Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash.
There’s a lot that I’m learning at this time in my life, as with all times of lives (lol wut?), but one persistent lesson I’m running into is the importance of discerning between others’ negativity and my own self-worth.
Someone threw me a few comments a while ago that keep buzzing around my head: “Other people have problems with you,” (who?? What can I do to stop bothering these mysterious people?) and “we never say anything because we want to protect you” (protect me from what?? And again, who’s this “we”? Is there a weekly Luke discussion I can sit in on?)
The logical part of my mind, which is admittedly smaller than other parts, assumes this person’s comments were made from a place of insecurity or fear. That to some extent they really had nothing to do with me. And yet if they were made in an effort to bring me down, to reduce the positive opinions I have of myself, then they did one heck of a job. There’s clearly some irony there. So I have to take some power away from those comments and make them less successful in their efforts to weaken my wellbeing.
I haven’t yet discovered an effective method to combat the memories and resist their pull into negative mental spirals. To me, that shows the importance of thorough curiosity when initially met with icky situations… an empathetic ear even when confronted with what you perceive to be strange behaviour. Because I’m sure I’m not alone in my experience of overthinking vague comments about issues that are clearly important to the people I care about.
In this case I’m not entirely sure what that “strange behaviour” was on my part and I therefore can’t improve. Instead, I’m left trying to fit the puzzle piece they gave me into all aspects of my life. Are the problems people have with me something about how I express myself? About the art I make? Are they not saying anything to me directly because they’re trying to protect me from myself? From an alien invasion? What is it, exactly?
Typically I’d want to engage in more conversations with my critic in this situation to see if I can glean some sort of life lesson that I can actually work with. But since the lines of communication have been cut, by the individual and also by the people with the ability to facilitate an environment for effective discussion, I’m left with all that juicy material swooshing around my head. And I have to learn to be OK with that. Apparently.
(I do believe that in this particular case I’m left to my own devices because there are certain unconscious biases and discomforts preventing the other parties from genuine empathy, but that doesn’t have much to do with the point I’m trying to make here)
“Alright,” my mind tells me, “you have to accept the negative feedback at face value with no neat and tidy resolution in sight. You have to learn to sit with the endless loop in your head telling you you’re not good enough… that you’re not worthy of a compassionate conversation that can lead to positive growth.”
But of course we can’t tie our self-worth to the unformed and unfinished opinions of others. In fact, we can’t tie our self-worth to any external opinions: self-worth is what it is because it comes from the self. Duh. It’s something we have to define for ourselves.
We have to remind ourselves that we are all breathing, complicated, and beautiful humans who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Of course we’re bound to mess up. We’re destined to miscommunicate and take missteps along the way. But mistakes are opportunities for growth. They’re not dead ends, nor are they necessary, permanent pergatories where we’re sent to reflect on all the perceived “bad things” we’ve done.
The lesson I’m (slowly) learning: criticism without a sound foundation is not true criticism, it’s just venting. It’s more about that other person than it is about you. Continue identifying your faults and working on them, absolutely. Don’t be a dick. But the only person who knows you best is yourself. You can’t let the foggy interpretations of others dull your natural shine.
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash.