Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Sock Puppet Woman . . . or not?

This is one of those posts in which I am going to show one of my less noble (OK, totally ignoble) sides and in the process may well ruin anything in the way of a good opinion that any of you out there might have of me. I'm going ahead and publishing on this topic anyway, though, in the hopes that some of you who don't lose all respect for me by the end of the post might be able to shed some light on this situation.

Did you ever really hate someone's guts? I mean really, viscerally, on a cellular level just flat-out despise them? I feel that way about one person, and the feeling has been eating at me. I've talked to two friends about this state of affairs recently, and both of them wound up laughing hysterically as I described my feelings. Apparently the thought of me harboring this kind of animosity toward another human being is very funny. Or maybe it was the repeated claw-bearing gestures and meowing and hissing sounds that accompanied my description. But I digress. . . .

Funny or not, it is highly unusual for me to feel such deep dislike for another person. Normally I genuinely like people. There are a few folks whom I find mildly annoying at first blush, but I'm almost always able to find redeeming qualities in them and focus on those instead. After a while, I come to really like these people and can't remember why they ever annoyed me in the first place. Then there are a few people whom I kinda sorta don't like, but I figure they must have redeeming qualities, too, even if I can't see them, so I let the dislike go and if I must deal with these folks I am able to do so kindly. But there's this one person who I continue to despise with an intensity that is almost scary, especially in light of the fact that this person has done absolutely nothing to harm me and at this point I don't even have occasion to see her any more.

For a long while now I have been trying to uncover what is at the root of this venom, with the hope that understanding the reason for this unprecedented negativity will allow me to find some peaceful resolution, which I genuinely, almost desperately, desire to do. I know that this hatred lurking within myself harms me a lot, I don't want to hate this person (or any other person, for that matter), and intellectually I can come up with all kinds of techniques that should allow me to change my emotional response. Yet despite all this rational knowledge, I cannot, or more accurately as yet have not, let this animosity go.

This person, I'll call her Ellie for convenience, is someone whom I knew from a previous job. I didn't really know her that well, but our paths crossed from time to time. My first memory of her is of observing her getting coffee with her supervisor in the cafeteria on a fairly regular basis. The first time I saw her, before I even heard her speak or had any inkling of her personality, I had a very strong "I don't like her" reaction. Then I heard her sucking up to her boss, which deeply reinforced this initial reaction. Brown-nosing is one of the traits that I like least in humankind, so this first set of cafeteria observations did not leave me favorably disposed. Later, after being in several meetings with Ellie and interacting with her socially on a couple of occasions, I concluded that her success at her job was due largely to her brown-nosing efforts (along with what I will concede are a good memory, excellent organizational skills, and a professed "passion" for her subject matter), because whatever intellect inhabits her skull is a not a very sophisticated one. Sucking up occasionally is bad enough, but relying on that tactic to climb the corporate ladder, and succeeding, is one of those things that drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when, as in Ellie's case, I have genuine affection and respect for the person who is chiefly responsible for the promoting -- that part of the whole dynamic tends to make the rub here even stronger.

As offensive as sucking up is, I don't think that's at the root of my intense dislike, for several reason. First of all, the initial pang of dislike preceded the observation that Ellie is a suck-up. In addition, I know many other people who suck up to the management, but I am nonetheless able to be quite fond of almost all of them despite that; if I'm totally honest with myself, I know that I have had moments of sucking up, too (not proud to admit that, but as long as I'm baring my soul here I figured why hold back?). Last but not least, I understand that people get promoted and/or get high performance ratings all the time based in whole or in part on sucking up instead of true merit -- people who are undeserving according to my standards rise to the top with alarming frequency (look at George W. Bush, for crying out loud!), and although I admittedly don't like that fact, I also don't let that particular form of injustice eat me up inside or otherwise keep me awake at night.

So, if it's not the fact that Ellie has her lips all over the asses of those higher than her in the food chain at work that disposes me to dislike her, what on earth is it? She is cute, but so am I, so I don't think it's that. Her boss clearly has a good opinion of her, but her boss also has an equally high opinion of me, so I don't think it's that. I think that Ellie might have outperformed me at a meeting once (although others have disagreed with me on that point), but that kind of thing happens to the best of us, especially those of us who hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, so I don't think it's that. She is successful at her job, but according to most ways in which people measure success where she works I was even more successful, so I don't think it's that.

I saw a totally wonderful pastoral counselor for around a year, during which the Ellie situation eventually presented itself as one of my more difficult issues. "This woman," my counselor said, "is a sock puppet." Meaning that for some reason I need to have a nemesis character in my life and, probably for all her brown-nosing combined with all the reasons discussed in the previous paragraph, Ellie makes a really convenient choice. However, this past year for me has been about giving up struggle as a way of life, and I can tell you that at this point I don't want a nemesis. Honestly, I don't. I'd pay good money to get rid of this one and never have another.

