I bit my coworker

I’m off today, so here’s an older post from the archives. This was originally published in 2017.

A reader writes:

So I bit a coworker yesterday. Obviously, I’m mortified.

I work in an incredibly dysfunctional office. The tone is set by our office manager. He’s in his fifties, has always worked in an office setting, and is difficult. Things are right if it’s in his favor and wrong if anyone else does it. He once cursed at me and called me a child for asking him not to say I’m prettier if I smile. He then didn’t speak to me for a year — which was a relief.

Well, yesterday, I had a meeting with a coworker. (If it makes a difference, the office manager and I are on the same level, as is the person I was meeting with.) My hands were full of paperwork and a full mug. When I got to the coworker’s office, the office manager was in the doorway, braced with one arm stretched across the opening. I stopped, said, “Excuse me, I have a meeting.” Aaaaaand he refused to move. He replied that he didn’t give a s*** and it wasn’t his problem. The coworker grimaced but said nothing, as is usual for our office.

Normally, I’d sit and argue. Rarely, I’m able to convince him to move. In those cases, I’d put down my things in the office and wait for the colleague and him to finish speaking. They don’t work together or like each other, but they angry-gossip frequently.

This time — this time I bit him. I don’t know! His arm was in front of my face, my hands were full, I know from experience he almost never moves, and I’m reaaaaally busy right now.

In any case, I bit him, over his sleeve, pulled back, and we just sort of stared at each other for a second, because … wow. He finally got his feet under him, figuratively, and retaliated by stomping on my feet (I was in ballet flats and he had heeled dress shoes) and shoving me. As I’m regaining my balance and trying to save my feet, I dropped my mug, which shattered. At that point, he stopped and bent to pick up the shards. I ducked into the office and shut and locked the door. Not helping him pick up the shards angered him more.

I’ve since apologized. He accepted gracefully, while admitting no fault on his part.

This office is bad. It’s warping my perceptions of normal behavior. I know there is no one above us who would address this issue with him and short of quitting, I have to deal with him every day. What is the right way to deal with difficult coworkers in these situations? Just keep arguing? Walk away and reschedule the meeting? There are no magic words to deal with impossible people, but how do I reason with myself mentally to stop myself from going down this road again?

Thank you for considering my question. I suppose most everything is solved by “walking away,” but I feel helpless and clearly spiral a bit into wild behavior when at a loss…

Oh no.

I think the thing to do here is to use this incident as a way of seeing really clearly that this office is messing you up. It’s destroying your sense of norms, it’s making you act in ways that (I assume) you would never normally act, and it’s turning you into someone who you don’t want to be. (Again, I’m assuming, but it feels like a safe bet that you don’t want to be someone who bites coworkers as a means of conflict resolution.)

It’s also going to start messing with your professional reputation, if it hasn’t already. It’s going to be hard for people to recommend you for other jobs if they know you bit a coworker.

So, three things:

1. You need to start actively job searching right away. Not like sending out a resume every few weeks when the mood strikes, but seriously working to get yourself out of this situation as soon as you can.

2. You should apologize to the coworker who saw the incident. It’s all kinds of messed up that she didn’t say anything at the time or afterwards, but that’s probably a further illustration of how out of whack the norms in your office are. Regardless, though, she did see it, and you don’t want her to think that you think it was okay. So talk to her and explain that you’re mortified and that you know it wasn’t okay.

3. For whatever amount of time you have to continue working there, it’s crucial to keep in the forefront of your mind that you are not somewhere that supports normal behavior. You should expect that when you deal with the office manager, he will be rude, unreasonable, and hostile. You should go into your interactions with him expecting that, so that when it happens, you’re not surprised by it. You want your reaction to be an internal eye roll, not outrage. You should also be prepared to have to alter your plans when he obstructs you. So for example, when he blocked your path to your coworker’s office, ideally you would have said, “Jane, I can’t get past Fergus, but let me know when you’re ready to meet” and then left.

It might help to think of yourself as being in a foreign country with completely different norms than the ones that feel obvious to you. Hell, pretend you’re on another planet where the inhabitants have their own, seemingly bizarre rules for interacting. If this were happening during your interplanetary trip to Neptune, you probably wouldn’t go into a rage and bite an alien — you’d more easily see it as their own particular culture. You might also try very hard to get off Neptune very quickly, and that would be reasonable. But while you were there, you’d understand that they were playing by different rules.

But really, this is as clear a sign as anyone will ever get that you’ve been there too long and it’s time to go.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. Yay!!*

    Sounds like your office manager kind of deserved it. Either way, I hope you find another job where people behave better. This does not sounds like a healthy situation for you.

    1. Lilo*

      I get it, but this is the wrong attitude to take. Once you go down the path of justifying stuff this over the line, you’re going to get sucked down into the pit of dysfunction and potentially carry it into your next job. Best to acknowledge the job is making you act way out of the norm and build mental barriers to prevent it from happening again.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I continue to be astonished that “it’s okay that you bit the office manager–you were provoked” was a theme in both comments and the update.

        1. Dinwar*

          I don’t think the attitude is “It’s okay that you bit him, you were provoked”, but rather “Yeah, biting isn’t good–but holy crap there’s so much bad going on that yeah, this isn’t the problem.” The biting was a symptom of a much, much deeper problem, and not the worst symptom by a long shot.

          1. Lea*

            I think the fact that the coworker responded with assault tells you something too. He stomped on her foot and pushed her?

            This doesn’t feel safe to be around to me

        2. HoHumDrum*

          I find it really revealing of all our psyches that all the comment sections are obsessed with debating who is Most Wrong, as if that assessment is required at all for meaningful discussion, actionable advice, etc.

          I have a theory that the way our criminal justice system is set up makes it really hard for people to discuss a conflict without getting bogged down in Who is Right and Who is Wrong. It’s like brain worms where we can’t process any of the information without first choosing a side, like we’re playing team sports. So bizarre.

      2. Meep*

        I think we need to remember that we are all animals. It is a pretty natural response for an animal to bite another animal when they feel threatened. In a professional context, it is definitely not normal. In the context of this being a hostile environment, perfectly normal.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          We are animals, but we are aware of right and wrong behaviors. The office manager is a douche who deserves a mile-long walk across a floor of legos, but it’s pretty insulting (not to mention patronizing) to compare the LW to an animal reacting in the moment.

        2. Gemstones*

          Honestly I remember more than one commenter in the original thread saying they’d experienced biting in the workplace and being utterly floored. I understand (but don’t condone) physical escalation, but more like pushing or shoving if someone gets in your face. Biting, to me, just feels weirder and grosser. I don’t know…maybe I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs one too many times. I don’t think it’s OK to hit someone, but I could understand someone hitting or punching if provoked. Biting just seems so animalistic.

          1. Nina*

            I’ve worked in places where throwing people’s stuff on the floor, seeing coworkers in various states of undress and at really weird times of day, calling people slurs to their faces, handling incredibly dangerous chemicals in shirtsleeves and bare face, sleeping on the floor of the office, showing up to work wearing exactly boardies and jandals and nothing else, and telling the site manager to eff off, were all completely normal and acceptable.
            Never physical violence. Never.

          2. AnonyNurse*

            I was once bitten by a very challenging six year old (a six year old who legitimately required inpatient psych hospitalization, as evidenced by his 7 year old brother in our ICU across the way) and it was more upsetting then all the other injuries I got while working in locked units.

        3. RagingADHD*

          I think we need to remember that human beings start correcting children from biting and teaching them to control that impulse from the time they start teething. Literally. Baby bites, nursing session is over. Most babies pick that up pretty quickly.

          Preschoolers who bite get expelled from daycare.

          No. This is not normal behavior for an adult in any context other than a literal fight for their life, which this was not. This was an expression of frustration that would be unacceptable in a four year old.

    2. YeppyYeps*

      This is all like text book abuser – abusee situation for sure. I feel bad that OP has found themselves so locked into this dynamic that they seem to have lost perspective – BUT let it be known, this whole entire situation is incredibly common is domestic violence and coercive control situations. Its not common these days for people to get trapped in these situations at work, as employers tend to fire people who verbally assault, threaten, and physical abuse the rest of their employees, but its rarity doesn’t change what it is. And in that vein, it is incredibly common for people to lash out in ways totally outside their normal behavior when under constant assault. It is also incredibly common for victims to remain in these abusive situations while at the same time recognizing that every thing is very bad.

