Do you have (at least) one person in your life who constantly makes you feel bad? He/she passes hurtful remarks, criticises, or makes fun of you. I’m interrupting this transmission of self-pity to bring you a very important newsflash: The other person is not the one making you feel bad. You are doing an excellent job of that all on your own.
Everything you sense has to go through a filter system in your mind before it can have any effect on you whatsoever. You control this. Therefore, you are the one who allows yourself to feel bad. If an insulting remark is something that you already believe about yourself, then you’re more inclined to be sensitive about it and it’s more likely to hurt you. If, on the other hand, your friend tells you that you look like a luminous yellow dinosaur, it won’t rattle your confidence because you know for a fact that you don’t resemble an extinct vertebrate wearing a hi-vis vest. That’s ridiculous, you snigger. What is ridiculous is when you internalise other equally silly comments.
People can only make you feel bad when you’re already feeling bad. Or when your good feelings are based on something so shallow and transient that they are all too easily snatched away. Having said that, there are some people who are more skilled than others at resurrecting those negative emotions that you’d prayed were long-buried.
Let me tell you about a childhood friend of mine. Simone and I met in play school. She was imaginative and hilarious and fun. Even though I moved town a couple of years later, we continued to have regular sleep overs. We phoned and wrote letters and emails, sharing all our teenage and early adult experiences. I thought she’d be a friend for life. In my mid-twenties, however, I began to realise that she was making me feel bad.
She sulked and gave me the silent treatment any time I couldn’t hang out with her. Her brilliant sense of humour was often at my expense. She insulted me with witty remarks and gave me back-handed compliments. She once told me I laughed like The Whirligig Witch in Fortycoats and, when I pouted, she told me I should be happy ‘coz the Whirligig Witch had magic powers. Then she snorted: “You kinda look like her too…” When we holidayed together before college, she announced that I’d lost “soooo much weight”, like I’d been previously obese. She complimented me on my new hair style, adding that she’d hated it after the last hair cut. She regularly told me how “awfully tired” I was looking. And consistently poked fun at my “dumb blonde” tendencies. She’d often say things like: “Why do you and I put on weight so easily?” or “How come we never have boyfriends?” (I didn’t even bother pointing out that I was two sizes smaller than her and I had been MARRIED.) She called me a “swot” for studying and “boring” or “Little Miss Perfect” when I wouldn’t indulge in food, cigarettes and alcohol as vigorously as she did. She frequently bitched about my other close friends and even my family members. And any time I landed myself a fella or started making a success of my life, she totally withdrew from me.
It’s scary that it took me so long to realise how bad I was feeling whenever I was around Simone. And I’m not blaming it all on her. I’m sure that some of the things I took to be insults were benign comments or jokes. I had always been super-sensitive and I clearly cared what she thought, otherwise it wouldn’t have bothered me. Some people just aren’t as tapped in to others’ feelings and they blurt things out before they have time to censor them. Or they honestly believe they’re being helpful when they inform you that you look like you haven’t slept a wink in days. But, oftentimes, when someone puts you down, it’s because they’re feeling so miserable about their own lives that lashing out at someone else makes them feel marginally better.
Simone’s father had a habit of “affectionately” calling Simone, “my little fattie”. Her three older brothers teased her incessantly. A particular favourite taunt was: “No fear of you ever getting pregnant! If you look ‘contraceptive’ up in the dictionary, there’s a picture of your face!” And much later, I found out that Simone’s mother had tried to commit suicide when Simone was only nine years old. Simone and I have since drifted apart. I don’t know if she’s grown into a happier woman. I hope she still laughs as much as she used to (preferably not at anyone else’s expense).
If you have a multitude of Simones in your circle of friends, here’s what to do:
1) Speak up!
Confront the person about their behaviour. They may be perfectly unaware of how they’ve been acting. However, blaming them for how upset you’ve been will only get their backs up, so, instead of snarling: “You did this!”, try: “I felt hurt when…” This will help them to see things from your perspective without making them feel as if they’re under attack. This mature approach may even gain you some respect. And when someone respects you, they’re unlikely to mistreat you.
