her apologies. A lot of people are conditioned to think of apologies like they’re gumball machines; you put in an apology coin and a forgiveness comes out. But you do not need to be Minerva’s forgiveness delivery system. Her feelings are hers to manage, and if you saying “thank you” instead of “it’s okay” makes her feel weird and not okay, she’s the one who needs to figure out why that is, not you.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        I’m going to make the case for not saying please anyway: ‘please’ in that context is going to be *super* dependent on tone of voice. If there’s any level of stress, my voice has the possibility of going up into a whine, I have to focus hard to keep it tonally low / authoritative. It is much easier for me to stay authoritative if I do not use softening language, and I think unwanted touching would be a situation where not using softening language would be understood (except by Minerva, who will probably use any push back to call you bad names).

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Same for #2: “I need that not to happen again” is fairly soft if coming from a coworker (stronger if from a manager). “Do not do that again” is more authoritative, and given her level of behavior, I think more authoritative is the right approach. It can be delivered in a calm tone that makes it not aggressive.

          But ‘Thank you” for the apology instead of ‘ok’ is spot on, as is “It was completely inappropriate.”

        2. Dancing Otter*

          “Kindly do not touch me” almost automatically comes out icily polite. (Or have I just read too much Miss Manners?) It *is* polite, but it’s unmistakably non-negotiable.
          Or, “Kindly refrain from touching me.”

          Even if what I would *want* to say is more like, “You d*** well ought to be sorry. Now, keep your paws off me, you b***h!”

  26. Jennifer*

    If you have a mental health issue, it’s your job to manage your symptoms so you don’t negatively impact others. One slip up a year as Alison said is different, but she doesn’t get a pass to behave this way as often as she does. Setting firm boundaries and sticking to them may be the motivation she needs to make whatever changes she needs to make in her life to manage this properly. She is fortunate to have a job where people are willing to put up with this because at many other places she may already have been terminated. I hope she takes the opportunity to work on this while she’s has a workplace that’s so understanding.

  27. Feather*

    Honestly, your ethical obligation as a coworker is extremely limited, fwiw, and the behaviour described here is absolutely unacceptable.

    Alison’s advice here is absolutely spot on, and is also honestly the thoughtful, considerate end of things for the relationship you have. It is in fact exactly what I would do (as someone with mental illness, who advocates for those with it, does community support for it, etc): behave civilly with her, be as friendly as feels appropriate when she’s not behaving badly while drawing *hard* boundaries about what behaviours I *will not* accept, and flagging those to her superior when they happen.

    This is a coworker, not a family member/friend/mentee/someone else you have a personal emotional intimacy with (and therefore particular investment in the relationship with). Drawing firm, civil boundaries about what behaviours you will and won’t respond to, and making sure that her manager is fully aware of the difficulties, is exactly what I would do.

    I will note that it is possible she will react badly to this in the moment; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, or that you’re responsible for “further upsetting her”, but it’s worth flagging that it may happen so it doesn’t surprise you.

    Mental illness sucks. It’s even quite possible that some of these behaviours are actually beyond her control – in which case further protocols to avoid her behaving like this to other people need to be put in place. I don’t know what those are – those would be her and her manager’s job to figure out, including leave of absence, disability leave, “Minerva stop calling people, period, I will liaise all the interactions you need to have with other people”, whatever ends up being what she and her direct supervisors/etc work out. Completely not yours.

    Also wow that sounds like a hellish thing to be handling, and I’m really sorry. I hope Alison’s advice helps, and that things can get less stressful for you in the time to come.

    1. Feather*

      Also for what it’s worth, in terms of gauging what “understanding” means:

      So if we assume that Minerva’s mood-swings and behaviours are at a point of minimally controllable on her part, and there is some reason why direct action like medical leave is not viable*, her manager SHOULD be making efforts to arrange work and time to handle this.

      Being genuinely understanding would look like not being resentful or upset if, say, that involved Minerva having a private office (so she’s not interacting with people but could do work, if that’s appropriate), or being aware that if she abruptly has to leave or go home that it may be related to this, and ditto with taking time off for appointments or similar, being slightly behind on things you need from her or that kind of thing, and – at the most – not holding a grudge if she was sometimes short or rude. (Note I said SOMETIMES!)

      These are the kinds of things that would make me go “wow, it’s nice to have an understanding workplace!” If that helps at all.

      *I mean this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that, in a reasonable world, WOULD have paid medical leave for someone to find a treatment regime – whatever that happens to be – to allow them to function, but I am also agonizingly aware of why that is not always available for so many reasons.

    2. Cranky Neighbot*

      I really like your comment, particularly this part:

      “Mental illness sucks. It’s even quite possible that some of these behaviours are actually beyond her control – in which case further protocols to avoid her behaving like this to other people need to be put in place.”

      I’m seeing comments about mental illness not being an excuse for bad behavior. I both agree with this and think that it misses the mark a bit – because sometimes mental illness causes bad behavior (which isn’t excusable).

      For example, I’d never have been diagnosed with anxiety if it didn’t affect my behavior: that’s part of the diagnostic criteria. Even with excellent treatment, I can’t always white-knuckle my way through behaving as if I’m neurotypical. It’s possible that this person can’t bootstrap herself into normal behavior.

      Whether it is possible or not, though, this needs to be managed. It’s completely unacceptable for people to be subjected to her aggression. It needs to be stopped one way or another. At this point, firing her wouldn’t be a bad call.

      1. Morag*

        This is what’s been bugging me through most of these comments. Not all mental health issues are mild/moderate anxiety and depression that you can fake your way through. Someone in the midst of a manic episode literally has no control of themselves. Saying “well I manage just fine to do x” doesn’t help and really stigmatises those with more severe mental health troubles.

        If Minerva cannot control her actions, then her manager needs to treat it as a conduct or illness-related issue. There are ways to deal with it. Ignoring it is not one.

  28. MuseumChick*

    This reminds me of the letter (I cannot remember the title) where the OP was struggling with anxiety and ended up acting very inappropriately (she open her co-workers pay stub to find her address, showed up at her house).

    While we should always strive to be compassionate that does not mean putting up with abusive behavior. Follow Alison’s scripts here. I would also document each incident and what you say to her.

    1. WellRed*

      Me too. I feel like that LW, it turns out, needed to change her treatment plan. We can’t diagnose etc here, but I think that’s often the case when people are this out of control. They can’t see that it isn’t working. Maybe a wake-up call/come to Jesus chat with the manager would help.

  29. Looby_Lou*

    A colleague of mine was recently signed off work for a month. The only reason I know it was for mental health issues is because she told me. Her behaviour towards me and other staff has always been impeccable. She is not unique. Minerva is the outlier.

  30. ArtK*

    Some good advice here that can be used in general. It can be summarized as: You do not need the other person’s permission to end an interaction! We’ve been socialized to not end things abruptly, but in some cases, it’s absolutely necessary. Will the other person think that you’re rude? Possibly, but self-preservation is more important than what the other person thinks.

    This is true whether you’re being yelled at at 10PM or you’re stuck talking to Mr. Just-one-more-thing.

  31. Sara without an H*

    Pinched your cheeks? PINCHED YOUR CHEEKS???!!! For Zeus’s sake, I would have decked her for that.

    I think you’re overdue for creating and enforcing some boundaries, starting with an absolute refusal to take calls from Minerva anytime after normal working hours. In addition to informing Minerva’s manager every time she behaves this way, I recommend that you also report them to your manager. He or she definitely needs to know.

    1. irene adler*

      I probably would have bitten her fingers-an automatic response to anyone getting close to my face.

    2. Ama*

      I refuse to take after hours work calls from *any* of my coworkers unless it is an actual emergency where waiting until the start of the next work day would cause serious problems (in my line of work these are pretty rare and largely involve someone’s flight getting cancelled the day before a business trip, or a personal emergency that means they need to take time off the next day and need my help to cover something). If the reason they were calling me was to yell at me for something that was actually their fault, that would absolutely get reported to my manager as well as the coworker’s manager.

      I know OP probably thinks everyone in the office knows how Minerva is but she still needs to talk with her manager and explain exactly what Minerva is doing to her. I would be willing to bet that the calling at 10 pm incident will bring home just how out of control Minerva’s behavior still is. (I shudder to think what a “10” looked like if this is an “8 or 9”.)