      Now what is NOT OK AND OMG EVERYONE STOP is to “hold victims accountable” for their behavior in these situations. There are times when victims can get violent – it is a perfectly normal and reasonable response to coercive control and physical abuse – and most times the abusers are purposely pushing the victim into it. I really hope OP has been able to get herself out of this situation, and I really hope that the rest of you on here spend some long hours learning about this type of stuff and learn how to be supportive (as opposed to shaming any other victims that may be on here for how they have handled situations you could never even imagine having to go through)

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I’d love another update though. I think the one sent in was only 5 or 6 months after the original letter. I’m hoping they did move on after some time and that they now look back and think “wow, how could I ever have thought that normal?”

        I’d love to get an update from them now, saying they are in a better place.

        1. Czhorat*

          I agree. I felt SO sorry for this letter-writer; it’s clearly a completely out of control madhouse, and escape is the only viable option to preserve even the faintest measure of sanity.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Wow. How terribly unkind and uncharitable.

        If you can’t be part of the solution, then it’s probably better not to say anything.

        1. Czhorat*

          That’s big talk from a traitor.

          But joking aside, the whole situation with the OP is just sad; they’re clearly in a bad place and it clearly caused damage to their sense of professional norms, their self-image, and their self-confidence.

          I wish they’d gotten out. It’s been some years; hopefully they have.

      3. londonedit*

        I know this is probably hyperbole, but it is harsh. Of course it’s extremely frustrating that the OP seemed to want to stay where they were – it’s incredibly frustrating that they’d somehow convinced themselves that their horrendous toxic workplace was somehow better than having a ‘boring’ office job. The thing is, though, I know exactly what that’s like. When you’re in a dysfunctional workplace, you often can’t see the dysfunction from the inside. I was in a toxic job years ago – though thankfully there was no biting involved – and I spent far too long convincing myself that yes, OK, it was objectively pretty awful, but look at all the perks! We went to the pub a lot! The boss would frequently tell us to go home at lunchtime on a Friday! I had a super-impressive job title that I’d never get anywhere else! Of course, in reality what all of that meant was a) we were going to the pub all the time because we needed a stiff drink and a ranting/sometimes actual crying session most nights after work, b) being able to leave early and getting random time off did NOT in any way compensate for the general stress and toxicity of the place, and c) that impressive job title (which by the way of course didn’t come with impressive pay) meant everything stopped with me and it was always my fault if anything went wrong. Eventually, I got a new job, and I was amazed to discover that if your workplace isn’t full of bees, it’s actually much easier to enjoy what you’re doing. Even if you don’t get to leave at lunchtime on a random Friday.

      4. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, Sssssssss is asking for another update, which I also want! I’m hoping Alison is running this letter again because she actually has a new update that she’s sitting on and wanted to remind us of it. Please, OP, I hope you are out of there and working somewhere normal.

      5. wordswords*

        Wow, no, that wasn’t what I took from the update at all, and is very uncharitable to the OP.

        As of the update, the OP was still in the dysfunctional job, yeah. They’d done some job searching and bombed an interview, and were struggling with a lot of discouragement and learned helplessness. They’d also tried to get therapy for their anxiety, and gotten pretty lukewarm help on that front from their doctor. The tone was very much “I guess most people hate their jobs, and I like things about this one that aren’t the horrible office manager, so I’ll probably stay with the devil I know, I guess, even though I know this won’t make people happy and you’ll think I’m an idiot.” People encouraged them to keep job searching and that there are better options, while acknowledging the hard work they were doing to keep themself afloat in that toxic bog of a workplace.

        I think about them every so often, and truly hope they’ve gotten somewhere better where they’re not being assailed by constant verbal abuse and petty obnoxiousness. But yeah, the update we got at the time wasn’t really a very triumphant one.

    1. No abuse allowed*

      I would LOVE an update to the update that just says, “Holy f***, that place was effed up, and it effed me up, and I got the eff out of there and never looked back, and I’m in a MUCH healthier place now, in every way.” Because the original update made it clear that the LW had internalized and normalized the abuse to the point that they became part of the problem there under the guise of “well, this is just how things are.” I’ve been there in abusive relationships; I get it. I shudder at who those situations turned me into for a while. It’s absolutely a toxic, abusive cycle that LW desperately needed to break out of, and it didn’t sound like they were going to any time soon from the hopeless update. :/ But I really hope they did break free and heal. That’s the kind of situation that will mess with your mind and perceptions so much that it will screw up your personal relationships, not just your work ones. Don’t ask me how I know.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        the original update made it clear that the LW had internalized and normalized the abuse to the point that they became part of the problem there under the guise of “well, this is just how things are.”
        “[he] didn’t speak to me for a year because I told him not to say I’d look prettier if I smiled.”
        everything is good now,
        he still calls me fat and says my mother doesn’t love me, but we go for walks, he asks me work questions.
        OP works at Stockholm Bank and (Don’t) Trust (Your gut.)
        Hope she got out and to a therapist.

        1. No abuse allowed*

          Yes!! LW needed to get out long before the biting situation ever even happened.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      So far, just the one update from Dec 11, 2017. I hope we get another update, and that the OP has moved on to a functional (and non-biting) office!

      1. Phony Genius*

        It’s been over 5 years. It is hard to imagine that this office is still in business today with everything that was going on there. But anything’s possible.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          It is hard to imagine that this office is still in business today with everything that was going on there.

          Let me show you my resume…

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      A really good example of how a dysfunctional workplace indoctrinates you over time. I hope they eventually got out, instead of falling further in.

      1. Science KK*

        Right?! It makes me worried/sad. Reminds me of when my friend was in a super dysfunctional relationship but she was like sometimes he shatters my car window or hits my dashboard so hard the sensors think the air bag went off but it’s not that big of a deal paid to have everything repaired.

        OP I hope you’re ok.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In the past, Alison had a piece from a commenter named Marie on what to do if you realize your coworker is in such a relationship. The part that really resonated with me was to just not normalize–when they confided something in you with some disclaimers about how But They All Do That, you would calmly respond gosh no, nor normal, my partner has never done that. That’s not normal at all.

      2. Anon Sister*

        My sister stayed in a particular deeply dysfunctional and abusive job (her “dream job,” incidentally) for almost two decades, and three jobs later, I really think it has permanently damaged her ability to function in a workplace. She’ll casually tell me stories from work (for example, leaning on her direct reports for emotional support and oversharing deeply personal details of her life with them), and get annoyed at me for being horrified or expressing that’s inappropriate.

        That’s been a major lesson to me about the hazards of staying in a bad workplace that might skew my sense of what’s normal.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        The OP may be too incapacitated/damaged from the job to be able to get hired elsewhere, honestly. How are you supposed to sell yourself as THE BEST CANDIDATE when in your heart, you know you aren’t and you’re awful and you don’t deserve to be hired? When you’ve been told you’re awful for years on end, it destroys you. Habituating to the abuse is a coping strategy, for sure.

        “it was decided I wasn’t “at-risk” enough to make office time for.”

        Yeah, that’s about the kind of results I got from getting medically evaluated too.

    2. Mark the Herald*

      That update was very stress-making to read. I seriously hope the OP got out – the longer you’re in a place like that, the harder it is to get deprogramed.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Most Unexpected Update for me.

      And a great example to point to of how staying in a toxic environment warps your ideas about what’s normal.

    4. SpecialSpecialist*

      Yeah. Like…how do you willingly spend your own coffee/walking/break time with somebody who is an absolute ass to your face?

    5. Lacey*

      Yes, I hope that they got out at some point. I’ve never worked anywhere quite that dysfunctional, but even more ordinary levels of disfunction mess with your head in ways you don’t full recognize until you get out.

      Obviously the OP had a wake-up call with the biting incident, but I’m sure they’ve been effected in smaller ways that are also problematic.

