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can't think of any emotionally manageable solutions


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There's a girl in my group for a semester project who targets everyone available for her anger and anxiety, but has targeted me in a way she hasn't others. She has been angry with me over the group email list for doing something we'd agreed I would do; she blocks my attempts to contribute my skills to the group; and she acts irritated whenever I speak up.

I can choose to proceed as normal and voluntarily be a target for her anger; to speak with her about it in private, which for multiple reasons I believe is likely to make things worse; or to withhold contribution and be very quiet so that I don't give her opportunities to attack me. No matter what I do, it's the wrong decision. Proceeding as normal is the wrong decision for me, but the right decision for people who want me to stand up for myself; speaking with her in private is the right decision for my instructors, but likely to be the wrong decision for me and for our group; and being quiet is damaging to me and to the group and the wrong decision by my instructors but is the only option that maintains group harmony and allows me to not volunteer myself for abuse.

I'm currently being quiet, and know that this is not an acceptable decision to others. Particularly because I have years more relevant training to the project than anyone else in the group, and if I only contribute what other group members contribute, I sink the grade for everyone.

I feel pressured to solve her problems for her, simply because she has chosen to target me more than others; to let her attacks not bother me; and to force my contributions through. I don't have the emotional resilience to handle this, in part because I've been in an abusive work situation before and if I start doing that to myself again, I am much more likely to start hurting myself and regularly breaking down, even if it's the solution that most other people consider the right one. I have no support for handling this beyond pressure to do it myself in the only way the instructors consider acceptable (to talk to her in private).

When I think about the project, I feel very trapped and I start wanting to hurt myself. I'm doing well otherwise, it's just this one project.

I don't know what to do. I contacted my instructor for suggestions about other options, because I had run out of ideas, and she accused me of wanting to "make a big deal of it in the group" since I was unwilling to risk talking to my fellow student in private. I do believe there are other options, because I saw people handling similar difficult situations at work this summer with grace and diplomacy, and in more ways than the instructors prescribe.

Whatever I do, I need some way to make it okay in my head. The actual outcome in the world doesn't matter nearly as much to me as my being able to get through the semester. I am aware that I am shortchanging my groupmates by setting those priorities instead of other ones.

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This is a tough one.

What is *your* priority, out of your self respect, the relationship or your objective? I guess you need to decide what your objective here is, it can't really be to stop her angry outbursts (her own behaviour is out of your control) so I suppose making your time spent in the group bearable is the only way to surmise your objective.

It sounds like the thing you instinctively tend towards, is to keep quiet and give her less opportunity to attack you. I can see how you are under pressure to confront her privately, and that is seen as the 'right' thing to do, and though your assertion that this will only make this worse is at best a guess on your part, I'm assuming it is an educated one. You strike me as a generally diplomatic but assertive person, so I don't see your reticence to take this up with her as avoidance. You also are not petty, from what I know of you, so I don't see your consideration of addressing it in the group as a way pf punishing her.

You need to decide what comes first, and then accept that the rest will have to be sacrificed to that. If deep down, when calm and by yourself, you know that keeping quiet is the way to go, then you have to accept that others will criticize you for it, but you can't please everyone. If a breakdown or a bout of self harm is at stake because you do not have the emotional reserves to deal with her, then avoiding this ought to be your priority. In my mind, assertiveness and tolerating confrontation and anger can be learned, but day to day life must be lived, and this grade needs to be achieved.

It's true that you might sink the grade with this action, but in reality, if people are willing to sit by and watch you be bullied by this person, then they have not helped themselves. Similarly, if your instructors know that you have a lot to contribute but are alienated at every turn, yet choose not to intervene, they take some responsibility too, in my mind.

In an ideal world, this could be something you could privately confront her on. But we are not in an ideal world. Principles are great until you have to live by them, and everyone else is always vocal on what you *should* do, it's when you put them in that situation and their sanity is at stake that they show their true colours. Which is more painful, tolerating the disapproval of your instructors, or the wrath of this girl?

I think you also to honestly examine if there are ways that you can distance yourself mentally from this girl's attacks. You don't have to solve her problems for her, you don't have to feel responsible for her anger, anxiety or irritation. Her stuff is nothing to do with you. It is very difficult when someone reacts to us with animosity, but I am interested as to why her opinion of you matters to you, and why her behaviour goes beyond annoying and turns into something that drives you to self harm. People are allowed to be anxious, angry and hostile. It makes things complicated, ideally they could put it aside, or address it in an adult way. But people suck. At some point, you'll come across someone as angry as she is again. Is this a chance to learn how to tolerate this?

Right now, my boss is being very hostile to me, because I have announced I won't sign a permanent contract with the company. Her whole demeanour has changed, she has withdrawn her help from my work, and she publicly blows me off. It is stressful for me, and my instinct is to hate myself and cut and feel bad. I am working with that, gently being mindful and reminding myself that her emotions about my not signing belong to her. She has a right to them, although her expressing that at work makes my job harder. I also have the right to choose not to take it on and internalize it. I view her as not having the maturity to act neutral to me, even though she evidently dislikes me. That is her stuff, not mine.

