Changing How We Act When Provoked

She was not an easy person to work beside. No one wanted to sit by her, because her behavior was so unpredictable, and she seemed to relish provoking people to anger. Everyone who had ever been assigned to work next to her eventually asked to be moved to another work station, mainly because they feared one day losing control and hitting her, which would lead to termination from their job. When I became that person, I learned that sometimes we have to change the way we react when people provoke us. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lessons listed below until after I nearly lost my job.

The company would honor people’s request to move away from her, but they would wait until the person was near their breaking point, having dealt for months with her behavior without the company doing anything to stop her antagonism towards other people. They would then assign the newest person in the office, someone who did not know about her, to that work position. For me, their failure to tell the latest victim-in-waiting of her behavior constituted gross negligence on their part, especially as became her latest victim when I transferred into that office. I had no idea that first day that my life at work was about to daily become a living hell.

The first time I met her, she seemed so normal, smiling and greeting me. For the first few days, she was nice and kind, offering to  help me when she saw that I needed assistance. I even thought that we would be good friends. But, as happens in these situations, one day I came to work, and she started to criticize every thing I did.

She seemed to be mad at me, but I could not figure out why. Not realizing that this was a pattern of provocation, I assumed that she, for some reason, had taken a dislike to me. Then suddenly the next day, she liked me and thought I was the greatest person in the world. The honeymoon period had ended, and the craziness had begun.

From moment to moment, I never knew which of her personalities I was going to encounter. Day after day, sitting next to her became so bad that I started asking myself each morning before I left for work if I were not too sick to go to work that day. My nerves were stretched so much that I started having panic attacks just thinking about going to work. In fact, one day, after a particularly nasty encounter with her, I thought I was having a heart attack, and I had to be taken to the hospital.

I did not report her behavior, thinking that this was an issue between her and me, and because I was an adult woman who should be able to deal with another adult woman. I feared that if I reported her, I would be seen as a complainer, so, I suffered in silence. Also, having survived domestic violence, I didn’t define her behavior as abuse, because she had never physically attacked me. I did not recognize her behavior as emotional abuse.

I thought that maybe I needed to change my behavior, although I could not, for the life of me, comprehend what I did to cause her to mistreat me. I suffered the same type of anxiety that I had experienced with the men who beat me, for I never knew what I did to provoke them, which led to many hours of being constantly alert to everything I said and did. I was appalled to find myself experiencing those feelings again with a co-worker.

Then, the inevitable happened. The day came when she finally hit my last nerve, and I lost my cool completely. I was on the phone when she started an argument with me. I told her to leave me alone, because I was trying to do my job. She kept throwing out insults, and the person I was talking to on the phone could hear her screaming at me, and he told me to just ignore her. But, for some reason, that day I could not restrain my response.

After months of constant arguments and then sweetness, I had suffered enough, and I was not going to let her behavior pass any longer. I found myself screaming back at her and threatening to do her gross bodily harm. It was so out of my character to respond in such a way that it scared me badly. I was just shaking by the time it was over.

What was so freaky about the whole incident was that after all that screaming and shouting and name-calling, this chick, smiling as though nothing had happened, offered me half of the cake that she had brought that day. I responded, “I wouldn’t eat something you gave me if my life depended on it, because you are certifiably crazy!”

I had planned to ask that day that one of us be moved, or I was going to ask for a transfer. What happened is that she reported my threat of violence to our supervisor, and he sent the report on up the chain of command. I was called in and told that I was in danger of losing my job. It was then that I told of what I had been dealing with for months.

After I related my story, I was told that I was not the first victim. I asked my supervisor why I was never told about her behavior, and he told me that no one could say anything due to confidentiality rules governing personnel issues. The people who had held the seat before me were told that they could not tell anyone else on pains of dismissal. Afterwards, at least one apologized for what I had suffered, but I came to see that it was not their fault for keeping silent.

I also asked my supervisor why would they keep placing people in the seat next to her and causing them such anxiety and stress, and he told me that the one time that they had addressed her behavior, advising her that she might be dismissed if she did not get some psychiatric help, she had attempted suicide.

When the company was made aware of her actions, company officers thought that they could be held liable for wrongful death claims by her family. So, rather then insist she behave or get help, they simply kept moving people away from her, but only after they had come close to their breaking point. I did not lose my job; instead, they moved me to another seat, and, eventually, I was moved to another office.

