Friday, July 29, 2016

Surviving a Special Snowflake’s Meltdown

When I was in college, I had a professor tell me, “Write what you know.” And then, “You should write about being an outcast.”

I was not a social person in general, not into keeping up appearances, focusing on depth over so-perceived “shallow” attributes. I spoke my mind, refused invitations on outings, and did what I wanted to do artistically despite the naysayers. I had my qualities and my flaws, but I definitely was not part of the social group of our theatre department.

Over time I started to develop (organically and intentionally) a better balance in my life. I had realized that gaining trust, and thereby gaining support and certain freedoms, was an important part of being able to do what I wanted. Looking trustworthy and being trustworthy are two very different skillsets. For example, I needed to emote more—to force my typically reserved inner dialogue as viewable manifestations. I needed to use facial expressions and body language to tell people who I liked I liked them, to laugh at jokes I found funny, to respond externally. I am typically inclined to react in my head instead of out loud, and that doesn’t help others understand your emotional state.

We are admired by society for lots of different reasons, some of them superficial—Do you make money? Are you pretty?—some of them less so—Are you interesting, friendly, and ambitious? People who achieve their goals, especially goals that most people aspire to, are highly valued.

Writers are often, though not always, outcastes who hope to illustrate their point of view in life. But writing is an extremely respected part of society, and becoming a successful writer, even modestly, garners you respect and acceptance that you may never have had before. I think authors most commonly experience the sudden difference between being ignored and being noticed.

The problem with acceptance? Those who are accepted by society are pursued for acceptance. They become a target for all those who need validation. Perhaps you suddenly got beautiful, or your accomplishments took fruition. Maybe you are just older and more confident. Who knows? But most people have a point in their life where they stop being the one begging acceptance, becoming the one begged for it.

An author on Facebook shared this conversation just now:


“Bizarre!” all her commenters said.

“Bizarre!” I told her.

“Bizarre!” she agreed.

Except it isn’t, exactly.

His behavior follows pretty typical patterns in someone seeking validation.

The Insult.

This is a throwback from my teenage years, and when I taught high schoolers. When you think someone else is confident and successful, you don’t curb your words or opinions. Teenagers are less likely to throw punches period, but when I was younger, I distinctly remembered the epiphany that adults didn’t always respond well to being told they were wrong. I don’t remember figuring out Santa Claus isn’t real, but I remember comprehending the compulsion of criticizing someone just to show I knew what I was talking about.

I often offered suggestions of alternative ways to do things simply to say I’d done it before, not because there was anything wrong with their decisions. Teachers are inclined to encourage that, but once you start to interact with coworkers and peers, you see the ramifications of uninhibited divulging of opinion.

There was one girl in my college who did this constantly. She would always, always tell you you were doing something wrong to later inform you when you did it her way it was also wrong. “I can’t be better than you if I agree with you.”

People who haven’t been in a position of acceptance or power are more inclined to insult those who are, unable to see them as real humans. Sometimes it’s not malicious, just offering up ideas more frequently than you would with a peer (which can be incredibly frustrating especially if that person is naïve to how things are actually done). Other times, it is very selfishly motivated.

Negging is form of come-on in which a man (typically) approaches a woman and gives her a backhanded compliment, criticism, or outright insult. The idea is to lower her esteem and make her want your validation instead of the other way around.

Even if this “critic” wasn’t intentionally negging her, the process can work in a myriad of situations and we can pick up on it subconsciously. You can scare people into pandering to you, especially if they aren’t confrontational. You can make people crave your acceptance by demonstratively not giving it to them. For many, the more you reject them, the more attention they give you.

The Brag.

Bragging feels good, especially if the other person responds well. It’s easy for me to understand the compulsion to insult someone and then brag about it when you’re hurting, it’s more difficult for me to get why someone would actually go through with it—and expected it to go over well.

Many commenters did Google him, and he is a self-published author with two out of print books created three years ago. He has one Amazon review.

Does he truly believe that he’s as important as he acts like he is?

That too is something fairly common. Many writers, myself included, assumed at least at one point (if not perpetually) we were destined for greatness. In some ways, it’s a good thing; I’ve met truly humble but talented artists who recognized their insignificance in the world, and they didn’t do much with it. Not a problem if that’s what you want, but in these specific cases, I knew they wanted to have more respect and freedom than their current situation allowed for. A certain self-importance can encourage you to do great things despite the odds.

I remember when I was younger asking myself why no one respected me. Why did my fellow students blindly follow my professors who insulted and sabotaged them? Why did they prefer to listen to someone who belittled them in public and ignore me when I said he did that to everyone? That he was bitter and reaching. That it was meaningless. Why did I get argued with constantly when I had thought, and thought, and thought about what I believed while my professors got away with, “You’ll learn with experience.”

Why didn’t people realize how great I was?

In hindsight, I maintain I was right about my professors. No one should have listened them. They threw around unhelpful criticism like it cluttered the place: “You’re too fat.” “You’re not white enough.” “Your blonde hair won’t light on the stage.” “You’re a character actor and there’s no parts for you until you’re fifty.” They lied a lot for selfish and lazy reasons, they had all or nothing attitudes, they liked what made them look good. I may be wrong, but even to this day, six years later, I still believe they were motivated by malicious goals.

