A couple of weeks ago I ventured back to see my therapist for my annual emotional check-up. This is something I typically do every year, sort of like preventive maintenance for my psyche. While I did not have an issue this year, I was vaguely unsettled when I got there and wound up talking to him about my own trash talk to myself. The guilts. The shoulds. The feelings of always being slightly to majorly inadequate. The beating the crap out of me for what I perceive as normal behavior and human falterings in everyone else.
In other words, my expectations of myself are completely unrealistic.
Insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety are and have been so much a part of my life that it is very difficult to even imagine life without each dogging my every step in some way, shape, or form. From the very simple exercises my therapist gave me a couple of weeks ago to raise awareness of my existing habits, I have been practicing mightily to show some progress when I see him on Tuesday. Simple things, like positive affirmations, complimenting myself, thinking about the best outcome when I feel anxious rather than the worst – stuff like that. And since my habit is to believe the worst of myself in every single situation, I have had to consciously think about everything I think or say to or about myself the last couple of weeks. Before I will be capable of building newer, better ones, I have to identify and break myself of the old ones. And there is no way I would or could be able to do that all on my own.
I am likely over-simplifying the therapeutic process, but I would like to become a more competently confident person. Work is … well, work … but I have learned to do my job, comport myself and perform needed tasks to a comfortable degree of success. It probably helps that I am not afflicted with megalomania-like career ambitions as well and do not crave attention or recognition for my efforts. M and I have a successful, happy marriage, wonderful family and good friends, and my degree of comfortable with any and all of that has evolved over my lifetime. I would really like to not be in my 80s before feeling like I can manage to step outside my tiny, narrow comfort zone without a paper bag in my pocket. This year seems to be the time when I am finally ready to address this aspect of my life and personality.
My overall health is on the upswing, and I could not be happier about it. I have feelings of inadequacy or undeserving of my success, and whether it’s wrong or unfair or just plain stupid of me to feel that way does not change the reality of the way my mind and emotions process. I know I have worked hard; I know I had paid attention and listened carefully to J in our sessions and others in my life who support me in these efforts. Yet inside I am waiting for the downside news about it to be delivered.
Through the years I have learned better, different ways to cope with the bad things that have befallen me. I have not always had the resources or the ability to cope with the reality of those resources, and in truth I can only deal with one problem at a time. My history is littered with therapists and counselors and others who have wanted to help me accept the awesomeness that is me (read that with heavy emphasis on sarcasm) and I either have not been ready or simply not been capable of utilizing their help.
My habit of self-depreciation and being concerned that any sort of confidence comes across as conceit or big-headedness is always with me. Always. Sometimes it is megaphone loud, other times just the barest hint of a whisper. The steady thrum of That Voice keeps me sabotaging myself if things go too well or holds me in thrall and keeps me from accepting that I could be better or more accepting that I am at least good enough.
At my core, I strive to be a caring and generous person. When you grow up convinced you are not good at best and really, really bad at worst, you strive to emulate what seems to be good. I have a natural desire to help others, to be a good friend, and to be a productive and caring family member. I would put my last pennies into the SA kettles at Christmas time, my allowance into the offering plate at church if so moved. It took years for me to not give money to any panhandler who asked. Part of it was fear of them, but more importantly I recognize that it was my fear of becoming them that made me give whatever bill or bills that happened to be in my pocket or in my wallet.
Becoming a parent curbed that impulse, my desire to protect and feed my own children stronger than my fear and rock-solid belief that I would someday end up in the gutter, in jail, or murdered because of my own poor judgment. Becoming a single parent, being beyond broke, and working hard to make ends meet all on my own taught me a lot about my own strength and creative resourcefulness. Parenting taught me how to overcome my own innate selfishness; single parenting taught me that I am far more competent than I ever believed.
As the years have passed, I have done better than I ever imagined in the good personhood division. I am a good mother, a good partner, and a good and great friend to many. However, I am so ruthlessly and routinely unkind to myself. For anyone else in my life, I can be a sympathetic and empathetic listener, a kind and compassionate friend. I try hard to be generous to those I care for in all ways possible, and I am learning, slowly learning, to accept their generosity toward me in return. It has taken years. I am still learning, still struggling every day.
But I feel grossly inadequate and anxious about being good enough. Still.
When I started with this particular therapist years ago, we started slowly and he ultimately got me/M and I through a marital crisis. He also taught me a lot about my own tendency toward self-sabotage and how to curb those behaviors. He has talked me through what felt like debilitating depression and my own uncertainty about pragmatism versus faith. He has called me out on many occasions about my self-esteem and negative self image, yet I have not been ready until recently to hold up a mirror and take a long look at it.
So now we start.
These last couple of weeks I have been focused on restraining my anxiety by imagining positive outcomes. It’s January and work is crazy busy and filled with the pressure of deadlines. I know it will all work out, because it does always work out, year after year. This year I have been contemplating a better outcome, where I am not just fried and frustrated when February starts, and it seems to be working relatively well. While work is kicking my ass with sheer volume, I am happy about the way things are progressing and the pace and tempo of work. The regular amounts of exercise help, I think; I have other things to think about, focus on, obsess over other than the drone of client unhappiness.
This morning at the gym I was wondering if I am happy. For the most part, I am happy; life is good and I know I am extraordinarily blessed. The rest of it is mostly fluff, cannot be altered, or matters little in the fabric of my life. What I am most dissatisfied with I am working slowly and steadily toward changing. Like the exercise and the diet, and now my outlook – these are things I can change with time and a lot of effort. I am improving with the exercises trainer J has been teaching me, which is progress in itself, and someday I will be even more proficient with time and practice. “Someday” is not forever and need not be a terribly long time, either.
I do not believe in the concept of perfect happiness, or perfect anything for that matter. Yet it is an expectation I hold for myself. Why is that? If I had answer, I would probably never write another post that feels this kind of shitty.
There is so much negativity in the world, and it all too frequently feels as if I am drawn to it like moth to flame. I met a potential client yesterday and my genuine concern for his long-term health is overwhelmed with my distaste for the smoke/smoking smells. Friends and their dating escapades seem more and more like torturous adventures in how to bring out the worst in ourselves and other people we meet, things that began with such fragile, hopeful promise dissolve into something so unpleasant and irritating and all too frequently hurtful.
It is surprisingly difficult to see past the low-hanging fruit of gleefully bashing what is not perfectly agreeable to us. It seems we burrow deep looking for the flaws in every situation. Or maybe it is just me, with my current laser-focus on my attitudes and ideas. I find myself so wanting in this area, and it kind of sickens me. How did I become such an unbearable, insufferable sad sap?
Intellectually I understand what TM (my therapist is another M and this is how I shall refer to him going forward) is trying to wake me up to, reach me, and ultimately teach me new ways. It feels as if I am visually impaired in my ability to see myself clearly, and I am not sure how we will overcome that. I trust him and feel sure he has tricks and tools and skills I cannot fathom.
At my core I am a hopeful person … for everyone else. I have to believe this is one more obstacle I will overcome for myself.