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      Seriously! The original felt so hopeful that they recognized how bad things were and asked for Alison’s help, and then the update is like “well everyone else at Evil Bees Inc thinks it’s fine so why would I work somewhere boring?”

    7. EcoBee*

      It feels like hearing the letter writer say they’re staying with their abusive spouse because they don’t think they’d be able to find anyone better. Hard to understand from the outside, for sure.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Yeah, I hope the update was just a backslide, and that they returned to questioning the environment afterward. Leaving an abusive environment often happens in stages of backslide and progress, and even breaking away multiple times before it sticks.

      2. LG*

        That’s exactly how I felt reading the update. Full of sadness that they felt they were doing the right thing by just learning to accept the continued abuse.

    8. ecnaseener*

      It actually reminded me a bit of Hench. Like ‘yeah, people are a bit evil here, but other than that I really love my job.’

  2. Robin*

    Oh my god I forgot about this one! I really hope they managed to find a way out, the update was like reading a letter from a cult member.

  3. BubbleTea*

    He stamped on your feet! He shoved you so that you dropped and broke a mug! He was physically blocking you from leaving! Nothing about this was acceptable!

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I never would have thought from the title of the first letter that I could possibly have any blame for the bite recipient, but wow .. that guy sounded vicious. The update was also full of gasp worthy details about how verbally abusive and controlling he was. I got the full body shivers from trying to imagine working with that. Biting is so completely beyond the pale I didn’t expect to feel no sympathy at all for the person who was bit.

    2. Clefairy*

      I mean, but she bit him. Not to excuse his actions either, but he didn’t physically retaliate until after she assaulted him. Everyone in that office needs therapy, including OP, because this whole letter reads like a particularly cringy episode of The Office and not real life, and I am very concerned that this is everyone’s professional norm in that office.

    3. MauvaisePomme*

      Yes, the bite to get him to move was definitely unacceptable, but the fact that this guy retaliated with an immediate physical assault is–wow. I read this the first time it was posted too, but revisiting this one is a trip. Everything about this situation is just beyond untenable.

      1. Lea*

        Good god I just read the update and ‘ Actually, the office manager was shoving me a bit the other day’

        What the hell. This is not ok

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Yeah. Not just the shoving, but the casual words to describe it. Almost like “just a bit of shoving, you know, the normal kind that happens all the time. Not the bad kind of shoving.” Abuse can’t happen until it’s normalized, which is what makes this so, so awful to read.

          OP, if you’re reading this, I’m joining the chorus of people saying that absolutely none of this is normal or okay. I really hope you’re out of there and doing much better by now.

    4. Lea*

      Yea I was floored by that too.
      If she hadn’t bitten him I would say go straight to the top about assault but…

    5. yala*

      Like, for real though, I felt like I was reading someone talking about kindergartners that were about to get a time-out, not actual adults in an actual job.

  4. Peanut Hamper*

    I’d forgotten about this one. I really wish we had gotten an update to the update because it didn’t sound like the LW had been able to get out of a highly dysfunctional office.

    I mean, seriously, this office puts the “WTF” in “disfunctional”.

  5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    I’m amazed that OP wasn’t fired for this, even in a dysfunctional workplace, as this is actual physical assault (another way in which the workplace is dysfunctional). Anywhere I’ve worked, you would be marched off the premises for this. It wasn’t great of him to stamp on OPs feet and push them but this was actually as a response to the assault…

    I would have just told him to move in no uncertain terms, but if not wanting to take the assertive approach for some reason I would have probably walked away, and contacted (email or whatever) the people the meeting was meant to be with, explaining the situation!

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Did you read the update? Biting someone was really just a drop in the bucket of all the horrible and dysfunctional things going on there.

      1. Antilles*

        The most dysfunctional part IMO is OP’s description of what happened when OP tried to apologize:

        Turns out, as I’d thought, no one in the office cared that I bit the office manager. I spoke to one person in the office that I find professional and whose opinion I respect. He was confused that I was upset, felt that biting someone wasn’t that crazy for our office, and in the end he didn’t think it was a big deal. Actually, the office manager was shoving me a bit the other day and one coworker chimed in, “Hey, careful, you know what happens when you do that,” referring to when I’d dropped and broken my mug. Everyone was completely confused, had to be reminded, and then lost interest.

        Oh yeah, Dana bit a guy and shattered a mug last week, totally forgot about that, anyways about the TPS reports…

    2. Veryanon*

      Not to get all “he started it” but…he started it by shoving her and blocking her path. I’m not saying it’s ever okay to bite someone under any circumstances, to be clear! But if ever anyone had it coming to them, it was this guy. Apparently he makes a regular practice of physically and verbally assaulting the OP. I really, really hope the OP found another job where they are treated respectfully.

    3. Observer*

      I’m amazed that OP wasn’t fired for this, even in a dysfunctional workplace, as this is actual physical assault (another way in which the workplace is dysfunctional). Anywhere I’ve worked, you would be marched off the premises for this.

      That should tell you something about this place.

      Of course, when you look at the OP’s comments on the original post, the update, and the comments on the update, you realize that the biting is actually not the worst of the behavior. Shoving unprovoked (which is what caused her to bite him) is no better. That the OP didn’t think to mention that when she described the incident is also extremely telling. As is the fact that “a bit of shoving” is considered absolutely *normal* in that workplace.

      1. Gemstones*

        Shoving isn’t what caused her to bite him. Him not moving out of the way when she was trying to walk into an office is what caused her to bite him.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      “It wasn’t great of him to stamp on OPs feet and push them but this was actually as a response to the assault…”

      No, people don’t get to retaliate against an assault with an assault. He assaulted the LW just as much as she assaulted him. It would be different if he had been defending himself, but he wasn’t, he was retaliating.

      If this was a functional workplace, that office manager wouldn’t be there in the first place. And while the biting was obviously not something I’d endorse, that guy shares the blame by having broken down all of the professional norms into splinters.

      1. Lilo*

        Legally you sort of do. if someone assaults you, responding by shoving them off you or taking self defense actions is acceptable. obviously the response has to be proportional but given that she bit him, reacting a bit extremely is within range.

        In general you never win if you initiate or re initiate physical contact (after the incident is over).

    5. Samwise*

      I’m amazed FERGUS didn’t get fired. She didn’t bite him until he blocked her with his arm in front of her face. She took a defensive action. I don’t think she had anything to apologize for.

      Then he stomped on her feet and shoved her.

      He physically and verbally abuses her. Frequently.

      On what planet is the OP at fault? Only in the horrifying world that is OP’s office.

      1. yala*

        I don’t think it’s defensive action if he’s not, y’know. Attacking her. He’s blocking a doorway, but not an exit. He was unreasonably rude, and yeah, it’s mind-boggling that there’s an office where people just talk like, let alone all the rest of it, but biting him wasn’t a “defensive action.”

      2. Gemstones*

        He was a jerk and absolutely should have moved, but how is it an understandable reaction to bite someone who’s blocking your way? Also, if it’s fine for her to bite him for blocking her, by that rationale it should be fine for him to shove in response to getting bitten…

  6. Hiring Mgr*

    Hopefully because this guy was a jerk, people remember this incident like the Danny Ainge and Tree Rollins brawl where Tree bit Danny. Forty years later everyone thinks Ainge bit Rollins because of his overall reputation, but it was actually the other way around.

    1. Antilles*

      Based on the update: Nope.
      OP directly mentions that not only did nobody care, people didn’t even remember it happened.

        1. Breadloaf*

          I can. When a workplace is dysfunctional like this, there’s so many WTF-worthy behaviors that they all get muddled together in your memory. My workplace is incredibly toxic and dysfunctional (to the point where my thought was “hell yeah OP, now he’ll now better than to screw with you!” in reaction to her BITING HIM), and I have seen people shrug off throwing out someone else’s food for their twelve hour shift (leaving them with nothing to eat for over fourteen hours, because of the commute), someone get hauled into an HR meeting because they asked someone to do their job, lots of blatant sexual harrassment, transphobes, homophobes, racism, someone kept needling a veteran and asking if he killed someone while serving, a supervisor SITTING TOPLESS in their public office…

          Someone biting someone else for being an ass is fairly minor in a dysfunctional office, so it’s really not that surprising how OP’s coworkers shrugged it off.

