Don't worry, it's not you.
"Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assh*les." —William Gibson
When I saw this quote on a friend's Facebook wall, I laughed out loud with delight and recognition. It hit me on a subconscious level. Why did I like it so much? I couldn't tell you. It even seemed wrong that I, a psychologist, would like the idea of blaming depression on others. And then there was the swearing bit.
But I did like it — a lot. Enough to share it on my Facebook wall. And others liked it — a lot. And I started asking myself, what is going on here?
People clearly related to this quote just like I did. I started thinking of my own life experience. How many times did the behavior of others effect how I felt about myself? How many times did I have to leave relationships because of the damage they were doing to my self-esteem?
The different ways people can be assh*les are infinite.
If people in your life match these three traits top qualities for assh*le-ness, the problem may not be your self-esteem or depression!
1. Assholes are happy in their stupidity.
And by stupid I don't mean unintelligent. Not being smart all the time can't be helped. No one can know everything about everything. I know nothing about fly-fishing except that it looks pretty when it's done right. Would I assume to teach someone, anyone, about fly-fishing? No. But that doesn't stop the assh*le.
The assh*le is deliberately, obtusely dumb and happy in their stupidity. Knowing nothing about fly-fishing doesn't stop them from lecturing you as if they were a prize-winning angler.
2. Assholes are loud and obnoxious.
Can an assh*le be quiet and shy? Maybe, but not in my experience. Most a-holes aren't interested in the give and take of conversation. They monologue, take-over, shout, get into your personal space, and don't even realize they're doing it. Or maybe they do it on purpose to intimidate. Either way, not nice.
3. Assholes are selfish bullies.
Selfish is NOT the same a self-caring. The assh*le is self-centered in a way that's exclusive. The feelings, thoughts, input or contribution of others is minimized, cast aside, even ridiculed, in order to pump up their own sense of self-worth. It's sad really, if it didn't come with the stupidity and the loudness.
So why do assh*les make us feel depressed? If we're exposed repeatedly to assh*les, they can wear on our self-esteem.
Most of us are reared to be nice. Being nice means listening to others, sharing a conversation, pointing out the other person's good qualities, and reasonably expecting the other person to reciprocate. We respect others' opinions even if they aren't shared. We generally defer to authority. Nice people are slow to anger and tend to emphasize the positive (for everyone else, anyway).
Assh*les, however, make us feel like dopes for being nice. At first we might get angry, and if the assh*le is someone we only see once in a while we can be angry and get over it quickly. But if they're someone we see everyday at work or school, maintaining anger is very difficult.
Where do we find assh*oles? You can find them everywhere: at school, socially in your circle of friends, at church, at work and in the family.
And here's what you can do about them:
- Be honest with yourself. Give yourself permission to see the situation for what it is. Once you've identified that there's a person in your life who's harming you emotionally, you can begin the work of getting your self-esteem back.
- Take action. Taking action is what's important. Even if you can't change the relationship because the assh*le is your brother, you can still take action.
- Reduce your exposure. The action you choose to take may be to stop seeing that person, request a transfer to another office, or calling them less frequently. In extreme cases, you may decide you need to break up with them altogether.
- Put into place healthy self-care strategies. That means keeping an eye on your sleep, eating and exercise habits. Spend time with people (and animals) you can count on that make you feel good about yourself.
- Find a support system. Whether it's a therapist or a close friend, find someone who can help guide you through your assh*le recovery. If the damage done by assh*le exposure is deep, the journey to robust emotional health can be complicated. Be strong and get help.
Now that you know how to identify an assh*ole when you see them, it's time to pull yourself out of your feelings of depression and sadness, and live a life free of these toxic people.
This article was originally published at Explore What's Next. Reprinted with permission from the author.