Elizabeth Wurtzel is not only a very talented writer. She has become the poster child for the therapy culture.
With age has come wisdom. Experience has taught her how to overcome the lessons she received from therapy.
Now, she offers some guidance for people who want to become more likable. She does so by arguing the opposite: she offers some ways you can teach people to hate you.
One might say that it is not a good thing to be hated. One would be right to say so. But, some people would rather be hated than ignored, so her advice is not altogether ironic.
Wurtzel does not provide a therapeutically correct analysis of her previous bad behavior. Had she done so, had she used the tool that therapy has given her, she would have explained that her traumatic childhood forced her o irritate people to the point that they hated her.
Instead, she lists some of her previous bad habits, habits that she has presumably overcome, and shows how her sense of shame helped her to overcome them.
With her first point she explains that if you want people to hate you, you should always be late. Not just a few minutes late, but an hour or two. Not just occasionally, but all the time.
In a past life Wurtzel had developed the habit. She describes it:
I used to be extremely late, mostly because I was slow and distracted, which is what does it. I would be hours late, for events that were my idea, and even though everyone was gone by the time I showed up, I did bother, in my ridiculous way. Mostly I was just something like a half hour or forty-five minutes late, and people expected it, and somehow forgave it—Lord knows why. No one likes having to forgive you all the time—they hate being the forever patsy.
How did she overcome this habit? She did so when she recognized that being late was rude, offensive and abusive:
What finally set me straight is someone telling me that lateness is nothing more than a sign of disrespect: It is saying that the other person’s time is not valuable, he might as well wait for me, what else has he got to do? I had not thought of it quite that way. I just believed I was slow and distracted, and the 4 train was always delayed, and traffic on Third Avenue was always bad. But after I realized being late is mean, I learned to wake up earlier and be on time. People hate me a lot less.
She did not discover the childhood roots of tardiness. She did not punish herself for being late. She simply came to understand what her lateness was saying to other people. It might not have been the message she intended to send, but you do not control the meaning of your messages.
This point should be engraved in the notebook of everyone who ever tells you to do as you please because no one has a right to judge you.
Wurtzel proceeds to explain that sometimes it happens that people hate you for being successful. Surely, it cannot be because your success is rude and abusive, but that does not prevent some people from thinking that it is.
True enough, people will like you when you succeed because people always gravitate to success. But many people will resent your success because it exceeds theirs. They will even believe that your success was unearned, that you did not gain it honestly. Surely, you are no better than they are. If you succeeded where they did not, you must have cheated.
Today, resentment rears its head in the currently fashionable attack on what is called white privilege.
How do you manage success? Perhaps by being excessively humble, by not flaunting it. Wurtzel does not quite say it this way, but I am confident she would agree.
If success is double-edged, failure is not.
No one likes a failure, Wurtzel explains, because failures bring everyone down. They damage the group reputation and they require excessive care and tending.
In her words:
Every family has a mishap who is always broke, can’t keep a job, is in and out of trouble with the law, is drunk and disorderly mostly at the most inappropriate times, and in all manner of ways has no capacity to get his life together. Okay, maybe not every family. Some have several. There are wretched clans who are all doing time together. But there are lots of lovely people who are stuck with a miscreant who just can’t get it right, even after all those alternative summer camps and all that tough love.
Next she says that people will grow to hate you if you are constantly complaining. She might have mentioned that more than a few people have cultivated this unfortunate habit in therapy.
Most therapy encourages patients to complain constantly about problems that become more insoluble the more you complain about them:
If you’re ever about to say, I don’t mean to complain but, don’t. There is nothing more idiosyncratic than the things that bother you–or the way you express them or the moment it hits you, but somehow it is going to come out wrong. The initial filing in a lawsuit is called a complaint, and what is worse than a lawsuit? Inmates on death row have righteous indignation galore, because you can justify anything. If there really is a problem, fix it yourself or resolve it with the powers that be, but don’t make everyone else feel lousy by talking about it.
In many therapy sessions complaining is legal tender. Many therapists do not tell their patients to stop complaining. They do not work to help their patients to fix their problems or to resolve their issues. They are more interested in knowing how you feel than in what you should do.
When therapists try to help their patients to understand why they have these problems and not other problems they are encouraging them to whine. And whining causes people to hate you. So says Wurtzel. I believe she is right.
Finally, Wurtzel suggests that people will hate you if you are boring. If you monopolize a conversation with tedious information… often about yourself… people are not going to like you. If you talk to hear yourself talk they are going to end up hating you.
Obviously, it takes a certain amount of astute observation to tell whether people are hanging on your every word or wanting to hang you. One suspects that you learn it through experience.
In Wurtzel’s words:
There is nothing wrong with being the center of attention and dominating a dinner party if that’s how it happens to work out. It is not bad manners to talk too much if everyone loves listening. But if you are boring, people will hate you and walk away.
How do you become less boring? Wurtzel has the perfect antidote:
Usually people are boring because they are bored. They don’t read or listen to music or see movies or watch tv or in any way engage. Or worse: They do all that, and even still. If people tell you that you talk too much, you are boring. So do something about it. Or keep quiet.
You become less boring when you share information. You become less boring by reading a lot. You should read newspapers and magazines, history books and novels. You should listen to music, go to the movies and watch television. This will give you something to talk about.
When you offer information that everyone can relate to, when you try to engage people on common ground … you will be contributing to a conversation. You do not need to entertain people, because entertaining can easily become tedious. You do not need to talk as much as Wurtzel does.
Your conversation should engage others on common ground, communicating more information than opinions and feelings. You need to show that you are present but that you are attuned and attentive to other people.
After a time people might grow to like you.