In part 1, we realised that being surrounded by assholes can have a significant effect on depression and low self-esteem.
Surely the next question is: how do we deal with assholes? What if you’re too shy/don’t like swearing/might get fired for telling them where to go? My own feeling is that dealing with assholes is a skill which you can hone and benefit you in a variety of situations. Here are a few strategies which won’t get you fired:
Try not to see offence when none was intended. What I’m about to say sounds a like victim blaming but stick with me because it is going somewhere. When you’re in a low place, it’s easy to feel upset or offended by trivial things. When I’m low, I can see meanings which aren’t there purely because of where I am mentally. When someone forgets to say good morning to you, the reality is that you probably haven’t done anything to upset them. Maybe they’re preoccupied about a row with their spouse or stressed because it took longer than it should have to get their kids out the door. Or (if they’re like me) the need at least 2 caffeinated drinks before conversation is possible. There’s always the chance they just didn’t hear you say hello. Challenge your negative thought patterns and see situations for what they are.
If you’ve challenged your thought patterns and the conclusion is that you were on the receiving end of an asshole, ask yourself if you’re dealing with a temporary or permanent asshole? We can’t completely excuse shitty behaviour but in certain circumstances a normally lovely person behave like a bit of an asshole. I tend to get irritable and snappy when my mood is low. I’m not like that normally and it’s in my crisis plan as a red flag for impeding mood changes. My husband has noticed the pattern that when I’m short tempered a drastic mood change usually follows (this can be up or down). Personally, it comes from a place of either not having the energy to make proper conversation or feeling so high that I’m irritated that the average person cannot follow the million ideas I’ve just crammed into one sentence. If you know a friend is having a crap time with their partner or stress at work and is normally otherwise lovely, a degree of a**hole behaviour can be much easier to tolerate when you know that normal service will be resumed shortly. When I think back (or am reminded of) my asshole behaviour during an episode I feel absolutely mortified. I can now accept that I’m not that person normally know I’m incredibly, incredibly lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who know that I’m not the real me when I’m ill. (Edit: same applies when I’m hungry as my good friends will testify, there was a particular occasion in America when 3 of us ladies had food mood at the same time. It nearly didn’t end well!)
There can be situations where you are surrounded by permanent a**holes. I have one particular friend (I won’t name) who has been in a toxic work environment with a culture of general asshole behaviour. When this behavious is tolerated and even demonstrated by those in power, negativity and poor treatment filters down and those eager to progress in the workplace will try to emulate the behaviour of the more successful asshole bosses. When you’re in this toxic place, you face long-term erosion of your self-esteem or even worse, the possibility that you may turn into an asshole yourself. It isn’t easy to escape when you’ve got bills to pay or worked hard in your career and don’t want to lose a good position. If you’re in this situation you need to seriously bolster your self-esteem. Throw yourself into activities which make you feel good outside of work. Avoid socialising with assholes outside of work and when you are at work and forced to interact with assholes keep it polite and professional. Share stories of your favourite workplace asshole with close friends. It can make for interesting entertainment when you turn up for dinner and say: “You’ll never guess what that asshole did today.” Oh but please use a fake name, it’s a small world and your friend may not take kindly to you telling her what a twat her cousin Barbara is.
My next suggestion probably isn’t one to try when you feel particularly low but is a useful strategy for future dealings with assholes. Call them out on their behaviour. It’s tempting to imagine standing up in a meeting and shouting: “Stop being such a twat Gerald,” but a more low key approach will probably be better. Politely confront the asshole, tell them you were upset by their behaviour. It’s okay to let them know you won’t accept being spoken to or treated in an unacceptable way. While I’m at it, don’t let people make excuses for others asshole behaviour. Comments like “She’s not being nasty, she’s like that with everyone,” or “He’s not rude, he tells it like it is,” are simply another way of saying “Yeah, he’s a complete asshole but we tolerate it.” Everyone else might be too afraid to stand up to an asshole but why should you?
My favourite (and final suggestion) was touched upon by Alex who commented on part 1 of this post: feel empathy for assholes. Imagine that your life is so miserable you need to be unkind to others to make yourself feel better. Or imagine what it’s like to be a fully grown adult and unable to express your thoughts and opinions in a mature way. If you know a grown adult who is incapable of expressing themselves constructively and resorts to shouting and screaming to get their way, you have to wonder about the life they have had so far. Chances are it hasn’t been pleasant. I hear you saying “well Emma I know lots of people who’ve had a shitty set of circumstances and managed not to turn into complete asshats!”. Yep, I hear you there and it’s worth remembering that even if you have had a shitty time, when you’re a grown adult you can choose to carry on behaving in a shitty way or you can address your behaviour through the right channels like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling.
Bottom line is, asshole awareness is an important part of life and learning to deal with assholes is a useful weapon in the fight against mental ill health. Oh and if someone could count the number of time I’ve said assholes in this post, feel free to comment. I owe the swear jar a LOT of money…