  32. Wintermute*

    your emotions and feelings are not always under your control, but how you treat people is always 100% under your sole control. Lashing out is not her only option. She can realize she has this tendency and turn her phone off until she’s calmed down, she can talk to someone in her support structure, she can use other coping strategies, there is an entire universe of things she can do other than make you her punching bag.

    Also, her mental health does not matter more than your mental health, even if for some reason this was a zero-sum game where a set amount of suffering must be dispensed (and it’s not), you get to say it’s not OK for it to be you on the receiving end.

    I would loop my boss in as well, in addition to the advice given, just in case there’s blowback– I would be willing to lay odds that someone like Minerva will interpret boundaries as intolerable insults, especially if it means not answering the phone at 10pm for her to vomit feelings all over you so she can get rid of the tension they’re causing. But remember, she has a choice, she can learn to cope with those feelings in many other ways, using you as a stress dump site is a very easy one for her, but it’s not so great for you and you get to say you’re not going to play landfill anymore.

    In fact by refusing to be a convenient off-load for her stress and negative emotions you’re HELPING her. As long as she can just corner you and brow-beat you and then feel better about the source of psychological tension, she isn’t processing or handling anything, she’s just passing the problem around.

    1. Aquawoman*

      I agree with this in this context but “how you treat people” is not 100% within your control. I know absolutely lovely people with diabetes who have been very hostile during a low-blood-sugar incident. They really have no control over that, and can’t even remember it later.

      1. Wintermute*

        You have a point there, I mean in the context of a mental health condition that is not structural. Obviously if someone has a physiological condition that alters their mental state, whether that’s hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, schizophrenia, alzheimers, various kinds of brain damage (TBI, TIA, etc) that’s different. I feel like that’s a bit of a red herring though because such conditions are very rare in the workplace, usually cause for being considered totally disabled and unable to work,.

        1. Cranky Neighbot*

          Many mental health conditions, “structural” and otherwise, observably affect behavior. That’s often part of diagnosis. Having your behavior affected by your condition, whether you’re aware of it or not, is often part of living with a mental health condition.

          Hearing that this is 100% in your control can be difficult. On one hand, it’s not wrong; it’s not like somebody else is compelling me. But on the other hand, if I could live like someone without a mental health condition, I would! I, like a lot of people, can only get close.

        2. Morag*

          I have bipolar disorder, and I work full time. When I am manic, my behaviour is not in my control. Please don’t add to the stigma.

  33. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I have really bad anxiety that can sometimes come out as irritability or even irrational rage (think Hyperbole and a Half’s “sneaky hate spiral”). Sometimes at home I would yell or act irrationally. My wife is quick to tell me that it’s not appropriate, and because we are close, tries to calm me when I get started.

    Ultimately, though, how I act is my problem. And you don’t even have to help calm Minerva like people in my life do, since you’re not even friends.

    1. Quill*

      I have a friend who I can have a stormy relationship with because we both have angry symptoms, (and rejection sensitivity, so “let’s not talk right now!” doesn’t work,) and we’ve actively been working on “Hey, I don’t want advice / to be overdefended right now” vs “Hey I can’t words today,” vs “I am in full hedgehog mode today, hug at your own risk.”

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        “Full hedgehog mode” – I love it! (So very accurate to those bad days when everything feels like a personal offense, including neutral-to-positive things, and things that have nothing to do with me at all.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have to wonder if Minerva has a support system at all.

      I’ve seen a lot of anxiety turn into irritability and irrational rage, however it’s all contained to the “home” life.

      This is why tons of people are never suspected of being temperamental or at the extreme side abusive because they understand that they have to control it outside of the house.

      If you cannot contain it in the end, that’s a sign that you really need more medical intervention or sadly in the end, perhaps are just unemployable or at least cannot be employed somewhere that you have contact with others frequently.

  34. juliebulie*

    I think pretty much everything Alison has said here applies the same whether Minerva’s behavior is due to mental health issues, a Jekyll and Hyde potion, the phase of the moon, or just a rotten personality. The bigger problem that always bothers me with these letters is the passive manager who just watches helplessly – or turns a blind eye.

  35. Purt's Peas*

    One tool in Minerva’s rudeness toolbox is ending the conversation on Her Terms and getting the last word.

    This is an annoying/disturbing tool but it’sentirely handle-able with an internal reframing. Your ultimate goal during one of her rudeness episodes is for it to STOP. That means, don’t feel bad if you can’t shut it down or get in the last word; if she’s the one who walks away, that’s fine!

    I mention this because I’m guessing you’ll get a lot of advice on how to handle this stuff in the moment, and if you’re anything like me/the rest of humanity you’re practicing arguments with her in the shower where you come up with the perfect thing to say. It might not happen. But keep in mind when you’re in one of these situations that it just needs to end, you don’t need to have the snappiest answer.

    And…totally agreed on reporting all this stuff to Minerva’s boss. It is genuinely egregious.

    1. Lobsterp0t*

      I also fully support just walking out of a conversation/diatribe – it removes the opportunity for the last word and also removes you from the abuse. “” is a complete sentence, in that instance.

  36. Budgie Buddy*

    I’m as freaked out by the “nice” behavior as the mean behavior. Aggressive hugging and pinching cheeks???? NO. Especially not as a way to physically force someone to participate in an apology.

  37. OhBehave*

    Alison’s suggestions are great. Nip this in the bud the minute she starts her tirade.
    Everyone has been giving her a pass and walks on tip toes around her I suspect. You have shown great empathy in dealing with her outbursts. She obviously knows she’s out of line. Please do not let her continue this behavior. You may have coworkers for whom this behavior is a trigger. Once you start standing up to her others may follow suit.
    Please update when this happens again and you’ve pushed back.

  38. Stitch*

    Seconding this heartily. She is verbally and physically abusing you. Mental health does not matter. You should not be abused at work. If HR or your boss brushes this off, escalate it. Or job hunt. This is not okay for you to be treated like this.

    1. Wintermute*

      I wouldn’t say mental health doesn’t matter– I would say YOUR mental health ALSO matters. Minerva doesn’t get to use OP as a stress dump and make her bear the mental cost here.

      1. Stitch*

        This is a good point. You don’t sacrifice your own mental health because someone else is out of control.

  39. LKW*

    I’m curious if she treats anyone else like this, especially her manager or anyone more senior. I find that people who like to blame their problems on mental health or like to blame their problems on others are really good about controlling their emotions and outbursts when there are consequences. I would bet that if the head of the department sent out a memo with a typo, Minerva wouldn’t be charging into her office calling her incompetent.

  40. Environmental Compliance*

    Having multiple coworkers talk to her about her behavior really should have resulted in the behavior dropping more than 1-2 levels. Going from a 10+ to an “8 or 9” is….still not great.

    100% report this to her boss & your boss. Minerva’s mental health does not have a pass to affect everyone else’s mental health around her.

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, that struck me too. Like, going from “rudeness level 10 to an 8 or 9” might be technically an improvement, but the target level is like a 4 at most.

  41. bunniferous*

    You will be doing her a favor to set boundaries. It may be HARDER for her to regulate herself but not IMPOSSIBLE. Her manager can work with her for strategies if she is really stressed out (such as taking a moment to breathe in a spare office, for instance) but you are doing her no favors by letting this continue. As for the making up she does later which is also problematic, it is true she is probably very embarrassed by how she is acting but the solution is ultimately learning to not do those things. She may not be perfect at it-this is not easy-but this is not impossible for her and her life will be much better if she at least tries.

    1. Asenath*

      It may well be impossible for Minerva to regulate herself. Mental illness can easily be that severe. If that is the case, she may have to be put on leave, and if she doesn’t recover sufficiently, lose her job when the leave allowance runs out, or whatever benefits she may have in the way of long-term disability run out. Of course, her behaviour towards OP isn’t in any way acceptable, and OP should indeed refuse to participate in, say, rude phone calls and inform management about her unacceptable behaviour. But it’s very easy to say that with appropriate treatment Minerva will be able to hold down a job if she really tries. The situation might be that she can’t do it, and that management may be trying to ease her out. The OP’s question has been answered well – she doesn’t need to accept the bad behaviour. But she may need to realize that a solution that involves a pleasant and professional Minerva may not exist, and she shouldn’t expect it to. All OP can do is protect herself.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes, this is a good thing to remember.