I learned a few things after that encounter that I want to share with you, in hopes that someone can be saved from unnecessary pain and suffering, because there are people who enjoy provoking others.

First, pray about the situation. I thought this situation was too trivial to take to God. But, Philippians 4:6 states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Nothing that you encounter is too small for God to help you deal with it.

Second, never assume that you are the problem. If you have not had the same issues with other people, then it’s unlikely that your behavior is the catalyst to abuse.

Third, tell someone about the abuse as quickly as possible. Don’t wait to see if the situation or the person will change, because, in all likelihood, it/they won’t change.

Fourth, don’t let others people’s behaviors change who you know yourself to be. If you find that your basic humanity is changing to accomodate someone else, then it is time to take action.

Fifth, watch how other people respond to the person, and if you notice that no one else deals with them or even speaks to them, then you can be sure that you are not the first person to experience their abuse.

I don’t know what eventually happened to that woman, but I requested that no one else be placed next to her, explaining from personal experience that one day she was going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and someone was going to get so mad at her that they would actually hurt her, if not kill her. Then, that person was going to file a lawsuit against the company for knowingly allowing them to be bullied and harassed to the point of violence. If I had lost my job, I would have been one of the people suing them. After careful consideration of my arguments, they, thankfully, honored my request.

 

11 thoughts on “Changing How We Act When Provoked

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  1. So much cowardice in the part of the company. The threat of an act of suicide by a depressed teacher meant the primary schoo’ refused to take her out of the classroom. My son and another girl in class were bullied daily. It is negligence of duty to permit such a situation to continue. There is compassion and there is cowardice and the space between them is East from West.

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    1. A child should never be allowed to suffer. They will be scarred by her words, because what we endure in childhood tends to stay with us. But, praise God, your son has a mother who loves him. I believe that will help heal the scars. Thank you for sharing your story with me.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I had a similar experience with a family friend….it scarred me and my daughter deeply. She is what a mutual friend calls a soft bully – bullies with words instead of fists. About the only thing I did not do was pray about the situation, and that was of coarse the first thing I needed to do. It was after our encounter then I saw God waiting for me to go to Him. He is so faithful and gentle in His teaching and I too learned a valuable lesson basically all what your wrote to us, I still this woman weekly at bible study (although not in the same class) over a year and we on better terms but with daughter and myself guarding ourselves against any future attacks with us or others. I also had two wonderful faithful women to intervene with prayer and guidance.

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    1. I never heard the term of a soft bully. That is a great phrase, because it reminds me that bullies come in different forms. I also learned that words are as much, if not more so, painful as fists, and can leave us in such pain. I liked also that you are right that we are scarred. I thought scars only result from fists, but you are right that words leave their scars also. Wonderful comment. Thank you.

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  3. My wife had a very similar problem at work. Only this person was her closest friend until one day she just turned to the opposite. She started doing everything she could do make my wife miserable. They had worked together for 3 years successfully, but then the last 2 years were horrible. Incidents were reported but nothing ever got done. Finally my wife was able to move away from her, and the stress level has gone way down in her life.

    I don’t understand her company allowing the kind of abuse this gal pu my wife through. The gal lays her work off on others all the time and just walks around and talks to people. She slows people down and bothers them all day, and no one does anything. It;s pathetic, really. She even moves my wife’s picture on the employee board, and has thrown her coffee cup away a coupe times. So childish!

    By the way, love your mission statement. I think I’ll add that to my sites (I also have another blog called God’s Maintenance Man. That sight is Bible studies and other posts to uplift the body of Christ). petergardner.wordpress.com

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  4. I get the not wanting to be labeled a complainer thing. I feel like that sometimes. Sometimes I feel like because I’m usually the one that does speak up-people see me coming and think,”oh-oh, what now?” and the that deters me from wanting to address things. Lol. Truly, this woman had a typical abusive personality. What a lot of control that threat of suicide gave her. The best way to deal with abuse is the conclusion you came to-respond by shedding light on it, by not letting it control you. I do think the company should have fired her and offered to pay for some counseling if they were concerned about her welfare. I get that she put them in a really hard spot, but they should not have allowed such toxic behavior to continue.

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