Pic by -mrsraggle-
I went through an irresponsible phase when I was around 19. My mother and sister had moved to New York and I was still in Sydney, trudging through a law degree and working as a retail pleb at an electronics store.
I had been a bit of a zombie since finishing high school, but over the course of the next year, things gradually ceased to matter to me. The competitive spirit that had seen me do so well at school suddenly vanished. I stopped caring about everything. I didn’t turn up to classes. I didn’t pay my bills. I didn’t even open the envelopes when they arrived in the mail. My electricity got turned off, so I showered by candlelight. I maxed out my credit card, earning me five years on the banks’ blacklist. Debt collection agencies called me regularly on behalf of the phone company whose letters I had ignored. I was, in Perez Hilton parlance, a hot mess.
None of this fazed me, because I was so numbed that it didn’t feel real. It was almost an experiment: how bad could it get — and would anyone notice?
This is the hallmark of martyrdom. The ol’ “suffering in silence” trick. Perhaps you’ve done it. Maybe you have a friend who makes it a central part of his or her behavioural repertoire.
Going back to my collegiate absolution-of-responsibility schtick, the key was the “Will people notice?” part. That right there is a sneaky test administered to friends and family. If people don’t rush in to save you and comfort you and ask if you’re okay, they fail. And so do you. It means that no-one cares about you. Obviously.
Chop logic indeed, but a lot of people — women especially — are not so good at speaking up when shit gets real. So they resort to silent ways of letting people know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Passive aggression is a popular choice. You know the drill: subtext-laden assurances of “I’m fine”; thinly-veiled malice thrown into Facebook status updates; demonstrative self-destructiveness.
I used to pull this kind of crap all the time. But over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s no good for anyone. Most importantly, it’s very disempowering for us passive aggressors, who place ourselves at the mercy of other people while simultaneously projecting this fragile, unhinged vibe that tends to drive people away. D’oh.
So, how do you speak up? How do you let people know that they’ve hurt you, or that you are not coping, or that you have to bail on a relationship? I’m still a bit rubbish at most of this, but I think one important thing is not to be so concerned with being liked. An obsession with being universally admired can really mess you up, because it prevents you from saying things that people need to hear.
Sometimes you’ll have to admit that you screwed up. Sometimes you’ll have to deliver unwelcome news. Sometimes you’ll have to disappoint someone or hurt them or break their heart. But that’s what life is: the ups and the downs.
Being a martyr and letting a bad situation fester in the hope of someone reading your mind and fixing it? Bzzzt. Wrong answer. Speak up. Risk being disliked. Care enough for yourself and others to talk about what’s really going on.