Nothing Gets Better, Even When it Does

For a while I was so ashamed of myself for not having finished college. It was reinforced by questions like “So, are you in school?’ Then I finished college and for a while I was so happy and proud of myself for doing so. Now I just feel bad about not going to grad school. It’s reinforced by questions like “So, are you going back to school?”

For a while I was unemployed and felt so bad about not having a job. It was reinforced by questions like “So, what do you do?” Then I got a job and for a while I was just so happy to be employed. Now I just feel bad about having such a low-paying job and about  working part time. It’s reinforced by questions like “Are you working full time?”, “Do you have an evening job?”

For a while I had no friends and I was so lonely.  It was reinforced by questions  like “So, do you have any plans for the weekend?’ Then I made friends and for a while I was so happy to be socially connected. Now I just feel bad about not having a partner or child. It’s reinforced by questions like “Are you in a relationship?” “Do you have any kids of your own?”

Maybe if I ever get a partner, a child, a master’s degree and a full -time, high paying job, I’ll be completely happy and satisfied with my life and no one will be able to make comments that leave me feeling inadequate. Or maybe I’ll just feel bad that I don’t have a doctorate, a six figure job, two children, or the world’s most attractive partner. Maybe no matter what I accomplish in life, I’ll always find ways in which I’m lacking, ways in which I don’t measure up to expectations. Maybe people will always find ways to question, judge or pity my life circumstances. Maybe true happiness really does come from within.

There’s a quote that says comparison is the death of all joy and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. While I often feel I’m not as good as everyone else, I do know without a doubt that I’m a better person than I was in the past. Maybe that is the only thing that truly matters.

Allow me to introduce myself

In my copyediting course the other introductions are all like:

“Hello, my name is John. I have a Phd in astrophysics, a JD, a masters degree in cognitive psychology, another masters degree in English literature, plus a certification in underwater basket weaving. After serving in the peace corps, I worked as a lawyer and then as a rocket scientist,while publishing a few novels on the side. Although I’m fluent in five languages and have won both a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize, I realize that there is always room for self improvement. Thus, I have enrolled in this copyediting course. When I’m not working, furthering my education, travelling the world or fighting for world peace, I enjoy spending time with my beautiful wife of 25 years, Caroline and our three beautiful children.”

Then my introduction is all like “Um, hi, I’m Kira. I like to read. I have a dog and a cat. I’m in this course because I realized I can’t make money as a writer.”

On being unemployed and dependent

Society makes it very hard for adults who are unemployed and/or dependent on parents/caregivers to have any self esteem or self worth. If you are an unemployed and /or dependent adult and you have some modicum of self esteem or self worth please tell me how you manage to do it because I still haven’t figured out the secret.

I doubt I’ll get any takers on that though because I doubt it’s possible for someone in my situation to feel good about themselves and I doubt there are many other people in my situation. When I say I’m unemployed I do not mean I am temporarily unemployed or that I got laid off from my last job. I mean I’ve never had paid employment of any kind and my prospects of future employment are dim. I do not mean that in lieu of employment I raise children or go to school full time. I feel sad that I’ll never have children and regretful that I fucked up so much in school.

When I say I live with my parents, I do not mean I am living with them to help take care of them. I mean I am living with them so that they can take care of me. I do not mean that I’m living with my parents temporarily because I’ve hit a rough patch in life and that I’ll be moving out as soon as I get back on my feet. The truth is my whole life has been a rough patch and I’ve never been on my feet.  I do not mean that I’m a young adult who’s learning to adjust to new adulthood. Despite my youthful appearance, I am well in to adulthood.

Because of my joblessness and dependence I have been labeled a leech, a parasite and a spoiled, ungrateful brat. I have been called lazy more times than I can count. I’ve been treated like crap and told that parasitic people don’t deserve to be treated nicely.  I have been referred to as an adjunct. I wasn’t exactly sure what was meant by that last one but the dictionary definition of adjunct is  “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.”

I can deal with being called lazy because there’s a lot of truth in those accusations but I could really do without the name calling. Even if there is some truth in the comparisons to disgusting blood sucking creatures, they’re very hurtful and not at all helpful.

I try to tell myself that the people who say those kinds of things to me have some serious issues of their own and that those comments are more of a negative reflection on them than on me but I hear that kind of message constantly from all kinds of people and places even if it’s not usually voiced so bluntly, rudely or directly.

Most political discussions I read, hear about or witness eventually  devolve in to complaints about those despicable lazy freeloaders who are mooching off the government rather than getting off their asses and finding jobs. The stereotypical description of the kind of loser you would never want to be or associate with involves a perpetually unemployed 30-year-old virgin who lives in their parents’ basement and plays video games all day.  The fact that I have a room on the second floor and have no interest in video games doesn’t give me much comfort.