2) Second chances
Everyone deserves a do-over. Perhaps your friend or loved one has been going through something difficult recently, which would explain their hurtful behaviour. If you’ve had the talk and they’ve apologised, the ball is now in your court to give them an opportunity to get back onside.
3) From a distance
The trick to all of this is not to allow anybody to affect you negatively. Unfortunately, with certain people, this can be extremely difficult. Especially if it’s a parent or lover. In delicate cases like these, the only remedy is distance. You are not strong enough yet to come out of an altercation with this person uninjured. You don’t need to put yourself through that right now. Just be gentle with yourself and work on your confidence, so then, if you decide to go back for round two, you’ll be well able for whatever they throw your way.
4) Cut your losses
If, like me, you’re no saint, there’s only so much you’re going to be able to take before you snap. And this may not be a bad thing. You’re not doing them any favours by accepting that kind of behaviour. Maybe losing you as a friend will be enough of a wake-up call to prevent them from sacrificing any more relationships. And if you’ve had to distance yourself from most of your so-called friends, don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit lonely. You will now have more time and space to meet like-minded people. People who will enrich your life and appreciate your friendship.
5) Build yourself up
Once you start believing in yourself, and recognising that you’re wonderful, you’ll probably notice that people won’t get at you as much. They will sense your strength and won’t even consider trying to annoy you. After all, bullies only pick on those they deem to be weak.
When you remove yourself from a situation emotionally, it can have no negative power over you. Instead of getting hurt or angry, observe the person with interest. Contemplate why they might be behaving this way. If they’re sulking, let them. Like a spoiled kid, they want to get their own way. So, treat them like the child they’re imitating and ignore them. Don’t let their tantrums dampen your spirits or poison your enjoyment. Detach from their negativity and recognise that their mood is not yours.
7) Have fun
Once you reclaim your power, you may even begin to get a kick out of observing others’ silly behaviour and letting them know that you know what they’re playing at. I know a farmer, who’s fascinated by human behaviour. He always manages to show people what they’re really like. It’s almost like he carries around a magnifying mirror and whips it out when the person least expects it. He walked into a room once, where a cranky, old lady squinted sourly at her visitors. She only ever had time for gentry. She looked down her nose at this country man and sneered, “Who might you be?” Without missing a beat, he answered, “I’m an alien from outer space.” This rendered the woman speechless. Instead of passing her usual judgemental remarks, she had to really think about what had just happened.
In Chinese medicine, when someone is feeling angry, resentful or frustrated, their liver is said to be “in excess”. When they lash out at somebody else, this releases some of the excess, making them feel better.
If you find that your loved ones are trying to put you down regularly, it is saying a lot more about them than it is about you. Perhaps, recently, you’ve started to put yourself first, you’re learning to say “no”, and you’re becoming more self-assured. Your loved ones may fear that you’re going to outgrow them completely. They’re terrified of losing you. If they keep you in your box, like a pet rat, you’re not going to go anywhere. So, if your husband tells you your bum definitely does look big in that, or scoffs at your decision to go back to college; instead of vowing to only consume celery and lemon juice for the next month, or beating yourself up for being so stupid as to even consider giving education another shot, recognise that he is simply threatened by your new-found confidence. He’s probably scared that you’ll go off with another man in your new skinny jeans and FMBs, or he may be positive that, once you hit the library with your smart, sexy lecturer, you’ll suddenly realise how dull and uneducated he is.
When you find yourself feeling bad because of what other people say or do, you need to take a long, hard look at why. Do you still care what others think of you? When someone puts you down, think of it as a test. You are being examined on how much you really believe in yourself. If one snotty remark can fling you into a spiral of self-doubt, your self-esteem is weak and in need of a work-out.
If a compliment makes your day, an insult will crush you. Stop giving all of your power away. Don’t wait for others to validate you as a worthwhile human being. Believe in yourself, your strength, your talents, and the miraculous beauty of your body and spirit. Nobody can make you feel bad. Nobody can make you feel good either. The power is, and always has been, in your hands. Do with it what you will.