This is not going to be a post about weight issues; I’m a woman and I’m getting married next year so of course I want to shed a few pounds, but usually there are enough other things in my life to beat myself up about without going down that road. The biggest parts of me aren’t wobbly and they can’t be fixed by dieting or surgery. They are negative characteristics; as soon as someone mentions that I could have made their tea differently or that my work could do with improvement, those words fill my head. Everything else is shrunk to a negligible size and the criticism, however constructive, takes on a life of its own. Reinforcements are called in from my well-stocked store of negative things that have been said to or about me and those words go from a comment in context to an indelible character trait. Trained in logic as I am, in the face of this overwhelming evidence of my own inadequacy I crumble.
I am still learning, still slowly, to fight off this tendency and question the amplification of the original trigger before the others show up, but sometimes it’s like trying to beat off a grizzly bear armed only with a spoon and it’s much easier to just give up (and then, even better, I’ve got more proof that I’m weak and pathetic). In the instruction manual to accompany the massive sign that would be attached to my head in an ideal world, there would be a whole chapter on watching what you say to me, because if it can be taken in even a slightly non-positive way I can guarantee that any other interpretation will be immediately and unceremoniously dismissed. Sadly, though, it’s me that has a problem and not the world I’m in, so it’s me that needs to change. (But I’m crap, so I can’t).
This is an entirely symmetrical process; positive things, if they get through the filter and into my brain, are attached to anything and everything that isn’t me – the quality of the tea-making apparatus, anyone else who was involved, the alignment of Mars and Uranus. Trying to praise me is like banging your head against a brick wall; I won’t have any of it and if I’m feeling particularly animated I might even laugh in your face. If I do start believing a word of it then I feel guilty and arrogant and it’s back to the simultaneously uncomfortable and comforting (like a cage in piranha-infested waters) place where I know I’m bad and that’s just how things are.
Of course, everyone is self-critical, or at least modest, sometimes. Everyone picks up on negative words that are sent in their direction. But everyone else can take them in context; if they’re constructive they can be used and if not they can be brushed off. Maybe a harsh word can ruin your day, but it probably can’t ruin your life. And why should it? Although it turns out that the parental favourite ‘sticks and stone may break my bones…’ is a complete lie, it is utterly irrational to let throwaway comments take over your brain. But wait, depression is a mental illness, so it makes me irrational. Or, more rationally, it makes me think in an irrational way sometimes, though I’m getting better at taking a step back from it. That last sentence sounds too much like a compliment though; I take it back.