Obnoxious Indifference


I’m not feeling compassion for humanity these days. In this season of giving, I just want to give people a shove out of my way.

I’m not sure how I got here. Five years ago, I was so overwhelmed with the needs of the world that I would cry through most of Morning Edition on NPR. I felt the weight of how much I had compared to most of the world. And challenged myself to give more.

And I did.

In the interim years, I didn’t cry as much, but I pushed myself to give more money and time away. I just had less guilt associated with it.

But lately, I haven’t been able to conjure up this compassion. I don’t see people as hurting and fearful and wounded. In my head, I know that people deserve gentle consideration. But my heart feels hard. Or maybe my heart knows the truth, but my head won’t let go. I only know that I find it uncomfortable and familiar.

Over the last six months, I’ve been hurt by people in unexpected ways. I worry that I’m closing myself off to many because of a few. I hate to think of myself as giving anyone that much power in my life — a change my beliefs and values because of another person’s actions or inactions infuriates me.

But I can’t shake seeing people as threats. Threats to my serenity and peace.  People yell and don’t call and push and hurt. And I want to punch them in the face and say: YOU SUCK. And I have. Well, not so much the punching part, but the waving my fist angrily in the air. And passive aggressive twittering.

Once upon a time, I lived this hardness constantly.

When I was sixteen, something terribly sad happened to my boyfriend. And I couldn’t cry. I should have been. But I could only sit there.

It was the first time that I thought: Perhaps my way of dealing with the world wasn’t working.

And although I continued to see people as usable and ugly for years after that night, a seed had been planted: Being hard wasn’t living life. The older I got, the more I had to acknowledge how alike we are. And how much we deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

And even if we don’t deserve it, I don’t want to be a person who makes others earn my kindness. Or owe me gratitude. Even if the people around me are awful, I would rather have my heart broken a thousand times than be hardened to my fellow humans.

But I feel hard now. I’m not as far gone as I once was. I’m still reacting and crying and hurting, but I just don’t care as much as I would like.  Or I don’t want to care as much as I would like.

I feel disappointed and confused.

I feel unappreciated.

Misunderstood.

No one seems to care enough. And now I’m that no one.

Of course, I know my answer. I will act as if I care until I can care again.

I will give to charities. I will not flick people off. I will censor this side of me.

Because I’m not interested in hurting people.

I might be good at meanness. I might make it sound funny. Or hip.

But it’s not who I am or want to be.

So I wait.

Wishing I could love as much as you deserve.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

32 thoughts on “Obnoxious Indifference

  1. Love this post, Alex. I don’t love it for you, that you feel this way, but I relate. Some honesty back: I felt that way when my kids were the ages of your kids. My midwife called it my “touch meter” and said I was all touched out. I just couldn’t deal with any needs beyond my four walls (and I wasn’t always dealing with the needs there!) Now that they are a little older, it’s gotten better. Just my two cents.

    1. I’m with Nicole.
      being all touched out is a good description. (God love my poor husband…) I think being a SAHM to very small children affects this perspective HUGELY. you are with two people who literally NEED you 24 hours a day. slight improvement when they stop nursing… but man, let’s not understate how that can wear a person out emotionally!

      We had a discussion in our Bible study group a few weeks back about how we could radically change our thinking and make time and money and opportunities to serve the needy in our community this holiday season, and all I could think (as the only parent-couple in the room, and the only SAHM in sight) was, um, I’ve got nothing. nothing on this one, people. I’m utterly out of compassion for strangers at this particular stage in my life …or at this exhausted hour of the night …becuase I am serving my little, beloved, endlessly needy, wanting, in-your-face tiny people all day, every day, all night, every night …and right now, that is MORE important and more urgent, and (sorry if it sounds callous, but) my daily world has used up any capacity for stranger-compassion right now.

      and so it is. i don’t even have the extra emotion to feel bad about it, so… I think right now, it’s right.

      yes, I want to teach my children by example and show them love, kindness, and charity. but today, this moment, I don’t have it in me. I’ve got diapers, tantrums, applesauce on the wall, crayons melted in the dryer, a houseful of little people to love the heck out of, and a crapload of RIGHT NOW needs two feet (or two inches) in front of my face.

      it’s not obnoxious indifference, it’s where you’re at …and if it brings you comfort, I’m right there with you. a few years down the road, we can cry ourselves to the Peace Corps volunteer office, but right now, peace, momma, it’s totally OK.

  2. I think this is what happens as we get older, too. We have so much going on, that it is hard to conjure up enough energy to give a darn about anyone else when we are trapped at home with kids, little adult interaction, and a bunch of insensitive boobs who seem to make our lives more difficult on purpose. It’s hard to remember that they too are living in their own little bubble of indifference:) Hang in there.

  3. I was just talking with my husband the other day about my increasing cynicism with people/the world. I don’t like this about me. But part of me understands it: if you have such low expectations of people, you’re rarely disappointed by them.

  4. Know you are not alone in this and I love the line:
    “So I wait”.
    This shall be my new mantra until the pendulum swings back from desolation to consolation- again. I continue to be a big fan, Onward and upward

  5. It’s hard to not like things about oneself, but I’ve discovered that when the seed of this dissatisfaction has been planted (like you mentioned), the remedy to change it or work through it will be revealed.

