The Most Dangerous Criticism is Criticism of Yourself
Dateline: Cabo San Jose. They’re always finding fugitives here. Or at least they do on the many crime shows I watch with abandon. There’s a guy at the next table who’s a dead ringer for the most unlucky guy in the world. All three of his wives went missing soon after he increased their life insurance.
The Inner Torturer
Self-criticism is the worst kind of criticism for all of us. (Except for that shady looking man at the next table.) What starts as a full barrage of self-doubt may take off with a criticism from another. Or an imaginary criticism from someone else. But more often our dive into self criticism begins in our own heads. A fear pops up and we pay lots of attention to it.
This is most obvious when we only remember the negative comments of others. For years and years. We remember and wonder, “What if they were right about me?” The Torturer takes her strength from singling out the one tiny negative or perceived negative piece of the picture and ignoring everything else. The Torturer keeps these little jewels in wait until we have a weak moment, then reminds us of each and every one.
Or maybe that’s just me.
List of Crimes: When my mother broke up a fight between my sister and me, she said I was selfish. What if she was right? . . I worked at a fast food joint in high school and when the assistant manager position came open, the manager said I wasn’t right for the job. What did that mean? . . In my junior year in high school I overheard my boyfriend say he could cheat on me and I would take him back. Do I have low self-esteem? Is it that obvious? . . . In a disastrous and brief marriage attempted as a teen, my husband said I did not have the self-discipline to go to college. Have I somehow slipped through the gears and wrongfully been awarded a doctorate and a license? Have I tricked publishers into buying my work?
Okay, I may have gone a little overboard. The hamburger joint manager was probably right about my lack of assistant managerial capabilities. We each have a list of fears we bring up when we are anxious. At some time in evolution, this process was likely important to our survival. Perhaps, the Torturer was needed to stir up our adrenaline so that we could stave off the really big bears ready to crash the campfires we huddled around hugging our babies in our caves.
This one post will not quiet the Inner Torturer. We live in an ‘other directed’ so-called American Dream in which we learn to value ourselves based on how we impress others. As if we could buy off the Torturer with a fancy car or a degree or a smaller rear or a facelift.
Get perfect on the outside to feel good on the inside.
But more later on the difference between who you think you are and the rat race of proving it . . . to recognizing who you really are without the desperation.
For now maybe awareness can help a little–when you are in the midst of a good ball of anxiety about not cutting it as a woman, as a mother, as a professional, as a butt-size, as a spouse, or as whatever kind of woman you’ve decided will determine whether or not you have “made it.” (I’m fairly convinced I can be a good student and a competent psychologist—which only means I had to raise the bar. Am I a writer anyone would want to read? Do I have anything to say? Who do I think I am? Is my writing one big self-delusion to prove I’m ‘right for the job’ or am I simply being ‘selfish’? Am I kidding myself to think I have the ‘self-discipline’ to complete a novel?)
Okay, since I’ve used all personal examples, I’m back wondering if my mother nailed my personality when I was five. My goal, of course, is that by these examples you will be able to recognize your Personal Self-Torturer List of Crimes and loosen their grip at least a little.
The hope is that we can remember those women around the campfires and recognize that self-criticism is natural. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to manage the beast. Screaming when we don’t get the biggest chunk of food is probably natural too, and we’ve managed that urge into submission. Sometimes.
The process of healthy change is underway when we can pull back on our habit of criticizing ourselves for criticizing ourselves.