I’m highly self-critical and have been since I was a small child. While I’ve gotten better with age at learning to loosen up on the reins, I still get blindsided by my own critical thoughts. I’ll be standing in line at the post office, and I’ll hear my mind say, “OMG. I can’t believe you wore that shirt. Everyone is looking at your horrible shirt choice.”
Thanks brain. Thanks.
The improvement I’ve had is more in the handling of the voice than the actual content of the voice. A few years ago I would hear that comment and then say, “Geez. You’re right! I better go home and not show my face until I’m acceptable to the general public.” Objectively, I know that voice is harsh. I don’t have boils or T-rex arms. I’m perfectly fine.
My friends and family will often try to help by telling me just how pretty/smart/funny they think I am. Thanks guys. But just so you know, that need for acceptance is a drooling beast with an insatiable hunger for compliments. He isn’t going to be full after a few minutes. He’ll always want more. In my mind, the compliment monster looks a little bit like this:
This dude is wide-eyed and drooling for approval. His stubby little T-Rex arms are helplessly pawing at you. Tell him those warts on his face don’t exist. Tell him he’s pretty.
Yesterday, I asked my husband to look over something for my website because I wanted to know his opinion. (Or at least that’s what I thought.) He looked at it and paused. In reality, that pause was probably only a 1/2 of a second, but it seemed like an eternity. Internally, my mind had already told me how idiotic I was for even asking. And as my inner-critic tends to do, it piles on the put-downs:
“You’re a failure, and your hair looks crappy too.”
“You can’t write, AND your life is a lie.”
Before he even began to speak, I started walking away. I realized that my query for constructive criticism was really just a cloak for a request for more compliments. That sneaky monster snuck in under the guise of receiving feedback, but he really wanted someone to tell him he was pretty. I was complicit in the feeding of the beast. I’m not saying that any approval given to me is bad, but the constant desire for it is just downright needy, tiresome, and even self-absorbed. What gets my goat is that my monster doesn’t even savor the positive affirmations he does get.
“Yeah, yeah, I get that we’re beautiful. What else?”
There’s no dealing with this asshole.
So, I walked away from my husband that day because I had to put me and the approval monster in the corner. I owned up to my loving, yet bewildered, spouse that I really didn’t want constructive criticism. I wanted to tell me I was good enough, which he proceeded to do. Yet, I noticed that even then, it was hard to hear, not because I don’t trust his opinion, because I had not decided to believe it yet. The whole, “Am I good/fit/pretty/smart/talented enough?” debate is really just a decision. My mistake was thinking that good enough was a feeling. I wasn’t going to stop asking, “Am I ______ enough?” until I felt satisfied. I had to decide that I was satisfied.
I am a good enough teacher, a good enough writer, a good enough wife, woman, and even a good enough Crayola artist of metaphorical head monsters. I’m good enough not because I won an award, got Facebook likes, or because people told me. I’m good enough because I just decided I was. And feeling good enough is really just a practice in sticking with your decision. Like any decision we make in life, we may have doubt. I may feel the tug of warty T-Rex arms, and then I just get to remind him and me that we decided already.