Crikey proudly presents the first instalment in a new series: our very own advice column, To Whom It May Concern. This week, A.D of Willoughby suspects she’s the subject of malicious gossip around the water cooler. Is she right to worry or merely paranoid? Crikey‘s Agony Aunt works through the issues…

To whom it may concern,

I’ve been trying to ignore it, but I think someone I work with is gossiping about me. I’m no longer included in conversations when she’s around, and I don’t want to be paranoid, but I think she and her friends are laughing about me behind my back. I want to deal with the situation, but I’m afraid they’ll think I’m overreacting. What can I do?

A.D of Willoughby

Oh A.D, how hurtful. I don’t know that there is a soul alive who has not felt the pain of this kind of exclusion, and your dilemma about how to respond is a real curler.

Paranoia can be partly understood as the unconscious projection of parts of ourselves we fear onto others. So if there is paranoia here, you will uncover it by looking at the things you imagine they are saying about you. Are these things you secretly fear are true? However, just because we project, doesn’t mean we are not judged. It just gives it more sting.

Many great thinkers have struggled with the question of how to deal with the judgements of others without diminishing ourselves, but it is Sartre who comes to mind for me here. He wanted most for us to be the subjects of our own lives, rather than the objects we become when we look at ourselves through the eyes of others. But of course many of these thinkers were extremely lonely. And loneliness is always painful.

In this case I think you can’t have it both ways. This is a real concern for you, and so by its very nature it is not trivial. You are not overreacting A.D, you feel how you feel. You will have to make a choice. Will you pretend to feel differently than you do in order to gain their respect? Or will you honour your own sense that this is uncomfortable for you and risk their scorn? Only you can decide what is best for you in this situation.

I’m not sure if this is right, but I get the sense that there may be something that you have done that you are perhaps ashamed of, and that this may be the subject of the suspected gossip. If this is so, then it is with yourself that some of your struggle lies. How do you feel about what you have done? Are there amends to be made, or do you need to try to accept yourself, as you now know yourself to be?

So clear the internal air, and I believe the office dilemma will show its true colours.

Please send your life questions and dilemmas to [email protected] and Crikey’s very own Agony Aunt will endeavour to employ her wit and wisdom to help you help yourself!

Peter Fray

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