I recently gave this advice to my 17-year-old daughter:
"Tell them to go f*#k themselves. Not those words, necessarily. But instead of apologizing. Instead of wondering what's wrong with you that your "friends" are excluding you, or talking about you, get outraged. How dare they treat you like this? How dare they judge you? How dare they presume to determine your worth? How dare they! They can just go f*#k themselves."
While nowhere in any of the zillion parenting books I read when my kids were young did I find this advice to a teen daughter, I stand by it. I've watched as my formerly self-possessed eldest, the girl who routinely stands up for the downtrodden and maligned, has become the girl most likely to apologize for things she hasn't done. She has no trouble defending her friends. She just can't seem to muster that same sense of outrage for herself. Instead, she doubts herself. She shames herself. She beats herself up for imagined personality flaws.
She assumes that if someone is mad at her, she must have done something wrong. She accepts that it's her job to keep people happy. To not outshine or outperform anyone. To be...nice. To be...likeable.
Yeah? F*#k that!
Remind you of anyone you know? Because it sure sounds like me in my teens. And my twenties. And, well, my thirties.
It wasn't until my husband cheated on me that I found my own sense of outrage. Like my daughter, I'd long been able to champion anyone I felt unfairly treated. I easily found my voice on their behalf. But on my own? Crickets. After all, I didn't want to offend anyone. I didn't want to make a big deal of something. I didn't want to be rejected.
And so...I did nothing when a "friend" moved in on my barely-ex-boyfriend when I was 20. I did nothing when room-mates trashed the apartment I was financially on the hook for. I did nothing when my new mother-in-law started changing the seating arrangement at my wedding to favor her friends and family.
I swallowed my outrage.
And then...he cheated.
Suddenly, I found my voice.
How dare you, I screamed at him. How dare you do this to me? How dare you disrespect me like this? How dare you put my health at risk? How dare you put my children's happiness at risk? How? Dare? You?
Oh, and by the way: F*#k you!
I can't say it felt good. Absolutely nothing felt good for a very long time. But I can say it put me on a path that has, literally, changed my life. While I used to simmer in resentment as people mistook me for a welcome mat, I don't any longer.
And though it felt counter-intuitive to me – I assumed being a friend meant never expecting them to say "I'm sorry" – my relationships are so much better for me having a voice. I recently told a friend that I thought her comments about refugees were racist and misguided. I told another friend that I thought his ideas around spanking children were archaic and harmful. Neither friend has written me off. But if they do, I'm okay with that. Because having a voice and expressing myself respectfully (I only imply "f*#k you" rather than say it outright) has given me deeper relationships based on a mutual appreciation of who we are. I can handle someone disagreeing with me without assuming it's a wholesale rejection of me.
Not long past D-Day, I read a book in which a marriage counsellor wrote that it wasn't the angry betrayed wives he worried about, it was the ones who didn't get angry. The ones who turned their anger inward so that it showed up as depression or shame. While not everyone will express their anger with my particular enthusiasm for four-letter expletives, it's crucial toward our healing to feel it. We should be outraged that our partners – the people we trusted to NOT do this to us – were so cavalier with our hearts and our bodies and our families.
I'm not advocating for anything that will get you arrested. And I'm actively discouraging anything that will terrify your children. What I am encouraging is that you point your outrage toward the person responsible for your pain. That you recognize that, while the time will come to do a post-mortem on your marriage as it was and see where you do things differently going forward, the betrayal is on your partner's shoulders right now and he can darn well deal with it.
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