Aaron R. Davis
Great question! I can tell by the tone and demeanor of your question that you’ve worked with people with mental disorders before!
No, no, seriously, that’s a very interesting question. Let’s look at this. “Why do you give other people the power to make you feel bad?”
Let me answer your question with a question of my own. Ready?
Why is it people only ask this question as a way to absolve themselves of the responsibility of how they interact with people?
I think that’s a legitimate question. You see it all the time. Someone does the worst thing one can possibly do on the Internet and states an honest opinion. Now, there are a few ways to deal with this fractious event. Let’s think about them.
One: you could ignore it. After all, it’s probably something that’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, like a different subjective opinion of a piece of entertainment or a profession of a favorite food or an endorsement of a particular lifestyle that you don’t share, but which is no threat to you and hasn’t even been politicized. What does it matter to you?
Two: genuinely confused as to why that person liked that thing or ate that thing for breakfast or why they decided to paint their house that way, you could politely, in an attempt to understand, or even in the spirit of genuine interest, ask why that person did that thing. It’s not like there’s a right or a wrong bowl to eat cereal out of. Out of general curiosity, why did you choose that one? Hey, if that’s what struck you, be cool about it and ask why.
Three: secure in the knowledge that everything you do is always the right way to think, live and behave, thunder into the comments section and demand an explanation for why this subhuman would diminish their own existence and the entirety of human civilization up until this moment by daring — DARING — to spit in your face by liking that food that you don’t think is healthy. Like an angry toddler, you declare: “I don’t get it! I don’t get it!” and scream incoherently, belittling that person to the point where you are deliberately ignoring ever-more-desperate conversational cues to get you to shut your fucking asshole mouth, densely refusing to quit the conversation until you’ve made that person feel bad about themselves for liking anything, for saying anything about it and for even bothering to learn to read. Surgically removing any joy they once held in the thing they mentioned and giving it nothing but negative connotations for them, smugly proud that you have made them hate something you hate, you smile to yourself, thinking you’ve actually changed the world in some way, I assume.
Now, ignoring the fiction that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, I’m just going to tell you flat out: one of these ways is wrong.
The third one. It’s the third one.
Don’t do that.
And if you can’t stop yourself from doing that … if being a total asshole is something you have no control over … do not, and I really mean this, do not then finally lower yourself to notice the feelings of the person you emotionally devastated and then ask: “Why do you give other people the power to make you feel bad?”
That is not a question a human being asks.
I get what it’s supposed to mean: have a thicker skin. Don’t take criticism so personally.
But that assumes that what you said was an actual criticism or an attempt to understand, and not a personal attack. So here’s what it means when you use it in this context: I made you feel like shit for my own selfish emotional reasons and how dare you make me feel bad about that? You should know there are assholes in the world and if you can’t take it, that’s not my fault, even though, you know, the whole point of this was to make you feel bad. That doesn’t mean I deserve to feel bad, you jerk!
You know what this is? It’s blaming the victim. No, it’s even worse than that. It’s blaming your victim. “Stop feeling bad that I victimized you! It’s bumming me out!”
Look, I know that I have mental and emotional disorders that make it hard for me to interact with people. But there have been times in my life when I’ve been balanced and had clarity, and I hated this slimy self-justification then, too. Everyone does. Well, except for the assholes who think it actually excuses their asshole behavior.
I’m sick of this shit where we tell children to toughen up and not feel their feelings so deeply because feelings make you weak and vulnerable and people can use them to hurt you. I don’t believe that. What you do then is normalize bullying. You’re telling kids that bullies can’t be stopped and we should just stop leading them on with our sensitive pheromones. Yeah, that’s well-adjusted.
How about we grow the fuck up and start teaching children not to treat other people that way in the first place? That what diminishes you as a human being is not when someone listens to a band you despise, but taking that personally and belittling them over a meaningless matter of personal taste?
Don’t teach me not to have emotions. I’m not the one deliberately trying to hurt someone because of them. And I’m not the one pretending it’s constructive criticism. And I’m sure as hell not the one telling anyone it’s their fault for letting me do it to them in the first place.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org