        2. LR*

          Her update also says the office manager was “shoving her a bit” on another day and no one seemed to think it was odd at all or stepped in.

        3. No abuse allowed*

          I find that hard to believe

          You’re also all over these comments cheerleading for the abuser, so your opinion is already pretty suspect here.

  7. Veryanon*

    I think the update was more depressing than the original letter. I really, really hope OP got out of there.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I think the most depressing thing about the update was how normal the LW seemed to think all of the horrendous behavior was and how much she minimized it. It did not give me confidence that she would be able to leave. :(

      1. Veryanon*

        Right? That was just awful. “He physically and verbally abuses me but also we go for walks and get coffee.” WTAF,

    2. Onward*

      AGREED! The update felt like the OP twisted herself in a pretzel to convince herself that this situation is fine so long as she doesn’t bite anyone again and… wow. No, it’s really, really not. I hope she was able to see how dysfunctional this entire office is. I mean, the office manager continues to both PHYSICALLY and emotionally abuse her??? And no one seems to care??? What in the world…

      1. BRR*

        Yup. I really hope the LW raises the goal for themselves from “as long as I don’t bite someone again.”

        In reference to the update-when people complain about hating their office job, it’s almost always very different than this. And the negatives of this job definitely don’t balance out the things you like. I hope the LW is in a better situation now.

    3. Helen J*

      Yes, agreed. The letter seemed to just give up. This mans calls her the b word, tells her she is fat and that her mother doesn’t love her, but they go for coffee and walks and he asks her opinion on things? I don’t think I could work there. It’s just so bizarre and toxic.

    4. MauvaisePomme*

      I hope so too. I hope she got out, started working somewhere healthy and normal, and found a way to heal and reset from this terrible workplace.

  8. DisneyChannelThis*

    That update is scary. They become numb and think they’re fine. I really hope they eventually got help and got out. Their update letter was 2017, so 6 years ago. Maybe they got to be fully remote and found time for telehealth therapy appointments and job searching….

    1. KYParalegal*

      I really, really hope that somewhere out there, OP is far away from the toxic workplace and only thinks about it if she wakes up in a cold sweat. This situation was not okay, the additional info in the update was somehow worse, and it was obvious that she was struggling. Maybe in the next call for updates OP will send one in that’s a lot better for them.

  9. Buffy Rosenberg*

    The update is almost more alarming than the original letter. I’ve worked in dysfunctional places though and I relate. Not to the biting, but the way completely bizarre, unacceptable behaviours gets normalised and rationalised. “I like everything else about the job except the office manager and not everyone can say that” was depressingly, frighteningly familiar to me.

  10. It's All Elementary*

    Does anyone else get sidetracked by the updates and ends up lost in a rabbit hole of updates and old posts or is it just me?

    1. Cyndi*

      That’s exactly what I’m doing this morning! But I just landed on a post from 2017 that made me want to time travel back and fight most people in the comments, so that’s probably a sign I should go do my actual job for a bit.

    2. Never The Twain*

      Yeah, and then I desperately need to comment before realising I’m shouting in a room that has been empty for half a decade…
      Though the comment in the update ‘…no one in the office cared that I bit the office manager’ is well up there in my top ten all-time quotes from this site, and one reason I keep coming back here to see how the other (apparently) 98% live.

  11. Bee*

    I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this reminded stories I hear in my abuse survivor support group. You become so desensitized to the crazy that the fear of the unknown is even more terrifying than the regular dysfunction you do know. (Besides, it’s not ALWAYS bad; sometimes you get coffee together, and he asks you for professional advice when he’s not calling you a fat b**** and hitting you! /s)

    I’m hoping the forced WFH during the plague helped OP get that much-needed distance and perspective and empowered them to leave!

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Just highlighting for emphasis: “It’s not ALWAYS bad; sometimes you get coffee together, and he asks you for professional advice when he’s not calling you a fat b**** and hitting you!” … Yeah that was my takeaway too, the desire to focus on Jekyll days rather than Hyde ones is understandable, but not terribly helpful.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s a testament to humans’ extreme adaptability. This is a valuable thing in a lot of contexts, but it also means that absolutely anything can become established as just the way things are and they’re all like this and only a weirdo would question it.

    3. roann*

      The update in particular absolutely read like it was from someone in an abusive relationship – just not a romantic one.

    4. LR*

      I thought the same thing. Esp the clinging to the belief that what she had was actually not just fine, but better than average. Everyone around her is so sad and bored bc life is “flat” but she has an extra special relationship and even though there is shoving and biting and stepping on toes and horrific insults to her body, mind, and ability to be loved, when it’s good it’s so good and nothing else could be as good.

      I say that w tons of love, as someone who was in an abusive relationship when I was young. It made me very, very sad to read.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I know. It was terribly sad to read. I think that some people who come from very dysfunctional backgrounds conflate abuse/poor treatment with excitement, and “nice” functional workplaces (or relationships) are called “boring,” because they are so dependent on that adrenaline and on-edge danger feeling.

        1. Bee*

          Absolutely! I know I struggled once I started dating after my divorce because I just “didn’t feel chemistry” like I did with my ex. My therapist politely reminded me that it wasn’t chemistry; I had gotten accustomed to a cycle of lovebombing and abuse and had equated that with love, but healthy people don’t treat their loved ones like that.

          I’m now trying to leave my job as an educator because I recognized similar patterns (and “staying in it for the kids” isn’t worth the exploitation), but I have no idea what normal work/life balance and boundaries are. In fact, I haunt this site because I’m trying to fix my meter of what is acceptable vs. unacceptable. (Thanks, Alison and commentariat!)

  12. AgentScully*

    ‘Warping my perceptions of normal behavior’- this was me in a job for 17 years with people that did not know how to behave or treat other humans. Unfortunately, you adapt to survive if you need your job. Please find somewhere else. I was so convinced that I would never find another job that I didn’t even try. Thankfully, Covid set me free and I was forced to find a new job. Now I work with a team that is responsible, appropriate with others and most importantly, kind. The jobs are out there- it’s hard to believe, but you can find it!

  13. Observer*

    The letter and the update were both depressing and infuriating.

    And, look, I get it, the OP was being abused. And NO ONE should be abused. But their response tells me that they are absolutely part of the problem. Their behavior leaves a lot to be desired here – and they know it and are ok with it. They say that “at least I’m an ass with better coping skills” (than biting people. Gee, thanks!) And her description of “everyone I talk to” is not credible. It sounds like (deliberate?) cherry picking to justify staying at a job where flat out insane (and possibly illegal) is considered normal. And despite the reaction here (which she mostly blows of), her doctor’s office having a “mental stutter”, and her inability to talk to any other human being about it (ie she knows that if she tells anyone about this, they are not going to react well), she’s not really looking to change her position or to get any real help.

    OP, if you are reading this, I want to say that I wish you well. And I hope that something wakes you up to the problem here. Also, therapy. For the simple reason that if you ever get out of this terrible place, you are really really going to need to re-learn how to manage basic interactions in the workplace. Your “what is normal and reasonable” meter is soooo out of kilter that you are highly likely to do inappropriate things without intending to.

    1. BubbleTea*

      To me, it read like a trauma response. When you are trapped in a situation, one way to cope with it is to become numb and accept that this is how things are. I’ve worked with a lot of survivors of abuse and this fits with how they sometimes talk (prior to or just after fleeing).

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I said further up but I’ve been in a truly toxic work situation and while it didn’t involve violence, I did somehow manage to convince myself that despite all the dysfunction, I’d never be able to find another job that would give me as much autonomy and as many ‘hey, have a random afternoon off’ flexibility. I totally remember thinking that if I went into a corporate office job I’d be hamstrung by rules and forms and processes. Of course that wasn’t true, but I convinced myself it was because the idea of trying to leave the toxic job was really scary.

