“You’re so nice.”
“No, I’m not. I can be mean. I’m mean all the time.”
“Oh…. Uh… I’m sorry?”
I have to admit, I was surprised when my new acquaintance launched into a tale of one of her most notorious mean moments. I wondered, why is she proud of this behavior? Because, in my experience, she is compassionate, patient, friendly, and considerate. Always ready with a smile and a supportive comment. Those things make her seem notably kind to me. But yet she felt the need to inform me of times when she has been uncivil. I asked myself, “When did being “nice” become a bad thing?”
Upon further reflection, I realized I do the same thing. I joke, “I’m such a bitch,” about something seemingly harmless. I will tell stories of how I got short over the phone with a rep from my cable company, or when I finally said what I was thinking to a guy I couldn’t stand (and it wasn’t the “polite” version, for sure). Truth is, I swear at inappropriate times, I say blunt things about other people that I would say with tact-or not at all-to their faces (some call it venting, I call it “spouting”), and I make careless comments without consideration for others. But unlike others who may delight in manipulating others or making their day more difficult, my usually accidental acts of incivility and brash or crude behavior are met with shame and embarrassment rather than pride. Yet I would be lying if I said I didn’t ever proudly tell a story of when I stood up for myself in an unpleasant way.
My aunt told to me this weekend, “When you put yourself down, you are giving others an indication of how you want them to view you.” She was pointing out the flaw in my statement that I was “a piece of shit,” which of course I didn’t mean. But yet there are times when I am inclined to promote a negative view of myself, much like my new acquaintance did with me recently. Why is that?
Sometimes it is a measure of bravado – or “talking big.” Telling stories to make one seem grandiose. But more often than not I think it comes from being sensitive or as a defense mechanism. When I think about myself, or my friend, I understand that we have both been treated unkindly. I imagine she may be sensitive like myself, and I bet she has been taken advantage of like I have in the past. I suspect she, like me, tells people these stories because we need them to be aware that despite our friendly demeanor – when pushed far enough – we will assert ourselves and it is typically not so pretty. I tell people this early on because I don’t want my heart broken or to experience the pain of a betrayal. Perhaps if they know I can be “mean” they will think twice before mistreating me. I believe it is an issue of trust in others, and – for me to be sure – an question of self-confidence. If I place a degree of self-worth in others’ perceptions of me, it would be easy to be abused, used, or manipulated. I will do what they want because I need them to be pleased by me if I am going to feel good about myself. Eventually though self-esteem breaks through the crust of insecurity and reminds me that this is no way to be treated, and I move on with another piece of emotional baggage to carry through my next journey. So after years of experience and hurt, a defense grows in the form of one simple statement: I may seem nice but I’m not always nice so don’t you dare cross me!
The frustrating problem with this warning is that I don’t want people to think of me negatively. I want them to like me for the confident person I am. I want them to say, “That Jen is a nice girl. Crazy sometimes, but fun and great.” I don’t want them to think, “She had one hell of a bark and a bite.”
As I learn to pay no attention to the esteem afforded to me by negative, callous, or unkind people, I am able to listen more intently to the affections of truly valuable influences in my life. I hear their praise for good deeds done, I see their delight in my kinder moments, I reap the rewards of my good treatment in their reciprocated benevolence. Perhaps through this process I will drop my “warning” once and for all, and – rather – adopt a quiet and confident assertion whenever I begin to be mistreated: You are not treating me right, and I will not allow this to continue any further. Treat me well, or be out of my life. Your opinions and behaviors are not essential to my happy existence. No, they run counter to it. I have no need to be cruel or unkind, as I am strong enough to draw this line and stand by it. Indeed, I am an even better person for disallowing such negativity to permeate my day.
Sounds pretty good to me. I guess I’ll be off for the evening – and work to mindfully monitor what comes from this mouth of mine! What about you? What would your “speech” sound like without a warning within it?