One of the very dubious joys of having been brought up by and around horrible people is that can sort of inoculate you against further horribleness. It’s very hard to be intimidated by petty twerps – the school bullies, the backstabbing co-workers, the narcissistic bosses, the local sex pests, even the emotionally abusive partners – when you know full well that your granny could have had them in tears without even having to try very hard. Everything looks trivial by comparison with what you’ve already gone through. You were dealing with this crap when you were in your cradle, and it was being handed out by experts. Now you’ve got masses of experience under your belt and infinitely better resources, and these trifling yahoos think they can mess you around? I don’t think so.

For people with a bit of a superhero complex, like me, it can feel pretty good. Look at me being completely unaffected by all the crap of the world these people are throwing at me! Look at me handing it right back! I’m being a force of karma! Look at mighty me! And sometimes this kind of approach can work out rather well for everyone involved, apart from the yahoos in question.

For instance, I have a tendency to see low-level predators as great opportunities for combining retribution and entertainment. I know I’m supposed to feel intimidated or at least uncomfortable, but I don’t. I feel as if the universe had gift-wrapped a Bad Person and dropped it into my life so I have something to play with. Kinda like a game of cat-and-mouse in which the cat discovered too late that the mouse is in fact an abnormally small weasel. With rabies.

The results can be genuinely amusing. My limited experimental evidence suggests, for instance, that low-level charm predators generally only have one game, consisting of a fairly limited set of tactics that are far from unique. It’s really good fun to pretend you’re playing the game and then suddenly go off script on them and watch them flounder. You have to be a bit subtle about it, though, or you don’t get to play. The last time a petty sex pest tried something stupid with me, I was so happy thinking about the grief I now felt fully entitled to throw at him that I found myself gushing “so you’re a perv, yay!” and literally clapping my hands in glee. The guy was apparently not expecting this, because he looked very confused and then proceeded to avoid me as if I carried the plague. It was selfish of him, really. I had to actually make an effort to avoid being avoided in order to get any fun out of him.

…and that’s when things can get seriously, dangerously stupid, because no part of that is clever. However “safely” you might plan these activities, it’s not clever to move towards uncertain danger for funsies. Hell, it’s not clever to forget that you can in fact move away from danger.

That’s the thing for those of us who grew up with this stuff, though. When you’re a kid, your agency is incredibly limited and tends to hinge on the will of your carers. If your carers are wonky, you’re in trouble. If your carers are wonky and clever about it, you’re in trouble and you’re going to stay there. It’s infinitely difficult for children to work out that the reality they’re living is abnormal. It can be even harder to work out how to convey that to people with the power and will to fix it.

So you get used to rolling with the punches, metaphorically or not, because that’s all you can do to make things better. And eventually you can get so good at it, and so proud of that ability, that you forget that you’re not supposed to be getting punched in the first place. You can deal with it so well, when a “normal” person wouldn’t. And that’s most probably true, but it may be for the simple reason that they’re wouldn’t stand for it. They’d bail.


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