I’m my own worst critic. A lot of us are. I don’t like this about myself. A lot of us don’t. But I finally have a strategy to make it stop happening.
Of course we’re our own worst critics: we know better than anyone else our abilities, capacities, our “should”s — we know our potential, so we know when we fall short. We know our dreams, our honest-to-goodness, non-filtered-for-“reality” dreams. We know the lessons we should have learned, the mistakes we keep making.
We have all the data to give ourselves the most accurate grade possible, and the way we were taught to grade as kids is to start at 100 and work our way backwards. I’m not as happy as I should be despite my privileges. Minus 1. Why did I engage in that harmful relationship that was so much like the other harmful relationships I was in? Minus 5, one for each. Minus 2 more for not learning the lesson. Minus 10 for pointing out a “flaw” in someone else you know you embody. And so on.
From “I would never treat anybody this way.”
This is something I have heard myself say dozens of times. I know that I have an unhealthy standard I set for myself, and that with other people I lead with compassion and understanding, while I never give myself the benefit of the doubt. This understanding is as far as I’ve gotten, or at least it was. And for good reason: I can’t give myself the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt.
I know. I know better. I know what I should be doing. How I should be feeling. I know.
It’s easy for me to treat other people with compassion when they experience a shortcoming I would berate myself for, because I don’t know if they know what I know. I don’t know if they know we create our own obstacles to happiness. But I do. I know that. So I should be better.
What’s worse: I know I shouldn’t should. Oops. There I go again. But I know better. That’s why. I know what I know, and I know better. That’s at the crux of all of this.
To “I would never treat any body this way.”
I’ve been working with a business coach, her name is Paula, at the suggestion of a friend. I am doing a lot of stuff, but I have been doing it in an emotionally, physically, financially (and plenty of other-ially) unsustainable way. Paula is just plain delightful, but also sharp as a tack.
We were chatting about the issue of how I struggle with the hate campaigns that get pointed in my direction. It just feels wrong, and makes me physically ill, which makes it hard for me to do anything. Then I get frustrated with myself for feeling that way, because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t allow others’ misconceptions of me and my work to affect my well-being. It’s silly. So then I’m frustrated two-fold. Inception of frustration. Not ideal.
I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come from it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Then she pointed out something I already knew.
“Your intellect has matured to this point, but your limbic system hasn’t.”
Right. That’s true. That’s the annoying part. It’s that I know I shouldn’t be experiencing this body discomfort, this genuine ill. It makes me sick. It hurts in my chest. That’s what annoys me. That’s the double-whammy.
Then she said basically the same thing, again, but this time I heard it differently.
These are separate. My intellect — my mind, the higher logic, my me — is not my body — my limbic brain, my reflexes, my physical response system. The first one is the one that writes on this site, that gives advice to others, and that sometimes (oftentimes) berates the second one.
Applying Sanford’s Theory of Challenge & Support to Myself
In grad school, one of the most important things I learned was that we need to meet someone where they are, and help them grow incrementally toward who they want to be.
The theory being that if you challenge someone too much, they’ll become overwhelmed; and if you support them too much, they’ll stagnate; the appropriate combination for growth is challenge mitigated by support.
The idea being that you don’t go from 1 to 100. You go from 1 to 2. 2 to 3. 3 to 4. And so forth.
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Previously, I had been treating my limbic self (my body’s reflexive responses to these external stimuli) as being on the same level as my intellectual self (the higher reasoning self that has spent way too much time thinking about these things).
I was holding myself to a high standard, which would be fine if I just had one self and it was at a high level. But that’s not what’s happening. There are two selfs here: one part of me needs challenge to thrive (the intellectual part), as well as a second part of me that needs support (the limbic part).
Moving Forward: Supporting instead of Challenging
It’s time that I stop holding my body to a standard that I would never hold anybody else to. It’s time I start realizing that knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it, and that’s okay. To know that the way for my body to catch up with my mind is by meeting it where it’s at, the same way I’d meet anybody where they’re at.
Right now, my body isn’t okay with a lot of things my mind understands and can rationalize with ease. My body craves things my mind doesn’t (like cheese and sunburn). It reacts to things in immature ways (like how I sometimes almost vomit with sadness when I read the horrible things people say about me on the internet — people who don’t, and likely never will, know me).
Pretending it doesn’t, or yelling that it shouldn’t, won’t change that. Maybe someday — hopefully someday — it’ll catch up, but that’s not going to happen if I keep trying to make it go from a 1 to 100. I need to focus on getting it to 2 first, or I’m not going to get anywhere. And to do that, I need to treat it how I would treat any other body: with compassion, understanding, and support.
And that’s something my mind can totally (finally) get behind.