I would have found a less-vulgar title, but those were the words that a crisis counsellor used that completely changed the way I look at the world.
Let’s back up…
See this girl? That’s me. Age 4. I was the kid that never stood up for herself on the playground, and that’s how I got the black eye. From even the tenderest age I felt that it was more important to be liked than to be respected. Having a friend was the most important thing in the world to me, and I would do anything to be included.
The black eye was only the beginning. Fast forward ten years: push my essay aside to review someone else’s? Ok! Fast forward 20 years: sit around waiting for 40 minutes for a lunch date? No problem! As long as they show up, I’m good! Stay quiet when an employee under my supervision does something a tad unethical? Mums the word as long as I have someone to hang with on the weekend! Later on I was told I wasn’t good enough to date someone and I spent five fruitless years trying to prove I was and trying to MAKE those people like me.
It took me a long time to realize that the only people who want a sycophant for a friend are narcissists. They are happy to take all you have to give and return nothing in kind. I also learned that nearly 40 years of being weak and trying to fit into everyone else’s world lands you in a mental hospital. The anxiety I felt in every situation and having zero confidence in my abilities left me with the panic attacks I fight to this day.
Part of my treatment at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) was cognitive behavioural therapy. As I sat with the therapist, my hands trembling and full of wet kleenexes, I saw her rolling her eyes. ROLLING HER EYES. That’s odd, I thought. The crisis management team was supposed to pat my hand and tell me I’d be okay.
She heard me out and sat back in her chair, head cocked to one side and held her pen like a cigarette. “When was the last time you told anyone to fuck right off?” she asked.
The tears turned to all-out laughter, but she wasn’t joking.
She said that I had grown accustomed to being a victim. The sensitive nature I was born with worked to my advantage in funeral service, but the vaguest slight or confrontation in any form made me crumble to pieces. I was too preoccupied with making everyone else happy, not ruffling feathers, never speaking up. In every case where I was the victim, the kindest response to myself would have been to look the person straight in the eye and tell them…well, you get the idea.
It’s a hard-edged approach, one that took me months to adopt. I think learning to write with my non-dominant hand would have been easier to accomplish, as my default mode is “People Pleaser” and “Please Like Me I’ll Do Anything”. However, I’m a pretty big rule-follower and doctor’s orders being what they are, I took a step back. I had new rules to follow for the every-day: no more chasing after people trying to make them like me; no more brooding over people’s actions or inaction; no more being affected by bad moods, or thoughtless people. It’s really not realistic for me to go around telling people to eff off, so I’ve cultivated some confidence and have totally disengaged with thoughtless, unkind people. My circle of friends is small – TINY, in fact – but they are the best kind of people. They are inclusive, funny, and, above all, kind. It’s easy to be with them, and I leave their company feeling both relaxed and energized. All the energy I was devoting to agonizing and hoping and wondering about people, I now spend performing random acts of kindness and writing about ways to lead a kind and gentle life. The black curtain that shrouded my mind has been opened and I’m enjoying a new-found clarity.
I am ashamed at the years I wasted and, God, how I wish life came with a reset button. Perhaps the closest thing we have to re-doing our lives is having children, and teaching these children the things that escaped us. As “fuck off” is a bit strong for the under-18s, I have another suggestion. Tell them to look the offender in the eye, smile, and say “I don’t think so”, “no”, or “ugh, whatever”. Tell them they are worthy of a happy life and that happiness will escape them if they rely on others for their sense of self worth. Make good choices, be kind, and, yes, occasionally tell someone to f$%$ right off.