Never Mess With Other People's Feelings (From A Sad Man Who Has)

Photo: Serge Bielanko
Never F*ck With Other People's Emotions

Tip of the day: Don't mess with other people's feelings. 

I've done that. It gets you nowhere. You feel insanely good for like ten to fifteen seconds while you're doing it — while you're pushing their buttons or putting them down — but then, POOF. You crash.

The smoke and mirrors shatter to the ground and you're left standing there feeling like some 1980s-era cokehead. You end up tired and remorseful; you wind up weepy and twitchy and looking for a friend, preferably one with a couch you can crash on. 

Why are so many of us afraid to admit we're such egotistical, self-loathing pricks? Why do I know so many people who seem to get off a little on the rush of playing with other people's emotions? What could possibly be behind the inimitable human characteristic of hurting others in order to make ourselves feel a tiny bit better?

Hold my hand and walk with me down into the Garden of Obvious Knowledge You're Just Too Banged Up and Self-Centered to See. 

First, you have to admit immediate gratification feels so right. It just does. But still, our lives are human lives and not raccoon lives or fruit fly lives because of a few general principles that are the basis for our existence. The first (and most critical) is that human beings aren't are supposed to walk around half-cocked, reacting impulsively all the time.

People mess with other people's feelings because they've been exposed to that sort of behavioral reaction since the day they were born. In fact, it's the most plausible excuse anyone could possibly dream up. 

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"I was raised liked this. I was BORN into a world where jabs and insults and blaming others for the way I feel is the way it goes." 

As much as I'd like to say that statement there is ridiculous as hell, the truth is that it holds water. We ARE born into a pretty crappy civilization in which humans psychologically attack their fellow humans on an everyday basis.

You, me, the dude sitting three feet from you in the coffee shop or in the bar or at work — each of us could lay out a list of people we know who have been cruel or vindictive with their words or actions. We wouldn't have to rack our brains.

So ... why? Why are we so prone to making ourselves feel better by setting a little fire to someone else's existence?

Well, you can go ahead and blame your past for a lot of it, lame as that sounds. After all, we're all just gross blobs of clay that came from some other blob of clay. So it makes good sense that a lot of our own weaknesses and failures are probably rooted in some yesteryear clay blob's hot mess. 

Take me, for example. I was born with this un-superpower to be a raging jerk. But it wasn't all my fault. (No, I won't stoop so low as to pawn my own human inadequacies off on my disgruntled ancestors or my poisoned bloodlines. It's just that ... OK, screw it. I'm blaming some of this on genetics.)

I'm sure there were a few hundred of my distant (or not-so-distant) relatives who came before me who were even bigger douchebags than me. And they never changed their tunes. They didn't tinker around with mindfulness or Zoloft or any of this stuff we all stare at today. 

They had whiskey. And maybe a fat wad of licorice. (That's all people had not long ago to help them feel better about life.) I don't think it's unusual or wrong to start out on your own path of trying to be a better person than by starting with your past.

First you have to admit that you're at least somewhat of a hurtful jerk. Then you simply dig just a tiny way down into the jerk dirt and guess what? Well, lookie there. Skulls.

Skulls of other jerks. Proof positive our past has been peppered and soiled by the jerk we became long before we were even born.

Think about it. You think people were calmer or gentler or nicer in the olden days? Oh, hell no. You ever watch Deadwood? Or read Shakespeare? I'm sure if any of us could spend ten minutes with some ancestor who walked this Earth before us, we'd end up being all like, "Goddamn! That old farm lady putting jars of pickled piss berries up on that shelf in her cabin was my grandmother's grandmother? No wonder we've all been crazy since her. She was the nastiest slice of Bitch Pie I've ever even whiffed!"

It's all fine and good to imagine there was a better time to be a human being. It's comforting, maybe even inspiring in some strange way, to allow history to nuzzle up to our exhausted asses, to purr Little House on the Prairie buffalo crap all over our jaded lives.

Don't get me wrong: I love history as much as the next guy but I've read enough of it to know better than to think that Vikings or peasants or cowboys were any better off psychologically than me or you today.

But all that said, where does that get us? Nowhere really. Because it's just the beginning. Understanding that we're perhaps preprogrammed to hurt others when (or even before) they hurt us is important. But it's got it's limitations. The perpetual blame game has to end somewhere.

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Breaking hurtful habits is hard. Trust me. I've been through a ton the last few years and in a lot of ways, it took some serious bottoming out emotionally to lead me to the strange place I find myself in today.

I've got anger; I've got rage inside of me toward certain people that could power Manhattan for years if I could figure out how to harness that sh*t. But I can't. So I find myself, at 44, needing to get rid of so much excess steam. Otherwise, I honestly think I would die.

I'd be driving down the road and burst into flames if I kept this heat inside me anymore. And I don't want to go that route. I've been an angry young man. But I ain't young any more. I've got no time for anger.

What do I do then? First, I try and catch myself in the middle of every sarcastic or vengeful thought I have. (It's exhausting.) Probably 88 percent of my thoughts start out as some kind of insane Hollywood revenge script in which I'm Walter White bringing down the fantastical hammers of fist-pumping glory on every SOB I've ever known.

So that takes a lot of work right there, but the more I've practiced having this kind of discourse with myself, the easier it's gotten for me to control the end game. 

Put simply: I talk myself out of being a dick. And by doing that, I avoid the often unpleasant ramifications of Dick Life. (Do I ever wish I could just go off and be a raging jerk again? Of course, I do. All. The. Time. But I know how that always ends up. And the quick rush that soon sours holds no interest for me anymore.) 

Something else I do in my little everyday war against hurting other people's feelings is (and this is kind of embarrassing): I think about my image. As superficial and ego-driven as that may sound, I've found it to be wildly helpful.

I try and picture myself as a character in this whole motion picture of my life. 

He's 44, divorced, not Brad Pitt hot but not half-bad, and he's kind of depressed but he's battling back the best he can by loving his three little kids and writing half-decent stuff about parenting and relationships and love on the internet for a living.

He's not setting the world on fire or even his own block, but c'mon. You're not predisposed to hating this guy's guts from the opening credits where he appears, driving in his car down some big sky valley listening to this one song by the The Killers. The guy, he's not a jerk right out of the shoot. He plays in a band with his brother and he's a pretty good bro and a pretty cool son to his mom.

So what happens to this dude? Does he find love? Does he write a book and find glory? You, the viewer/the popcorn eater, watch him moving through a series of his days (just like I end up doing all the time), so there's this brief chance for him to show you he's worth rooting for.

That's how I see myself now. I've got a little window every damn day to try and pull my character through without having him hurt other people. Can I do that? Can he

On the days when I manage to not hurt anyone, holy crap it feel fantastic. I escape the day with my integrity still intact. I lay down and rest easy knowing there isn't anyone out there wishing scorpions in my beer. I'm able to pass out thinking I lived right.

Last thing I do? I drive with the windows down every time I start to lose my mind. And that's pretty much all the time. I crank my music. I crank my Cure, my Oasis. I crank my Radiohead and I crank my Miles Davis and I crank my Killers, or my Bill Monroe or my Billie Holiday, and I roll those windows down even if it's snowing. And I stare at the sky and I remember that everything that's occurring to me in the heat of my dilapidated moment, it'll all be gone tomorrow. If I let it blow away, that is. And so I do. 

I crank my music and let the wind gush through my face, and so much of what I wanted to say just blows away forever. 

Roll credits. The End. 

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Serge Bielanko is a writer and musician who has been published on Babble, Huffington Post,, Yahoo, and more. Visit his website for more of his work.