I am ashamed of myself for still having these feelings toward Ellie, and I would like to get through them so that I could at a minimum feel neutral toward her, and maybe even in time come to genuinely like her. Toward that end, I have tried to work through, one by one, all the more deeply-seated psychological reasons that Ellie might be a sock puppet so that I could burn the sock, so speak -- maybe she and I have similar emotional wounds and I use her as an alter-ego to beat up so that I don't ostensibly flog myself; maybe she reminds me of things I see in myself but don't like; maybe she perpetuates the (wrong-headed) notion, which I learned in childhood and believed for a long time, that I need a competitor in every aspect of my life; etc., etc., etc. Although I have successfully used this kind of rational enquiry to get to the root of other issues that troubled me, it has been to no avail with Ellie, the Sock Puppet Woman. Which has got me to thinking that maybe she's not a sock puppet after all -- maybe there actually is a reasonable basis for my negative feelings, even if I haven't identified it yet.

When she finally stopped laughing and crying at the same time, the friend to whom I relayed my situation yesterday said, "Wow, there's a lot of bad past-life karma at work there! A lot!" (For the record, I think that my friend's laughter was great, because it helped to defuse my highly-charged negativity and also because it somehow confirmed for me that this kind of behavior is indeed so out of character as to be laughable, i.e., I am not really a bad person at heart. Laughter really is the best medicine sometimes.) I tend to like this explanation a lot, because it does seem to provide an underlying reason for what seems like such a bizarre and irrational reaction.

My regular readers are a source of great wisdom and insight, and y'all have helped me a lot in the past (especially when I was having all those crazy dreams). If any of you managed to read all the way to the end of this post and are still speaking to me, I would love to hear your theories about why I feel this emotion and what I can do to reach a place of peace.

OK, enough. It's time to go have my Saturday margarita lunch.


Barbara said...

I had a similar experience at work when I was much younger. The girl was extremely cute, sexy, flirtatious, and smart. She managed to destroy the marriage of one of my friends. I came to find out later that she was sleeping with our boss, despite the fact that they were both married (to other people). I eventually came to see that she was actually a very lonely person who measured her success in ways different from mine.

I must say you are the last person in the world I would have expected to harbor such feelings of dislike. You can be happy that you will probably never again have to work with Ellie. Hopefully there will not be a replacement in your new work situation. I can imagine you will look back on this and laugh at yourself in the not too distant future. But for now, you must simply acknowledge your feelings when they come up and then let them go.

Merle Sneed said...

Maybe it is your sense of fair play. We are socialized in America to respect the system and a person who cheats her way to the top can be annoying.

I guess the question I always try to ask is what effect does the other person's behavior have on me? Most of the time the answer is none. Leave it to someone else to put her in her place.

Cyndy said...

Maybe it's actually that she doesn't like you for whatever reason and you sense that and it's making you feel like you don't like her when actually it's the other way around. If you've never gotten that vibe from somebody before it's very easy to blame yourself. That happened to me one time and when I was finally informed that so-and-so hated me I realized that was why I felt so inexplicably uncomfortable around her, and why I tended to over-react with extreme niceness and pretended oblivion to all of the obnoxious things she would say to me in front of other people. I'm glad she's no longer in the picture, that's for sure!

willow said...

You are obviously a sensitive person and can feel her negative vibes. Just steer clear of her and her own bad karma will one day catch up with her.

I have a Sock Puppet Woman, too.

Ulysses said...

First off -- this kind of thing is usually more effective when tried at the actual Saturday margarita lunch. Now that I've got my excuse all laid out, here we go: Each of us is a combination of overlapping types.
We recognize the other inasmuch as their types are our own, or that they form mutual matching pairs.
Harmony in music happens when the wavelengths interact to create a larger more powerful sound than either individually – the peaks add together, and yet retain their selfness.
Color Harmony?
Word Harmony?
You've met people before that you clicked with immediately haven't you? Where the relationship seemed to precede the first meeting? This is just the opposite of that. You clash immediately when you meet because your types have clashed throughout history.
Just a guess though, and without the benefit of having shared a margarita.

lili11 said...

Laughter is the best medicine most of the time. so, laugh a lot.

Reya Mellicker said...

We are a funny species, many faceted. No one is perfectly smooth or behaves appropriately all the time.

I love reading about your sassy side. C'mon - cut yourself some slack. There's nothing to be ashamed of.

Ulysses said...

I couldn't remember this last night, so I'm appending:
The types are sometimes referred to as memes. I first came across that word in Richard Dawkin's The Selfish Gene, like at the very end of the book.

Val said...

what a fascinating post - its so good you wrote this. i am no expert at all but several things spring to mind. the first that perhaps you have a previous life experience with this person that was not resolved and you still need to work it out.
second is that in your efforts to live without anger, you have found an outlet in this person and this is giving you the opportunity to examine and learn so much new stuff about yourself.
Either way its the learning curve that is important here and possibly has nothing whatsoever to do with this other person.
I love the sock puppet analogy! will think more on this today as dealing with anger has a lot of relevance for us all - and is something i am dealing with at the moment too. x

GrizzBabe said...

I can SO relate to this post. There is at least one person at my work that challenges me in the whole "love your neighbor as yourself" department. I should sit down and try to figure out why that is.