Wednesday, February 22, 2006

unbearable and frustrating niceness

My mom jokes sometimes that she spent far too much time on the "nice" side of my personality, and not enough time on the "stick up for yourself" side. This has resulted in my almost total inability to talk back to people or return rudeness in the face of inappropriate behavior. To put it mildly, this sucks.

I lack the gene that would allow me to come back with an equally snide comment when someone behaves badly. Rather, I get shocked into silence. For some reason, every time a person (especially someone close to me) does something nasty or mean, I am surprised and stunned. I cannot tell you how many wasted hours of my life were spent revisiting a certain scene or conversation, with the perfect response on the tip of my tongue. I'll plan out what I'd say to the offender in my dream argument, but I'll never confront them again. I eventually just let it go.

There are moments when I think this is the better way to live, because in truth, on the few times that I have thought of a response in anger, I end up feeling guilty for hours later, even though logically I know that my answer was provoked. Besides, my extraordinarily angry comments would likely be on the meek end of the scale. I worry far too much about hurting the other person's feelings, and not enough on protecting myself.

When I have been on the tail end of another rude or hurtful statement, I curse myself for not talking back. I am a responsive and intelligent adult- I should be able to give it back. If I were to tell you that I plan to take a trip to Alaska, and your response is that Alaska is the stupidest place to go and that it is a waste of time and money for anyone to go to Alaska and you cannot believe that anyone does it- shouldn't I respond? Shouldn't I be able to say that your comment is rude? So why don't I? I'll just stare at you, again in shocked silence, and then stew in private. Obviously, this is just an example, but highlights the ridiculosity of my inability to speak up.

Do you think this is something you can learn? If so, I need lessons. I'm not sure if I can keep up my policy of distancing myself from people that hurt me. It works, but it takes so much effort. If only I could point out the rudeness, it would be far easier.

20 comments:

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Actually, I think Miss Manners would say that staring, aghast, at the person who made the rude comment is the most appropriate response. For some, it will shame them. For everyone else, he/she's a lost cause anyway and you don't want to even waste a spiffy comeback on him/her.

By the way, my off-the-cuff remark to the Alaska tool: The shocked and aghast look, followed by "Well, then, it's a good thing you're not invited on the trip... Asshole."

See? I was almost demure, but then I totally lost it and went uncouth, 100%. :-)

Girl said...

I'm not so sure you lack the ability to respond appropriatley at all. When I worked for the mouse, the equivalent of going back to high school, I found myself (after a very difficult situation) at the top of the popular crowd. I could badger and nip and quip with the best of them...but I never found anything other than surface level satisfaction in expressing myself this way (even though I was good and quick at it) because under it all, I was still the 'good-girl' that my parents raised and I knew better.

It's much better to know what you would have said after the fact (or even during the fact) than to have the unfortunate experience of bringing yourself down to someone elses level to say the perfect comeback.

Angie said...

I tend to respond the same much of the time. Later after the fuming mad has left me I am glad I didn't say anything. Emily Post would be proud of you.

halloweenlover said...

The problem is that some of these people do it OVER and OVER again. At some point, it becomes less miss manners, and more of getting walked on. Grrrr.

KathyR said...

Yeah. I'm Jeckyl/Hyde on this. Sometimes I avoid confrontation and sometimes I look for it.

I would say that 1/2 the times I've let out a satisfyingly cutting snarl, I've regretted it.

Of course, the other times were things of beauty...

Anne Glamore said...

I do think it's learned behavior as well. At some point in the last 10 years after dealing with health issues and kids, I got tired of the crap, and decided to let some people know it. Not rudely, but calling them on their rudeness.
Empowering!

Chatty Cricket said...

I'm tending to agree with APL on the "Miss Manners" approach to dealing with rude comments. I would suggest printing up a bunch of cards with "www.emilypost.com" on the front and "FYI" on the back. Then you can stare and follow the stare with a tip to a reference site.

Frankly, you and I both know what scenarios I replay over and over again and believe you me I have come up with some pretty hefty comebacks (in my head). To be quite honest, I sometimes prefer the "going over it in my head" approach because in my own head I'm always the smarter person who leaves the other one stammering in my wake. In reality though, I'd rather just be the bigger person, and walk away without getting dragged down to the others' level. Sometimes it's better not to dignify a stupid remark with response.

