Jealousy part two: what if it isn't a friend?
Sometimes awful people get to be pretty successful...
In response to my previous newsletter on dealing with jealousy for the career successes of friends and colleagues, I’ve had a couple of conversations about how one might deal with an even more difficult form of jealousy: jealousy for the successes of people you just can’t stand—or, even worse, who have done you some personal harm. Sometimes abusers, toxic exes, harassers, or people who got you fired go on to have brilliant careers and amass great amounts of personal power.
And that’s a hard thing to take. Especially if, every time you go to an industry event, somebody is telling you how awesome that person is.
If there’s one thing that the #MeToo movement has made evident, it’s that this isn’t a problem unique to publishing. It’s a terrible situation to be in—triggering, traumatizing, and grief-provoking. It can make you doubt your own experience, memories, and senses. It can prove a constant reminder of violation.
It’s also (if there’s another thing the #MeToo movement has made evident) a depressingly common situation.
So how does one deal with it, when one finds one’s self in a situation like that?
The first and hardest step anyone who is dealing with the legacy of abuse has to take is the establishing of boundaries. Abuse crushes boundaries; it crushes our self-image. It destroys our ability to build a sense of self-esteem and makes us feel as if we have to constantly justify or erase our existence and our needs.
Trauma is real, and harassment is a real form of abuse that can leave post-traumatic response behind. I would suggest, if you have experienced something like this, that you take steps to educate yourself on the forms of PTSD and its treatment modalities. This self-education can take the form of therapy, of reading, and of classes and discussion with other survivors.
I highly recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel A. van der Kolk.
It is necessary to accept that the majority of the work you are going to do is going to be on yourself, to heal your own wounds and reclaim your comfort and emotional stability.
You often can’t do anything about your abuser or their success, unless you find yourself in a position where calling them out is both effective and possible. Those are judgments you will have to make for yourself, possibly with the assistance of a therapist and legal counsel.
What you can do is tell your trusted friends what happened. Keeping the abuse a secret enables the abuser to harm again, and leaves other survivors of their abuse in the same position you are in. I promise you, anybody who has treated one person abusively has done it to several, and abusers are often geniuses at keeping their behavior secret and making their targets feel isolated and like they are the only one it has ever happened to.
People you trust can validate your experience as well as reminding you that it is not isolated. Also, if somebody has been terrible to you, you may find out they were also terrible to others.
It's absolutely okay to feel terrible emotions about people who have hurt you, by the way. In fact, I would hesitate to call those emotions jealousy, though that was a term chosen by some correspondents. I think better terms might be rage, betrayal, fear, and a sense of vast unfairness: trauma response.
One does eventually get tired of those feelings, though--and dealing with trauma response is exhausting, and distracts us from getting shit done.
The best outcome, of course, is to find a way to stop the abuser from abusing anyone ever again, to draw the attention of the world to their behavior, and to get your own back. This is a difficult task, and it probably requires biding your time, connecting with other people who have been hurt by the same abuser, and coming up with a plan to reveal their behavior, backed by evidence and—unfortunately—most likely self-revelation and public scrutiny.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of survivors feel that this just isn’t worth the pain and risk. Nobody can make that determination except for you.
I’ve seen these kinds of callouts handled successfully on several occasions. But make no mistake: if you choose this path you are going to war, and you will need allies and logistics chains and ammunition.
If you decide not to pursue that route, what you can still do is work on your own trauma response and try to find a way to be comfortable in the world again. Treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and other sequelae of trauma is your friend, in this case. I’ve also had success, myself, in using mindfulness meditation in order to work on developing my boundaries, releasing my anxiety, and dealing with other related issues.
This little dude is my mascot, frankly.
(I use an ap called Calm. It is a paid ap; there are also free ones.)
Remember that in healing yourself of your trauma response, you are doing the opposite of letting your abuser win. Your abuser wants you in a position of helpless, fear, and reactivity. YOU do not need to do their work for them by torturing yourself.
You, on the other hand, want yourself in a position of power, safety, and active control of your life. And I’ll be honest with you: it may take years and a lot of work to get there. But I am also honest when I say that place does exist.
I hope this helps. I wish I had easier answers.