Mistreated people may turn anger against themselves


November 07, 1993|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A dear friend who's usually deliciously assertive confessed not long ago that she'd allowed her boss to take out his bad mood on her -- for the 10th time this year. She turned white with anger as she talked:

"I know this guy. I know his moods, and I knew he was in one of his worst ones when I walked into his office. I hardly had a chance to say good morning before he blew up over some trivial thing.

"He went on and on and I knew what he was doing -- using me for a punching bag. I knew it was unfair. I knew it was wrong. But I sat there and let him do it, anyway," she said.

"Why did I let him do that to me? I should have said 'Stop! When you figure out what's wrong with you today, I'll come back and we'll get some work done!' But I didn't. I'm so mad at myself."

We women -- and some men -- still are far too likely to turn our perfectly justified anger at other people against ourselves.

A business acquaintance received shoddy treatment and bad advice from a supposedly reputable attorney a couple of years ago. He cost her thousands of dollars.

Is she mad at him? Not very. The person she's really mad at is -- you guessed it -- herself.

"Why didn't I check his reputation more carefully? Why didn't I stay in closer touch with him -- demand to know what he was doing after weeks went by and I didn't hear from him?" she often says.

He's off the hook. She is not.

A woman wrote from Green Bay, Wis., to say, "My supervisor sexually molested me -- pinned me against a wall, ripped my blouse and put his hand between my legs -- and I didn't report him.

"I'm a single mother with two kids to support, but that's no excuse. I was just too scared to blow the whistle on this creep. Now it's too late, and I don't know how I'm going to live with myself."

Somewhere along the line (I suspect almost immediately), this woman forgot who was at fault and turned her own healthy anger against this villain inward and against herself.

Yesterday a friend unintentionally stood me up for a lunch date. I waited for an hour, then went back to work -- scolding myself every step of the way for in all likelihood mixing up the date of our meeting.

When she called to apologize, I cut her apology off with one of my own, saying, "Oh, don't give it a thought. It was silly of me not to call and confirm our date ahead of time."

And when my best friend came back from an afternoon at her hairdresser's looking like a Brillo pad, she blamed herself -- not the person who didn't listen to a word she said about how she wanted her hair done.

"I guess I wasn't clear about what I wanted," said this usually very clear person. "I should have stopped him when I saw what he was doing to me, but I sat there like a perfect wimp and let him do it."

It can't be healthy to turn perfectly justifiable anger or irritation at others into self-doubt and self-blame. It can't be good for us, this automatic blaming of ourselves when we're not to blame -- and I, for one, intend to stop it.

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