On dealing with assholes

Freshman year of college, I got into a car accident while home in West Palm Beach, Fla., for winter break. I was in bed, on muscle relaxers and miserable. One night, someone vandalized my car, pouring dog food all over it and writing the most vile, twisted insults imaginable on all the windows.

I shrugged it off as a random prank against some faceless stranger. Why would anyone direct that level of vitriol at me?

But around this time, I was getting hateful text messages and mean-spirited posts on Facebook from a group of guys I went to high school with.

Once I found out that my tormenters and the late-night car vandals were the same group, I very much wanted to walk over to my ex-boyfriend's dorm parking lot and put a brick through the windshield of his car — he'd given them my address and confessed/apologized months after the fact.

Years later, I've got no ill will toward my ex — he's a good guy, and if he's reading this, I hope he doesn't think I'm publicly shaming him. The other guys aren't even blips on my radar. This wasn't even the assholiest of asshole behavior to be directed at me in the 25 years I've been on this planet. And compared with the type of monstrous behavior in your average Main Street, USA middle school right now, it's cupcakes and fuzzy sweaters. But it's the simplest example I can give you of my experiences with people being nasty SOBs for no good reason.

A few things I've learned about dealing with people who behave like total assholes:

It's not about you. People acting horribly toward you says nothing bad about you. Someone being a total shithead doesn't make them superior or you inferior. It doesn't reflect poorly on you that they're being mean to you. It reflects poorly on them. And some asshole calling you a name doesn't make it true.

I can't wrap my brain around bullying or general douchebaggery because it's such a waste of energy. Looking back, the idea of a bunch of dudes sitting around, not having anything better to do, spending their money and time that could have gone toward anything else on messing with some chick just makes me pity them. You know what I do when I don't like someone? Um, ignore them because I want to not even think about them. Try it sometime?

"Don't let it get to you" is bullshit advice. Just like courage isn't the absence of fear, strength is not the absence of vulnerability. If the assholes make you cry, they haven't won. When I'm hurt, I cry, scream, text all my friends, cry and scream some more. I used to think this made me weak. (OK, sometimes I do still think that.) What I believe now? I'm a tough broad. When someone hurts you to the core and you still manage to dry your tears, reapply your mascara and smile as you strut away from them, that's strength. You think honey badger cares that it got bitten by the cobra? It doesn't give a shit. It passes out and then gets right back up like nothing happened! You have permission to ugly-cry. 

Don't be an asshole back. Had I thrown that brick, I would have been just as bad. Of course, I've done bitchy and horrible things to people. I'm not proud. But I want those incidents to be my footnotes, not my summary. Bonus points: being ceaselessly nice drives mean people crazy.

Shield your psyche. Don't dismiss this as woo woo until you try it. When the assholes are people who have authority over you or people you have no choice but to see every day, giving them the finger isn't really an option. And crying in the bathroom every day isn't productive, either. I find it so helpful when I'm going to be around difficult people to imagine a sort of invisible armor around myself, like I'm in this impenetrable bubble where nothing can touch me. Use whatever visual works for you. Imagine Uma Thurman in Kill Bill walking alongside you with her samurai sword as your invisible bodyguard if that helps you! Hum "Titanium" in your head if that's what works. The more ridiculous and stupid you feel doing it, the better.

When it's really bad, get help. "Bullying" is such a buzzword now that it's losing its meaning. And I think the image of schoolyard jerks that it conjures up doesn't do justice to what some people endure. If someone is hurting you verbally, physically or in any other way that makes you hate your life, please listen to all the trite afterschool special advice and tell someone. Let someone who cares about you help you figure out how to deal. Rubber-glue-back-to-you doesn't always work. When you're in pain, hearing "it gets better" is a slap in the face. But at least entertain the idea that maybe it might sorta kinda one day get a little better, even if just a shred of faith in that is the most you can summon. Don't let the bastards grind you down. Don't be an asshole to yourself. 

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