I’m mean all the time

“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?

6 thoughts on “I’m mean all the time

  1. Ya know, you made me think of when my boss praised me (highly generous praise) and I told her that I wasn’t always positive, that I certainly wasn’t perfect… I think I felt the need to tell her that so that I didn’t have some impossible expectation to live up to. I make mistakes all the time. I say things I shouldn’t say. I’m not always patient with students. I’m human, and I think when people praise someone for “always” portraying a positive trait, it sets a precedent for disappointment…and who wants to disappoint? It’s a heck of a lot easier to not have any expectations to live up to, I’ll tell ya that! At the same time, when I lack those attributes, the compliment or expectation that that person has of me plays in my mind, making me aware that I’m not currently displaying that, and probably need to work harder at it.

    • What a good point Catie! As always something wise and insightful from your lips! 🙂 I agree – when I am given high compliments and asked to do a project, I immediately state where I could possibly fail. Like many, I am painfully aware of my short comings, and would not want to disappoint. I wonder though, is there a way to alleviate their high expectations without disparaging our abilities? Like saying, “Such high praise! I hope that when I make a mistake, which is inevitable at some point, that you will still hold me in such excellent regard.” I bet you said something like that, because what you wrote is such a sensible reply. It is true, we are human – I think what you said is fair and kind to yourself – you didn’t beat yourself up or insult yourself – just stated the obvious nature of being a human being. And I agree, when I think of people’s high regard for me that has been expressed it makes me want to rise to the occasion. Thanks for writing Catie! 🙂

  2. I just had a conversation about this with my partner. I can’t even remember what we were talking about; but, I said something that exhibited compassion and she responded by hugging me and saying, “You’re perfect.” And I responded by saying, “No. I can be counted on to always be trying; but, I’m not perfect. I really need you to give me the freedom to fail.” I don’t think it’s self deprecating to see your short comings or the places where you need a little more reminding…or a little more forgiveness.

    I think your “warning” is a step towards quiet assertion. Being nice does not mean taking crap or being a door mat. Noah Levine said (I think in one his books..or one of his dharma talks), “You can let people into your heart and not let them into your house.” I love that. It so simply explains that you can have compassion for and maybe even love for a person; but, not allow them into your life in a way where they can cause harm. Thanks for your posts. I always enjoy reading them.

    • Thank YOU for your comment Ann! As always your words are incredibly thought-provoking and so elegantly put!

      I think you hit it on the nose for me with the “places where you need … a little more forgiveness.” It is my flaw that expects perfection. I have always longed to be one of those people who doesn’t beat themselves up for mistakes – including when I let others hurt my feelings or aggravate me. Sometimes I think (to get off topic here) letting others aggravate me and thinking a lot about it links to a strong idea of what is right or wrong – an expectation for others (usually strangers) to behave as I expect. That same expectation extends to myself, making me an incredibly harsh judge of everyone’s character. A little compassion for someone, especially myself, would be well-advised. Noah Levine has it right. But more so, a little compassion for others is something I need to help myself; an acknowledgment that their “bubble” might be a little gloomy or moody or snippy at the moment… and to let them just cruise on by without too much concern on my part. How do they describe it? If I were on a river and a speed boat raced by, generating a huge wake… if I allow my boat to float with the turmoil, rather than fight it, eventually the wake will settle and I will not have exhausted myself by fighting the aftermath of something that has already passed by and didn’t concern me in the first place.

      Wow! Totally off topic – but isn’t this the nature of “being?” Like a web that continually connects to all other things… Thanks again Ann – like I said, your words: so thought provoking!!


  3. I was impressed by the quote that Ann had in her response (above): “You can let people into your heart and not let them into your house.” That says, succinctly, my attitude in my dealings with people in retail sales. I let people have an effect in my life, to a certain degree. We talk, and I share something of myself with them, and learn things about them. But I still keep a great deal of my life private and unavailable to them. I can be very pleasant and friendly to them; if they lived right next to my house, I would not be so friendly, perhaps, because the usual boundaries, of my house and private life being separate, would not be there. Everyone has their own “space” in which they are comfortable, and share that space carefully with others. (A little off the subject, but I loved that quote.)

    • So true isn’t it? I, too, am surprised at how easy it is to connect with others but yet still hold them at a distance when necessary. … Aren’t we lucky to have those with whom we can keep near? 🙂

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