Mean People

I’m not sure how to deal with mean people.

When I was younger, I was taught to pretend mean comments and mean people did not affect me. When the fourth grade bully (whose mother happened to be a kindergarten teacher at the school) called me names, my parents told me to pretend the names did not bother me with the rationale that if a bully thinks he or she does not have as much power over you, maybe he or she will stop being such a jerk.

I was also one of those kids whose faces turned bright red when I was embarrassed. It would bother me when people commented on my face turning lobster colored, and I was coached to distract myself from the feelings so that people would not have so much power over me.

At home, I would cry if my older sister snapped at me, and she would mock me for being so sensitive.

In these and many other instances, I learned to keep my emotional responses to unfair treatment to myself. Learning to numb out my emotions contributed to the later development of my eating disorder. Eventually, I could not even identify when I was treated unfairly because I was so used to pretending like everything was ok. I was proud of being non-confrontational and compliant. I was happy that I got along with nearly everyone, even though I spent a lot of time and energy pushing down my own personality and responses. It has taken a lot of work for me to access my emotional responses again and to start allowing myself to feel my emotions in the moment that they first arise (instead of playing whac-a-mole to eliminate them).

Now, I have two conflicting responses to mean people. My first, default response, is to blame myself when people are mean to me. I must have inspired the person to be mean to me by stepping out of bounds or doing something wrong. So, I try to crawl into my turtle shell and respond with a smile of submission. My newer response is to get angry. I want to tell mean people to “shut the F up” and leave me alone or to at least flip them off or something along that spectrum. But, I do not like that angry side of me. I dislike it when people shout at me or flip me off, and I do not want to treat people that way. I need to find some middle ground between shutting myself up completely and wanting to make the mean people shut up.

There is one such bully on my dance team and I cannot wait until we have our final performance (Thanksgiving weekend) so that I will no longer have to interact with her. It makes me sad that interacting with her has so strongly interfered with my enjoyment of being on the team. She just so happens to be the self-appointed team captain (we have coaches who are waaay better dancers than her, but she still thinks she knows better) who takes it upon herself to harass the other dancers during practice. Sometimes, when the entire team is practicing, she just sits there watching us, barking out orders, and reminding us that “no one is doing it right.” Then, when she does practice with the team, she adds styling that does not match what our coaches instructed us to do even though she is the first to remind everyone else that they need to match (if dancers do not match well enough in a choreographed routine, they do not look cohesive). I would not mind listening to her dance advice if she more consistently had good suggestions, but the coaches often end up disagreeing with her corrections. When I recently messed up on a dance move, and was self-aware that I had made a mistake, she went out of her way to remind me of the mistake multiple times, emphasizing that it was like I was in outer space with how far off I was from where I needed to be. Then, every time we practiced that move during practice, she would shout a reminder at me. I would inevitably mess up the subsequent move under the stress of her negative energy. I do not need that kind of exaggerated negative feedback. If I disagree with her, she puffs out her chest and challenges me, her tone becoming increasingly fierce, as if she is going to blow fire at me. In the early days, I would just smile and nod at her, as had been my default for years before and throughout my eating disorder. Some months ago, I would talk back to her when I disagreed with her, which only inspired her to be brattier. In recent weeks, I have started responding to her by just looking at her, acknowledging that she said something to me, without answering verbally. Nothing really seems to be working, and as our team gets closer and closer to performing and I am closer and closer to being done with our bratty team captain, I dread each practice all the more. I know she is not the last bully I will encounter, and I wish I could fully use the experience to practice dealing with bullies more effectively, but for now, I will just be thankful when Thanksgiving (and our performance) is over.

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