        And this boils down to the company and people in it have to think of everyone’s collective best interest, even if it means that it removes Minerva from their employment. It’s awful but the damage done to others has to be taken seriously here and it’s true that sometimes illness is so severe that someone cannot remain employed. If that’s the case, I pray she has the ability to seek out the alternatives which sadly are hard to obtain in the US but this is something that a group of workers in a random office somewhere cannot take on themselves for someone else just out of the compassion within themselves. It can turn dangerous even, when someone shows inability to regulate their emotions and spike like that, then also want to hug up and cuddle on you during their apology sessions, that’s a dangerous situation when she hits another temper tantrum and starts hitting people or throwing things, etc.

      2. bunniferous*

        I answered with the assumption she was well enough to work. Sometimes sadly it turns out not to be the case at least temporarily. Med change, leave of absence or even disability may be in the cards. But it is Minerva’s responsibility along with her health care provider to monitor her ability to be successful in the workplace.

    2. Observer*

      It may be HARDER for her to regulate herself but not IMPOSSIBLE.

      You really actually don’t know that. I think it’s important to remember that you really don’t know what other people are capable of. Not because that places any sort of obligation on the OP. Quite the reverse. I think that the OP needs to know that it makes no real difference whether Minerva can regulate herself or not. She still does NOT and SHOULD NOT get to abuse other people. If that means that she needs to be fired, that’s sad. But that’s the reality.

  42. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    It doesn’t matter whether Minerva’s behavior is due to mental health issues or is just her personality, the number one reason it continues is because everyone lets her do it with no real consequences. At my last job she would have been written up 3 times and fired the 4th time it happened. Kind of reminds me of an abusive husband where the wife makes all kinds of excuses about why he can’t control himself, but the funny thing is he is perfectly able to control himself in other situations, such as at work where he’d get fired or around other men who would punch him in the nose if he pulled the crap his wife takes.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think a lot of offices are terrible at handling this type of thing. My former coworker used to lash out at me all the time and also could not manage to show up before 10:30 (for an 8:30 start time). I complained to our big boss but she told me her hands were tied and implied it was a mental health issue and that I should just take the abuse. Uh, hell no.
      I stopped covering for her when she was late (she had a needy direct boss who would always ask for my help when she wasn’t around). I just said, no, sorry I’m too busy, you’ll just have to wait for Wendy. After a few times, her boss told her she needed to show up on time. I then waited until the next time she yelled at me (I was higher level than she was but not her supervisor) and went to my boss and resigned on the spot. I told her that she was losing me because she wasn’t willing to deal with Wendy’s constant outbursts and that I was fed up. She asked me to stay and told me she’d handle it (I was 100% sure she would try to get me to stay but I really was willing to leave over it). She had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with her the next day. The day after that, Wendy quit! I was so thrilled. I knew that nothing would happen unless I took action because of that wimpy boss; my current boss would have put a stop to it right away (same company).

  43. anon for this*

    In addition to Alison’s excellent-as-usual advice, PLEASE document this with HR too, in addition to Minerva’s boss. I’ve dealt with an extremely similar issue (I actually chuckled out loud after reading the first two paragraphs because how close your situation is to what mine was) and I documented the hell out of everything, usually BCCing HR on the emails to the boss.

    1. Wintermute*

      Bingo! I would loop in HR and my own boss.

      Because right now LW is Minerva’s punching bag– want to bet that any personal boundary will be seen as an intolerable insult and retaliated against? I’d give it better than even-money odds that once she’s not just taking it so minerva can vent her spleen at will and actually has to, you know, cope with and process negative emotions, she’s going to melt down.

      Not that this isn’t a reason to defend yourself, your own health matters and everyone has a right to be treated respectfully by coworkers, but it is a reason to make sure the people that could shield you from retaliation are involved.

  44. animaniactoo*

    It is never a good idea to sit and suffer yourself for somebody else’s issue. You can be as sympathetic as possible to Minerva’s struggles while also declining to be her punching back when she spirals out of control.

    Alison is 100% correct here. And truly, what you’re currently doing is actually not helping Minerva that much because she more or less has a current “out”. She gets to spiral and then she gets to “make up for it”. Later. When she doesn’t have to deal with it in the moment or address it in a way that is effective for in the moment.

    Refusing to put up with it in the moment is something you owe to yourself AND is also beneficial to Minerva whether she realizes it or not. Because she won’t be able to use her current “out” and would be faced with the need to make much larger adjustments.

    Walk away, hang up, whatever you need to do. “Excuse me. I do not deserve to be spoken to like this, please get back to me when you’re calmer.” Calmly and firmly. If she attempts to follow you, escalate to her manager immediately.

  45. AyBeeCee*

    If OP hangs up on Minerva and Minerva calls back, let the call go to voicemail. Then the next day share the voicemail with Minerva’s manager. and possibly also HR.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      This. If she’s going to leave a voicemail on someone else’s personal phone, she has no expectation of privacy and OP can’t get bit in the butt about recording her without her consent. It could also be used in a possible hostile work environment case down the road if management continues to let her be so abusive to her coworkers. This case would fit the hostile workplace standard would it not?

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I think the legal definition of hostile workplace requires the poor treatment to be based on protected characteristics. So if Minerva were shouting at OP all the time because of their religion or country of origin, this would be a hostile workplace scenario. But since Minerva’s just shouting at everyone all the time for no discernible reason, this wouldn’t be legally considered a hostile workplace. But that doesn’t mean OP’s higher ups shouldn’t take action here. A thing doesn’t have to be illegal to be a thing you should not do in your office or to your coworkers.

  46. AndersonDarling*

    I remember my “Minerva.” I was 15 years younger and newer to office jobs and so I just accepted it. If no one was stepping in during the rage tornadoes, then it must be a regular part of the workplace. Right?
    But these rages would have threats rolled in. Cut you, choke you, beat you down when you leave…I was absolutely terrified. But it wasn’t the direct threats that scared me, it was more that someone was so unaware of how they were behaving that they had the potential to do terrible things at any time. Kinda like a timebomb.
    That job was messed up.

  47. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

    I have two thoughts about OP saying Minerva is seeking treatment: 1) she needs her meds adjusted, and/or 2) whomever is helping her is failing.

    I’m not trying to belittle or downplay Minerva’s issues. I’m on the mental health train too. It’s hard to find the right kind of help, but no therapist I’ve ever seen –and there have been many– would have tolerated this behavior. In addition, if I mentioned something like this in a session, they’d have called me out on it. That she’s still acting out while she says she’s seeking treatment says to me that she’s probably not really seeking treatment, certainly hasn’t found effective treatment, or is just a crappy person.

    On the meds tip–it’s hard. To get my proper cocktail, I was a veritable science fair project for a long while. Adjustments must be made carefully, but in all of mine I was able to sense the adjustment right off. It may not have been the desired result, but I knew it was the meds and not my own crap personality.

    1. Feather*

      Yeah that’s very probably true. But on the other hand, this is absolutely NOT the LW’s problem, or her job to address with Minerva; it might be slightly (slightly) different were the LW Minerva’s actual manager, but they aren’t, so Minerva’s treatment is not their problem or responsibility.

      1. valentine*

        two thoughts about OP saying Minerva is seeking treatment
        Minerva could well be lying because it helps her continue to run roughshod, but the cause or motive for her behavior doesn’t matter and would just derail OP.

    2. Food Sherpa*

      You are absolutely correct. It took me 11 tries to find a medication that worked. My life is so much better now, it was worth the effort.

  48. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You have to set boundaries and even more so when people struggle to keep them. You can be forgiving to a point but after awhile, people will use this as a go-ahead to continue to act like a total jerk without having to watch themselves at all.

    Hang up on her if she screams. Tell her to leave you alone if she’s cornering you. Do not accept this kind of behavior what so ever and run it up the chain if she starts to complain about you. Document her behaviors.

    These instances are all fireable offenses, I don’t care what is going on with her health. There are standards that we’re held to, there is leeway for people who need it but as others say, that doesn’t extend to “assholes gonna be assholes and we have to accept their treatment because they’re sick.”

    I have had to remove mentally ill people from my family/friends circles before and it’s awful to get to that point. But it’s a thing that happens because we cannot lose ourselves and accept abuse to the point of serious self harm levels because you’re trying to be compassionate to their situation. They will bleed you dry and you’ll rot your heart right out of your chest bending over backwards for people who are treating you so awfully, even if they have a “nice” side that they can show when they know they really mucked it up

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      If I were to need to hang up on her, I would definitely preface it with something like, “If you can’t speak to me about this in a professional, respectful manner, I’m going to have to terminate this call”, then hang up when it continues. That way there is no way for her to say that you were mean to her or something. I learned that trick when I ansered phones at a hotel.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes, absolutely say something and not just drop the call. If you just drop the call, they usually would just assume the connection was lost and try calling back

        My go to is “I don’t listen to screaming, I’ll talk to you when you can talk at a normal level. Do not call me back.” and then I hang up.

