Re-examining the Asshole Paradigm

Like me, I expect you have had your share of unpleasant relatives or ongoing encounters with those you’d just as soon never deal with again. A bur under our saddle, people who have a talent for irritating us don’t have to do a lot to get our annoyance to fester and grow. But, on occasion, a few of us can have anticipatory reactions—just the thought of these people riles us up—which serves no constructive purpose as it makes us both cross and predisposed to overreact when the person makes their presence known. Another element that worsens the unpleasantness is habit. We are used to disliking A or have grown accustomed to ignoring everything B has to say, so we head the whole thing off at the pass and simply shut them out with rehearsed responses.

Exacerbating this problem is the silent dry run of our habitual irritation or strident refusal to cooperate. Whatever we exercise grows, so if we anticipate and then play out our disgust or impatience or stubbornness before the actual situation manifests, the predicament gets exponentially worse.

Recently, I learned that I would need to cross paths with the loathed spouse of a relative. I, along with legions of others over the years, go to great lengths to sidestep this person because they are so obnoxious and aggressive. Unhappy at discovering that my avoidance maneuvers were not to be 100% effective, I started to replay episodes of years past, calculating how I might contrive to handle these likely exchanges with Bad Mood Betty. The more I thought about it, the more cranky I became, resulting in a diminished excitement for my trip.

But it is here where I am experimenting with a new approach. Although years of experience have taught me that this person will not be changing her behavior, I recognize how my projected distress is only hurting me. I cannot change how Bad Mood Betty is going to behave, and mentally recreating historical unpleasantness is not going to prevent future occurrences. Such rehearsals only put me in a foul mood, and how does that strengthen my position?

It doesn’t.

Also, as much as I may enjoy casting BMB as a villain, thinking about her in this light will not help my cause. I already know she’s an unmitigated asshole, so ruminating further doesn’t help. The best I can do is to expect an asshole to act like an asshole, so that when they do, I will not be surprised. If I’m not surprised, I’m less likely to get angry or irritated. If I don’t get angry or irritated then I’m way more likely to find as peaceful a solution to the situation at hand as possible.

Trying to out asshole a Supreme Asshole is impossible, because they’ll getcha every time. My point is this: part of re-booting requires that we try to identify our habitual responses and see whether there might be a more creative, constructive way for dealing with people or situations we just as soon wish weren’t part of our lives. Maybe that’s why they’re in our lives—for us to learn how to handle their unpleasantness with greater serenity.

Assholes are with us forever, so we may as well find a way to keep our interactions clean. (For more about how to handle assholes, go to Amazon.com and seek out the series The Asshole Saga by Xavier Crement.)

How have you managed the assholes in your life?

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