        1. Mark the Herald*

          I have not been in a situation as toxic as the one that the OP describes – but yeah, you get in some jobs and everyone there accepts something as normal, and you start to wonder if you’re the one who’s wrong and off. There’s a higher tolerance for violence and shouting and name-calling in some industries as well. Kitchens and construction sites both spring to mind for me as places where I’ve seen anything up to and just shy of a real fistfight routinely brushed off.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yup, I’ve never been in a really toxic work situation, certainly not compared to some of what we’ve heard here but my work experience year at college, my boss was…well, she lied constantly and bizarrely (like she lied about a conversation she and I had on a report I was getting a copy of), had days when she was really hyper, to the point that you couldn’t even hold conversations when she was in the room because she’d start interrupting and calling out bizarre stuff (once a kid came to the door to ask to see another member of staff. I went in to ask him if he was available and he said he was busy and to tell the kid to call back at…and I could barely hear what time he said because she started shouting over him, “tell the kid his mother is getting married. Ask him if he wants to go to the wedding”…no idea) and would also sometimes undermine us to the kids, like when telling kids another staff member was “just in a bad mood because he probably had a fight with his girlfriend. Don’t mind him.”

            And everybody else there seemed to act like “oh, she’s just so quirky; isn’t it hilarious?” that it’s only looking back that I can see that no, I wasn’t being weird when I got upset or confused by something she said. It genuinely was that inappropriate, even if she probably was completely unaware how inappropriate it was.

            So yeah, I can see how easy it is to assume something is reasonable if it’s treated as normal by everybody around you.

    2. LR*

      Of course everyone she asked thought it wasn’t a big deal. If you stay in work place where people get shoved, called fat, told their mother doesn’t love them (????!!!!), physically block each others ability to get into meetings, and then go for coffee the next day and really thing everything is fine… you are someone who accepts behavior that is not normal or ok.

  14. big jawn*

    OP needs to talk to a lawyer. Biting someone is usually considered assault and battery. Per the letter that was the first physical incident. Office manager stomped and pushed AFTER the bite.

    So, OP committed assault and battery. Office manager can argue he was defending himself. OP is NOT in a good place here.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I don’t think he has a good argument that he was defending himself. He was retaliating.

      1. big jawn*

        That would be interesting for the State’s Attorney (District Attorney depending on your state) and the court system to decide. He’s in a better place than she is.

        1. Observer*

          No he’s not – he blocked her and shoved her. She’s in at least as good a position to claim self defense as he is.

    2. Dinwar*

      Given what we’re told in the letter, I doubt any lawyer would advise the person who was bit to press charges. It would rip the lid off the situation, in court, and numerous federal agencies would be VERY interested in what’s going on. At bare minimum the office constitutes a hostile work environment for women, given the sexist and bigoted comments made. And it sounds like physical assault isn’t terribly rare in this office, which would open people up to further investigation.

      Sure, they might–MIGHT–win that specific court case. But that’s kind of like using a hammer to swat a wasp while it’s sitting on a bunch of blasting charges. You’ll kill the wasp, sure, but you’re not walking away either.

    3. MauvaisePomme*

      I disagree. It sounds like this whole incident blew over, and it would be very much NOT in the letter writer’s best interests to call attention to an incident in which she bit a coworker by engaging a lawyer or reporting the office manager’s retaliatory shove.

    4. Observer*

      Per the letter that was the first physical incident. Office manager stomped and pushed AFTER the bite.

      Perhaps you should read both the comments of the OP and her follow up (which is linked). The office manager can’t argue that he was defending himself because he was actually the one who started getting physical.

      Also, in the update, the OP makes it clear that “some shoving” on the part of the manager is normal – SO normal that people joke about it. And joke about her response.

    5. BRR*

      I mean, I guess you might technically be right (IANAL); but in context, the situation and office as a whole is a dumpster fire and I don’t think the LW needs to worry about getting a lawyer. I think the LW has many other things to prioritize.

  15. Girl Friday*

    I really hope this republish gets us another update. OP, wherever you are, I hope things are better.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Nobody deserves the verbal or physical abuse that office manager perpetrates either. Let’s be clear about that. He’s just as violent.

      1. Kimberly*

        I am not playing this “whataboutism” game.

        The LW bit a co-worker, they committed physical assault. This is a fact.

        1. Dinwar*

          The LW was also being verbally and physically abused. That is a fact. And it’s equally a fact that psychological and emotional abuse are just as damaging to a human–if not more so–as physical attacks. None of this is “whataboutism”; this is about as firmly established as anything in psychology, meaning that denying it is in par with calling the Earth flat or denying the Moon landing.

          The idea “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is a lie, pure and simple, one typically perpetuated by abusers in order to blame their victims for the abuse.

          1. amanda*

            I notice you provide no citation for your very confident claim that all psychologists agree with you!

            The coworker’s verbal abuse does not justify physical abuse. Nothing short of an urgent need to defend oneself justifies physical violence against a coworker.

            1. Dinwar*

              “I notice you provide no citation for your very confident claim that all psychologists agree with you!”

              This is a casual conversation, not a technical discussion; NO ONE has provided citations. I note that you don’t provide citations for the idea that physical damage is worse than mental damage either. So this is an Isolated Demand for Rigor, a fallacy.

              “The coworker’s verbal abuse does not justify physical abuse.”

              Agreed that it doesn’t justify the physical abuse. But ignoring the context of the events necessarily is to side with the abuser.

              I can provide citations for this: Behavior Based Loss Prevention and Left of Boom safety philosophy (developed in the second Iraq War, brought into the private industry as vets migrated to the private sector). The bite is an incident. What happened prior to that incident and contributed to it? (This is your basic Five Why sort of investigation.) Good safety programs focus on mental states, specifically Trigger States, and try to prevent people getting into that state. Here? It’s Frustration and Complacency. As long as those are normal states, the company is, quite literally, BEGGING for incidents to occur. If it’s not biting it’ll be pushing, hitting, or otherwise striking others; if it’s not that, someone’s going to get into a car wreck or fall down the stairs.

              (All the capitalized words there are technical terms, and anyone familiar with industrial safety should be familiar with them.)

              As a safety officer, I’m concerned about the bite–but I’m far, far, FAR more concerned about the fact that the situation is making such events inevitable. It’s CREATING such incidents.

              What you’re doing–what everyone focused on the bite are doing–is an incident investigation methodology that was outdated in the 1940s or so. It doesn’t just fail to make anything better, it actively serves as a smoke-screen preventing identifying the real issue.

              1. Cyndi*

                This was really informative and helpful, at least for me, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it out!

        2. demzzz*

          This is the problem with these kinds of scenarios — toxic environments, eventually, make everyone toxic. That’s literally how toxicity works. So essentially, if you’re shitty and abusive enough, the other person is going to snap at some point and lose their cool. Then you, the bully who has been stirring the pot on this for years, gets to point fingers and say “look, that person is the bad guy! They got physical!” You’ve created a situation where someone else either has no choice, or has become to mentally destabilized from the abuse, that they behave in clearly inappropriate ways that violate policy or law. And because HR wants to deal with these things as cleanly and quickly as possible, they will retaliate against the victim, not the bully, because their behavior is more in line with a book definition of a violation. It happens to kids in school, it happens in abusive relationships, and it happens in work settings.
          It’s not whataboutism to point out the deeply toxic the office manager created. It’s taking a holistic approach to what is actually going on in this conflict.

      2. Lilo*

        True but, legally by initiating contact not in response to a direct physical threat, the OP technically committed battery. Misdemeanor battery that no one would ever prosecute, yes, but battery. The person who initiates the contact is usually the person faulted.

        Point is, this should be, as OP treated it, a wakeup call. The place is full of bees and OP is getting covered in honey.

    2. No abuse allowed*

      Quit going around these post threads defending abusers. LW’s response wasn’t great, but you sure are blatantly ignoring all the abuse LW received that led up to them hitting the breaking point. Maybe you should ask yourself why you’re so determined to stan for an abuser, hmmmmm? Sure says something about *you.*

      1. Me*

        I mean, we can acknowledge that OP made a really bad choice here. Just because the person they bit also made bad choices doesn’t change that. It was an absolutely unhinged move to bite that dude.

        1. Lilo*

          Yes, it’s important to keep focus here. Office Manager is a bad guy, no question. OP’s workplace is a pitnof quicksand and scorpions. The thing about that stuff is that it leaks, too. Yelling at work can turn into yelling at your partner.

