Dreadful Matriarch Part I

I work with a dreadful matriarch. It could be worse of course, but it’s bad enough. I’d say there’s more than one, and I wouldn’t be lying, but if I keep saying one they can tell themselves ‘it might not be me’. The worst of it is that I didn’t see it coming, I liked them all when I started. It’s been with me a long time now though, the internal monologues arguing over the petty imperfections in the workplace with a permanently miserable colleague who’s not even in that day. Then I wake up in the night and it carries on. Is she sound asleep?

Yesterday we had a staff planning meeting and did a quick round of each talking about how our work is going. We share a lot of work but our main roles are all very different. We do largely incomparable work which unfortunately leads to lots of negative assumptions about performance and no support or appraisal. So it was my turn and I started by saying “I have to say before I start that I feel like I’m going to be attacked.” I did have to say it, I couldn’t speak until I did. I was so horrified at myself I countered, “but some of this is paranoia … and the things I do badly.” In order to appease the inevitable backlash of my desperate cry for help I stepped in to save them the bother – offering not only my competence but my sanity, on the whoops-too-late altar of positive worker relations.

Goodness knows what they thought, but at least they didn’t interrupt too much after that.

With Byron Katie and many others I do believe that when you are really bothered about someone, it says a lot about you, often that you are focussed in on something unpleasant because you are actually doing it yourself. When I felt persecuted by my ex, my friend made me ask myself if I was persecuting him. In my actions I felt sure I wasn’t, but when I interrogated my thoughts, sure enough, I was right in there beating the crap out of him in the worst ways I could muster. A vicious circle to be sure. My work situation showed up a far worse truth about me when I finally tried to apply this trick.

My colleague needs to constantly pick at and criticise others, and will be vile about anyone when they are not there. Of course this slowly but surely creates the knowledge that she is vile about you when you are not there. Your imagination has to borrow her words to fill in the gaps, and soon enough she lives in your head, offering commentary not just on your performance as you move about the workspace one step at a time, but about everything single thing you see there – whether you have the time and energy to deal with it or not.

My sin I discovered is that I criticise my children. It hit me how much worse this is, because they are young and still forming, there is the power imbalance, and they have lived with me all their lives. There is no going home and having days off where they get away from the nit picking. Luckily for me, I had managed to hear this from others and gone a long way to reducing it before I put two and two together. It could have been too painful to acknowledge before this. However I think what really happened was that when I was still in full swing my colleague’s critical behaviour didn’t appear unacceptable. As a fellow bitch I had assumed all her complaints were reasonable. So it is that I have a very low opinion of my competence in the workplace.