Feeling Shortchanged

by teresalaynebennett

photo of hand holding a penny and a quarter

Are YOU feeling shortchanged?

I once knew a child who obviously felt shortchanged, though he was so young I doubt he could’ve named his feelings as “shortchanged.” His mother began having an affair when he was still an infant and by the time he was ready for school, had abandoned her boy for her boyfriend. In fact, she’d probably checked out emotionally long before she checked out physically.

She allowed her Lover-boy to steal her husband’s wife, her son’s emotional security, and her family’s financial stability. That little boy, like many of us, had lost what’s important to most of us: a stable and loving family. Did he have good reason for feeling shortchanged? You bet.

How about you?
Are you feeling shortchanged?

Has something happened in your life that makes you feel someone – maybe the whole world – owes you? Maybe they do. Maybe you do, indeed, have ample reasons to feel that someone owes you big time.

On the other hand, maybe your perception isn’t totally accurate. Maybe what happened didn’t happen in quite the way you remember it: our memory plays tricks on us sometimes. At other times, we subconsciously (and sometimes even consciously) tweak memory to suit us. Then we get so accustomed to the “revised” version, we’re absolutely certain it’s what really happened.

Given how we can trick our own memories, maybe it doesn’t matter if your perception, which led you to feeling shortchanged, is correct or not. Psychologists tell us that whether it’s a real or perceived memory, it has the same effect on us. If we believe something happened to us – even if it didn’t – the effect on us is the same as if it really had happened.

But that’s not the point I want to make.

Here’s the real,
pay-attention gem.

Going through life feeling shortchanged usually means we act shortchanged – in all sorts of ways – and that’s where true trouble begins. It’s the pay-attention bit I’ve learned (and am STILL learning) the hard way and desperately want to pass on to you.

For this little boy it meant that when Mom and Lover-boy offered to take him out to dinner, he ordered the entire left side of the menu, ate a few bites, and wasted the rest. Who would scold him? Mom knew she couldn’t. Lover-boy knew he certainly couldn’t. So they gulped, paid for enough food to feed half an orphanage, left it on the table, and took their exit. Son got his revenge. He’d been shortchanged and someone had just paid.

When we’re not paying attention, we can get a secret little thrill when we hear a story like this: Good for him. He evened the score a bit. When we are paying attention, we know that evening the score never works because the other party can now do something else which shortchanges us yet again, and then we’ve got to try to even the score again. As you know, this quickly morphs into a form of Monopoly – a game that can go on forever.

Good news: there’s a better way
for dealing with “shortchanged.”

We can pay attention to our own pitiful, shortchanged behavior and decide to stop it. After all, it really doesn’t make us feel better, not when we practice it on the person we feel has shortchanged us and certainly not when we practice it on unsuspecting, innocent people who have never shortchanged us and don’t plan to.

Back to this little boy. By puberty, he’d fallen into the habit of ordering the left side of the menu when anyone took him to a restaurant. But by this age, he’d also begun to realize it’s rather bad form to waste other people’s money – people who are being kind to us and trying to treat us.

Feeling shortchanged had caused him to develop the self-sabotaging habit of trying to even the score. He insisted on ordering far more food than he could possibly eat – even though the adults with him tried to talk him out of ordering so much – and was then overcome with embarrassment when he realized he couldn’t eat all his food – again – and had wasted a kind, well-meaning person’s money – again.

He couldn’t seem to help himself – and this is the real tragedy of the faulty thinking that leads to bad habits. He knew his habitual behavior of trying to even the score (especially with innocent parties) was not a good thing, yet he just kept slipping into that old, familiar – and very bad – habit. 

It’s the dilemma in which we ALL find ourselves when confronted with our own bad habits. But again, I digress, I want to dwell on this habit of perceived shortchanged-ness until we’re all sick of it and resolve to pay attention and deal with it in our own lives.

What other tatty habits
might we have adopted
because we feel shortchanged?

Some of us are consistently late for work and social appointments. We make other people wait on us because, after all, Mom was ALWAYS late when it was her weekend to keep us at her house. We’ve become adept at punishing others for crimes they didn’t commit.

Some of us absolutely must be first – in line, choosing the movie, into the car to ride shotgun, etc. It’s our way of trying to even the score because, dang it, Dad ALWAYS let Big Sis go first, and now we’re going to be first . . . no matter what! (I’d just like to point out right here that always is a very bigand way-too-often overused – word.)

Some of us had a big brother who loved to tease us – unmercifully. His teasing went well beyond good nature. So now, as an adult, we get even by teasing him unmercifully – and everyone else, as well – until they’re all ready to slap us. They don’t, though. Too well mannered for that. They’re just “busy” the next time we call to go to a movie, or a game, or a concert.

And that’s a big ole warning signal. When we find our friendships consistently die premature deaths, when family members regularly have too many other commitments and don’t ever seem to have time for us, it’s time to pay attention. We may, indeed, be allowing our shortchanged-ness to make others pay – others who had nothing to do with our perceived or real shortchanged-ness.

The pay-attention finale:

Feeling shortchanged – justifiably or not – is quite understandable in the short term and obviously unhealthy in the long term. We all need to find ways to stop habits born of shortchanged-ness – the sooner, the better. Got any suggestions?

© 2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” – Gandhi

Translation: getting even makes us all losers.

red box with white text: “. . .love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. . . .” – Jesus, Luke 6:35a, NIV Bible

Waaay before Gandhi, Jesus knew this truth.