The Myth Of “Nobody Can Make You Feel Bad Without Your Permission”
There’s a common sentiment that goes, “Nobody can make you feel bad without your permission” – generally trotted out when someone’s been hurt by a mean thing that someone said.
The idea, I believe, is that we are all rational, robot-like beings who can control our emotions – and thus if we get upset by someone’s assholic statements, we have chosen to be upset. We could have shrugged it off instead.
Problem is, people don’t work that way.
Now, first off, “shrugging off other people’s insults and accusations” is a learned skill. If you’ve ever raised a kid, you know most of them don’t come pre-baked with the “Eh, whatever” switch – if you yell at them, they cry. If other kids make fun of them, they get upset. Actually placing the “Okay, they’re mocking you, but do you respect their opinion?” switch in place is a process that takes years, requires a healthy ego on the kid’s part, and isn’t 100% successful.
So expecting everyone to have that skill is kinda jerky. Admittedly, it’s a vital skill that everyone should actively cultivate – without it, abusers can emotionally manipulate you into the most awful of situations by pressing your “guilt” button whenever you complain about valid stuff.
But not everyone had nice parents. Not everyone’s discovered how to interrupt their emotions with logic. And as such, sneering, “Well, you chose to feel bad”isn’t actually true. They have yet to develop a barrier between the onrush of primal feelings and the rationality to say, “Wait, no, that’s actually something I shouldn’t feel.”
You might want to start that long discussion of how to get to the point where they can shove off that tidal wave of sadness with a cold freeze of logic… but that’s not how this is used. Instead, the “Nobody can make you feel bad…” argument is generally wielded as a club to make it the victim’s fault when someone decided to be an asshole at them.
Yet hey! What about me? I’ve been on the Internets for years. I’ve received death threats. I’ve had hundreds of blog-entries devoted to what a jerk I am, entire forum-threads of vitriol. Some people loathe me personally, and they’ve never met me – and yet I’m still posting my opinions daily.
So as one of the most thick-skinned people I know, I clearly understand how nobody can make me feel bad without my permission, right? Otherwise I’d just be shivering in a closet.
What I know is that I can shut down those bad feelings that come when someone chucks a nastygram in my direction – but it takes me effort to do so.
I think of it as walking to the store. Under normal circumstances, I’ll get to where I’m going. But with the right insult, some asshole can drop a fifty-pound weight in my backpack. I’ll still get to the store, but thanks to their jerktasticness, it’s a fuck of a lot more effort.
And if I was low on energy that day? Or in a rush to get somewhere?
Lord, those insults can fuck up my day, whether I wanted them to or not.
And that’s not me saying that human interaction should be scrubbed of all potentially harmful content. Some people do get butthurt incredibly easily, and I think there’s a point at which you have to make the decision that this person’s rigid boundaries are going to hem in your speech to unacceptable levels, and blow them off.
(Some people don’t read me because they’re offended by my swearing. I support their right to unfriend me in order to protect their sanity, but stopping? Fuck that noise.)
But when you say, “Well, nobody can make you feel bad without your permission!”, that sets up a world where you have no responsibility for your speech. Were you digging for weak spots, mocking to make a point? Oh, hey, well, you were trying your damndest to make them feel bad, but if it worked it’s their fault for not having sufficient defenses. It’s not 100% correlation, but when I see “Nobody can make you feel bad!” I usually find a taunting dillweed nearby, taking potshots from the brush and then claiming no responsibility.
No. You may not be able to make someone feel bad, but you sure as fuck can make them burn strength they were planning to use for other projects that day. So speak carefully. Try to be kind. And don’t be a dick unless it’s your last choice.
It won’t hurt to be a little nicer, man. I promise.