Considering the dingleberry

those piece-of-shit people you can’t shake off

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Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Dingleberry — n. a piece of shit human being who never horribly wronged you, but wronged you in such an irritating and obnoxious way that you’ve never really gotten over it.

You know the ones. Those people you almost forgot existed, but then you think back on them and you’re flooded with rage and disgust over something so minor. That anger that never alchemically transmuted to understanding. The blisters in your soul.

That high school administrator who just hated me? Dingleberry. The 50-year-old roommate/landlady who kicked me out for having sex with a man who wasn’t a serious boyfriend! and stole my rent and security deposit? Dingleberry. The duplicitous CEO who treated us employees like disposables and herself like God’s gift to startups and fired me after 3 months for not groveling at her feet? Dingleberry. The entitled manarchist roommate, nephew of the landlord, who kicked me out for being sexist when I said “Fuck men” during a fight with my ex-boyfriend? Dingleberry.

These people — these dingleberries — I just can’t get over how shitty they were. No amount of Zen or yoga can get me past their shittiness. Long after great wounds and heartbreaks have been understood and forgiven, after trauma and violence have been learned from, after compassion has been chosen in lieu of revenge, these little blistering wounds still cling to me.

Looking back on them, I’ve uncovered some curious similarities between them all. I do not know if these patterns are particular to what triggers me, or are universal, but all the same, perhaps it will help you understand your own.

Now, we consider the dingleberry.

What makes a dingleberry a dingleberry?

1 — The wounds are never great.
These are not the wounds that inflict grief or trauma. They’re emotional paper-cuts, mosquito bites, blisters — they just sting and burn when you dwell on them.

The great wounds, the losses and the heartbreaks and the traumas, these are important enough to us, impactful enough to feel into deeply and work to understand. We wrestle with these pains, we tend to them, we take the steps we need to heal them. Sometimes, they never fully heal, but we care enough to work at them.

Dingleberries don’t inflict strong, lasting pain or trauma. There’s nothing there deep enough to go to therapy for. You just wish you could swat them away like flies. At the end of the day, you usually find yourself walking away and trying not to think about them anymore, because dwelling on them is like tonguing a canker sore. You have to just let it recede into time.

2 — They irrationally wronged us.
They didn’t just hurt us, they wronged us and they did it for a stupid reason. They broke our moral code for how humans ought to behave, a code we likely care about deeply and see very good justifications for upholding. These dingleberries just trounced all over our morals, and the pain could easily have been avoided.

Any perspective they give of our behavior makes absolutely no sense to us, but they justify it all the same and refuse to see the situation through our eyes. All of the pain they caused was so avoidable, so unnecessary, and made absolutely no sense to us. It’s the confusion that leaves us dumbstruck, and that simple lack of being able to connect to them keeps the wound open.

3 — We do not respect their perspective.
Similar to the above point, their perspective just makes no sense to us and isn’t something we authentically respect as a legitimate perspective. In the case of most of my dingleberries, I believe this typically comes from dishonesty on their part. The reasons they give for their actions towards us aren’t actually why they’re acting like this. I can often guess at the real reasons for their actions. Usually, those reasons involve things that aren’t my problem, but even if I did wrong them in some way I don’t understand, the very act of dishonesty is unacceptable.

The three worst things you can be in my book are 3) a liar/manipulator; 2) an abuser of power; 1) a coward.

To feel fear alone is not cowardice. To feel fear is to feel fear. Everyone does it.

To feel fear, to then refuse to admit that you feel fear, refuse to face it, work on it, talk it out or explain yourself, run away from the fear, and instead punish others for the fear you feel — that is what makes a coward, and that incorporates all three of the worst things you can be.

I do have no respect for cowards. I have compassion for them as I have compassion for children, but when I see cowardice in adults, or anyone who is “the adult in the room” by comparison, it disgusts me.

4 — They abused their power.
We all have power over each other. To treat another as an extension of yourself, someone who exists to meet your own needs, as opposed to taking their needs as a part of yourself, is an abuse of power.

Some of us have more power over others, depending on the situation. The power of an adult over a child. The power of a boss over a worker. The power of a physically larger or stronger person over a physically smaller or weaker one. These situations create a hierarchy of power.

In the case of every dingleberry in my life, this person had a position to allow or deny me something I needed — an emotionally safe environment or a job or stable housing — and they felt so entitled to that power over me that they threatened my needs because of their whims.

They acted like tiny tyrants, and that is unforgivable.

