There’s a meme that’s been flying around for some time that talks about how kids who were mistreated will learn to love unwanted things. I personally have loved Godzilla and other kaiju for a very long time. And a lot of other people I know who had rough childhoods will frequently root for the villain. Some of them prefer weedy wildflowers to more proper horticulture you’d find at a nursery.
The idea is that because we were unwanted and told repeatedly — in words and actions — that we were worthless that we will grow into beings that protect the unwanted. What other people might easily discard. By paying it forward to other objects, other manifestations of these unacceptable qualities, the meme argues, we are loving ourselves. Protecting parts of us that were nearly snuffed out but deserve to exist, too.
It’s a lovely thought. Truly.
And I can see it in obvious places like my fandoms. I mentioned Godzilla — but there’s also my love of cacti and a new addition, my love of grackles, considered a nuisance bird by most in North Texas, where I just moved.
But I can also see it deeper. Because for a long time, it was evident in my social history. In the friends I chose and in my dating habits.
I’ve Always Been a Sucker for a Comeback Story
For the same reasons I love Godzilla, I’ve always been a sucker for a comeback story. I believe powerfully in the potential for people to reform. To do better in the future. Yes, even people who have made mistakes. People in general are very unforgiving. I am not. In the past, I was much too forgiving. I hadn’t yet figured out how to set boundaries or have accountability talks.
Even with everything I’ve been through, I’m still a pretty forgiving person (although more on the healthy side of the line these days). I hadn’t thought much about why that was until recently. But I realized it’s because I wasn’t forgiven for being imperfect. I wasn’t given space to do better in the future (even when I desperately wanted to).
And I was called a hopeless cause long before I came anywhere near to being that. People gave up on me long before they should have. When I needed them.
And so part of my reaction to that was to not count people out when they still had a chance.
Today These Qualities Help Me, But in the Past They Hurt Me
For the most part, all of this is something I really like about myself. That I’m supportive of others, generally patient, and very forgiving. And these days, it’s something that other people like about me, too. But there was a point in my past before I really started digging deep and working on myself that I took it too far. I was extending patience and kindness to people who were actively mistreating me — not once or twice, but repeatedly. And to those who not only weren’t grateful for my help but felt entitled to it.
When you want to give everyone a chance and support them when others won’t, it’s very easy to end up drained. And in severe cases, you can be used and abused on top of it.
It’s an uncomfortable truth: There are individuals who will mistreat folks who believe in a comeback. Who aren’t looking to repair their lives or put support to meaningfully productive use but find another person to exploit or blame for their myriad problems.
And it’s quite tricky — because they can look quite similar, both groups. One thing that was helpful for me early on was noticing what happened when I said no to people. People tend to look alike so long as they’re getting what they want. It’s when you set a reasonable boundary that folks will often reveal their true natures (good, bad, or otherwise).
But there were so many little things that came up, lessons that I learned as I went (part of what I’m sharing in this series).
Rooting for the Underdog Almost Destroyed Me
Rooting for the underdog almost destroyed me. But “almost” is a very important word here.
Because once I was able to better discern between folks who would put support to good use and those who would squander it and mistreat me, a curious thing happened. I got into healthy friendships. Life became good and stayed that way (mostly). I just put out my first novel.
It all happened because I was able to start rooting for a very important underdog I had a hard time supporting before: Myself.
And that’s when my own comeback began.
This post is part of a recurring feature called Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser. To see the full series, please click this link.