          If you find yourself engaging in behavior that you don’t recognize you have to get out of there. I hope like a week after that update OP got a fabulous new job.

          1. Anon E. Mouse*

            There’s an update. OP did not get a new job, by choice. The update says LW still hates the office manager, but also enjoys getting coffee and going on walks with him.

        2. No abuse allowed*

          I did actually say, “LW’s response wasn’t great.” I can call out Kimberly for defending abusers and STILL think LW acted inappropriately after long-term abuse.

      2. yala*

        This isn’t stanning, and passive aggressive “hmmm-face-emoji” comments aren’t helpful or kind.

        No one is saying OP wasn’t verbally abused. Just that her reaction was not appropriate (and could even be considered illegal). Speculating about whether or not someone deserves physical assault isn’t helpful either.

        1. No abuse allowed*

          You’re reading some really negative and inaccurate takes into my comment that I never actually said.

          1. yala*

            I’m not sure how else one is supposed to read: “Maybe you should ask yourself why you’re so determined to stan for an abuser, hmmmmm? Sure says something about *you.*” and accusing Kimberly of “going around in threads defending abusers” but by all means, please explain what was inaccurate about my “takes”

        2. Dinwar*

          It’s not a question of whether they deserve it. As a manager it’s not my job to make moral judgments about my staff–it’s my job to ensure they have “…a safe work environment, free from recognized hazards” (to pull a quote from Federally mandated safety training I gave this morning). Verbal and psychological abuse, sexist comments, and attempts at physical domineering, are recognized hazards (specifically a Hostile Work Environment). For a manager to allow these to continue is a dereliction of duty.

          Yes, okay, sure, biting in this context is bad and we shouldn’t bite coworkers. But allowing an environment to become so toxic that not only do people bite each other, but no one considers it a memorable incident, is FAR worse. The reason is that allowing such a toxic environment to continue makes incidents such as this inevitable. If it wasn’t a bite, it would be a punch, or a tire iron to a windshield, or a gunshot. The biting incident is a symptom of a much bigger problem, and until that problem goes away such things will necessarily occur.

          It goes back to the Pyramid (a rather iconic diagram associated with Behavior Based Loss Prevention). For every incident there are a few hundred near-misses. For every near-miss there are a few hundred at-risk behaviors that go unchecked. Modern industrial safety focuses on those at-risk behaviors (well, really they focus on the Trigger States which lead to at-risk behaviors) so that you never get to the incident stage (near-misses get a pass here because a good safety program wants to encourage near-miss reporting rather than cause people to sweep it under the rug). Everyone focusing on the bite is focusing on the tip of the pyramid; trouble is, the real problem is much deeper.

          1. yala*

            I don’t know why you started your response to *me* with “It’s not a question of whether they deserve it” because I’m pretty sure I specifically said that there isn’t a point to talking about who “deserves” what

            This comment thread in particular literally started with folks talking about whether or not he deserved it, which is why I was saying that talking about whether or not any of it was “deserved” doesn’t matter. I didn’t just decide to start up on it.

            I don’t think anyone here said that the biting was the worst thing, or that the problem isn’t much bigger than OP biting someone.

            Literally all I mean was exactly what I said:
            -Talking about who “deserves” isn’t helpful or relevant.
            -It is INCREDIBLY rude (at BEST) for “No abuse allowed” to accuse another commenter of “defending abusers.” And all the rest of what they said. I’m actually kind of shocked that comment is still here.

            1. Dinwar*

              “I don’t know why you started your response to *me* with “It’s not a question of whether they deserve it”….”

              Because I thought it was an important point to make, which was being lost. Many people are approaching this from a moralizing standpoint, and that’s not what a manager is supposed to do. The situation is incredibly bad, with plenty of blame to go around, and the focus needs to be on fixing the situation before someone gets killed.

              “I don’t think anyone here said that the biting was the worst thing, or that the problem isn’t much bigger than OP biting someone.”

              People are saying that the bite is wrong, full stop, end of story–which is a vernacular way of saying it is the worst thing and that other considerations (such as basic, and I mean absolute “1+1=2” level BASIC industrial safety considerations, the stuff I expect new hires to pick up on within the first few months on the job) are irrelevant. This would be absolutely unacceptable for any other sort of incident; the idea that it’s acceptable here is indefensible from a purely industrial safety perspective, much less a “I’m a descent human” perspective. And by “absolutely unacceptable” I mean any safety officer who did this at the company I work for would be in immediate danger of losing their job for incompetence. That’s not hyperbole; it’s part of our training that this is the wrong thing to do. Chapter 3 of the book, if I recall correctly.

              “-It is INCREDIBLY rude (at BEST) for “No abuse allowed” to accuse another commenter of “defending abusers.” And all the rest of what they said. I’m actually kind of shocked that comment is still here.”

              The person who got bit has a history of verbal, psychological, emotional, and physical abuse (the physical abuse is in the update). The nature of abuse is such that intentionally suppressing this information in a discussion of the reaction of the abused party is in fact defending the abuser (it’s a common form of enabling). Whether it is intentional or not, that is what the result always is. This is how abusers get away with abuse, both with their victims and with society at large. Calling enabling what it is is a powerful way to make people understand that they are being abused.

              Let’s be clear: Without that history of abuse it’s HIGHLY unlikely that the LW would have reacted the way she did. The abuse is a Proximal Cause of the incident, and thus something that is absolutely worth discussing when looking at this situation. To deny that is to refuse to actually engage in basic (and again, I’m talking “1+1=2” level stuff) incident investigation. (The ultimate cause is pretty obviously gross mismanagement.)

              By the way, “That’s rude, don’t say that” is literally a response abusers and enablers have used for centuries to silence those who would hold them accountable. I’ve had people use exactly those words to me to keep me from calling abusers out (it escalated to death threats, so no, this isn’t a minor thing). It is not me–or anyone calling out an abuser–who is behaving rudely. It’s the person who is abusing. There’s a whole principle of returning awkward to sender; well, this is how it works. I frankly refuse to feel bad for calling things what they are; if folks are concerned about the icky feelings they’re experiencing, the proper way to direct such concern is at the abuser.

              Simply put you do not get to verbally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically abuse someone–torture them, in other words–and then claim the protection of the norms of polite society. Nor do you get to enable such behavior and claim the protection of the norms of polite society. If you want people to be polite to you, you are obliged to be polite yourself. If you wish to engage in or defend rude behavior, you can expect no better in return.

      3. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Wtf. Saying that no one deserves abuse is not defending abusers. I didn’t know that my belief that “abusers should not be assaulted/abused in turn” was so radical.

  16. Kimberly*

    This letter and the update are both distressing.

    A lot of excuse making and justification for serious antisocial behavior.

    This LW did not want advice, they wanted validation that the bite wasn’t that bad. Personally, I am disinclined to give it.

    LW assaulted a co-worker. That is the beginning, middle, and end of this story.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I agree that biting the co-worker was obviously irresponsible and unprofessional. But it is hardly the beginning or the end of the story. His verbal and emotional abuse of her is worse in my view, because it is vicious and ongoing. She snapped once, she gets abused every day. Just because it was physical doesn’t make it worse.

      I suspect you’ve never dealt with someone who just will not follow any kind of social norms. I have and it is extremely difficult to know what to do. Again, biting is not it, but that kind of behavior messes with your head.

      1. big jawn*

        Just because it was physical doesn’t make it worse.

        From the standpoint of the criminal court system, YES, just because it was physical DOES make it worse.

          1. Dinwar*

            Even if you were, provocation matters. Okay, yes, we’re supposed to be mature adults and not escalate, but she would hardly be the first person to be found not guilty of assault for retaliating against rampant abuse. (Note that “Not Guilty” doesn’t mean innocent.) There is legal precedent for it, and it’s likely that enough jury members would side with her to make the outcome very dubious.

