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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

They're Out To Get Me

I was in the gym this morning, getting hench, and I was feeling a little flat. When this happens, the only real solution I have available to me is to change up what I'm listening to. Others might reach for a scoop of pre-workout, but after an incident involving a notorious product called Jack3D, about a decade ago, where I could somehow see forward in time, but had lost control of my limbs, I no longer touch the stuff! So I reached for my phone and dialled in a stone-cold classic; Guns 'n' Roses seminal 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction!

This is one of the best albums of all time. There's not a bad track on there and the band sound absolutely deadly. People talk all the time about how they were never the same after second guitarist Izzy Stradlin left, but I'd contend that it was the loss of drummer Steven Adler which was the real end to their golden era. The way that Adler's kick drum and Duff McKagan's bass tie in together is such an underrated part of their sound and it was never the same with Matt Sorum on the kit!

Anyway, I digress!

I'm sure I'm not unique in this regard, but sometimes it feels like music is talking to me. Song lyrics and themes seem to stand out and highlight things that I've been thinking of or talking about with others. I guess it's a bit like the Baader-Meinhof effect - when your awareness of something increases and it leads you to believe it’s actually happening more, even if that’s not the case.

Today it was the theme and sentiment of Track 4 - Out Ta Get Me which stood out, and required a second listen. Recently, I've had a lot of conversations both inside and outside of work, with and about people who believe that someone or perhaps more than one person a team, a department) have a vendetta against them or are deliberately doing things to make that individuals life more difficult. Perhaps a boss has been deliberately making life hard for you. Perhaps it's your husband or wife. Maybe a neighbour or someone you know socially. Things aren't going your way, and you've pinpointed this person and their 'vendetta' as the reason why.

This got me thinking back to a post I wrote back in January, about window people and mirror people - those who look out the window for someone to blame when things don't go to plan vs those who look in the mirror and reflect on their own contribution to the outcome.

Naturally, holding onto the belief that someone is out to get you has a lot of negative impacts on you. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, when you believe that someone else is at fault for things that happen to you, you give away your agency to do something about it. What's the point of me reflecting on or changing my approach when the thing that is really making the difference is someone I have no control over? So now all I can do is complain about it and put up with the situation. I'm now powerless to change my own circumstances. I've created a situation of learned helplessness where I give up and accept my fate as being out of my hands.

Imagine how debilitating this becomes. Increasing a sense of agency has been argued to enhance people’s motivation to act, and to control their behaviour more successfully in line with their goals. Therefore reducing or giving away our sense of agency, by putting the power for the outcome in the hands of another person, reduces our motivation to act or to control our behaviour. When you choose to see yourself as a victim, you're lessening the likelihood that you'll take the action that's needed to move you forward in life, in whatever direction you wish to go.

Another dangerous potential consequence that I've seen play out lately, is that the individual tries to retaliate. If you're gonna make life more difficult for me, then just watch me make life more difficult for you! One thing I've learned in a decade and a half of playing and coaching American Football is that the officials usually miss the incident, but they never miss the retaliation - ergo, the outcome is ALWAYS worse for the person who retaliates than the person who committed the actual or perceived infraction in the first place! And if it happens that the vendetta held against you only existed in your mind, your retaliation has now given that person a legitimate reason to make your life more difficult. Now they really are out to get you!

So what should you do instead? Well the first thing that might help is to take some time to reflect on the situation. Create some space for yourself, away from the situation. Go for a walk. Swim. Have a bike ride. Do something that gets the blood flowing but doesn't require a lot of thought. Once you've cleared your head, get a notepad (or some large Post-It's) and make note of the things that have led you to the belief that this person is out to get you. When you lay them all down on paper, does your suspicion stack up? What other explanation could there be for the individuals behaviour? Do others have similar challenges, which that might suggest it's a more widespread and less of a personal issue with you?

Consider empathy. What might that person be going through that's causing them to treat you in a sub-optimal way? Going through challenges in their own life doesn't excuse them mistreating you but it might go some way to explaining it.

If you have a trusted friend or colleague who knows the individual and is familiar with the situation, consider sharing your thoughts with them. Get a fresh perspective. Look at the situation from the outside.

Now pick up the mirror. It's crucial that you consider your own part in the situation. What might you have done or be doing that's contributing to things? Be honest with yourself. It's easy to justify away our own behaviour, but remember this: we judge ourselves by our intent and we judge others by their actions. Even if you did so with the best of intent, could your actions have upset?

Once you've done these things, then you can consider your approach. Perhaps if the behaviour is out of character, you could take the high road and reach out, showing concern for the individual. You've noticed a change in them recently and you're worried about them. You want to make sure they're ok and to offer any help they need. Maybe you'll find that on reflection there's nothing that needs done and the vendetta only really existed in your head. That's common - we're the star of our own movie, but we are only fringe characters in other people's and they probably don't give us anything like as much thought (good or bad) as we think. Thinking otherwise is called the imaginary audience. Some space and thinking time might bring that into focus.

Perhaps you need to apologise. A bit of humility goes a long way and it can cement a relationship. And perhaps they really do have a vendetta against you! If that turns out to be the case, you might choose to address it or you might choose to remove yourself from the situation entirely. Either way, it'll be your action which moves you forward!

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