Ask a Shrink: When “Too Nice” Goes Wrong

Editor's note: Today, we debut “Ask A Shrink,” in which licensed psychotherapist Tiffany McLain fields your crises and concerns.

Accidentally found yourself in bed with your best friend's wife? Thinking about leaving your high-paying gig to pursue your passion? Inexplicably dumped — AGAIN? From navigating your neighbor-crush to overcoming your crippling fear of toaster pastries, it's all fair game when it comes to your psychic life. Each week our resident shrink will take up your questions about loving, living and working in the Bay Area and beyond.

The following comes to us from a person who describes herself as a “mid-20s, woman of color.”

I just quit my job at a high-profile tech company. I reported sexual harassment from a (male) coworker, then my (female) boss retaliated against me and told me it was my fault for “being too nice.”

I made the decision to quit that toxic environment. But how do I get over the deep resentment and bitterness I have about how I was treated? Aside from my boss and that coworker, this was a great company: great benefits, good pay, and potential for a good career path. I am so angry about that loss, and I am trying hard to convince myself that it's not ME who was not good enough to make it there. I can't seem to move on, and fantasize about “revenge” against my awful narcissistic boss. I want to move on, but I'm stuck in bitterness.

– Too Nice

Hey “Too Nice,”

First things first: fuck yeah for quitting. Any professional situation where your kindness is on trial in a sexual-harassment situation is not the place for you. Run swiftly, like the wind.

You say that you are reeling from resentment and you want to get over it. Gotta tell you, TN, we therapists are not big advocates of Getting Over Things. Rather than shoving them aside, I'd encourage you to revel in those fantasies of vengeance.

The human capacity to fall deeply into our anger has led to such glorious works of art as The Iliad, The Count of Monte Cristo and Office Space. Your unconscious mind has a message for you and it sounds like it's communicating in the form of vengeance. Pay close attention to the way these stories play out as there is likely an important lesson in there for you.

This brings us to Part Two. You are wondering if you weren't cutting it at the job even before your co-worker got handsy. Some part of you likely worries that this very issue of being “too nice” — a euphemism for the failure to set clear boundaries or asserting one's needs — was inhibiting your job performance pre-harassment.

Let me be clear: Unwelcome sexual advances at work are never okay. A part of you knows this. But given your complicated unconscious mind, reality gets all mixed up with your inner critic, the voices of parental figures and messages from society at large. You — a young woman of color — got a great job in tech and then you blew it all. Or so says The Voice.

“Had you only been more clear,” it says. “Had you only worked harder. Had you only recognized the signs and played it differently — kept your mouth shut, been less hot, worked harder to be a good 'cultural fit' — none of this would've happened. Even your female boss said you were in the wrong.”

Look, in truth, the offending guy is just a guy — likely struggling with his own bullshit. Your ex-boss? She, too, is navigating a confusing and powerless workplace situation (I mean, clearly! “You're too nice?!” Good call, Nancy McFail-As-A-Boss).

Now, you've got to do you. Given that you've worked your way into tech as a person of color and a woman, you're basically a magical unicorn. You've bucked every trend and, somehow, managed to claw your way into an industry that has done its darndest to keep you out. When you've worked this hard to get here, only to have some dude casually toss out One. More. Goddamned. Barrier. Well, resentment and bitterness are appropriate responses.

Hold it. Let it fuel you. If these feelings really are keeping you down, find a good therapist. She can help you figure out how to understand what these feelings are trying to say and help you use them to excel professionally. You have done amazing things in just a few short years. Your story is just beginning, and it will be a grand one. Of this, I've no doubt.

Tiffany McLain has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco where she specializes in working with young professionals who straddle multiple identities — be this professionally, ethnically or economically. She has been featured in Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Psyched in San Francisco Magazine. Find out more:

Disclaimer: Though Tiffany is a licensed professional, this advice column is not therapy. It is for education and entertainment. Use at your own risk.

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