Do you have a petty tyrant in your life?


About a week ago, this topic came up in a conversation between me and three friends. We all agreed that we had at some point or other had a petty tyrant in our lives.

A petty tyrant is that person who for some reason just drives you up the wall and what’s worse, like a tokoloshe from hell, they seem to enjoy it. For most people, the best way to deal with a petty tyrant (if it’s a friend), is avoid them altogether for others ( if it’s a workmate), is to try and have as little to do with them as possible. In a work environment this can prove impossible. The whole idea behind dealing with a the petty tyrant is that instead of fighting or avoiding your petty tyrant, you need to embrace them or be around them to the point that what they do no longer bothers or irks you.

Ha! Easier said than done.

I’ve had a few petty tyrants in my life, such as the one supervisor who refused to sign my probation form for six plus months, meaning I was working without health insurance, while paying a bank loan with the sceptre of unemployment constantly hanging over my head. Not ideal working conditions, but yes, it happened.

Or how about the friend who despite what you thought was your happy resting face asks how you’re doing with pseudo-concern because, hey, you are pursuing this crazy entrepreneurship thing instead of getting a real job? Poor you.

Or the housemate who is so bad, your other housemates would rather move out then get into yet another petty argument with this person.

I used to let petty tyrants steal my joy because it was just easier to get irritated and have someone to blame. It felt like I was dealing with the frustration by complaining and getting upset about it but I really wasn’t. Rather I was dwelling on it and letting it become my focus when I should have been focussing on other things, better things. That’s a lot of power to give away.

In his book Fire from Within, Carlos Castenada describes a petty tyrant as: “ a tormentor, someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors, or simply annoys them to distraction.” Now Castenada led an interesting life, but I have agree with his definition.

Petty tyrants can be bullies, and having a bully in a position of power is the stuff of nightmares. Much has been written about the petty tyrant in the workplace, in fact, they are a valid Human Resources problem because not only do they poison the work environment, they can also lead to job dissatisfaction and resignations.

Petty tyrants can also be friends or loved ones, and here is where it gets tricky.

So what to do?

It is believed the petty tyrant helps you confront your own ego and sense of self importance, however, if it’s abusive, get as far away as you can.

Taking on the petty tyrant — the kind you meet in your day to day life—would mean accepting them as they are and not letting them get under your skin. Some of what I’ve read suggests trying not to be around them when your are feeling particularly ‘vulnerable or fragile’.

Personally, just the act of recognising and identifying the petty tyrants in my life has helped tremendously, I can now laugh at the craziness of it all, “How dare they!” becomes, “Look at this silliness!”.

I’ve also learned to identify the feelings they evoke in me and work on that rather than focus on them. Your petty tyrant may never change, but at least you will never give them the satisfaction of turning into them. I mean who of the two would you rather be: Neo or Agent Smith?



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