Suzanne said...

I'm similarly afflicted. I worry far too much about whether someone will be mad at me, so I tend to just keep my mouth shut.

One Mother's Journey said...

You can sign me up for those lessons also! Sometimes I'm still stewing days later kicking myself for what I didn't say back to someone who just blew me out of the water. Yet, my reactions is always the same the next time... stunned and silent. Uggh.

Nancy said...

I can't ever come up with a good comeback when I'm scorned -- but if someone dares to hurt a person I love, I am full of the venom. Wish I could defend myself as well as that.

Dawn said...

I KNOW this can be learned. Not for me, but in watching my buddy De-de. She was seriously the nicest person in the world. She was completely socialized this way.

After two years, I cross stiched her a little plaque with "WWDD?" ( What Would Dawn Do?") since she was moving into a supervisory role with alot of pressure. She has done beautifully.

I have the opposite issue. I often fail to realize that I have hurt someone's feelings. Not well hard wired into me at all.

jo(e) said...

When someone is rude to me, I am so surprised that I just stare at them. I can never think of anything to say because it takes me so long to grasp that the person is indeed being rude.

Over the years though, I have come to accept that the shocked stare ... especially if I just stand still and keep staring without saying a word ... can be very effective.

jo said...

I can't tell you how many times I have been in the same boat. Rarely I come up with a witty retort to let them know their comment stung, but most times I spend hours and hours after rolling around witty retorts in my head. Retorts that I felt I should have had at the ready.
I'm not so sure you can learn it. Polite was ingrained too deeply, and I really don't think that is such a bad thing, especially in the twon we live in. *wink wink*

ccw said...

I have the opposite problem. I find myself having to bite my tongue so that I do not say something that I will later regret.

I am certain there must be a way for you to learn to be more assertive when someone is rude to you without being so extreme that you are uncomfortable with your behavior.

Piece of Work said...

I'm the same way--and I go back and forth over whether I think this is a good or bad thing. On the one hand, I think being polite and well-mannered are dying skills that would be great to revive. On the other hand, I don't want to be taken advantage of. Still, I'm pretty proud to say that I've never hurt someone's feelings intentionally, and rarely unintentionally, nor have I been rude or behaved inappropriately, for the most part. Though, perhaps I have been walked over at times. You see? A conundrum.

Chris said...

I am the same way. I can never think of the a comenack because I am usually so shocked by rudeness. I always go out of my way NOT to offend people or make them feel uncomfortable.

If you figure this out, I have quite a few people I'd like to say things to. People who are "friends"

peripateticpolarbear said...

I'm not good at this either. And I stew and stew and stew after wards....not healthy. But I had a friend who had this uncanny ability to perfectly time a "can you repeat yourself, please?" and I noticed that every single time it embarassed the rude person...sometimes they were embarassed and arrogant and sometimes they'd change what they'd said, or say "what I meant was..." I never remember that trick when I need it, though.

liz said...

I do the shocked stare. Or sometimes the puzzled hurt puppy look (head cocked to the left, eyebrows crinkled, eyes and mouth droopy). That tends to work pretty well.

Kristin said...

I like peripateticpolarbear's advice ... another good one is to say, "What do you mean by that?" Or "Why do you say that?" I usually never think to use these, but I hear from the Mother-in-law Stories message boards that these work great. They make the rude person stumble and think about what they just said.

I think dealing with my MIL has actually helped me become a more assertive person. She's always saying some crazy-ass rude thing, and I've learned over time how to set her straight without being hateful. She, of course, probably sees things differently. :)

Still I often have the same problem as you with the mouth dropping open and the staring. I'm always shocked when people say something mean. It amazes me.

It's harder for me to stand up to some people than others. I've been getting pretty bold with the evil doctor's office lately, but then when I had a problem with someone at work, all I had the courage to do was get all passive-aggressive, which I then feel bad about later.

And the rare times I've actually told someone off in the moment, I've felt horrible about it for days afterward.

So at least you're not alone. Maybe you should found a school for the unassertive.

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