            And that’s assuming this ever went to court, which is pretty high up on the “Worst Case Scenario” list for this office manager. Any lawyer that’s not wildly incompetent would very, very strongly advise the office manager to either settle out of court or drop the case before even filing it. As I said above, there are multiple violations of federal employment law in this letter alone, all of which would absolutely come out in any court case. Maybe the office manager would win this one case, but so many more would come flying at him that it’s unlikely the company survived. (As an aside, does anyone seriously think the books are being kept properly in this place? At minimum the IRS has ample justification for an audit.)

        1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

          It’s a big line to cross. Blocking a doorway isn’t a big deal legally unless there’s a fire and it’s the exit. You can de escalate by turning around and leaving, sitting and waiting, using words. You can call in your boss if the behaviour is out of line. Biting wouldn’t be in my top 100 “instinctual” responses.

          1. LR*

            Legally sure. But I think it’s a smaller line than, say, realign a coworker their mother doesn’t love them and calling them fat. And from her update it seems like the bite wasn’t the first time things got physical. They just think things like light shoving are normal for the office.

      2. Kimberly*

        You would be incorrect.

        The amount and degree of justifying this antisocial behavior is extremely odd.

    2. No abuse allowed*

      Yes, LW assaulted a co-worker. That is NOT the beginning, middle, and end of the story. You’re oh-so-conveniently leaving out the part where the person LW assaulted was (and probably still is, if he’s not dead) an abuser who pushed LW to far past the breaking point over time. It wasn’t the open-and-shut case you think it was. AAM isn’t a courtroom or a police station.

      (I do also agree that LW was being their own gigantic walking red flag, particuarly in that update.)

        1. No abuse allowed*

          Try reading again. I didn’t say it was justified. I said you’re conveniently ignoring that it’s not a one-sided story. LW didn’t leap out of a dark alley as a stranger at this dude on a whim.

    3. Observer*

      LW assaulted a co-worker. That is the beginning, middle, and end of this story.

      No it’s not. I’m not defending her. But to ignore all of the rest of the abuse going on is, to put it kindly, not helpful. And it doesn’t sound like you’re arguing in good faith, either.

      1. Kimberly*

        I think this LW doesn’t need a lot of people mitigating the harm committed.

        I think this LW needs the truth, which is that she assaulted a co-worker and she’s extremely lucky there were not legal consequences.

        Some things are just wrong, full stop. Biting a co-worker is one of them. I cannot believe this has to be expressed to a bunch of adults.

        1. No abuse allowed*

          And I cannot believe anyone has to express to you that the person who got bit was an abusive ass who pushed the LW too far. Saying that is true is *still* not excusing the LW’s actions.

        2. LR*

          Saying that something is not the entire story is in no way the same as saying it’s ok to do.

          This office was a cluster of emotional and physical abuse and horrible behavior. Isolating once incident and calling it the entire the story is incorrect.

        3. anonny mouse*

          Given the office environment described in both letters, I find it hard to believe legal consequences were ever a realistic possibility. Who would bring charges? The office manager who created the toxic situation in the first place? The coworkers who didn’t care?

    4. get a grip*

      Have you ever been the victim of abuse? Have you ever been pushed to your limit?

      I’m not saying OP was in the right for biting a coworker. That’s assault. But she was also insulted and assaulted frequently. You’re not the better person with your black & white world view.

    1. Don't kneel in front of me*

      Six years ago I thought “kind of sounds like he deserved it.” Today, I think “kind of sounds like he deserved it.”

      Just because our laws are written in a way that the physical aggressor is basically always wrong doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

    2. Don't kneel in front of me*

      Six years ago I thought “kind of sounds like he deserved it.” Today, I think “kind of sounds like he deserved it.”

      Just because our laws are written in a way that the physical aggressor is basically always wrong doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

  17. I should really pick a name*

    Super depressing update. The LW is so jaded they don’t seem to believe that they can do better.
    This jumped out at me:

    I’d like to see how others handle someone, sitting 5 feet away for 50ish hours a week, who constantly calls them a b*tch, tells them they’re fat, says their mother doesn’t love them, criticizes clothes and makeup, polices how much they eat, and basically makes everything as difficult as possible.

    Most others would handle this by finding another job.
    The LW has convinced themselves that there’s no solution.

    1. Antilles*

      The dichotomy between that paragraph and OP’s intro of “I tried Alison’s advice, found an open position to apply to the next day and got an immediate interview” is just incredible.
      There are situations where someone might be stuck in a crummy job because nobody’s hiring, but this was very clearly a choice to put up with handling that.

      1. clownfish*

        Agreed. Reading their update as an outsider is so unsettling – they knew they had to try to get a different job, and yet gave up after one interview. It’s like they would rather stay in a horribly dysfunctional workplace than get out. It makes me sad for them – they must have felt pretty beat down to begin accepting this as their situation and losing sight of what work could be like for them. Hopefully they managed to get out in the end.

        1. not a hippo*

          Toxic workplaces really warp your mind. “Better the devil you know” becomes truth even though the devil isn’t in every job and escape is the far better choice.

    2. LR*

      Same. Directly after saying they were not going to apply to other jobs because this job is actually
      better than most. It was a sad, scary update.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It’s one thing to say “this job is worth the shit show” but the LW seems to be trying to convince themselves that better jobs don’t exist.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yes, that’s what I find most worrying. They are simultaneously saying “my job is so bad you can’t even imagine it and most of you would find yourselves responding in ways you are convinced you wouldn’t if you worked in a job as bad as mine” and “yeah, the office manager is horrible but it doesn’t bother me that much and all my friends have worse jobs” and it’s like they don’t even see the discrepancy.

        I hope they are in a better place now and look back and think, “woah, how did I ever think that was normal?!”

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I remember that – the LW seemed to think that a job where coworkers didn’t get bitten was going to be “boring.” It was one of the sadder updates here on AAM. That person was so mired in dysfunction. I hope they got help.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yeah, I’ve encountered the guy who calls you names, tells you you’re fat and shouldn’t be eating, uses slurs to describe you etc. and if the management won’t do anything it’s time to leave.

      Essentially any place where behaviour like harsh insults and biting is just shrugged off is a horrible place to work. Picking lint out of a honey badgers backside would be a better job!

    4. pope suburban*

      That is in fact exactly what I did, though it took a lot longer than I would have liked. If I had been in a company that had any larger structure, or if the miscreants I worked with had crossed sufficient lines (They were terrible, but not “say the quiet part out loud” terrible, such that a constructive dismissal case would not have been a slam dunk), then they would be getting turned into either upper management, or the relevant authorities, or both. I feel for this person, I do, I remember the effort I had to put into maintain any semblance of norms in that situation, but…there are always options other than biting someone. If I had ever had to defend myself physically at work (A non-zero chance; we employed at least one person with a history of violence), then I’d have quit and filed for UI and anything else that might apply; this is not speculation, this is an action plan I had in a workplace like this one. I understand how warped things can get, but the update had the mother of all false choices in it and I’m very sad to see that.

  18. TimeTravelR*

    The day I told my boss to go F*** himself! was the day I knew I had to get out of there. (He didn’t even bat an eye at what I said, so that tells what kind of place it was.) But the first thing I did was apologize to the customer who heard me say it. Her response: I’ve always wanted to do that!

  19. CanadianPublicServant*

    Oh, if we had gifs, I’d share the one of the demon Gunnar on the Good Place saying “We can bite them?!?”

    1. MauvaisePomme*

      Given that the letter writer seems to work in the Bad Place, this feels particularly appropriate.

      1. Onward*

        Let’s hope that the LW finally woke up one day and said “Ohhhh THIS is the Bad Place!”

  20. Nespresso Addict*

    All I can think after reading the update is this person has Stockholm Syndrome. She has clearly been enduring toxicity and abuse for years to the point of accepting it as normal-ish. If it is true that her coworkers thought nothing of the biting incident because it was just par for the course around there, then I think they might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome too. I am not surprised she bombed the interview with what was presumably a normal company – she is used to toxicity and has been traumatized to the point that she might struggle to relate / connect with “normal” people. As an adult who is still trying to rid myself of the impacts of childhood trauma some 30 years later, I am deeply saddened for this woman.

