You didn't do it. You didn't! You didn't! It isn't fair. It isn't! It isn't! How could your boss think such a thing? How could she say such a thing? How could it cross her mind that you would be careless, or lie, or lose something?
Ask someone if she/he has ever been accused unfairly, and she/he will tell the same one or two stories every time -- not only with as much vehemence the fifth time you hear it as the first, but probably with as much hurt and outrage as she/he felt the day it happened.
There's something about being treated unfairly that turns us into 7-year-olds, with a child's sense of outrage when something is "NO FAIR!"
"I put a report on my boss's desk on a Friday afternoon, and on the next Monday, he asked me where it was. I told him I'd already given it to him, and he said: 'Donna, if you didn't type the report, just say so! Don't lie like a kid claiming her homework got lost!' " wrote an administrative assistant from Louisville, Ky., not long ago.
"He found the report at his house the next night, and apologized handsomely. But I've never forgiven him for accusing me of being a liar, Niki, and I never will. I haven't felt the same about my job since -- and this happened six years ago."
Unresolved anger over unjust criticism can ruin a friendship, send a marriage to the rocks and destroy our good feelings about the work we do. It's especially hard to handle if we were treated unfairly as children, or if we believe, deep down, that we aren't good people.
If you've been falsely accused at work and the accusation is a serious one -- if it's about your honesty, integrity or ability to get the job done -- you'll need to confront it quickly, decisively, and in writing. Repeat the accusation (accurately!), then present your defense in a brief, orderly, non-emotional fashion.
Then put a copy in your personnel file, and keep one for yourself.
If the accusation is less serious, you may want to respond to it verbally, although this is a less safe course to follow. Give yourself time to calm down, sort through your feelings and organize your thoughts before you state your case, at least.
It's a good idea to ask yourself what response you want from your accuser, as well. Do you need an apology? In writing? Or do you want her to reassure you about your performance in general, or about her good opinion of you? Do you simply want her to promise never, never to do such a thing again?
If you're holding onto an old in justice but can't seem to confront your accuser -- or put it behind you without bothering because you know you're a good (competent, honest, efficient, congenial, whatever) person in general -- you may need help from a trained professional, on the other hand.
A trained counselor can help us forgive others who have accused us falsely and accept and love ourselves just the way we are -- no matter what anyone else says.
The key to forgiving and forgetting when people judge us unfairly is to stop judging ourselves unfairly -- at work and at home. It's only when we secretly believe (or fear) that a false accusation may be true that we find it impossible to forgive it, forget it, then get on with our lives. And when we hang onto old hurts and old anger, we only hurt ourselves.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.