We all want to be good people. We want to treat others well and be treated well. We want to be optimistic, tolerant, generous, honorable, agreeable and kind and many other virtues that we would use to describe someone we would admire very much. We want this because it is right, but also because the pain of being rejected because we don’t have these traits is real.
We want people to like us. To be liked, we try to follow the golden rule and treat others how we would want to be treated — with patience, tolerance and love.
This is how we open ourselves up to abuse. This is how we allow ourselves to be gaslit. When we see something that is wrong, or when we are treated poorly, we must respond to that in very clear terms for our own boundaries and protection. We don’t do this to hurt others. We do this to hurt ourselves. We don’t do this without reason. We do this in reaction to something done to us. In this instances, it is right to not like people and to create boundaries on their access to us as friends, associates, acquaintances. It’s only natural to put limits on their access to us in the future to protect from suffering the same pain they’ve already shown themselves capable of.
If someone hurts you — especially if they have shown no remorse, have not apologized — then it is absolutely right for you to change how you feel about them, view them and treat them. In fact, it is wrong to hold any other position, because if you allow it, you are not only perpetuating harm on yourself but also on others because you are giving tacit permission to the offender that this is allowable and there are no consequences for it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this. I shared an essay on my blog called “Lack of Self-Preservation Isn’t A Virtue” a couple years ago.
In that essay I make the argument that if we don’t protect ourselves, not only do we put ourselves in danger but because we rely on the protection of others, we put others in danger, too.
This essay didn’t get as much attention as I’d hoped. I believe this concept of self-preservation and self-protection being not only a right, but a responsibility, is one of the most important and least applied signs of maturity and personal strength.
Perhaps this concept is more complicated than I first thought. Or more likely, we are so emotionally invested in our projection of virtue and fear of being disliked that we simply don’t want to admit how we create our own misery by refusing to protect ourselves.
When you have a certain mindset you frequently see things in the world a certain way. Some call this confirmation bias, some say if you look for it you will find it, but it also may be a sensitivity to things once we see it. It’s like the Blue and Black vs. White and Gold dress, or Laurel and Yanny, or any other mind games where you are inclined to see it one way but once another way is revealed you can’t stop seeing both ways.
It’s hard to see anything but the old lady in this picture:
But once you see it the other way, you can easily see both ways and can recognize that you weren’t seeing the whole picture before.
That’s how issues of boundaries and self-preservation are for me. So, I will show you, using very simple examples, situations where someone must feel personally or socially obligated to ignore their authentic anger at being wronged, to suppress their instinct for self-preservation when they have every right to be angry and to change their feelings, reaction or relationship with someone.
The example that inspired me to write this article came up when I was wasting precious time in my life by reading an Elle Magazine article about Mandy Moore and Wilmer Valderrama. All I can say is clickbait works and I got sucked into a gossip article by reading the titillating title.
In the article, Mandy Moore shares how she felt when she learned that her ex-boyfriend announced on Howard Stern that he took her virginity, a claim that, according to Moore was a lie and was hurtful to her on a personal level but we also know it was hurtful on a professional level because she was known for her innocent appeal as a young woman who was “waiting for the one.:
In the article, Moore states that she was “shocked” and “it hurt my feelings because I liked him.” Later in the story she is quoted again repeating the same sentiment. “I love him and I still love him, and he’s a very good friend and that’s why I was so shocked by it because not only was it a fib, but it was so unlike him, it was so uncharacteristic.”
Here’s the scenario:
Someone Mandy was in an intimate relationship, to whom she gave her trust, her heart, and affection betrayed her by lying about her in a way that would elevate his status while decreasing hers. The lie put her character, reputation and career in question and she had very little recourse against it. She could deny it, but the idea was already out in the public domain in a way that couldn’t be taken back. It’s like when Scott Adam’s teaches us about thinking past the sale. The rumor went past the sale because regardless of its veracity or who’s side you took, audiences and fans were now questioning who between them they trusted more, who’s story was more believable, who had more at stake to lie.
Here are some thoughts that might run through peoples’ heads, past the sale. Because her career was built on her image of innocence and purity, it would make sense for her to claim she was still a virgin. She had more to lose if this were revealed, so of course she would want to keep it secret. Additionally, in modern society where premarital sex is accepted why would she even refrain from sex? She was dating one of the hottest bachelors at the time, a man whose previous girlfriends were wild child party-girls without any restraint (eg. Lindsey Lohan), to think that he was dating her for so long without having sex was harder to believe than that she was lying about it.
Thus, her character was tarnished because whether it was true or not, she was now suspect and her private life, a relationship that had already ended, was on display, exposed by the very person she had trusted with her most vulnerable feelings at one time.
