So, I stopped talking to Lauren. When she came in a room, I would leave. I started finding more and more online about toxic people, narcissists, and energy vampires. I realized how she was a lot like these people they described online. How they will use tactics to get you to feel bad about yourself or to make you feel like you’re crazy. How the best way to deal with people like that is to avoid them. If you give them any of your energy it is an “in” for them, the forums said. They can work with whatever you give them. I experienced it multiple times with her. I realized how I needed to set my boundaries with her. I decided I was going to be a straight wall of China when it came to her, after how she treated me.

That week, I told Margaret what had happened. She tried to reassure me and asked me if I could be sure that they really felt that way about me at work. Couldn’t you just be assuming or imagining it? She prodded. Maybe you were just being a little paranoid? She asked, kindly. I let the idea marinate me, but I was pretty confident by that point that I wasn’t assuming. So, defiantly, I told her how sure I was and explained more in detail what had been happening at work. I was grateful that she consoled me.  Then she proceeded to tell me how childish they were. Yes, I thought, a confidant. A sanctuary. This is what I needed. She asked me how old Peter was, as she was still getting to know the characters of my day to day life. It had been a couple of months since I had brought up my first concerns about Lauren to her. He’s sixty I said, sixty years old.

Awful intrusive? Margaret would say. Talking about Lauren. And I would deny the thought saying, she’s nothing but really caring. After all, she did invite me to yoga classes and essential oil parties and to the beach. We were friends. I had baked her pumpkin chocolate chip bread when her father in law passed away and had gone to feed her dogs for her.  I was overthinking it, naturally, happy in my delusion.

Time marched on. Lauren would oh-so artificially try to start conversations with me. Bringing up various subject matters with the skill level of a hungry panther befriending a baby lamb. But being an empath, it was almost laughable how transparent she was after reading about energy vampires and narcissists. I had read a quote from selfknowledgedaily.com that read, “An Educated Empath Is a Sociopath’s Worst Nightmare.” It was true. I read more about the empath-narcissist relationship and identified myself as an empath. The cookie cutter bullshit she was spewing to everyone about how good of a person she was, was all an act and it was easy to see after I was on the other side of it. It enraged me how everyone else in the lab ate it all up. I knew her true nature. After being oh-so-friendly to me I would hear her talking about me to anyone in the lab that would listen.

It felt awful.

But I didn’t feel bad for myself, maybe a little, but I also let myself feel angry for the first time in a long time, or maybe ever.

Her and Peter talking trash about me a short three feet away from my desk every single morning became a ritual for at least a week or two or three. My name would be sprinkled into their conversations like candy at a parade.

I felt like I couldn’t straight up be a bitch to her, we had to work together after all. But I wasn’t falling for her games either. I hated how she still pretended like she wanted to be friends with me. I hated how I heard her say awful things about other people in the lab and then immediately become closer to them after I extricated myself from her life.

Like Mary. Suddenly, she was being friendly with Mary again, the girl she talked shit about 24/7. I didn’t know how she got away with it. I wanted to grab Mary by the shoulders and shake her and say don’t give her any more of your heart or energy. She will make you feel guilty for not telling her anything about yourself and then anything you do say she will just use to further destroy you socially behind the scenes.

Since I wasn’t talking to Lauren I felt unsafe in the building. She had an awesome relationship with just about everyone that we worked with and people we didn’t work with. It made me so mad to hear her talk to anyone because those were the same people she had been trash talking every ride in and ride home that we shared together. She didn’t have any real respect for anyone, yet showed everyone worship when she saw them. So, needless to say, I tried to control my anger as humanly possible.

Things got worse though because then Lauren started to play the victim. She would whine to anyone with ears about how mean I was to her. Stalking out new targets to listen to her and her complaints with the precision of a saber tooth tiger stalking its prey. Not having had a meal for a couple of hours she would pounce on people to get their sympathy. Needing their energy. It wasn’t long before everyone in the building knew what an “awful” person I was.

She would complain about how standoffish I had been to anyone that would listen. Poor her.  I’d over hear Peter telling her to maybe just give me space. “Maybe she’s grumpy because she has to stay in the lab every day,” he continued. “Some people never learned how to control their emotions,” I heard him saying to her another day. It all felt horrible.

Is that what I was? Could that all be true about me? Was I out of control? I was doing my best not to be mad.  I was always to try to keep my cool. Other times, it did feel good to be a little angry. I was, afterall, working with two people who always talked about me. Was I really supposed to chit-chat with them about their dogs when earlier in the day I’d hear them saying what an awful person I was?

I started being able to congratulate myself when I did find the strength to talk to them about random things with a peaceful confidence. Exchange niceties in the very least.

In the summer, Lauren would befriend our new summer contract help. Once she had made an ‘in’ with them she made sure to throw in little sprinkles of, oh, by the way, Nicole’s an asshole. I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she’s an asshole. Make sure you don’t like her either, always insinuated. It was like she was isolating me with each new person she befriended, and there were alot of them.

I moved on. Or tried to. I willed myself to have as much patience as possible. I tried not to think about her. It was hard, though, especially because my heart was nowhere close to forgiveness.

The thought arose across my mind that I should try to talk to her again to smooth things over. But I feared that if told her anything especially to do with my personal feelings, it would end even more painfully for me.

She would have been eager to tell her closest confidants, like she had told Peter about the trust falls. So, I detached completely and decided it was too risky. I get flashbacks of that big wide toothy smile she showed me after I told her I trusted her. I didn’t want any more of my feelings to be everybody else’s entertainment for afternoons to come. I didn’t want to give her any more ammunition against me. So, I decided confidently against the idea of trying to find some kind of resolution.

I still felt like I was doing something wrong though. She made everyone in the lab believe that I was doing something wrong and it was hard for me to believe in myself and my decision. I continued to distance myself. Not only from her but from other people as well.

When I read about narcissism online it always said that, when threatened, a narcissist, will try to isolate you from other people. I started observing her possess every single trait that narcissists display. Or I would link the traits with old memories I had with her.

Even though I consciously knew about isolation techniques, it worked flawlessly. I couldn’t talk to the way I wanted to talk to anybody in the building. It was hard to avoid thoughts like, they are waiting for me to say something weird so that they can go run and tell Lauren.

I knew. I used to do it for her.  There would be times where Mary would be talking to me and she could say anything and I would find some way to find fault in it so that I could tell Lauren about it later.  I knew how happy it would make her and it felt good to make her happy.

So when I tried to talk to people that I liked I was in a constant state of panic. If someone was walking down the hall that I knew was friends with Lauren, my automatic thought would be Shit it’s so and so, how do I act? Do I act normally? I should show that I’m not scared. I should be friendly and courteous. Other days I wouldn’t be feeling good at all and it’d be more like, I’m not feeling good, I’m upset and I have every right to be upset. People get upset on some days, I don’t have to be that peppy when I talk to them, it’s not required. And I’d show a different face.

I would always be worried that I would be standoffish so I would overcompensate and be extra friendly. I couldn’t be myself because Lauren made me feel like myself wasn’t good enough and that somehow she was the victim.

Relationships and friendships can be a dangerous thing. Guarding your heart can be tough because it wants to love and be loved. It can tell you when it’s not worth it if you listen. In this case, it tried, but I ignored it. I wanted to be accepted and loved and I was accepted and loved for the character that I played with Lauren.

I wanted to be accepted and loved by other people in the lab, but after, what felt like a huge rejection from Lauren, I didn’t feel like I could handle another rejection from anyone else, so I closed off.

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