        I don’t give them the option of just taking it down a notch at the moment though because I’m not going to give them anything after they did something so egregious [screaming is my one trigger and I will not accept it from anyone.]

        It’s different if you’re dealing with customers of course. In that case I do a bit more of a warning like you’ve mentioned. But if you’re a coworker or even my boss, I’ll just tell you that the conversation stops there and leave it until you’re not being awful. [I don’t recoup from this stuff fast enough to just say “Hey stop yelling, okay?” and then moving on if they lower their voice, I need to decompress afterwards because my heart is most likely racing and that fight or flight is in full swing!]

  49. Hoisted by his own petard*

    I agree with the comments above.

    I would add that you should not get drawn in and tell the co-worker to F-off. Then you become the bad guy.

    Just set the limits, end the conversation, tell your boss, and remain calm. Think of your coworker like a child having a tantrum. In appropriate (esp for an adult at work) but often not personal and not something an adult would react to with anger. Stay calm and put pressure on your manager. And encourage others to do so as well. This is an abusive cycle and giving the coworker as pass is not helping them. Its enabling.

  50. Jk*

    This woman is abusing you. You need to cut her off quicker and stand up for yourself. Don’t allow her to bully you. Just because she may or may not have mental health issues it doesn’t mean she can be a butthead to everyone.

  51. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no. Enough is enough. At some point the problem is no longer that everyone else isn’t being accommodating enough and/or isn’t being the right kind of compassionate, it’s that the Minerva in question isn’t capable of functioning in this situation, either because the mental issues are legitimately not under control or because s/he is using them as an excuse to be an a-hole.

    1. Wintermute*

      You raise a good point. Being a raging jerk and being unwell are not mutually exclusive things! There is this sort of tendency to just lump everything in under “oh well that’s just the talking” but no, I’ve known plenty of people that are just plain unpleasant, and on top of that had mental health struggles. It’s very possible that she’s just a giant jerk, who happens to have mental health problems too.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, it’s possible that even without the mental health issues, she’s not a very nice person. When she’s not having an episode her attempts and kindness sound insincere and hollow.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I’ve worked with jerks who were simply jerks and deserved to be fired despite having mental health issues, because it wasn’t really the mental health that was the problem. I’ve also worked with nice enough people who were currently too ill to work (or at least to work in whatever job we were doing) because the amount of accommodation they needed was significantly obstructive to everyone else’s work and meant that they couldn’t perform large portions of their own responsibilities. And that was sad. But they needed more support than a workplace is prepared to or should really have to provide.

  52. ThinMint*

    OP, it seems this behavior by Minerva has become normalized by your office. It happens all the time and it’s understandable because a lot of times the root of it is compassion for the person struggling. I get it.

    But! Listen to the AAM community and Allison. This isn’t normal and you don’t have to accept it. Enforcing your boundaries is a good thing and it may free other people to start doing the same. And ultimately, it’s better for Minerva too.

  53. right there with ya*

    I really feel for OP – going through this same exact situation at work except instead of another coworker it’s our HR director. Godspeed!

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      That’s terrible! I hope you can report her up the chain of command. I had to work for a CEO like that one time; within 3 months of his takeover, several admins had been outright fired (as a group too, but they deserved it), and over half of the c-suite had left because they couldn’t deal with him anymore. He hasn’t gotten any better from what I’ve heard either.

  54. Drew*

    I would be very tempted to push back on the apologies:

    Minerva: I’m very sorry for yelling at you.
    OP: I can’t accept your apology. You have a pattern of acting badly and then apologizing once you have calmed down as though it resets everything back to how it was. At this point, an apology isn’t enough. You have to stop treating me and all your coworkers hostilely or rudely.
    Minerva: Whoa, why so emotional? I said I was sorry!
    OP: That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not emotional; I’m telling you that your behavior is unacceptable. I have to get back to what I was doing; please close the door on your way out.

  55. High Score!*

    I’m shocked no one has mentioned the pinched cheeks. To me that is physical assault that I would, at a minimum, report to HR. No one gets to hug or touch me at the office. I will say, when I started my career in a male dominated field 30 years ago, if a woman couldn’t say NO very clearly with her voice as well as her fists, she’d get more “affection” than she wanted. I learned early on to forcefully hands away, avoid hugs and when required knock assaulters out.
    No one has the right to put hands on you without your consent. It doesn’t matter their gender or mental state.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I missed the cheek pinching originally but I recoiled at the fact that she starts hugging during her apologies.

      We’re not a “no touchy ever” environment, despite it being male dominated. But this kind of touching would be reported and the person would get one warning that it’s never to happen again, then fired afterwards.

      Even if the person is your same gender, this is inappropriate and can lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. So you have to be extremely mindful of touching that’s taking place.

    2. Oliver*

      I made a beeline for the comments specifically to mention the pinched cheeks! The LW framed this as Minerva being really mean and then nice to make up for it, but pinching an adult’s cheeks isn’t nice so much as creepy and condescending. If a coworker did that to me I’d feel just as undermined and violated as if they screamed at me…

    3. Essess*

      Exactly. The next time she does it, the OP needs to tell her to stop physically assaulting her. The next time she does it, then it needs to go to HR that you are being physically assaulted by a coworker and that they are ignoring your demand that they stop.

  56. Half-Caf Latte*

    My advice for the LW: captain awkward has some great scripts/frameworks for dealing with interactions like this. The gist of it is- intent is nice and all, but I need your actions to change. It’s really worth looking at, if for nothing else than validation that you’re not being the jerk.

  57. Delta Delta*

    Minerva is a broken stair. I worked with a Minerva. When things were taken to the boss, the boss’s response was “that’s just Minerva and she isn’t going to change” or (this is my favorite) “Minerva’s 45. Not like she’s changing anytime soon.”

    This to say – make sure the boss will actually do something.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      In my case, HR tolerated my Minerva’s outbursts like they were accommodating an employee with any other condition. They believed having someone threaten and scream at you was exactly the same as not eating peanuts at work because an employee had a severe allergy.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I hope you were like “Okay you keep Minerva then, I’ll go ahead and show myself out of this awful place.”

      I shiver and count myself lucky to always be employed by decent humans who don’t put up with or make excuses for bad behavior.

      As HR, I’d be more afraid for my other staff than this one off person. Way to sacrifice your entire team for the whims of a single person who even if they’re a high performer, are a resource drain. Yuck.

    3. Art3mis*

      I had the same problem. Management wanted to know what was wrong with ME and why I wasn’t “getting” the things she “trained” me on. They excused her behavior and placed everything on my shoulders. Everyone, including management, “warned” me about her and my coworkers often asked how I could put up with her. I took a decent pay cut to leave that job. My friend that helped me get the job still tries to excuse her behavior as possibly being not as socially aware or possibly even on the autistic spectrum. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean she gets to yell at me for not being able to read her mind.

    4. pope suburban*

      She is absolutely a missing/broken stair. If the boss isn’t willing to do something, and if HR isn’t willing to do something, then OP has a very different decision to make than the one she came here with. Her decision is going to be whether or not she wants to continue dealing with literal, actual, sometimes-physical abuse, or start searching for a job elsewhere. I sympathize with how big that can seem, especially when one has become habituated to a truly horrible situation, but sometimes that’s all one can control. In the meantime, document everything, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself from the room/conversation, and make sure to practice good self-care at home. I’m dealing with my own missing stair and while I’m putting as much pressure as I can on management to take action, I know it’s not my call and I’m keeping tabs on other positions in the organization that’ll get me away from this person. OP, I hope your supervisor and/or HR steps up, but if not that, I hope you find a quick and positive exit from the company, and land somewhere that values good treatment for all their employees.

  58. lms*

    In situations like this, when you know you’re going to be encountering her unacceptable behaviors again, I have found it extremely helpful to practice saying these phrases *out loud*, not just going over them in your head. Say them in the shower, to your pet, to a stuffed animal, to the mirror, to a friend or significant other, to a cactus, whatever. But make that brain-to-mouth connection and build up that muscle memory and it will help you when you need to react in real time.