Is this a position you can take with this girl on your project, or is it more bullying than just hostility? You could initially feel bothered by her behaviour, and also choose not to take it on by accepting that she is an angry person, and for whatever reason, you push her buttons. It isn't your fault that you do, you're not a bad person because you do. You just do.

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instead of a private conversation could you write to her? not in e-mail, too replicable, but like--hey group projects involve a lot of learning, i'm sure you recognize our group can do well--re-enforce common goals--this project seems to be stressing you out. stress is hard on everyone. i'm not here to make drama, we don't need that. i just need you to know that the way you are expressing stress is cause for me to withdraw into a place i can't make contributions from, which is unhealthy for both of us and will hurt our performance as a group. the whole situation makes me uncomfortable to the point i'd almost rather not address it, but ultimatley in leadership there must be communication. I'd just like to make it through this semester without feeling like i'm worthless, is that too much to ask. Absorbing your stress/anger is religating me somewhere i surely don't belong. In the interest of everyone's harmony and for groups in your future, please recognize this is not motivating. in the end you want people to work with you. i'd like to have that for our group--

you are NOT needing to solve her problems, just communicate that there is a negative effect on you. too many details i guess she'd blame you. damn this is a can of worms. i am so sorry for this situation which you are NOT needing ever or right now. anyways not that different from a private conversation, which sounds like a bad option. at least in writing there is time to absorb before jumping to a comment that can just be inflammatory.

this is a temporary trap, please see beyond it and that you are especially virtious given how much more you feel than most, and that you see all the angles, and that in reality whatever you do it will be the right thing for this group or groups in the future, she is a bully. her eventual fall is is a matter of her own person.

of course this is all based that somewhere she is a reasonable and reflective person

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Is this the same girl you were writing about last month?

Please do not meet alone with this woman unless both of you consent to taping the meeting. She will twist your words and you will have no way to prove that she's doing it.

Do most or all the other members of the group feel that she is out of line? If so, then a group meeting is in order, with you leading discussion, and setting ground rules for mutual respect and professionalism. I've used several types of "ethics pledges" in this kind of situation and they can be very effective. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a faculty advisor at the meeting. The meeting wouldn't necessarily be about this specific person, but could be a general meeting about how to express and resolve the types of conflict and anxiety that can take place in group projects, and working toward ground rules you can all agree to abide by.

Do you know anyone who has seen her exhibit this kind of sabotaging behavior in other projects or classes? Knowing that someone has a history of similar behavior can help you establish to the rest of the group that this is a pattern with her, for whatever reason.

Can you kick her out of the group for being disruptive and failing to contribute to the group?

Is there any kind of student or school manual that defines standards of behavior for students or student groups? If you can actually document instances of her behavior that are a direct violation of school standards, then that might help, too.

But, yes, all in all I agree that you can't remain silent. I'm also unsure about why you would be unwilling to talk privately with other members of the group. Many times, what looks like grace and diplomacy from an onlooker's point of view, in reality has come about with a lot of private discussion and negotiation.

Having been at the receiving end of an abusive boss in a job I couldn't afford to quit, I really feel for you in this situation and know how enervating it can be.

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I'd go with what the instructor says. That way it's less likely to hurt your grade if it turns negative.

You could also poison her drinking water.

As for the rest of the group, fuck 'em. If they are not taking any proactive steps to help you resolve the situation they are also contributing to the dysfunctional group dynamic and deserves whatever comes of it.

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My goals are:

1) get through semester with minimal damage to my mental health

2) get a high enough grade to graduate in April

That's what's most important, and I'm clear on that, but still finding it really hard to be comfortable with that decision.

Thank you guys for writing lots of advice. I have to go to bed now but I'm going to go over it and think about it when I get up.

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Just a quick thought..

If the instructor wants you to meet with this person in private, but you know doing so will hurt you mentally; why not insist that the instructor supervise the meeting? You can mention some of the surrounding issues and reasons with the instructor and get support without opening up and leaving yourself even more vulnerable with this girl. Then just speak from a professional point, get her to make promises to stop picking on you and focus on getting along in the group. She'll have to be civil with the instructor present, and she'll have an added incentive to keep to her word. I'd sooner do nothing at all than go to a private meeting where I'd just add ammunition to her ability to cause a problem.

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Is this the same girl you were writing about last month?

Please do not meet alone with this woman unless both of you consent to taping the meeting. She will twist your words and you will have no way to prove that she's doing it.

You need to consider this as a mandatory measure, that also includes email. Never send anything to this person that isn't cc'd to an appropriate third party - the group, group leader, and/or instructor. Otherwise, you are not only inviting the equivalent of a "he said/she said" situation, but also robs you of potential referees in case you DO provide ammo for the next fight.

She may learn to do the same thing, but that's not usually a problem as long as you cover your ass while she shows hers.

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why are you responsible for the other's grades? 'because you have more experience'? bluntly, i don't feel you should be responsible for everyone's elses grades. i consider my grade to be my responsibility, not that of the person next to me, and i don't expect them to carry me.

i vote for the private meeting, with appropriate supervision. you need a mediator there.

i'm really sorry you have to deal with it. it sucks. does it help to remind yourself it is only short term?

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