We can only take Moore’s word for it that it was a lie. But even if it was not a lie, certainly they had an understanding about the situation. Valderrama had clearly betrayed her. To what degree, we will not know but it was a betrayal nonetheless. The agreement of their private relationship was broken.
When someone betrays your trust, it is healthy and good to reassess your relationship to them.
Beyond the betrayal of her trust, there was the potential intent. The only reason for Valderrama to make this claim is to elevate his own status at the expense of hers. There is no other reason for him to reveal details of their personal relationship. The relationship was over.
When someone puts you down for their own gain, they have selfishly and heartlessly used you as a tool and it is not only good, but necessary to establish new boundaries to limit their access to you so that they do not use you again.
She was shocked and hurt because, “it was so unlike him, it was so uncharacteristic.” There’s a first time for everything. Generally our most toxic relationships don’t start out that way. It is important to recognize indiscretions right when they happen and to act on them, or else we are allowing them to continue. We are increasing our own suffering to avoid the discomfort of rejecting others, even when it is a natural, healthy and necessary reaction for self-preservation.
This happened to Moore ten years ago and yet she still describes Valderrama as someone she loves. In her mind, she can’t make sense of this event because it was not like him. But as Maya Angelou would tell her;
After this happened, Moore confronted Valderrama, which was the right thing to do. Never bury your anger or it will come back twice as strong or worse, it will slowly eat you away, turning your soft heart hard with resentment.
But when she confronted him, he didn’t apologize, he weaseled.
“I remember in the moment he tried to explain it away, that sort of he did get caught up, and like he maybe insinuated more than outright said it. And I was like, ‘No, you outright said it,’” Moore told Stern.
This is the third clue that Valderrama was someone she needed to be cautious around and perhaps even cut out of her life.
- He lied.
- He put her down to lift himself
- He lied again.
Do you see how this is adding up?
“Did he realize he lied about it?” Stern asked.
“I don’t know,” Moore conceded. “We don’t talk about it now.” Moore does still see him, though “not as often as [before].” But she doesn’t hold it over him.
Yes, you do know Ms. Moore. If he didn’t know he lied then he is dangerously out of touch with reality. If he did know he lied, then he is a liar. It is good and healthy to avoid both types of people, those who are delusional to the point of utter incompetence and liars. Whichever way you turn it, there is no reason for Moore to “like him” anymore, much less “love him” or (gasp!) still see him.
The only reason for Moore to continue to like someone who treated her so badly is intense cognitive dissonance about the reality playing out before her. It simply was too hard for her to admit that her ex-boyfriend, someone she had likely fallen in love with was a bad apple.
Our own pride is what creates cognitive dissonance. It is one thing to see her ex-boyfriend as a bad apple, but to fully comprehend the situation, Moore would have to confront some uncomfortable truths about herself as well.
First, that she may have had bad judgment in choosing her boyfriend. Or that she gave too much to him, too much trust, too much faith, too much admiration or affection. She likely doesn’t want to be the kind of person who holds back or is cold or suspicious, because in her mind those are bad traits. She is emotionally and ego-invested in being forgiving and open and believing people are good and any harm inflicted is accidental, not because of any evil lingering inside of us.
In short, Mandy Moore gave up more than she was willing to lose and it was too late to get it back, but to lose more, to lose the idea of what she had was another insult upon injury of her memory of their relationship that she couldn’t stand. Thus, cognitive dissonance.
And there is another layer that, on the chance she did lose her virginity to him, she entrusted herself in a very intimate way, and shared that one experience that could never be recovered with the wrong person.
Pride is one of the biggest reasons we do not protect ourselves because to admit that someone we trusted is not who we thought, we have to admit that we were wrong in our assessment of them.
Pride also is a cause for virtue signaling which is what we do when we pretend to ourselves and others that we are okay with being hurt, abused and used because we are “tolerant” and “forgiving.”
Let me make this clear: there is no good reason to tolerate being used or hurt by others. Wanting to be perceived as a martyr is pride and arrogance, not humility.
Secondly, there is no reason to be forgiving to someone who has not apologized or not apologized with sincerity.
Valderrama did not apologize, he denied. He did not even ask for forgiveness, so what Moore is doing by continuing to give him access to her as a friend is enabling and permitting his ongoing abusive behavior.
She isn’t a better person for “seeing past their differences.”
“Tomato / Tomahto” are differences. “I like chicken, you like fish” are differences. “You are a tree hugger and I’m a SUV driver” are differences.
Betraying trust is not a “difference;” it’s a clear abuse of the boundaries and agreements in a relationship.
It is okay to change your relationship, stop liking someone, lose respect and build up protective walls to limit access from someone who has hurt you. It is more than okay, it is necessary.
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