21 September 2009

By Way of Explaining

I often tell my boyfriend—and I’m pretty sure he believes—that I am a snob. I tell him that I am better than other people because I am smarter and make better decisions. I tell him that I have little respect for people who complain about their life when they control the circumstances that put—and keep—them there. I am better than they because I got myself out of bad situations. Instead of complaining and malingering, I tugged on my bootstraps and made the hard decisions, embraced humility, and made myself something more. I alone was responsible for bettering my situation and, thus, I am better than they.

It’s a nice illusion. That illusion is often the only thing I have to focus on, especially when I am feeling my lowest. The thought that I climbed out of a financial and emotional hole when other people can’t is about the only thing I feel I have going for me. Because the one life lesson I have learned and learned well is that I am easily dismissed.

It’s tough being dismissed. Dismissed because someone thinks you are hyperbolic, uneducated, or invalid. It is hard to believe the dismissal isn’t personal. It’s difficult to consider the person dismissing you and wonder if they are just insecure in their own beliefs or are scared of the ramifications if your feelings really are valid. The sting of dismissal usually overshadows all that is rational. Instead, your self-worth diminishes; your value decreases. After all, why would anyone listen to you if all you do is over exaggerate? What worth do you have if you are always wrong? Why should you keep offering if you are only ever ignored? What can you bring to the conversation if you are invalid?

Granted, some dismissals are easier to take than others. I realized a few weeks ago that my boyfriend’s mother had summarily dismissed me. Nothing I said would have had any effect because I had already been dismissed as someone trying to steal away her son. I can handle that dismissal only because her son (the most important factor in that equation) reassured me that he did not agree with her.

Other dismissals, though, are much harder to handle. When your own mother calls you selfish for not wanting to go shopping because you have the flu. When you have a physical, palpable fear of someone and it’s dismissed as ridiculous. When you are specifically asked your opinion and your reply is dismissed as judgmental. Or when you see someone you care about struggling and you offer advice to make it easier and are dismissed as interfering or demeaned as an insufferable know-it-all. Constant dismissal chips away at any reserve of strength.

My boyfriend always commends me on my ability to seek help from store clerks, or to be able to call customer service to ask questions, or even to go out and do research on topics I find interesting. He thinks it’s confidence. In reality, it’s self-depreciation. When you have been considered incompetent, wrong, and dismissed often enough, it doesn’t matter if you ask others for help or seek guidance elsewhere. It’s assumed that you need to. You don’t have the confidence to believe you know the right answer or that your ideas might be valid. Seeking others’ help or advice is a given. Otherwise, you are just an insufferable know-it-all. As a result, I am never confident in anything anymore. I am always qualifying answers, double-checking facts or figures, and admitting that I could always be wrong. Those qualifications then enforce the idea that I really don’t know anything, that I am, in fact, dismissible.

It’s exhausting living this way. Always justifying and rationalizing. Trying to find reference outside of myself in order to prove myself. I don’t even know why. I try to tell myself that others’ opinions don’t matter, that my self-worth is not defined by them. That no one can make me feel inferior without my permission. But when all you see is dismissal, when all you get for trying to be strong is rejection, it wears on you. You begin to believe it. You begin to think that if so many others believe the same thing, then you must be the problem. You must try harder to be strong, to be right, to be valid. You must find something outside of yourself to prove that you are not dismissible.

So, I have this space; this corner of the web where no one is obligated to visit. Where no one is obligated to read or respond without their choosing. Here, I can try to find myself. I can attempt to figure out what I believe and why. I can choose to support my views or not. I can write as much or as little as I want. Here, I do not have to see the dismissal. People can click away and I’ll never know. People can dismiss my views and ridicule them on their own blogs, to their friends, family—even to my friends and family—and I never have to know.

Outwardly, if pretending to be a snob causes people to dismiss me, I can handle that because I know, deep down, it’s a front. They are only dismissing an illusion. And for now, I’d rather be dismissed as a snob than as someone who is invalid. I’d rather pretend to think too much of myself than have to admit that I feel as though I am nothing at all.

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