sticks and stones

.. may break my bones, but words will haunt me forever.

I grew up in an verbally abusive environment. While I was able to eventually shake off a lot of the damage my mother did, I have an extreme tendency to internalize and dwell. I remember every bad thing ever said to me – not just by my mother, but also from years upon years of living online. I run in mostly decent circles now, so there’s a great deal less nastiness dished out on a daily basis – in fact, it almost never happens. It’s part of growing up, I think.

I don’t censor myself, but I do live by one hard and fast rule – don’t be a dick. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I have an almost pathological need for people to like me (thankfully buffered by my overwhelming need to do what feels right; I’m not a doormat or sycophant), and I try really hard to be nice. I think I’m a good person. I’ll do anything to help a friend in need, or even people I don’t know. I just want to be a nice person; someone people think fondly of. I’ve had so many years of people saying horrible, terrible things to me – family members, friends, acquaintances, strangers – I don’t want to relive any of it.

Except I do, all the time, because I can’t let it go. I always remember the bad in crystal clarity – I go over it in my head again and again, turning it around and obsessing over it. Running in better circles than I did a lifetime ago has helped a lot – time heals most wounds, after all – but not everyone subscribes to the “don’t be a dick” way of life, and I’ve spent the last several weeks obsessing over some recent hateful words. I don’t want to, but I can’t stop. I waffle between sadness and red-hot fury, unable to find peace. Worse, it’s bringing back memories of other things said to me that I thought I had gotten over, and I’m existing in an ominous cloud of doubt and stress. I hate that words have this kind of power over me. I hate the hypocrisy of it all. I hate the aftermath; knowing that I’m going to lose (or have already lost) friends if I can’t get over it. I hate knowing that I’m the only one suffering, because no one else cares if I’m bullied. I hate that people don’t know or care; think that the attack on me was cute or hilarious. I hate that I’m being shut out because I’m not okay with being treated like that. I hate being hurt.

How do you get over things?


9 thoughts on “sticks and stones

  1. I get over things by internalizing them. My thinking is that people have enough problems (perhaps people in my immediate circle moreso than others); why should I heap my problems on top of theirs?

  2. I hear ya- I was bullied terribly all thru school, and then as an adult in various (demented dysfunctional) workplaces and even by so-called friends or people I meet who seem to think they can say whatever bizarre or mean crap they want to me and I’ll like it or take it.
    I do the same although I am realizing now it does me no good to keep replaying it over and over in my head. Instead, I try to change my thoughts and put my efforts into my art and creative time and redirect my energy into thinking about good things or things I will do for me and me alone. And a technique I call “waiting it out”- the jerk person in question *will* crash and burn- just wait it out and watch it happen. And it always does.
    I am of the opinion that most people these days are on the verge of completely snapping, so they take their frustrations out on us innocent by-standers, then usually forget what they said or did then wonder why their victims are upset. But that doesn’t mean that we have to take it!

  3. Attacking people is never cute or hilarious.

    How do you get over it? Well, we shouldn’t have to get over it on our own. If more people would call out dicks on their dickish behaviour instead of tolerating it, or worse, celebrating it, there would be less dickishness in this world.

  4. You’re not alone. I just think people honestly don’t know how to react to that sort of thing.

    Nobody wants to think badly of people we know and like and, as a rule, we start by assuming that people handle their frustrations maturely, by talking to each other and sorting them out in private, instead of attacking in public. Nobody wants to be given cause to think that’s not the case – we want to give the people we know the benefit of the doubt.

    In this case, having seen the attack in question, I think the people applauding the meanness didn’t know it was directed by the attacker at an actual (in many cases, mutual) friend. I believe they thought it was directed at some faceless bureaucracy or customer service provider, and were applauding the general sentiment from that angle. I know that doesn’t make it hurt less, but I think it reflects on the commenters as nice people: they assumed the best of their friend. They assumed that their friend was being funny, that it was cute. They did not dream that it was really a vicious attack directed straight at somebody they knew and liked, somebody who had access to read said spew, or that their friend would talk to another “friend” in such hateful, brutal terms.

    I think you really do have cause to be hurt. I think you have every right to be shocked and upset. But I think you should cut the commenters/cheerleaders some slack: they were guilty of giving their friend the benefit of the doubt, for assuming their friend, well, wasn’t a dick*. That’s not a bad thing to be guilty of. I honestly don’t believe anybody who commented on it had any inklink that it was actually a friendship being imploded in an embarrassingly inappropriate semi-public way.

