“You’re Useless!” And Other Put-Downs


This week and next, I am facilitating a Self-Employment class at work. I’ve got twelve individuals, all of whom are on social assistance, who are interested in launching their businesses soon; intent on gaining their financial independence this way rather than the more conventional route of working for someone else.

While all of them present with their own barriers to employment, there is one whose comment struck me as all too common, whether one is job searching or attempting to run a business. The comment made remarked on those closest to her; family and friends who have always doubted her openly and are now telling her she doesn’t have what it takes to run her business and she should just suck it up and go get a regular job.

Now that’s as much about this one person I’m going to share in this blog today. However, I’m going to sum up a multitude of individual conversations with others throughout. Comments that openly criticize others are destructive and painful for the other person. While some people do say these mean comments to bully and intentional hurt, often they are made in a bizarre attempt to be helpful.

But why do the comments sting so much at all? To answer this, its important to remember that the comments are coming from sources that people generally expect to be supportive and nurturing; our family and closest friends. More than any other people, our parents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, our best friends; these are the people constantly in our lives who know us best. And if they know us best and they don’t believe we have the ability to succeed, then how good are our chances of success?

You must also realize that because you are without a job, you have lost temporarily, the status that typically gets assigned by our society to people who have jobs. And it’s generally believed that trying to launch a business is much more difficult than going to work for someone else.

I’m telling you this: If you are constantly being put-down, criticized, having your abilities questioned, yelled at, told you’ll never amount to anything or you’re just a major disappointment, you’ve got to take action. It is absolutely critical that the attacks stop. If you continue to endure and live in a situation where others slam you constantly – especially if those others are family – you run a high-risk of believing all those negative comments, doubting your self-worth, depression, withdrawal from society and even suicide.

To start with, if you haven’t done it, have a conversation with those closest to you about your job search or your new business venture if you’re going that route. Explain the ultimate goal, why you’ve settled on that career or business idea, and how the skills, experience and education you have puts you in a position to succeed. If you are taking training, share that too. All of this may legitimize yourself in their eyes, proving you’ve really thought this out. And then ask for their personal support, telling them how you value their opinion, and that you really need them behind you.

Now if you just get some negative reaction, they just call you stupid or a complete waste of space, you have to in my opinion for your own good, remove yourself from the source of all the destructive and hurtful comments. This could mean moving out or restricting phone contact to once a week instead of daily calls. And it could mean putting rules of engagement in place, such as, “if you start yelling at me and telling me I’m stupid, I ask you to stop once and then I hang up the phone.” You really can’t afford it you see to constantly be verbally assaulted and abused; and if you didn’t realize it until just now, you are a victim of abuse – it’s verbal but it’s still abuse.

Being the victim of verbal abuse can be more deadly than a victim of physical abuse – although please don’t think either are preferable. It’s just that others can’t see bruises and welts who would help, and it takes much closer observation to see the damage.

If you do leave home, don’t do it in a rage, yelling and screaming, yelling accusations back and forth. Do it calmly, with purpose, knowing you may at some point in the future, welcome and seek out that contact so don’t burn the bridges on your side of the relationship. You’re not leaving to hurt the other people, you’re leaving to preserve the person you are and save yourself. This also applies if you have to temporarily terminate a close friendship with someone who doesn’t believe in you. Same rules; leave with kindness and respect for them even if it seems incredibly difficult to do.

You are a person of worth. You do have good qualities. You are entitled to succeed. There is a job out there you can do and do well. Your idea for a business may just be your future calling.

Ironically, those closest to you are usually scared for you and want you to succeed. They want to see you well-off but know they may be powerless to help you so they just rant and seek to motivate you by calling you names. They know not the destruction they cause, and are powerless to do otherwise. That conversation you have might give them an opening.

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8 thoughts on ““You’re Useless!” And Other Put-Downs

  1. One of the great joys I have had as a support person is helping someone uncover the strengths they already possess and building on them. The transformation is remarkable! You can be brought to tears and are truly humbled when your client comes to the realization that THEY define their own lives, not the naysayers and the energy vampires who try to suck the life from them. The very fact that the client is embarking on the journey of self-employment shows great strength and courage. They should be proud of themselves as they move toward greater self-awareness and self-suffiency while at the same time leaving those who don’t believe in them in the past. I wish I could be with your group today to show them the appreciation they deserve. Please, if you would, pass along my congratulations to each of them on their brave new lives.

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    1. Wayne I liked your comment so much, it prompted me to share my own blog with them (which I’ve not done with a group before) because I then shared your response. It had a profoundly positive impact and they appreciated your kind words of encouragement. Sometimes words from people we don’t know can be powerful and come at a time when we need them most!
      Thanks!

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      1. Thank YOU. I am feeling some of that joy I was talking about. I really enjoy your blog and your enthusiasm. Attitudes are contagious and yours is worth catching.

        All the best

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    1. Hi Greggory

      Thank you for your input. I projected your comment and that of another blogger to the group this morning. I used your comments to reinforce that there are good people out there in the real world that are interested in their success. It had a profoundly positive impact. About 1 in 12 usually succeed in launching their business and getting off social assistance. It’s hard to exit dependency when you have so little capital to even get going, and some have an odd perception of the commitment needed to succeed.
      Here’s to optimism and hope though!

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