  6. I think Nicole made a great point and this is something I am dealing with myself. I find I am at a point where I just don’t care and I don’t like the person I am becoming. So I too wait.

  7. You are not as hard and indifferent as you may think. For example you were able to write this thought provoking blog for all of us to enjoy. I think we all go though phrases though the year where we just don’t care any more and don’t want to put that effort out into the world. But we have to remember that sometimes the smallest thing makes the biggest difference. Like for me, getting to read your blog in the morning usually gives me a great laugh or something to think about for the rest of the day. And the little old lady that is the Walmart welcome person that smiles and says hey to me and my daughter when we walk in makes me smile every time. I think we all deserve a little Blah time, but to always remember to pull out of it because you never know who relies on our smile to get though the day. Oh and I always love what Nicole said!

  8. People who have the potential to hurt deeply often move though periods of self-anasthesia.

    It’s a defense mechanism. You’ve discussed your son’s intense reactions and feelings – probably you have part of that too?

    But know what you DON’T want to be is the key to being who you DO want to be.

    So I believe you will get there.

    And as someone who is the queen of the self-defense bitchy-snark comment, I can tell you that it is truly a pre-emptive strike strategy.

    You will be who you want to be.

    In this season of hope, I have lots of it for you.

  9. Sometimes the world is too much, and the little family I have takes all my energy and strength and love. And I have nothing left to give. I want to care more about the world, but… I don’t have it in me. So, instead I try to at least not not care. To be compassionate in the small doses I have within me and not worry about the bigger, grander, broader picture. Because I can’t. Sometimes it’s easier to be soft and gentle if you have good borders.

    But the mean people. They suck. And I’m sorry.

  10. Thank you for being you, and for being honest. Your post once again touched me deep inside and made me feel better about me. I know that’s a crazy thing to say – it’s not all about “me” but what I mean is you’ve once again made me not feel isolated and alone and for that I thank you – again. I’ve been feeling the same way lately. I’ve been reevaluating my relationships and frankly they suck. I hope I can start to care again.

  11. Speaking from experience (sadly), if you’re cynical and angry as a kid, that attitude ends up being your default attitude. It’s a battle every day to overcome, or at least control, it. I think you’re on the right path; sometimes by acting positive and caring for a prolonged period, the default changes. =)

  12. I had a close girlfriend who was more like a sister to me in Chucktown. She basically ditched me and gave no excuse. It’s been very hard to get close to girls again to try and build BFF friendships like that again. They are so hard to come by anyway. But part of being in “relationship” with people is allowing yourself to get beat up now and then and building it stronger after. So, you are so loved. Even when you are at your happiest or lowest your fan club finds you irresistible (whoops, glad I spell checked because it almost said “arrestable”). The world? It’s a dark and sick place. Insert faith comment here – that’s why we need Jesus. Ok, moving on…don’t let “the man” get you down girl! :o) You are too spunky for that. Loving you from down the street!!!! And people constantly let me down too.

  13. Exactly.
    I found myself in this exact place very often.
    So I faked caring until I started to care. For some reason it worked. It’s possible it will wear off… and I suppose I’ll just fake it again… and again.

  14. *hugs*

    I care.

    *hugs*

    and I understand. I’ve been feeling the same way. life has been throwing me too much. too much to handle. so it feels better to walk away. to lock down. I know.

    *hugs*

  15. Another of my favorite mom bloggers did a beautiful post yesterday about feeding the good wolf, sort of the concept you’re advocating. Check it out… And if you haven’t read her blog before, maybe it’ll help you reconnect with the world. It makes me cry. Every. Single. Freaking. Time. Darn her!

    http://www.kellehampton.com

  16. great post and one to which I can relate. maybe all of us can sometimes. though some poeple might fake it better? anyway that’s what I tell myself to help me sleep at night. may you fake it till you make it. just considering this makes you kind.

  17. I think Nicole brought up a valid point, and it’s definitely something I feel daily. I am so emotionally maxed out that I have anything left to give myself or my husband, much less strangers. And there is also that law of diminishing returns, or something like they. That all of our efforts to reach out and be altruistic and all that may not always pay off. And then, there is the fact that people seem to be doing more and more horrendous things lately. I know that every person has a goodness inside, but humanity as a whole seems to be acting really rotten, lately.

  18. I feel this exact same way…I can feel my compassion slipping away. And serene and peaceful are not words I would use to describe my outer or inner life! Someone else also said it, but I think much of our compassion is used to maintain patience and sanity as we parent these very young people. The compassion is not gone, it’s just been redirected for a while. Out of necessity- maybe it’s even an evolutionarily stable trait that actually helps ensure the survival of our species! Your awareness and honesty and your faith will help you pull your heart out of the other end of the wringer. You are not hard. You are Alex and you are full of love.

  19. Beautiful post. It’s very hard to love as much when you have small children. Your every love energy is used up in loving them. So you try not to cause damage until you can feel again. It’ll come back.

  20. Life just sucks. No two ways about it. The trick is to find the nuggets of gold and hang on to them, let them fuel you and try to hold it together when they are so few. I’ve had months and months of holding it together, and then I just stopped. And I realized things wouldn’t fall a part. It was okay to not be good. To just f’ing be. Sometimes when we set aside the barriers, we realize there is simplicity in letting go and moving on. Easy for me to say now. Medicated. But I’m striving to it, and I know you can. And know that I am always here for you. You just need to reach out.

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