    But… as for getting over it, I don’t know. I know about holding things in – I still obsess about things that happened ten years ago, and turn things over and over in my head. It’s not healthy, and Cynthia is right: you have to train your brain away from those cycles or you get stuck. It comes back; it gets triggered. Shit like this, for example. “Forgetting” is a key ingredient in “forgive and forget”. I’ve never really mastered that myself, but, you know, I hear it’s a good place to be… so no advice there, really, except that I’ve heard from happier people that it really is worth it to try :)

    *There’s a difference between priding yourself on being straight-talking (which can be taken as dickish, but which I would argue is generally a positive thing), and just being mean (which is more dick-head than dick.)

  5. I hear ya, and I offer sympathy, hugs, etc. and a story of my own, and a Doctor Phil show. :-)

    (I don’t know about this particular (online?) situation alluded to above, but the bullying thing sent me off on a rant, so here goes.)

    I’m a funny guy, people laugh at what I say, and as a young adult I didn’t mind so much when people laughed at me rather than with me. I saw it as part of the package, because if you want to hang out with people, you have to be able to give and take, right? And in order to hang out with cooler people, maybe you have to be willing to take a little more, right?

    Then a couple of things happened that saw me suddenly living in another part of the country away from anyone I knew, working my first “real job” and spending a lot of time by myself for a year. After that year I now knew that I was fine in my own company, and from then on I simply refused to be stuck in friendships or situations where I wasn’t respected, where I wasn’t accepted for me. I gave some friends (and some family) the boot because they couldn’t figure out how to have an equal, non-abusive relationship with me; and if I found myself in situations where I didn’t like the mood, I would just leave. Not in a steaming huff, just factually noting that this wasn’t for me. A couple of my most memorable party nights from back then started with me going to a party at my gym or job, staying for a bit and then “dumping everyone” to instead go and do what *I* wanted to do, even if it had to start out by being by myself.

    The only one who can really judge you is you. Others can make accusations, of course, but you should only take the accusations to heart if you agree with them.

    Dicks/assholes/idiots only matter if you let’em.

    Years ago I overheard a Doctor Phil show about school bullying. The primary guests were adult women who felt that their lives had been ruined by school bullies. Anything they achieved, they saw as a triumph over their old bullies, and anything they failed at, they directly or indirectly blamed on the bullies (for making them feel useless, making them overeat or have other self-abusive behavior, giving them low self-esteem (which “resulted” in never having a good romantic relationship), etc.). The women had responded to an invitation from the show to “confront your bullies”, and each of them had saved up a lot of anger, grief, triumph to hurl at their old bullies. And then the big shocker came: The horrible, nasty kid/teen bullies were grown-up regular Jill and Jane’s now, and when confronted with the bullied woman’s stories, they were appalled at what they heard, but most of them didn’t even remember it! Their childhood memories were dominated by completely different situations, of course. The victims had huge expectations for the confrontation, they expected defensiveness or grudging apologies, and instead they got blank stares and generic empathy from grownup women who seemed like strangers, random women picked off the sidewalk, outsiders to the whole thing. Then the “bullies” were dismissed and Doctor Phil pounded home the lesson of the day and offered the victims help to deal with their issues, to stop letting it dominate their lives.

    Dicks/assholes/idiots of yesteryear definitely don’t remember The Fateful Evening as well as you do, if at all. And they’re probably regular people now in every way.

    That said, I still do the same. I’m Facebook friends with lots of people from the town where I grew up, but I can’t make myself accept friendship requests from people who were dickish once upon a time, no matter how well-adjusted and normal and nice and regular they appear to be now. My stomach clenches and I think “asshole” as I click on the “No” button.

    • Oh lord, Jan, I remember a time in 8th grade when I was paired in some class with a kid who was absolutely horrible to me in elementary school. Like, awful. I went home crying almost every day. It was terrible.

      I moved schools eventually, because we had moved houses, but the highschool was the same feeder school, so I encountered all those people again a few grades later. Anyway, long story short, his name was “Robbie Worth” so I, feeling a sense of triumph and justice fulfilled when the opportunity arose, called him “Robbie WorthLESS” HAHAHA GET IT?!

      Dude started SOBBING. For serious. It was awful. He was totally perplexed, I guess he had no memory of what a little shit he’d been in elementary school a few years earlier and how horrible it had been, and, well, apparently he had some self-esteem issues of his own, his parents had just divorced and… Right. Yup. *I* was the bully.

      I felt pretty awful about that, but it was an interesting lesson in the finer points of applied-passing-it-on-ness, and in how much larger things seem on the receiving end than the giving end. Also that *all* kids are little pricks. But anyway.

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