Above: Self Contour Blind by Kaethe Kauffman

It’s horrible to hate someone, like my current colleague, Josephine. She triggers me into instant fury with her insults and lies. I strategize on how to stay out of her way. When I must encounter her, I raise my mental and emotional shields. I repeat affirmations to dispel the dread she inspires in my gut. Pep talks help, but it takes time and energy to devise antidotes to her venom, such as, I deserve better than her bullying or I do good work no matter what she says. My newest assertion is, It’s okay to hate someone. I’ve been a good Buddhist for most of my life. I’ve lobbied and demonstrated against stereotyping and wrongdoing in all its forms. It’s been hard to admit that hate has its place. I’ve only recently come to believe this. 

I found one form of hatred that I need: self-defense. As I learned in karate class, the second my opponent approaches, I scream a piercing, kee-aiheeeee. Everyone’s on alert and, hopefully, my opponent’s scared. Beware. I’m going for the throat.

I’ve worked with Josephine for twenty-seven years. In my former Pollyanna days, I tried to get along by making nice with her. I prided myself on remaining neutral in a tussle, on being a peacemaker. With Josephine close at hand, I trained myself in mediation and negotiation. But Josephine doesn’t operate on Planet Rational, a place where most people peacefully solve their problems. She’s from Planet Raw Power where she’s a star intimidator and name-caller. 

Many people who are like Josephine, see Ms. Nice Girl and quickly try to take advantage. A former boss lived nearby and was a so-called friend. I don’t know why he started to spread rumors about me and my family, that we’d been inmates in an insane asylum. In reality, my brother had been hospitalized with panic attacks. But colleagues gave me weird looks and stayed away for months. I came to hate that boss, but I should have ramped it up and defended myself sooner.

About ten years ago, I made a vow to myself. I would exercise more discernment in my life and eliminate problematic people. I’m happy to report, it works. I read books on liars, abusers and narcissists and learn to recognize them. Maybe only eighty-five percent of the time, but this signifies a vast improvement, enough to remove most troublemakers from my zone.

Josephine’s the last holdout. I changed departments to get away from her. But one last project needs both of us to finish it. Just when I think we’ve got the job done, one more hanging thread turns up. I gasp and groan when her accusatory emails arrive: “I did everything perfectly. You provided the wrong information to me in the first place. It’s your fault. ” She copies the email to our superiors and adds a note to them: “Cate’s work is difficult for many reasons.” Typical Josephine. Usually, I send copious explanations of what actually happened back to her and the others, soliciting their feedback.

But today, I declare to myself, I hate her. It replaces the kee-aiheeeee which would not go over well in the office. My declaration reminds me to remove myself from her line of fire. Instead of replying to Josephine directly, I finish the task and send it to the colleague that needs it. I email an attached copy to Josephine. By not engaging with her, I make the executive decisions I want. I don’t cave in to her harassment. She’ll likely be too distracted to open the attachment and probably won’t notice the resolutions I put into play. 

Josephine’s the same race as me and she’s close in age, so I’m not committing an act of prejudice. I’m recognizing a bully.

I hate Josephine while it serves my self-defense needs. Recognizing my true emotion helps me stay honest, and reminds me not to sugarcoat her deeds. I’m very good at making excuses for other people’s bad behavior. She’s not feeling well today. You know she had a tough childhood. And an old stand-by for years: It’s better if I ignore her and wait for her temper tantrum to blow over.

Once I’ve faced hatred directly and carried out appropriate acts, as I did with Josephine, I rest in the knowledge that she’ll disappear from my job, hopefully soon. As enemies grow more distant, my emotions become neutral and the Buddhist in me is pleased. I even pray for them and wish them a good life; but not so much when they’re within firing range. 

I keep the circumstances fresh in my mind. Remembering means I repeat agony less often. And I have a better chance of keeping future Josephines out of my life.

Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.

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