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trading in the dregs of my dignity

2023-09-14

There've been some changes to my team at work recently. One of the guys on our team I worked with is moving to another part of the company and getting replaced by a middle-aged man from Pakistan, who happens to be one of the most well-respected men at our company.

The guy who left was actually probably my favorite member of the team, not because he was particularly nice or anything, but because he was quiet and mostly kept to himself. I think he was probably in his sixties, a stick of a man from Alabama with a thick Southern drawl. He was bright but communicated in a very roundabout way, so you could spend hours trying to get him to tell you where the bathroom was. That frustrated me to no end when I needed to get answers out of him, but other than that I didn't have any problems with him because he was never unkind or impatient. The few times we had dinner together alone we spent in almost complete silence, which sounds awful, but after a long day of unpleasant meetings and feigning interest, silence really is golden.

The man who's replacing him is similarly intelligent, but much sharper and more direct. He's a stern, authoritative guy who knows what he's doing. I was hoping we'd get along, but I didn't have very high hopes seeing as he came from the team my friend used to be on and was one of the reasons she quit. She warned me that he wasn't very good with people and that his presence took an emotional toll on the team dynamic.

I had to ask him for help today and subsequently spent the better part of two hours on the receiving end of a verbal beatdown. He's good at what he does, I'll give him that, but has a particular knack for making me feel awful asking for help in the first place. He doesn't say things that are overtly mean, but talks to me in a condescending manner that betrays his growing impatience. He'll expect me to know things and do things the way he wants, snapping at me when I accidentally err, and at times his irritation is so palpable I have to bite my tongue from crying or worse, defending myself.

If it wasn't clear already, I dread spending time with him. Unfortunately he's the only person who will help me. My boss is similarly capable and irascible, but both him and the other member of the team assigned to oversee me are too busy to help this week. I feel like I'm trading in my dignity for help and knowledge: if I want to complete my tasks, I have to swallow my pride and endure his invective quietly. But even after steeling my resolve before calls, I leave our meetings so angry, indignant, and unnerved it takes me hours to cool back down.

The whole ordeal gave me flashbacks of my parents teaching me math as a kid. My mom and my dad used to yell, scream, and hit me when I didn't understand algebra or trigonometry. I'd sit there and take it, sobbing and ruining the pages of the workbook with tears as I kept making mistake after mistake. For as vivid as those memories are now, getting berated by what amounts to a complete stranger I'm forced to see every day is worse. I'd take a hundred lashes (or hits of the ruler/paddle/rolling pin) in a heartbeat over this humiliation; at least back then my livelihood wasn't on the line.

tears

Out of instinct, I find myself going back to the defense mechanisms I honed as a kid. My face goes blank, expressionless as a mask, and I dissociate almost completely from the situation, leaving just enough of my jumpy mental faculties there to click the right buttons. I try my best to accept everything he says without protest, even if his remarks border on rude or unfair, and thank him for his help even if it's the last thing I feel like doing in that moment. It might suck, but he is still helping me, and probably extending me a lifeline to avoid a more severe hiding down the line in doing so.

On the bright side, at least I'll have something to talk about tomorrow in therapy.


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