    Practicing this with another person is especially helpful when stopping unwanted hugging/cheek-pinching. You can step back, do the outstretched “stop” hand, twist away, grab her hands, swat her hands away, fully walk away from the situation, duck your face out of reach, etc., but it can be hard to just visualize the physical actions that will be most comfortable and effective for you.

    It will probably feel silly. That’s fine. If it helps, think about it like you’re practicing self-defense… because you *are*.

    1. Me*

      ‘m unaware of anyone who suggested it was. Nor has anyone said the person with mental health issues is right or should be accommodated.

      Suggesting it’s fine to engage in bad toxic behavior to get someone fired is not okay, helpful or funny.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      This is not an ok thing to say. You are asking OP to abuse someone.

      OP has non-abusive options.

  59. TootsNYC*

    This is one of those times where I honestly think it’s time to get flamingly angry and let her have it. To let that righteous anger show. It’s not impolite, actually, to say, in an angry and forceful tone: “You cannot treat me like this, it was out of line, and I do not ever want it to happen again.” It’s not impolite to let your anger show.

    It IS impolite to be abusive, but it’s not impolite to make it clear how angry you are.

    Mental health is just not an excuse; she needs to find a way to manage it, and she won’t if she keeps suffering no consequences. “Having a conversation with her” is not a particularly negative consequence. Being yelled at might be.

    Of course, there’s the strategy of it–be sure the folks over your head know you’re going to do this, be ready for backlash, and head it off where you can.

    1. TootsNYC*

      My brother the Army sergeant has said he doesn’t want an apology; he wants you to fix it, and not let it happen again.

      So I don’t think I’d be saying–anymore–“I appreciate the apology.” I think I’d be saying, pretty coldly and firmly, “I don’t want any apologies from you. I want you to change how you treat me.”

      And the pinching cheeks would–by now–get some form of a stiff-arm and “get away from me” and “don’t touch me.”

      I just wouldn’t have any patience for it anymore. Cold and civil. She corners me about a mistake? I’d be, “I’m not talking to you. If you have anything to say to me, put it in an email.”

      It’s gone on so long that I’d be figuring it was time to apply some social pressure to her. If the boss isn’t going to, I would.

      1. Nea*

        I forget where I saw this, but it makes a great script – when someone who has gotten really out of line apologizes, you don’t say “it’s okay” or even “I accept your apology.” You say “I look forward to your changed behavior.” Make it clear that apologies don’t fix it, actions do.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      OP probably *can’t* do this. The unfair truth is that you don’t get to behave like an unprofessional asshole in response to an unprofessional asshole. I would also say it’s a win for Minerva, because she gets to weep and plead mental illness, which has served her well in this workplace, and OP… can’t. I think ice cold politeness, documenting, and escalating this above the manager, while WAY less satisfying than your suggestion, is the only practical way to go.

      1. FormerFirstTimer*

        I don’t think making your feelings known about abuse you are suffering at the moment is necessarily unprofessional. It would depend on how it’s done. If OP were to be cornered by Minerva, she has every right to loudly tell her to back off and that she’s making her uncomfortable. Maybe if everyone got a little louder and more direct with Minerva, she’d realize that her coworkers aren’t going to be doormats anymore. At the very least management would realize that the situation has gotten really, really out of hand.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Agree. I’m someone who can be verbally intimidating–I know that I can’t deploy that without blowback. Someone else could do it. For me, I know that I’ll end up looking worse, even if I said the script just so, etc., because for whatever combination of reasons, when I get mad and let that show verbally, I scare people. It’s a good street skill and a bad work skill.

          1. TootsNYC*

            there are in-betweens as well.

            There’s the “oh, I know you didn’t mean it,” and the terse and level, “I’m not OK with the way you talked to me just now/yesterday.”

            It’s time to just not be pleasant to this lady anymore.

            1. The Supreme Troll*

              TootsNYC, I’m a day late to this, but everything that you have said is something I 100% agree with, and you’ve explained this very clearly and meaningfully.

  60. AKchic*

    Minerva needs to be managed better. It is time to lay it all out for the manager and HR (if there is one) and tell them that Minerva is no longer allowed to call you. If she has anything to say to you after hours, it can be done in an email or a text. You will no longer subject yourself to her verbal abuse. Yes, use the words “verbal abuse”, because that is exactly what she is doing.
    I don’t buy the “she can’t control her outbursts” bit. I think she can actually manage herself a lot better than she is currently doing. Is she having these outbursts and yelling at managers? Is she yelling at clients? At random customer service people outside of the company? Or is it just you, your department, and people equal to her position and lower? Please be honest with yourself and stop giving her a sympathetic or overly compassionate benefit of doubt. You have every right to be treated with dignity and respect. If Minerva is truly receiving treatment for her mental health, then she needs to be held accountable for her actions, and holding herself accountable as well. What is currently happening isn’t how you hold someone accountable.

    1. Observer*

      You know, it doesn’t really matter if she can’t help it. Her behavior is still unacceptable. Either she can help it and she’s not or she’s genuinely disabled and unable to meet the core functions of her job, at least without accommodation. And while her employer probably has an obligation in the latter case to explore accommodation, “require staff to suffer abuse” is NOT a reasonable accommodation by any measure.

      1. LKW*

        My take, and I said as much above, is that often the people who “can’t control themselves” are more than able to control themselves around certain folks. You’re right in that no one deserves to be treated like the OP an that Minerva’s behavior is unacceptable, I will always be suspicious when the behavior goes across, and down but never up. If it never goes up, then it’s controllable.

        1. AKchic*

          That is how I’ve always seen it. If a person can “keep it together” for management and customers/clients so they can keep their job, then they can certainly “keep it together” for the rest of the staff, otherwise they are not effective as an employee, and I consider them manipulative at best.

          I am not without sympathy for mental health issues. I deal with my own on a daily basis. But I do everything I can to ensure I am not taking it out on anyone. Nobody needs to suffer because of my own imbalanced brain chemistry.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I agree–it’s just that with lower-status people the stakes aren’t high enough.

            Time to raise the stakes, even if it’s only that from a “social” point of view, she’s shut out and treated differently.

      2. fposte*

        I see both sides on this. From a workplace standpoint I don’t really care if she can or can’t control herself; all I need to know is that she isn’t doing it, and that control has to happen if she’s to stay. But if she did pull it together and behave better, I might be resentful that apparently it was an ability she had all along but didn’t bother to use.

      3. NothingIsLittle*

        I was trying to think of any accommodation for this and came up totally blank. The bottom line is that you can’t act abusively towards your coworkers or clients and given that she’s called OP to scream before, having her work from home or in an isolated office isn’t going to control her behavior.

        What a nightmare for OP having to deal with this, especially after having started a pattern of allowing Minerva to go way too far, and what a nightmare for Minerva’s boss, who either has no backbone or no idea what’s going on.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I don’t buy the “she can’t control her outbursts” bit. I think she can actually manage herself a lot better than she is currently doing. Is she having these outbursts and yelling at managers? Is she yelling at clients? At random customer service people outside of the company? Or is it just you, your department, and people equal to her position and lower?

      I think that was one of the most powerful things I read in Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. (which has principles that apply to angry and controlling PEOPLE; it’s just that men get away with it more often)

  61. Jef*

    Yeah, I work with a Minerva, only without the apology/”nice” behavior afterward. And our boss actually believes that her issues (however she has defined them to boss) absolutely are an acceptable reason for her bad behavior. Because she’s going through a lot. Basically the message we all got (’cause it wasn’t just me on the receiving end) is that our boss’s discomfort with dealing with this directly was more important than our well-being/having a reasonable workplace. At this point I avoid her if possible and will not be talked out of reporting it to HR if it happens again.

  62. Nea*

    Minerva is not changing her approach, she is changing the method of delivery of her attacks. There’s no real difference between yelling insults and pinching cheeks; both make LW the recipient of Minerva’s out of control feelings in a manner that is unprofessional, boundary-breaking, and which stand a good chance of angering LW in return.

    Which I half wonder is Minerva’s intent. She certainly seems to be trying to goad LW.

  63. Petit Ours*

    Everything about Minerva reminds me of a mentor I had once. I don’t know if it’s affected at LW’s office this way, but it got to the point where I was afraid to do much of anything for fear of being ripped to shreds over something small. But she’d had a difficult past, so I was encouraged to just keep going and be understanding. I thought that pushing back more would be unprofessional because I was very young and didn’t know better, not to mention my boss heavily implied so. The result was that after I left that situation, I spent months in therapy repairing my own mental health after I manifest PTSD symptoms that impacted my subsequent job, stemming from the constant abuse that mentor shoveled at me. I also lost respect for people I thought were my friends, but who had encouraged me to just be nice because her life is hard, while I suffered.

