I’ve always had a temper. As a kid in elementary school, I would instigate fights with much tougher kids and then get the crap beat out of me. A lot. And I wasn’t a tough kid myself. I was a skinny, wimpy, tea sandwich of a boy with thick glasses-perfect fodder for bullies or anyone else looking to make mincemeat out of someone. It’s actually pretty funny to think about, decades later. Some scrawny weakling, intentionally starting some shit with a bigger, tougher kid, only to limp home with an even bigger chip on my shoulder, angry at the other kid for having the audacity to fight me. It’s funny, but also kinda twisted. I’d start the fight for some perceived reason, get my clock cleaned, and then carry this anger around because people pick on me. It was the extreme end of playing the victim with a side of Ed Norton’s self ass-kicking in Fight Club for good measure. I played this role for years. To be honest, I still do to an extent.
This perception of myself as a victim, thinking everyone saw me a certain way, carried me throughout school. I somehow knew that everyone around me saw me as a weak nerd, ripe for the picking (on,) so as a defense mechanism, I saw everyone as a threat and myself as someone needed to wall myself off (there’s a great 30 Rock episode that I’m pretty sure they lifted straight from my life. I’m still weighing the litigation route.) As long as I saw everyone outside of myself as an oppressor and myself as the oppressed, the more that became the reality. Thinking of myself as the wounded animal, always hunted by predators, caused me to react angrily and to always be on the defense. I essentially guaranteed that this cycle would continue to perpetuate itself into a “me versus the world” mentality and ensured that no one could ever get close to me, assuming they would want to be around a miserable, angry, sad-sack.
It’s taken me quite a bit to realize that the world isn’t out to get me, and that in reality, most people actually love to be around me. Intellectually, I always knew that. It’s the height of narcissism to think that the universe gives a shit about you; or at least cares about you specifically out of the seven billion people on Earth in the vast, endless void of existence (quite frankly, I can’t think of anyone who would want to be saddled with that kind of scrutiny.) I know now, both logically and practically, that people don’t carve out time in their day to make my life miserable. That was what middle school was for; there’s plenty of time for that in gym class and in the lunchroom.
I’ve learned that my anger was a result of this mythical conflict that I created at a young age (albeit born out of the need for self-preservation,) and as long as I had a villain (“everyone”) that was oppressing me, I could continue to be the “hero” who was fighting against adversity. I took every slight, every perceived insult, every snub as personally as I could, swearing an instant and eternal vendetta against that person and anyone who remotely looks like them. There’s no telling to how many silent, one-sided, permanent blood feuds I had with people I went to school with who either had no I idea who I was or had no beef with me whatsoever. It almost made me feel powerful to have these concurrent, simultaneous wars on these various fronts; I was the nerdy despot who saw enemies wherever he lay his gaze. I was the Kim Jong-Il without the khaki fatigues and penchant for Hennessy.
I’ve now come to the realization that the anger that I still carry is the result of this self-programming and the reinforcement of the idea that there is a concerted effort by a shadowy, all-powerful consortium of Adjustment Bureau-like agents to make my life a living Hell. Again, the rational part of my brain knows that this sounds batshit crazy and that I’m treading into paranoid dictator territory. But it’s the script I’ve had running for nearly thirty years, and it’s hard to burn that script unless you start reading a better one.
I still lose my temper occasionally, and when that does happen, I know instinctively that the reason behind is it that the trigger usually is not the present event itself, but that it brings me back into that bully/victim role, and I know that I don’t live there anymore. I don’t see people as bullies or threats now, but I am highly attuned to sniffing out people who are assholes more than most others. Conversely, I am more apt to see the good in people and those who do the same, so it’s a bit like having a superpower.
See? Being a nerd doesn’t go away. It just turns into a virtue, which it always was anyway.
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