Because I talk to folks about recovery a lot, I run across issues with self-esteem (in addition to my own). It’s not unusual to find situations where someone is obsessed with a remark they heard and blew all out of proportion by projecting their own fear onto it. Often these are comments that the offended party perceived to be “rude” and regarding which they believe that they are entitled to an apology. (Translation: “My self-esteem is damaged and I have to shore it up in any way possible without threatening it any further, therefore it’s the other person’s job to fix it.”)
I try to point out that everyone is rude on occasion, for a variety of reasons, and that even though some people behave like jackasses a good deal of the time it doesn’t mean that we have to give their remarks any more than minimal weight. I often mention that what other people think, even about us, is really none of our business. That doesn’t usually penetrate far, at least at first.
I’ve seen this a lot over the years. Some folks just don’t understand that (a.) we can’t control what people think about us, or what information about their lives they choose to share with us; (b.) that those things really are none of our business; and that (c.) we aren’t “entitled” to anything, outside of a legal framework. Our entitlements are strictly in our own heads. You get a lot of push-back when you say that to folks, but consider . . .
How can I be entitled to know what goes on in your head? How can that possibly be any business of mine? Do I have some sort of right to know? Can I just walk up to you and say, “Hey! I demand to know what you think of me!” Can I sue you if you don’t tell me? Can I say, “What’s been going on in your life and why didn’t you share it with me,” and expect a detailed response? Sure I can, but — expectations or not — I probably won’t get a straight answer. If you tell me anything after such rude demands it will be only what you think is my business. If I’ve annoyed you sufficiently that may include what you’re thinking at that moment, which most likely won’t be something I want to hear. You will say what pleases you depending upon your preferences at the time — just as I would. If you are sick enough, you may even try to turn it around and make it all about me.
Of course, you aren’t that sick. You have your personal boundaries, just as (presumably) I do. Even if you “spill the beans” it’s not likely to be accurate anyway, because we all withhold information — consciously or otherwise — in order to protect our egos and keep peace with those around us. The little bubbles of personal privacy that we build in those ways are the only way we’re able to get along with other people at all.
NO ONE wants total frankness from anyone! Let’s say you decide to lovingly tell me what you really think. I’m an addict; you can tell me 99 things about me that you think are wonderful, but if you happen to mention that you were sitting next to me at a meeting six months ago and it seemed that I might have needed a stronger deodorant, the only thing I’m going to remember is that you think I stink.
Or, let’s say you tell me 99 things that you dislike about me. My denial will kick in to protect what little self-esteem I’ve got, and I’ll decide that you are an asshole, and why should I care what you think anyway. You’re clearly full of crap.
We need to understand that people have moods; they have their own problems, their own mental and emotional issues, and their own stressors. The way I react to my cat if he jumps on my lap when I’m trying to hash out a problem with my writing is likely to be far different from my behavior if he arrives while I’m gazing out the window at the lake and contemplating nature’s wonders.
Folks are rude sometimes, intentionally or otherwise. Some folks are rude a lot. Some of the rudest of us, because it’s a subtle form of rudeness, are those who believe they are entitled, because they use anger and guilt to attempt to get their way. The easiest way to handle people like that is to stay away from the until they’ve settled down, or just avoid them as much as possible. Entitled, intrusive people have a lot of trouble making and keeping friends, as we might expect.
When we feel that we have been dissed, in whatever way, we can’t change the damage to our self-esteem, but we do have choices about how we deal with it. We can choose to look at reality and accept that others are never going to give us everything we want because they can’t. Our wants are our problem, not theirs. They can’t fix us even if they want to because, as Buddhists say, “Life is an inside job.” Optionally, we can make little molehills into mountains and spend a lot of time trying to unsuccessfully sculpt other people into our idea of The Way Things Ought To Be instead of walking around our self-built mountain and getting on with our recovery.
The solution to unhappiness of any kind is all about us. “Accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can” is not just something we say before or after meetings, it’s a way of life. Recovery isn’t about changing other people; it’s about saving our own asses.