I have, at times, acted the jerk. Not only when I was younger and didn’t know better, but also in more recent times. Usually, I’ll be acting out of an old pattern, an underlying insecurity or out of anger or resentment.
Being a jerk can take many forms. If you think about people in your life who you have crowned with this title, there might have been different labels that you applied to them. Perhaps they were arrogant, or inconsiderate, or rude, or insensitive. Perhaps it was someone who made fun of other people, or who didn’t give up their seat on the bus, or who cut you off while driving. The thing is, these behaviours are not limited to just ‘other people‘. Most of us have been rude or insensitive at some point. Most of us have cut off someone else while driving, even if it was accidentally. And most of us have hurt people we love by the way we’ve spoken to them.
The thing is, this is a rather uncomfortable truth to deal with. We don’t like it when we act in ways that don’t correspond with how we look at ourselves. We tend to ignore actions if they don’t match up with the idea we have of our own personality. And we just don’t look at ourselves as being jerks, do we? We don’t think of ourselves as ‘bad people’ or as ‘someone who can be really cold and mean.’ Even if, realistically, it would seem strange that we never behaved in any way but polite and friendly. Those rules just don’t seem to apply to us.
So what happens when we behave in a way that is not kind? We either deny it (consciously or subconsciously), or we feel shame and hide it. In either case the outside world would see the same thing: You act as if nothing has happened.
Since I’m into radical honesty (and apparently keep lowering my shame levels), I’ll share a jerk-moment of my own from not too long ago:
I was talking with my partner when my mother came into the room. I casually dropped a line about something that is a sensitive issue to him, and my mother and I kind of made light of the situation and his feelings around it. It may have been subtle, but I definitely mocked the way he felt. He didn’t say anything at the time, but he did bring it up later.
When he mentioned the incident, I immediately felt a pang of shame. It was only the two of us, and he knows me better than I know myself in many ways, yet still I felt completely naked and vulnerable because he had picked up on this moment of ‘putting him down’ and wasn’t just going to let it slide (kudo’s to him! That took guts).
Just to be clear, he didn’t ‘confront’ me with it. He just mentioned that he had not felt supported during this little encounter and had felt sad at the time. He was no longer angry but just wanted to share this feeling. He had every right, of course, to be angry at this, but I’m also grateful that he wasn’t, because it would have made my following words much harder to say. What followed was my attempt at redeeming myself.
The first thing I did was own up to what I had done. I acknowledged that what I had said was not caring, and had perhaps even come from a place of wanting to put myself above him, or of forming a bond with my mother in ‘uniting against men‘; a sentiment that might sound familiar to other women. I acknowledged that I made a mistake, and that this was not how I wanted to act towards the man I love. I expressed that I felt sorry, and that I understood how he felt. Key in my apology was that I committed to avoiding this behaviour in the future and I asked him to please, always point out when I’m not acting like the person I choose to be.
The next step for me, will be to call myself out on being a jerk. When I notice I act in a way that’s unkind or that puts someone down, I want to be the one who returns to the situation and apologizes. I want to own up to my incensitive or unkind behaviours, even if they are subconscious.
Taking responsibility for my mistakes has taught me some important lessons already, and I know there will be more to come.
It’s already taught me that mistakes don’t have to define who you are, it’s how you deal with them that does.
It’s given me a chance to prove to people that they are worth my special consideration, and to prove to myself that I’m worth being forgiven.
And finally, facing my own shame, has shown me that I have a say in my own self worth. I am not a victim of my own patterns. I get to decide who I want to be in every. single. moment.