    Even if nobody from the office has to seek counseling for the abuse thrown at them at work, at the very least this has to be dreadful for employee morale and job satisfaction. The people in charge who are giving Minerva a pass for this behavior may have good intentions, but they are inevitably promoting a hostile environment for literally everybody else. That’s not how being accommodating actually works.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      Yes! Reasonable accommodation for one person does not mean the rest of the staff has to be her punching bag. I think reasonable accommodation, in this case, would mean allowing time off for counseling, therapy, etc…, maybe even extending to giving her a quiet place to regroup.

    2. Media Monkey*

      Reminds me of an old boss too. I finally got up the nerve to complain about her (it was my first job and this was very much not done in that company) as she was best friends with my board director, and it ended up with my board director basically telling me to suck it up as she was having a hard time in her personal life (she was, but it wasn’t my fault!). unsurprisingly i got a new job after that!

  64. Oliver*

    So Minerva yells and abuses you and then to apologize she… pinches your cheeks?! That’s so invasive to do to another adult, least of all a coworker, that it sounds like she is abusive all of the time.

    LW, you phrase Minerva’s behavior as hot and cold, yelling and then apologetic. But it sounds like her behavior is inappropriate 100% of the time. Pinch-cheeking aside (which I am honestly having a visceral reaction to while think about it), over-praising your work and being mushy (the hugging etc.) is condescending and boundary-crossing. That behavior alone would be enough to warrant a firm shut down.

    All this to say is that I think you should stop giving Minerva the benefit of the doubt; stop thinking of her as “trying to reign it in”. It’s possible she is sincerely trying, but it sounds like she is extremely incapable right now of judging what’s appropriate, and it is not your responsibility to put up with it.

  65. Observer*

    OP, I have not read every single response, but I’ve read most of them. I’m going to agree with all the people who say that you do NOT have an ethical obligation to accept her abuse, that her behavior IS abuse and that her apology behavior is ALSO out of line. Also, that you’ve gotten way too accepting – the idea that going from a 10 to 8-9 on the rudeness is a meaningful improvement does not really pass the giggle test for anyone outside of the situation.

    But, I have a question for you. Why do you think that you have an ethical obligation to actually accept the abuse she is dishing out? If Minerva were actually hitting you, would you have an ethical obligation to allow her to continue just because she has mental health problems? Why should you have an ethical obligation to stay on the phone when she calls you at a ridiculous hour and then ssreams at you? Why would you have an ethical obligation to stay around her when she flies off the handle at work?

    Think about it. You would certainly not allow her to kit someone else because “mental health”. You would hopefully not allow her to hit you, either. This is really not all the different.

  66. Sharrbe*

    No No No No. Calling at 10pm and yelling at you is completely unacceptable. And she’s also just a co-worker and not a supervisor? I mean this behavior even from a supervisor would be innappropriate, but from someone on the same level is you is insane. And what is she doing working at 10pm at night (if that’s not her regular schedule)? That means something is very off about her work and productivity if she needs to put in that extra time. All of this should be brought to management’s attention. This is so not ok. And her over-the-top “apologies” and compliments following her outbursts are not remorseful, they are childish and manipulative. This is not about accomodating someone’s mental illness. No one deserves to be abused, and you are being abused.

  67. LizardOfOdds*

    I’ve been the manager of someone who behaved the way Minerva is described here, and I really want to emphasize the action to follow up with the manager every single time this happens. At some point, the people working with my Minerva just expected that she would behave badly and they assumed I was taking action. Had they reported the incidents as they occurred, I could have taken action A LOT faster than I did.

    Minerva’s manager can’t observe everything herself, and it’s not always possible for a manager to string together a coherent narrative about an individual’s bad behavior with only their limited observations. Without that clear narrative, it’s hard to take disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Having multiple people reporting bad behavior not only enables the manager to show there’s a pattern, it also demonstrates the broader organizational impact, which can encourage an HR team to support more aggressive action on the manager’s part.

  68. Spider*

    One person’s rights end where another person’s begin. You have the right to work in a safe environment, free from verbal and physical abuse. Minerva has no right to abuse you or anyone else. She has no right to touch anyone without their permission. She has no right to insult, berate, or humiliate anyone. There is no conceivable excuse or explanation why she should be granted these rights.

    You and your entire workplace are ethically entitled to enforce your rights and boundaries. If Minerva can’t abide by these boundaries, her employment should be terminated.

  69. Argh!*

    I agree with Alison’s advice, but would add talking to LW’s supervisor, too. A supervisor-to-supervisor discussion could result in a system to manage the situation. For example, Minerva’s supervisor could instruct her to bring all issues to her via email and she would handle them herself or delegate to someone else.

    Developing your own PTSD is in no way an acceptable accommodation to someone else’s issues!

  70. Utoh!*

    Yeah, that’s a big NOPE from me. If it happened infrequently, that would be one thing, but it seems like it’s almost the norm and no one should be subject to that type of behavior from someone who work with. It creates an incredibly uncomfortable and stressful environment. Not sure what type of assistance she is receiving, but it might be useful for her to take some time off to focus on it if possible?

  71. Lalitah28*

    If it’s any comfort to the OP, the woman who invented dialectical behavioral therapy, Dr. Marsha M. Linehan, herself a sufferer of borderline personality disorder, said that although a patient is in pain, they have to manage their outbursts to get better. You can validate the person’s suffering and at the same time, not excuse the damage they do to you.

  72. Caprese Salad*

    So from the manager side, how do you go about managing a Minerva? Asking for a friend…

    1. fposte*

      Assuming you can’t just fire her already: “Minerva, communication in this workplace must be civil and respectful; yelling and being insulting, as you were in the conference room this afternoon, isn’t acceptable. We cannot retain an employee who engages in those behaviors, so we’ll need you to commit to professional civility going forward. Can you do that?” If you get “blah blah blah mental illness,” you can continue with “I’m absolutely willing to talk to you about accommodations in a separate conversation if you wish, but I want to loop in HR first. I can tell you, though, that those accommodations won’t involve changing the basic standard of civility that we require. Can you meet that?” If the answer is that she’s not sure, it could be time for discussing whether this job is a good fit for her and seeing if she’d be open to a managed transition out rather than a firing.

      As you can tell, I’m going for the “or else” take here; this is laying down the law so if she yells or insults in the future you can say look, you were warned, we’re done. If you don’t have the power to fire her ever, though, that’s not likely to work.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You tell them that you expect them to act professionally. Speak to others respectfully, never raise their voice and never harass someone over an error. Then you fire them when they don’t fix their nonsense. Sometimes the only way to manage someone is to terminate their employment, seriously. Not everyone is fit to be around others.

    3. Me*

      Adding to previous answers that you specifically document the offending behavior and the discussion. You always should but employees with serious behavioral problems that goes double.

      The behavior problematic ones always seem the most likely to file a grievance or appeal or threaten a lawsuit. We fired a guy for showing up hungover (he operated equipment around the public no less), being belligerent etc etc and you better believe he took every action to appeal/sue etc. They finally gave him a settlement to make him just go away.

    4. Cranky Neighbot*

      I’d say firing, honestly, if it’s gone this far.

      You could tell her that she can’t get aggressive or raise her voice unless there’s an emergency. But the thing is, she’ll probably think that whatever she’s angry about is important enough to justify her behavior. You’ll have to be ready to fire her (or enforce whatever consequences you’ve come up with) if she does that.

  73. Nephron*

    This comes up a lot here, but the accommodation of an employee is never at the cost of the coworkers. This is the equivalent of a coworker needing a wheelchair ramp so your boss asks you to donate your bones and build it.

    Accommodating Minerva’s mental health needs is not your responsibility. If Minerva is calling people off hours to verbally abuse them due to mental health problems then your company or Minerva has to deal with it. She either deletes all work phone numbers so she cannot call and harass people, or she locks her phone so she can only make emergency calls off hours. That is how you accommodate a mental health problem like that. Your employer should be making changes to accommodate Minerva’s needs, instead they are ignoring the problem and letting all of you handle them. It does not matter if Minerva is acting in good faith, improving over time, or about to make a breakthrough in her treatment. Your employer is mishandling this situation.