5 — They never showed remorse.
Maybe they felt it, somewhere in there or somewhere down the line. Probably, they justified the pain they caused in some weird convoluted way. Either way, they never, ever apologized. They never showed a shred of regret or compassion for the pain they caused. They maintained, as cowards and tyrants do, that the pain they inflicted was the right thing to do without ever once considering there might be another side.

I think they know. I think they know they don’t have a leg to stand on, and because of that, they deny all the harder. Maybe they’ve changed over the years, but never once reached out to apologize. They never thought our feelings of pain deserved to hear their remorse, if they felt it at all.

Either they were afraid of themselves or afraid of us, and that cowardice — and the disgust at it — keeps them clinging on.

6 — The feeling we have is not just anger. It’s indignation.
Anger is a mask for pain. Indignation is righteous anger at abuse, no matter how minor or great that abuse may be.

The big abuses — though there have been few in my life as a highly privileged person — those I somehow had a framework for. The cops who bullied me, the entitled men who groped me, the heartless border agents who detained me, the rapist — I understand the conditioning and systems of power hierarchy that led them to be the scumbags they were. I understand why they caused me pain. I do not forgive the system, but I understand that these individuals were caught up in it. In the end, though I hold them responsible them for their actions, I don’t blame them for being conditioned by a system over which they had no control.

But it’s the little indignations— from the people who don’t have a massive societal system conditioning them to feel entitled — those I have trouble understanding, and therefore, forgiving.

7 — We felt pressured to act compassionately without feeling compassion.
That high school administrator? I just ignored her as best I could, even though her hatred ate at my soul. That boss? I never filed a labor board or IRS complaint, though I could have. That landlady? I never took her to small claims court. That entitled roommate? I’m moving out tomorrow. Not because he’s in the right, or because he deserves it — but because I don’t trust him not to make my life hell if I stay, I’d rather not face a legal battle, he’s related to my landlord, and I’m sure they’ll find some tiny thing to “legitimately” kick me out for.

In the end, standing up for myself wasn’t worth it.

In each of these cases, I suffered, had to give the other person what they wanted, and ultimately had to meet their needs without my own ever being met. Even when my own aren’t met, I often feel the desire to act compassionately to another’s needs. This is not because I’m Such A Good Person, but because I understand my own privilege and that I have other options to meet my needs. Losing a security deposit hasn’t crippled me and losing a job hasn’t put me on the streets. I have a support system I can rely on, so it hasn’t been worth the fight.

In each of these cases, what I had to do was to give the other person what they wanted without wanting to do that. I felt I had no other option. I was made powerless by the situation.

8 — We do not love the dingleberries.
The ex-boyfriend who broke up with me for “being too sad” a week after one of my best friends killed herself? Not a dingleberry. The best friend who called me every day to vent about his pain and shamed me for trying to set boundaries when his dependence on me grew too great? Not a dingleberry. The rest of my serious exes who caused me pain? Not dingleberries.

Because I loved them. I do not love the dingleberries.

Even if I never said “I love you” to those exes, I loved them all the same — in moments and in waves. And then I could not hate them, could not feel such disconnect and indignation to cause a dingleberry phenomenon.

When I understand someone, actually understand them, I can’t help but love them. Not in the sense that we typically say “I love you,” in the sense of what love actually is: to see into someone and take them as a part of yourself. When someone apologizes, explains their perspective and why they were horrid to me, I can’t help myself: I forgive them. I feel compassion. I feel empathy and a desire to help. Their needs become a part of my own in that moment. My own pain fades — not at all because I don’t think my pain is valid — but because in the face of feeling love, the pain withers.

I do not think anyone “should” love those who bring them pain. To use a “should” at all is not to love. In a loving state of mind, there are no shoulds. For me, love has become an automatic response to honesty, vulnerability and understanding. The more I understand people, and the easier they become to understand, the less I can really feel anger or hatred towards them.

But the dingleberries — I do not love them. I never got the chance, because they never allowed me in to understand. They never let their guard down to become vulnerable so that we could be honest with one another and resolve the pain. They put up their defenses against what was never an attack, acted like cowards, and hurt me for it with no actual explanation.

Can we shake them off?

Perhaps, the first step to undo something is to understand it. The first step to undoing the clinging of our dingleberries is understanding why we can’t get over them. Rather than telling ourselves to, simply accepting that we haven’t yet, and understanding why. Loving ourselves through it. Forgiving ourselves for holding onto anger that poisons us.

The next step… well. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Anarchism, alchemy, antifragility. Writing for a world where many worlds fit. www.annaronan.com | anna.a.ronan@gmail.com

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