  21. narya*

    I started reading Ask a Manager around 2018 when I was in a toxic, miserable, dysfunctional workplace. This letter & the update were some of first letters I read, and I remember thinking, “Holy s***! At least it’s not THAT bad here!” I began actively job searching not long after, and landed a much better job in a much better enviornment. I had PTSD for months after, but was able to get over it by being in a more stable, normal office. That poor lady… I really hope she’s free now.

  22. BellyButton*

    I have worked in some dysfunctional places in my time, but I can’t imagine working some place so bad that biting a coworker and stomping someone’s foot and shoving them didn’t result in everyone being fired. The fact that no one was even phased by either person’s behavior speaks volumes.

    1. Sylvan*


      I think I’ve been in some bad workplaces but I have never encountered physical violence. Yikes dude.

    2. Observer*

      The fact that no one was even phased by either person’s behavior speaks volumes.

      Yes, that’s the really scary part.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I know, right? “I bit my coworker, he stomped my foot, lalalala, doesn’t everyone?” NO. My god, no, that’s not normal!

      2. Blue*

        Most of them didn’t even remember that it had happened! I find that completely mind-boggling.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      We’ve also entirely skipped over the fact that he was already engaging in demeaning, sexist comments and when she called him out, he gave her the silent treatment FOR A YEAR. The baseline even before the biting incident was so far out of wack.

  23. Cyndi*

    I would never have said this to the LW’s “face” on the original post or update, because I’m not sure how helpful it would have been to her, but re her impression of other office jobs: I have twice had jobs that were so boring I became suicidal. I would STILL, if god forbid I was forced to choose, go back to one of those rather than an environment like this.

  24. Baron*

    Yeah, that update was sad for a lot of us, I think.

    I come from a family where you simply don’t change jobs. You graduate high school, you get a job, that’s your job, you do it for forty or fifty years, you retire. My parents and siblings and aunts and uncles would no more change jobs than they would cut off a limb. I’m way on the other end of the spectrum – I’m always open to changing jobs if something better comes along, and if I’m having physical altercations with coworkers, literally anything is better than that. So I understand the “just get a new job” advice, but I also understand resistance to doing that. It’s a tough one.

  25. Unkempt Flatware*

    As a former bullied and abused child and adolescent, this letter triggered really deep and serious rage inside me and I fear for what I would do if I were ever in such a situation.

    1. Observer*

      I hope that you would recognize the signs of dysfunction before it gets too bad and start looking for a new job immediately. Because that’s really the only way to come out of that reasonably sane and intact, even without your history.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        I hope so as well. I’m imagining little UF starting her first day at her first job and seeing someone get stomped on and pushed. IME, I’d either have flipped out and scream-cried, or I would have gone full cornered-dog.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      As a former bullied and abused child and adult, I can tell you the answer is “you put up with it because you can’t escape easily or reasonably, and you are long since out of any emotional anything to keep trying to escape over and over again.”

      My work doesn’t involve physical abuse, but otherwise I feel a lot like this OP. The mental drama and constant being told how awful I am at my job has made me totally unable to sell myself as a good candidate to hire. I don’t believe I’m a good candidate to hire myself.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way. How awful. I hope you get out and recover. You’re worth so so much.

  26. mr egg*

    This is how I know Allison does us all a service…my advice would have been to just bite him harder next time

    In all seriousness, I feel so bad for LW and a little sad at the lack of empathy in some of these responses. Biting in the work place is obviously not okay, but it was clearly reactive to the harassment they seem to receive. I hope in 2023 the LW has escaped this place and figured out a way to move forward after surviving in a hostile environment.

  27. Zap R.*

    This is some WaystarRoyCo-level dysfunction, holy moly. I hope OP’s no longer working somewhere where her boss literally stomps on her feet.

  28. LCH*

    Argh, the update sucks so much! He says horrible things to her and she still goes on walks with him and listens when he needs to confide?!?!?! WTF, no.

    1. LCH*

      To be clear, not blaming the LW, more saying the office manager does not deserve her time. This sounds like such a horrible work place, and sort of abusive, she doesn’t even realize what is normal anymore. I also hope she finally got out of there.

  29. GreyjoyGardens*

    I remember the update to this one. The LW didn’t seem to realize how much dysfunction they were in, and I was just agog. “Yeah, I bit my coworker, but doesn’t everyone?”

    I also remember the LW saying something like they didn’t want to take a “boring” job, and at least this job wasn’t boring! People tried to explain that the working world wasn’t divided between exciting but awful and toxic jobs and “good” but boring ones.

    I hope the LW extricated themselves and got some therapy or counseling because I think that LW accepted dysfunction as something you just put up with in order to have a cool and exciting job. It’s never, ever normal to bite someone at work, unless you work in a veterinary clinic or a daycare! (And even then, *coworkers* don’t bite, or shouldn’t!) The LW is at risk of carrying toxic habits forward in a way that can really affect their career.

  30. lost*

    I sympathize with this LW! My first non retail job was extremely dysfunctional, down to the nasty comments and physical assault. It was family business, brother & sister. Sister would tell me “that’s just how he is, you need to learn how to stay on his good side.”

    I got out but it did a real number on me. I hope LW is in a better place, both jobwise and mentally!

  31. Pomegranate*

    From the update
    ‘But everyone I talk to with a “normal” office job seems to hate it. They go in, stare at four walls for eight hours, barely talk to anyone, and then go home to complain about how much their work sucks.’

    When people complain about normal offices, they hate the sink wars or the office wars, or an arduous process to get a new desk, or maybe a manager who doesn’t fully support your career goals, or someone playing music a bit loud. It’s not being called degrading names, yelled at, being shoved, and physically obstructed.

    And staring at four walls and barely talking to anyone is likely an indication that the office life doesn’t fulfil their social needs fully and they’d rather spend more time at home in general. It’s not that no one ever talks to you at work and you literally have nothing even remotely interesting and engaging to do.

    But when your office is more or less reasonable, what you’d call bad, boring, sucky, etc. is on a WHOLE different scale than what LW had in mind from her workplace.

  32. Delta Delta*

    I remember this letter and this update, and I often think about the part in the update where it was just kind of … normal that someone bit someone else in their office. I know it’s several years past at this point, but I hope OP is doing okay and is re-calibrated to normalcy.

  33. Onward*

    Why are SO many of the comments in that update like “Oh, cool. Glad things are working out.” WHAT? THEY’RE SO NOT WORKING OUT. This workplace is different level bizarre!

    1. LG*

      Right? I was expecting way more pushback in the update comments, and couldn’t believe how many people were saying it was good she’d learned to accept the dysfunction.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, I was surprised by those comments too. It’s not better! It’s a abusive relationship that you’ve convinced yourself you deserve and that you should tolerate!

  34. Budgie Buddy*

    From the update:
    “Do I wish my office manager would quit? Of course. But I’m not crying myself to sleep over his behavior.”

    Woof. Wasn’t expecting to see another example of “Well my behavior isn’t this extremely not ok example so it’s all cool” so soon.But from the point of view of someone stuck in a toxic environment, not defending irresponsible behavior.

    OP 1000% knew how bad this is but was at the time of writing the update too stuck to get out. I hope she’s gotten into a better situation since then.

  35. Kat*

    This all is so weird. Manager is a complete ass but when you commit battery with your teeth, it’s time to go.

  36. DorothyGale*

    I really hope all these people are teenagers. That’s the only way I can even remotely make sense of it. The SHOVING and verbal abuse in the update is even more bizarre than the biting incident.

  37. Ultra Anon*

    This was one of the first letters I read on AAM and I’ll never forget it until the day I die.

  38. SB*

    This whole story is wild & everyone seems to have some pretty serious issues they need to address. I can tell you though, if you bit me my first stop would be the police to file assault charges. Your OM was being a tool, but you have to know that biting him like a three year old who just got told no is absolutely bananas, right?

  39. I take tea*

    This was the letter that got me hooked on Ask a Manager originally. Not just because of the letter itself, but because of the comments being unusually kind and constructive. I feel so much that under other circumstances this could have been me. I have a pretty long fuse, but push me enough and I might explode.

    I have requested an update (a proper on, not a “I tried to leave and I tried to get help and I didn’t succeed) every time update season rolls around. I do hope OP is in better place now.

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