Leonie had an affair with a colleague. After the relationship ended, he freaked out – and continued to harass her at work. How can she differentiate herself?

Hi Woman Peirano,

i am totally desperate. I got one two years ago relationship started with my colleague Yannis. We never talked about what exactly it is between us. He smokes weed and drinks quite a bit, so it wasn’t really a solid thing for me.

At some point he became more and more sluggish and stayed at home a lot. He didn’t want to do anything else and was often very depressed. I met another man during that time and didn’t tell Yannis anything about it. For one, we didn’t have anything really solid from my point of view, and I also thought he couldn’t take it.

He then found out through mutual friends that I had another boyfriend and he really freaked out. He drove into my apartment when I was away for the weekend and smashed my guitar, mine Plant (super important to me, collected while traveling and cared for for years) poured with cleaning supplies and killed, cut up my underwear and so on. I found the whole apartment in a terrible state and just shook and cried.

I still have to work with Yannis and try to work from home as often as possible. However, we’re supposed to come to the office, and that’s hell. He presses me to talk to him, insults me and talks to colleagues about me. I’ve talked to him quite often, but he doesn’t understand anything and accuses me of breaking him.

I’m totally confused and don’t know what to feel and what to do.

Many greetings,

Leonie T

love Leonie T.,

I can empathize with your confusion and not knowing what to do. It was a very violent act by Yannis to destroy everything you hold dear in your own home. I can imagine that scares you. Because if you are so aggressive with things (and plants), you can possibly be so violent with yourself next. Have you at least replaced your door lock?

And now you have to keep encountering this person at work who threatens and harasses you. Both your home and work are no longer safe places, and that puts you on the alert.

It sounds like you have a lot of trouble setting boundaries with other people and saying this far and no further. From my point of view, differentiating yourself from Yannis in the relationship is extremely demanding (level of difficulty 10), so I would rather start with easier and manageable situations. Regarding Yannis, I can only recommend that you decide for yourself which of you is changing jobs, because working with someone who has violent outbursts will remain stressful.

Today I would like to recommend an approach to free yourself from your helplessness and to act more freely – instead of reacting more. This is how you get into the “driver’s seat” in your life and no longer let other people determine your life.

There are three behavior patterns: insecure behavior, confident behavior, and aggressive behavior. An example: Lukas asks Henrike if she can help him move. Henrike doesn’t want that because she’s not close enough to Lukas.

The self-insecure answer is: Yes, of course, I’m in. When should I be there?

The more self-assured answer would be: I’ve got so much to do myself at the moment that it’s getting to be too much for me.

The aggressive answer could be: Pretty daring to ask me that. Do I look like a mover?

insecure people let others go beyond their own limits and do things they don’t want to do. Others often do not notice where the limit was. (Lukas would never have thought that Henrike didn’t want to help him move because she’s doing it). Therefore, they feel (and are) controlled and controlled by others. Often they are afraid and feel helpless in social situations. They take far less than they are entitled to.

aggressive people on the other hand, they push the boundaries of others, insult or pressure them to do what suits them. They take more than they are entitled to. (If we knew more about Lukas, he could possibly fall into the “aggressive” category. After all, he asks Henrike, who is not particularly close to him, to help him move.)

Self-confident behavior is considered ideal behavior, because it protects both your own limits and those of others. You can recognize someone who is confident and able to differentiate themselves clearly by the fact that he or she

  • can strike up a conversation with people who interest him/her
  • can control the conversation (i.e. does not talk about topics he/she does not want to talk about)
  • take good care of yourself and others
  • and can also end encounters, be it for the present moment or as a separation

Confident people can voice their opinions, defend themselves when they are treated inappropriately and claim their rights. You can give and accept compliments, admit mistakes and express wishes for the behavior of other people.

Based on your description, I would categorize you as self-insecure. You don’t express your own point of view because you want to avoid negative reactions. So you didn’t tell Yannis that you didn’t see your connection as an exclusive relationship, and you didn’t tell him you had another boyfriend.

When he really crossed the line and deliberately destroyed your most valuable possessions in your own home, you weren’t able to set any boundaries for him either. Here it would have been appropriate to confront him and demand that he replace the damage. Even a report to the police would have shown him clearly that he was going beyond the scope of a partnership dispute and was committing a criminal offence.

There are certainly reasons in life history why someone could not learn to behave confidently. Typical constellations would be that one’s own parents were not self-confident and subordinated themselves in order not to draw attention to themselves.

The alternative explanation would be that at least one parent was very dominant and aggressive and didn’t tolerate arguments, so you had to learn to conform. It would certainly be helpful if you could get to the bottom of the causes of your self-insecure behavior.

Behavior therapy has long been concerned with researching and, above all, improving social skills. The special training sessions are often carried out in groups, so that you also get feedback from other participants and can practice with them. This is very helpful! And it’s a relief when you realize that many people have difficulties and inhibitions in this area.

I would recommend the following books to you:

  • “You can learn social skills” by Rüdiger Hinsch and Simone Wittmann
  • “Social Skills Training”. Workbook to increase emotional intelligence, social skills and empathy.

That would be a good start, and the next step would be group training. You could also have a psychotherapy appointment arranged by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (this can be done within a few weeks) and talk to the therapist about whether individual therapy would also be necessary and useful. The booked appointments are there to clarify such questions quickly. However, the therapists often only have one single consultation hour and no therapy place.

You can book the appointment here: https://www.kvb.de/service/patienten/terminservicestelle/terminservicestelle-psychotherapie/

Otherwise, I recommend that you observe in everyday life where and how often you let other people overstep your boundaries. Write that down, name your own feelings and say how you would have liked to behave. Self-knowledge is an important step in changing yourself.

Best regards,

Juliet Peirano