I am a victim of the good girl/boy syndrome and off late I have realised it is not to be taken lightly. We live in a narcissistic society, where most people are self appointed judges and take it upon themselves to dictate the rest. It is subtle and hence most of the time we let it slip by, telling ourselves it’s not worth the fight. But we are left with a lingering anger for not having stood up for yourself. It is not the matter of stroking the ego, this syndrome is when we have ignored our ego for too long and squashed it and are at times unable to comprehend an insult until much later. It is far more common than we think, and as I realised today when a few friends shared their experiences with me.
Expressing our emotions is something we must encourage and strive towards, it is so important for mental health. People might say what good does it do, to let it go and maybe at times that is correct but not always, we brew these lost chances at good comebacks and it hurts us more than we can imagine.The boomers and early millennials understand this better, the gen Z is oblivious because they can & do speak their minds, sometimes more than they should ;-).
Let me elaborate, I am referring to conversations, feedback and comments passed out as veiled insults, it may be at a restaurant, a rude waiter, a colleague, a peer, a nosy neighbour or a relative or even a friend. Especially when you have something important to share or say and the other person dismisses your opinion altogether and you just do not protest. We have been trained to be such good girls and boys that we subconsciously stop ourselves from expressing how we feel.
I had a colleague once who was jealous that I received an award and he walked up to me as I was exiting the stage, and tried to intimidate me. He said I didn’t deserve this award and he would ensure I will not get the next. This was cleverly masked with a grin and a happy tone of voice. To give some more visuals, this guy is almost 6ft tall and I am 5ft3, I was furious and could not react in time, and watched him walk away, smirking.I was seething with rage, I had worked my ass off on the project and deserved a lot more. I decided I would not let him get away with talking to me this way. When I confided in a senior, I realised that he wanted to politicise this issue for his own gain. That is when I realised it is my job to stand up for myself. I could have brushed it off externally and ignored it but it was about my self worth. I called him up after sometime and confronted him, like any predictable bully, he tried convincing me that I was being over sensitive, that I should not let things bother me, that how he hates talking to women because they are too sensitive, I listened to him but blocked his every statement and refused to let go. I kept bringing him back to the subject, he kept deflecting it, until he realised, I am not going to let go. That is when he accepted and apologised and I forgave him. I pointed out to him that I have the right to feel what I feel and that if we are to work together I need to know I am respected. I clearly told him his intention doesn’t matter to me, he may have never intended it but still does not change the fact on how I felt post that conversation. I was proud of myself for having the courage to confront and not fight or make it bitter, yet have the ability to not let a bully get away. Post that conversation I noticed he actually started treating me better, he respected me a bit more.
Lesson 1 – “Never let anyone tell you that you are being too sensitive or that you must not feel a certain way. Feelings are exactly that, and you have every right to feel a certain way.”Pooja Damle
Lesson 2 – “You need to teach people how to treat you, no one can read your mind but everyone can read your actions and energy”Pooja Damle
That day I stood up for myself, it may seem like a small thing to someone who does not have the good girl/boy syndrome but trust me for most of us it takes courage. People treat you the way you allow them to treat you. If you do not voice out what bothers you, people will continue to treat you the same way. You will be amazed at how insecure bullies are, and even voicing out your feelings once can help you have a better relationship with them. The point is not to antagonize people, we need to learn to work and live with everyone in harmony yet not let ourselves be trampled on. Remember why you are voicing out, not to belittle the other person, the other person has nothing to do with it actually, it is for your own sake, for your own self worth and for your own self respect. How the others take it is not your concern and most of the time they learn to respect you.
More common examples are in the service industry, be it hotels, spas, restaurants, malls, shops etc. We have all heard the famous story, when a store refused to sell to Oprah, before she had become The Oprah. So it is not just you and me, famous people face it too. Maybe a waiter/server is rude, a salesman passes his unwanted remarks, a colleague talks over you in a meeting, etc. It is not always in words, actions too at times are insulting and dismissive, stand up for yourself. Be dignified about it, do not yell, or create a scene, the calmer you are helps being more effective.
It can even be within close friends and family, where it is difficult to voice out, isn’t that ironic. A family and close friends must be a safe space to share, but unfortunately this sometimes becomes a space you are most judged. Your friends may keep teasing you over something repeatedly and dismiss your attempt to explain. They might call you sensitive and say things like “friends are supposed to tease” and so on. It is true that friends have a right to pull your leg, but the moment it starts affecting your inner self, put your foot down and keep repeating your point till they listen and are open to discussion. Even parents can be bullies without realizing it, they always think of us as 5 year olds and always define us the way they see us. You owe yourself to speak your mind, be mindful that you are not insulting and hurting anyone in the process. I know it sounds like a lot, but trust me as you practice it you will get a hang of it. I am still practicing and I still need time to think of smart comebacks but I refuse to let things linger inside. It can be even more challenging if you grew up with a narcissistic parent or sibling, you are so desensitised to insults it takes some practice to even recognise them let alone react.
I am a fan of “Downtown Abbey” a series on Amazon Prime, it is set in England in 1920s about an aristocratic family in a mansion with servants and all the dazzle. The character of the grandmother is amazing, she has the most awesome comeback lines ever. She is my aspiration for an alter ego ha ha ha. At times I feel all spiritual about this and say to myself the world is an illusion so what does it matter, I question if these insults and minor blows to my self worth are worth fighting cause, and I do dwell on looking at the larger picture. Then I remind myself, if I had reached that spiritual high I should not feel bad or get hurt at all and till I am, I am a mere mortal and mere mortals need to stand up for themselves and for their self worth. It all boils down to empowerment.
Self- empowerment, feeling good that you stood up to a bully (remember they come in all shapes, sizes and ages), that you are worth fighting for, that your opinion matters, that your feelings matter, that you are an important member of society and that means your voice matters.
Pick your battles, I will not recommend overplaying your card, but do voice out your feelings, the other person may or may not respond the way you want, but do speak up. Share your experience with others and you will be amazed at the support you receive, life is too short to let anything simmer inside. Here is hoping we move towards an emotionally mature society until then keep standing up for yourself.