I get the message both implicitly and explicitly that since I am unemployed and dependent, I am not a real adult.  I am not entitled to adult privileges. I don’t get a say in my own life. I am powerless and beholden to others. I am a child in an adult’s body.

I am told that I contribute nothing to society and that I should go do something with my life. I try to tell myself that you can contribute to society and do something with your life without getting paid for it but many people do not see contributions as valid unless they are accompanied by a paycheck. It’s as though I must earn money in order to earn dignity.

Kids are often asked what they want to be when they grow up.  ‘Happy’ is not considered to be an acceptable answer. They’re expected to say what career they want to have. When you meet someone new as an adult one of the first questions you’re asked is “What do you do?”  “I eat, sleep, breathe, read and play with my dog” is not considered to be an acceptable answer. You’re expected to say what you do for a job. It feels as though without a job I am considered to do nothing and to be nothing.

Independence and self sufficiency are seen as the ultimate goals of and the be all end all of adulthood. If you fail to achieve those goals you are seen as having failed at adulthood, if not life itself. At best you might get pity from people. More often you will get scorn. One thing you will rarely get is respect.

In addition to not being entitled to dignity or respect, some people seem to think that if you don’t have a job or “earn your keep” you are not entitled to luxuries or pleasures. How dare you eat good food, wear fancy clothes or go on fun vacations!

I am literally financially worthless because I have never earned a single cent in my life but worse than being financially worthless is feeling like because I’m dependent and unemployed I am worthless as a human being.

A few months ago I figured out a way to make a valuable contribution to society without having a job. I would donate blood. As a leech I’d obviously sucked a lot of blood from other people so it was time for me to allow others to suck my blood. I know some view me as unimportant because I don’t have a job but my blood might save the life of someone who has a very important job. My first blood donation went well but by the time I was eligible to donate again I had lost my ID. When I set out to get a replacement ID I discovered that you are now required to present bills addressed to you as proof of your identity. Since I am not financially independent and do not live on my own, I do not have any bills addressed to me. It felt like yet another way society has of telling me that without having a job and without being independent, I do not have a valid identity.

I’m sure a lot of people are thinking “Why don’t you just get a job?” The answer to that question is a story for another blog.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Now I’m going to say that if you have given someone your consent to make you feel inferior, do not be afraid to withdraw your consent and do not be afraid to let that person know that you have withdrawn your consent.

People who bully you and personally attack you want to have power over you. Refuse to let them have power over you.

You can try to reason with the bullies. You can try to show them how wrong what they’re doing to you is. You can try to reason with the higher ups, try to convince them how wrong what the bullies are doing to you is, try to bring the bullies to justice.

Unfortunately that is often a lost cause though. It is often a complete waste of your time and energy. Often times the bullies will never admit that what they’re doing to you is wrong because they are incapable of doing so or are unwilling to do so. Sometimes they realize that what they’re doing is wrong but they just don’t care. Sometimes no matter how well reasoned the argument you make is or how convincing it seems, the bullies will just find a way to dismiss it, mock it and turn your words against you. Sometimes the higher ups will do the same thing and refuse to intervene on your behalf because for whatever reason they are invested in protecting the bullies, not in protecting you.

Once you realize the bullies are never going to change their behavior or the way they view you, you need to work on changing your own behavior and the way you view yourself.

Bullies will pick on you for your supposed flaws and defects.You do have flaws that other people may find bothersome but so do the people who are picking on you.They are picking on your flaws because they are insecure about their own flaws. They may be projecting their own flaws on to you. They may be jealous of you for some reason. For example they may accuse you of lying and being deceitful because they realize that you are honest and genuine in a way that they are not.

Do not work on changing your supposed flaws and defects in order to please the bullies.There is no pleasing bullies.If your flaws and defects are pointed out in a mean spirited or condescending way that makes you feel bad by people who never point out your strengths and never make you feel good about yourself, then those people are not trying to help you. They are trying to hurt you and humiliate you.

Do not think that if you work on changing what they’re supposedly bothered  by or give in to their demands they will stop picking on you. The bullies do not want to stop picking on you. If you work on fixing one of your supposed flaws and giving in to one of their demands they will find a new flaw to pick on you for and make new demands.

Work on changing your actual flaws and defects for the sake of yourself and the people who care about you. If the people who care about you, the people who often make you feel good and point out your strengths, point out flaws that you have the power to change and they do so in a constructive manner, then it’s worth taking what they say in to consideration. Doing so will help them and it will help you.