  74. Archaeopteryx*

    If anyone is yelling at you, hang up. Emotional abuse only escalates from there. If she leaves abusive voicemails instead, then at least there’s evidence. But this is way beyond the pale and your workplace is not doing her any favors by enabling it. And not firing someone after the – being extra generous- fourth or fifth outburst is enabling.

  75. GreenDoor*

    I just wanted to add that while Minerva is responsible for getting treatment for her issues, the OP should also be sure to tend to their own mental health. I feel like there’s a workplace equivalent of “caregiver burnout” where a coworker can actually get so stressed and anxious/depressed over how much it takes to cope with a Minerva that they end up having their own mental health adversely affected. Totally not right!! In addition to Alison’s awesome scripts, the OP may want to consult their workplace EAP if the stress of dealing with Minerva is affecting their own mental health in any way. Just the fact that the OP calls moving from a 10 to an 8 or 9 an improvement says that the OP has, perhaps, normalized Minerva’s behavior…

  76. Nikole*

    Excellent advice from Alison as always.

    There is both refusing to accept ill treatment and making sure the manager is aware every single time the coworker behaviors inappropriately.

    The only think I would add is that I would also encourage the LW to not allow the coworker to go into the ‘groveling apology’ part of this cycle.

    If the coworker verbally apologizes, I would tell the LW to say something like “the only apology I want is for this behavior to stop”.

    Don’t accept hugs and if the effusive compliments start, spell out what she’s doing. “It seems like you are trying to make up for your behavior yesterday/earlier. Your compliments sound insincere and I don’t want them. All I want from you to to treat me professionally at all times”

    I realize this is the higher conflict route but I actually suspect that if the coworker learns that the LW is not going to absolute the coworker after her outbursts, she might stop doing it to the LW.

  77. CommanderBanana*

    LW, this is not okay. Captain Awkward has a great analogy about someone standing on your foot. It doesn’t matter if that person is standing on your foot because they didn’t see it, they come from a culture where foot standing is okay, they’re having a bad day, you let them stand on your foot the other day, they’re not standing on your foot THAT hard – they still need to get the fuck off your foot.

    None of this is okay. Not the screaming, not the over-the-top “niceness,” not the pinching on your cheeks. What the what?

  78. Lobsterp0t*

    Ten to eight or nine is… not much of a reduction.

    Look, I have ADHD, depression AND anxiety. I have a really hard time with emotional regulation sometimes, even on meds and with a coach who helps me practice good strategies to address this!

    I have never done anything even remotely close to that with a colleague – the worst or most unprofessional thing I think I ever did was either tipsily venting about a misogynist senior manager who literally flipped a table (!) in rage at a colleague, or maybe quitting a live-in job on the spot because the organisation wouldn’t address the drug-dealing tenants (!) and a coworker called me a bitch (!!) in front of our boss (!!!) when I asked why all his night shifts seemed to mysteriously get swapped without their recipients (me) being consulted.

    She’s getting treatment. Let’s not assume this behaviour is because of her mental health and totally out with her control. She’s been made aware of the behaviours – she’s been made aware that they have a negative impact. It’s not a kindness to enable that behaviour to continue – regardless of why it’s happening. It’s abusive and inappropriate, and deeply unfair to you and everyone around you that she’s able to keep it up without facing the natural consequences of it (discipline and maybe a leave of absence to support her to properly deal with anything she identifies needs dealing with, if she does indeed identify during this Come to Jesus conversation that she’s out of control partly due to her ill health).

    Mental illness is never an excuse to manipulate, abuse, or harm people, and while it might drive some very maladaptive behaviours that lead to these ends, it’s not okay to excuse it – it’s important to put a boundary around it and contain or ideally put a stop to it, one way or another.

    Take the mental ill health out of your equation, and address what you are left with.

  79. MsCarter*

    I have a coworker who had a habit of appreciating my wardrobe by hitting me on the bum. It was the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had with my line manager to say “This happens, I’ve told her no 3 times, it’s not stopping and it makes me feel awful”. But it was taken seriously, because despite all attempts at minimising the effect (“but she means well”, apparently other people don’t mind, etc) it boils down to inappropriate and unwanted treatment, workplace or no. And that’s simply not justifiable.

    For me, management handling has not been perfect (delays in actually having a meeting with her) but it stopped for a long while. She tried telling other mutual colleagues that I overreacted – they were having none of it. And when it started again it was immediately escalated and*stopped*. So now it’s dealt with.

    OP, what you describe isn’t justifiable behaviour in the workplace. There aren’t any extenuating, or personal to them, circumstances that mean you have to put up with it. And any half-decent workplace will have your back.

  80. CM*

    I completely agree with the advice to set boundaries as you would no matter WHY this was happening. So, refusing to have a conversation with someone who’s yelling at you, etc, etc.

    The one part I wouldn’t do is suggest to her that she wait 24 hours to bring an issue to your attention (or any similar advice), because that crosses over from setting boundaries to trying to tell her how to manage her emotions. That’s something she needs to figure out with her therapist and, if she does, you can support whatever strategy she tries to put in place — but I wouldn’t try to tell her what the strategy should be.

    (Also, FWIW, when I had anger issues, waiting a day to confront someone would have meant being 10x angrier when the confrontation happened; advice that works really well for people with good mental health doesn’t always map onto people who are struggling).

  81. pcake*

    In these situations, I say “Stop!” in “the voice of authority”, then say firmly but not meanly or aggressively “I don’t allow anyone to talk to me this way. Please talk to me when you’re feeling calmer”. Then I walk away or hang up.

    As far as someone I don’t even like hugging me or touching me, I fend them off and tell them that they’re making me very uncomfortable. That I do not let coworkers violate my physical boundaries. Again, not meanly or aggressively, but firmly.

  82. Mimmy*

    This sounds so much like one of our former students. Keeping this gender-neutral for extra anonymity.

    This individual had significant mental health issues (I forget if they were undiagnosed) and we gave them more chances than I think was warranted. I think management was afraid of what would happen if we kicked them out of our program. When they confronted a number of staff one day about something, that was the tipping point. This person was never mean to me but the over-the-top behavior and verbal abuse was enough to make the environment rather toxic at times. I sometimes wonder what, if anything, they are saying about us to others.

    So my point of this is this – it’s possible that Minerva’s boss is similar to management at my job in that he fears some sort of legal action, such as suing for discrimination under the ADA (because of her mental health issues). However, no disability excuses constant rude behavior and verbal abuse. As Alison said, once in a while can be excused but a pattern of problem behavior is cause for concern. Absolutely give Minerva’s boss details of your interactions with her.

    1. LGC*

      I was actually thinking something similar – and about the ADA.

      The way I think of it is like…if someone goes blind, they can’t be – let’s say – a bus driver. If they’re significantly mobility impaired (like, they use a cane), they might not be able to load freight trucks. And if Minerva is unable to keep herself from abusing people, she probably shouldn’t be working closely with other people.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Yes, these are good examples. My understanding has always been that reasonable accomodations should be made and that the expectation will be that the requirements of the job will be fulfilled at 100% – not just “somewhat”, or “halfway”, or “barely”.

  83. X. Trapnel.*

    I quit a job because of this kind of thing. Husband & wife business, wife has bipolar disorder, every now and then wife decides to stop taking her medication. The last day I worked there, she threw a massive tantrum, called me a useless idiot and started throwing stuff around (hubby’s stuff, never her own). I walked out. Husband asked me to stay. Nope. I am now boarding the Nope Rocket and blasting off. I’m sorry for you pal, but she’s your missus, not mine and I don’t have to put up with her behaviour. Nope, nope, nopeitty nope. Bye.

  84. Kat in VA*

    It’s probably already been said ad nauseam, but when someone repeatedly apologizes for bad behavior, the apology means exactly nothing. It’s the verbal and mental equivalent of repeatedly and intentionally kicking someone in the shins. How often would you tolerate the “Oops, my bad, so sorry, I wuvs, sorrysorry” if someone kicked you in the shins over and over? You wouldn’t. Allison’s advice is spot on. “I will not tolerate this behavior / language from you.”

    This is abusive behavior and her mental illness does not excuse it.

    Being depressed does not give you carte blanche to act like an asshole. Sincerely, A Person Who Has Depression

  85. Malty*

    This situation SUCKS.

    The kindest thing you can do for someone going through ongoing mental health issues like this though is take off the kid gloves and treat them with the dignity of telling them to cut it the hell out. I wish you luck.