But as for why they didn’t listen to me instead? Well that’s more understandable.

It’s a daily complaint. Most of us have felt unfairly neglected by people who have no reason to pay attention to us. And by those who should, even.

A lot of it falls back onto the issue that “looking” like you’re something isn’t the same as “being” something. Convincing people you’re a great storyteller requires professionalism, presenting a clean and vibrant visual imagery, while being a good storyteller requires an abstract emotional comprehension unperceivable from first glance. Two totally different skills.

I have said it myself. I have been asked by many more. “Why don’t you just trust me, random stranger I’ve never met before?”

“I am not ‘people,’” he said. I am important. I have an opinion, I have the right to say it. And if you were smart, you would realize that I am important and so is that opinion.

Some people want you to sense their inner greatness without them needing to prove it. They want your trust without giving you any reason that they’re trust worthy. They feel entitled to respect and a chance.

Then they insult you.

The Different Narration

According to the author, this stranger asked her for free samples of her poetry. She told him that he could find some on Amazon. He returned with the above messages.

“I will not buy or read it even if it is given to me for free.”

“People send me their work like every day.”

“I will never message you about how I don’t like your work.”

He later posted and deleted:

I’m sure, in his mind, by directing him to Amazon, she did request him to read it. In fact, I would give him a little leeway and think maybe he believed that connecting with other writers was done by discussing their books. Many people promote all uncensored honesty (verbal diarrhea, as I call it) as constructive criticism, and stand behind every comment a person can make, even ones done passive-aggressively, rudely, or naively; even those done as personal catharsis.

Now he has helped her to not be so “cliché.”

Was that what motivated him in the first place? I really doubt it. I think he was lashing out for attention. But does he believe that now? Certainly.

What is so insane about this conversation is his seemingly complete separation from the truth, but I feel they are understandable conclusions brought on by a lack of self-reflection. He probably has no idea why he said that. He never thought about it. Now that she isn’t responding well, he runs through the situation and sees what could have been done differently, but rather than take control over his own actions, he pinpoints how she could possibly be in the wrong and calls that the truth.

She’s being overly-sensitive. He won’t do it again. Let’s be friends.

The Compartmentalization

A few weeks ago, I was harassed by a quintessential asshole. He had been messaging me ‘Hey’s and ‘Hi’s for some time now, and finally I was fed up.

“Yes?” I said.

He started cussing me out.

A friend of my ex’s (who had started hitting on me long before we broke up), I knew very little about him, but I would have never pegged him for someone so filled with venom.

He demanded to know what my problem was, why did I care if he talked to me? When I told him I knew that he was hitting on me and that I wasn’t interested, he laughed in my face—“Ha! If you say so!”—and started swearing at me again.

Then: “Why aren’t you interested?”

I decided, instead of blocking and seething in my anger like I normally do with jackasses like him, I would explain to him exactly what was happening, hoping maybe having a conclusion would allow me to drop it. As the conversation went on, me telling the full truth including the parts that weren’t about him—“I’m not over my ex yet and am not looking for anything physical or romantic with anyone.”—he decided that my engagement was a sign of forgiveness.

He asked me out.

In text messages, it’s easy to follow an argument from beginning to end and you start to see this lack of consistency in their goals, foolishness in their arguments, the lack of listening. One minute they’re trying to save their pride by embarrassing you, the next they’re trying to make them like them. Outright denial is common.

“I wasn’t mad,” this Prince Charming told me.

“‘What the fuck is your problem?’ isn’t mad?”

“I can say that without being mad. LOL.”

“Pretty rude for a calm person.”

“Now I feel like shit.”

I’m not much of a liar, for a fiction writer, and I’m surprisingly gullible. I tend to take people at their word—or, at least, think they believe what they’re saying. This makes it incredibly hard for me to relate with something that so completely separates from the truth that possibly be that delusional, but my speculation is this:

Some people react on an emotional level and then forget that emotion the second they don’t feel it anymore. They compartmentalize as a defense mechanism. They don’t dwell. They are more impulsive (both a quality and a flaw) because they don’t spend too much time worrying about their past thoughts or feelings. They’re focused on the now, reacting to the ramifications now. They don’t know what they did or why they did it, but it’s over, so why does it matter?

So let’s move on. “Did you have your dinner?”

There’s not much you can do for it, but be prepared.

The more I find happiness with myself and my accomplishments, the more often someone approaches me in hostile hopes for my attention. It can be difficult to respond in kind—because you know they’re already hurting, because you want to be professional, because you don’t want to start shit that’s going to weigh you down for a long period of time. It’s difficult to ignore someone who really just wants to talk to you. You certainly can’t get them to understand where they’re coming from. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll absorb it and accept it sometime from now, but that won’t sooth the anger until then. You explain your side of things, they cuss you out. Too nice, they think they can go back to harassing you with their unsolicited comments.

I tell this story not because I have the answers—uncharacteristically—but because truth is stranger than fiction; this insanity is pretty common. Be prepared for it.

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