You probably will be hurt by the the mean things people say and do.If you’re human it’s pretty hard not to be hurt by insults, personal attacks and nasty rumor spreading. It’s pretty hard not to feel hurt by social rejection and alienation.However, for all the hurtful comments that are made about you and all the hurtful things that are done to you, keep saying to yourself “Those comments and those actions are a reflection on those people, not a reflection on me.”

When people try to make you feel inferior with their hurtful words and actions, let their words have the opposite effect. Realize that you are kinder, smarter and more self aware than those people will ever be.

The common wisdom given is to just ignore the bullies, not engage with them, don’t give them the attention they crave. That’s good advice but I know that it’s a lot easier said than done. Sometimes you cannot avoid the bullies because you have to be where they are. Sometimes you want to be where they are because you also have friends, loved ones or people you like there. Sometimes you’re able to ignore them for a while but they just keep poking and prodding at you until eventually you snap.

Even if you are able to completely ignore the bullies, even if you are able to cut them out of your life, even if you no longer interact with them at all, even if you no longer read or listen to their hurtful comments, the bullies may still try to exert power over you. Once they realize you no longer care what they think of you, they may try to manipulate the image other people have of you. They may try to convince the people who like you and think well of you that they are wrong about you, that they need to realize just how awful you are. They may directly or indirectly exert pressure on your friends to stop being friends with you. They may directly or indirectly exert pressure on your friends to betray you and reveal information that you shared with them in confidence.

If a friend ditches you or betrays you because of the bullies, this can hurt more than anything the bullies ever said or did to you themselves. Once again you have to realize that what those friends did to you is a reflection of who they are, not a reflection of who you are. As much as you’re going to miss those friends, if they’re the kind of people who would do something like that to you, you’re better off without them in your life.

The problem is that while bullying makes you desperately in need a network of people who will support you and encourage you, it also makes it very hard for you to create and maintain such a support network. Bullying takes a huge toll on your self esteem. It makes you feel helpless,hopeless, worthless, depressed, ashamed and fearful. As much as you try to tell yourself otherwise, you can’t help but suspect that the bullies might be right about you, that you deserved to be treated the way you were.

Being bullied by one person is hard enough, being bullied by a large group of people is overwhelming. Unfortunately bullies do tend to draw their strength in numbers. If that’s the way so many people feel about you and treat you, you can’t help but wonder if that’s the way everyone feels about you and that’s the way everyone’s going to treat you.

Reaching out to people after you’ve been bullied can be a terrifying prospect. It can feel pointless and it can feel dangerous. What if you’re judged for what happened to you? What if when you talk about what happened, the bullies decide to retaliate against you? Even if people do befriend you, what if they decide to ditch you and betray you, either because they’re influenced by the bullies or because they’ve discovered all the flaws in you that the bullies discovered?  What if you’re only setting yourself up for further hurt?

Reaching out to people after you’ve been bullied and reaching out to people in general is always a risk. There’s always a chance that the people you reach out to will reject you, betray, judge you, be unkind to you. They might even end up bullying you.It’s a risk worth taking though.

The way the bullies feel about you and the way they treated you is not the way everyone feels about you and it’s not the way everyone’s going to treat you. It’s probably not even the way most people or the world in general feels about you or is going to treat you.

If you look hard enough you will find people who accept you and appreciate you for who you are. You will find people who are true friends, the kind of friends who will support you and encourage you, the kind of friends who will stand by your side through the good times and the bad times, who will not allow themselves to be influenced by the nasty things other people say about you or the pressure other people exert on them.

Some people deal with the pain they feel and experience by causing other people pain. Do not become of one of those people. Do not be like the people who bullied you. Create something positive out of your negative experience by using it to become a better, more compassionate person.

Reach out to other people who have been bullied. Stand up for people you see being bullied. Recognize and reflect on the tactics that were used to bully you and make you feel alienated. Make sure you do not behave in a way that could contribute to someone else being bullied and alienated, even if it will win you favor with other people. Choose being kind over being popular.

Bullies pick on people in an attempt to feel better about themselves but that is not going to make them truly happy. As Robert Green Ingersoll said “The way to be happy is to make others so.”

On the surface bullies seem brave and bold but deep down bullies are really cowards. If you stand up to them and your friends stand up to them they might back down. If these bullies are people you have to interact with than a direct approach might be best but if you don’t have to interact with them they’re not even worth addressing directly. Take away the power they have over you by ignoring the nasty things they say about you and not letting them get to you. Their opinion of you really doesn’t matter. The people in your life who do matter know the truth about you.

Bullies will come up with all kinds of justifications as to why they’re bullying you. They may claim they’re treating you that way because you’re annoying, rude, crazy, ugly, stupid etc, but none of those reasons are the real reason they are treating you like that. The real reason they are treating you badly is because they perceive you as being vulnerable. Show those people that while you may be vulnerable, you are not defenseless.