  86. Letter Writer*

    Hi everyone, LW here. Thank you for everyone’s advice and compassion. It was helpful reading the comments if only to validate that it’s okay to draw boundaries and also not accept Minerva’s over the top friendliness.

    I realise I’ve been predicting her behaviour based on how I would react. If other people treated me with kindness after I behaved badly, I would feel embarrassed and make sure I stopped being a douchebag. But being patient and understanding has only seemed to give Minerva the license to behave more aggressively.

    Our team culture also doesn’t help here as most of us are polite, pleasant and soft voiced folks who hate conflict. Also our boss is not someone who is great with drawing boundaries. So while he’s trying to deal with Minerva in his own way I suspect it’s more like “let’s have another long discussion on why The Thing is not okay” as opposed to “Minerva, we already talked about The Thing. Go apologise to the person you’ve upset and if it happens again, you’ll be taken off the project.”

    1. LGC*

      Hi LW!

      First of all, I’m SO sorry you’re going through this. This isn’t okay to deal with in life, let alone at work. I’m wishing you the best.

      It’s…understandable how you and your boss are reacting – for lack of a better term, reasonable people would be mortified by their behavior if they lashed out like Minerva does, and would back down without being prompted. So I can’t fault you for not being more confrontational. It sounds like she’s actually taking advantage of your team generally respecting social norms, which…a lot of people have namedropped Captain Awkward here, and I highly suggest you read that blog.

      One point of advice, though – from the actions you’ve described…Minerva should either be fired or put on a final warning. (And the final warning is way too generous, imo.) She HURLED VERBAL ABUSE AT YOU. OVER THE PHONE. AT 10 PM. WHEN YOU WERE AT HOME. That made me cringe, and I actually work with people with mental health issues. I’d say that if I were your boss, I’d be livid on your behalf, but I already AM livid.

    2. Electric sheep*

      I’m glad you’ve found the advice helpful and wish you all the best for a better environment in the future! Talking to Minerva could quite well feel very awkward, but it’s only awkward because she has made it awkward, so please don’t let that deter you.

    3. Jes*

      If your boss is a soft touch but otherwise reasonable, consider sending him this link… And please send us an update later. Good luck!

  87. Michael*

    This is ultimately a failure of management. Your boss, or her boss, or someone’s boss, needs to make it stop — and it doesn’t really matter whether ‘making it stop’ means a more serious conversation that actually works, or a PIP, or firing her entirely. Until their employees are longer subject to this behavior, the manager’s job hasn’t been done.

    If it was me, FWIW, I’d have made it clear that I’d be moving on if Minerva continued to be allowed to abuse everyone around her.

  88. Quandong*

    LW, I’m so sorry you have a Minerva in the workplace.

    My advice for the day-to-day interactions with her:
    1. do your best to remain civil and practice scripts for when you need them (lots of people have provided good scripts above)
    2. document her inappropriate outbursts and behaviours and relay these to her boss and HR
    3. establish the same boundaries for Minerva as you would for anybody else in your workplace, to regain your sense of agency
    4. seek support if your own mental health starts to be impacted by her actions

    In the long term, consider how long you are prepared to work in this environment if nothing changes – 6 months, 1 year, 2 years? What’s your limit?

    You aren’t obliged to let Minerva treat you badly because she lives with mental illness – as many others have said, it’s not an excuse to abuse people. What if you reframe appropriate boundary-setting as something that benefits both Minerva and everybody who works with her?

    Minerva may genuinely believe that her behaviours are not a big deal, since she hasn’t been put on a PIP, or fired. She may conflate ‘coworkers keep on being polite’ with ‘everything is okay, nobody has yelled at me,’ especially if yelling is her preferred mode of expressing displeasure.

    If Minerva doesn’t receive any corrections or meaningful feedback about her unacceptable and inappropriate behaviours, it’s hard to imagine she will change how she behaves. Of course, her manager is the person who should be giving these corrections! But your own boundary-setting counts here too, since it will ultimately benefit Minerva even if she has many feelings about encountering boundaries.

    Just because Minerva is acting like a complete and utter abusive jerk now, doesn’t also mean she will always act this way. But the longer she goes without experiencing consequences for her actions, the more likely she will be abysmal to deal with as a coworker.

  89. Kisses*

    I agree with Allison 100%. I’m bipolar, and there have been times where I was just downright MEAN to the people I care about most and have a terrible time regulating my moods. But as many other commenters have said, it doesn’t mean you or anyone has to put up with it. Part of learning to live with a mental illness is making sure you are equipped to be out in the world. If it is debilitating and one is unable to function as an adult or just a civil human being, it is time to look into other options. There were times I had to call out and times I had to commit myself. I’m glad she is getting treatment, but OP, no one deserves to be treated badly. Alison always has great advice. <3

  90. Thomasina*

    I saw a graphic yesterday that suits this. “That explains why you did it but it doesn’t excuse it.” She can tell you about her struggles with mental illness to tell you why she’s been short or rude with you in the past but if she keeps doing it now, she’s just making excuses for bad behaviour and getting away with it because she’s flagged her mental illness.

    Your co-workers and you have been understanding and trying to be supportive of her for months. If she can’t function at work without being this over the top downright rude to the people around her she needs to address that in therapy or not be in work until she has. She can be sick and need help but that doesn’t give her the right to make other people miserable. She clearly knows she’s doing it due to the over the top apologies after. She’s also burning all her bridges with you all to a point that she’ll never recover from as people will flinch when she comes their way for the rest of time. She needs to get this under control for her sake and certainly for all of yours. If she can’t then this job isn’t for her any more and she needs one where she is working solo and can go scream into the void when she can’t control herself and return to the work when she’s got control of her emotions.

    I know you’re trying to be sympathetic due to her health issues but can you push back in the moment? I’d be saying something like “Minerva, I won’t be spoken to like that. Do you need to go take a minute to yourself to regain your composure? Then if we still need to talk about ‘x’ I’m happy to sit down and do that with you professionally once you are ready to speak respectfully.”

  91. Yellow Bird*

    I think you sound like a very considerate co-worker being so mindful of Minerva. You don’t need to be. We all feel for Minerva’s problems but it’s not acceptable for her to lash out the way she does all the time. I agree with Alison – you may need to flag the bad behaviour more often with the boss and make it their problem. Good luck.

  92. chopit*

    Just curious: if management puts into play a plan to help stop this behavior by perhaps giving Minerva choices about how to react in situations plus giving her a time frame to improve and she FAILS, can she be legally fired?

    1. Observer*

      Absolutely. There is no law in the US that requires employers to allow people to abuse others. It’s really that simple.

  93. lailaaaaaaah*

    Things my company does to accommodate my various mental health issues:
    -Gives me a desk which faces the wall
    -Allows me to wear noise-cancelling headphones
    -Allows for slightly flexible working hours, with the opportunity for breaks if I get overwhelmed
    -Offers free counselling through the company healthcare provider

    Things my company does not do to accommodate me:
    -Allow me to scream at my coworkers when I get frustrated, or berate them over minor mistakes.

    OP, you should absolutely not have to put up with this. Speak to her manager, because this is a behaviour issue, not a mental health one (and her actions sound likely to worsen other people’s existing mental health issues, if there’s anyone else on your team with them too).

  94. NaturalDisaster*

    Does Minerva wear spandex pants and patchouli perfume? I might know her, and I _promise_ to say no more.

  95. Luna*

    Think not about Minerva’s mental health for a bit. Think about *your own* mental health! Just reading this is already showing the beginning symptoms of a headache for me, and this cannot be good for yourself. What if things don’t improve at all? You will end up dreading going to work, you might lose all motivation of doing things, and you will end up in a worse place, mentally, than you were before or are even now.

    Just because she has problems with her behavior doesn’t mean it should lead to you becoming infected, so to speak. Tell her off, if necessary; tell her you will not listen to this and hang up the phone if she yells at you; tell her to stop talking like that and walk away, if she does it in person; you are *not* a verbal punching bag, and you damn well won’t let her *make* you one.

    Go back to your and/or her manager and tell them that, yes, this is a major problem. Her behavior is infurating, it damages the work environment, and I doubt good results will come from work done while everyone has to worry if their next tiny flub of a typo or sniff from a running nose will lead to another shouting rant from her. She needs boundaries, and they need to be made of thick construction steel. No bending. And for the love of anything, do *not* let her touch you anymore! Unless you really are okay with her hugging and cheek pinching you in her so-sowwy-I’m-sowwy phases.

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