I dedicated so much energy and headspace in my life to anticipating the criticism of my parents and people like them. It wasn’t paranoia–they seemed gifted in finding fault and mistakes I was apparently constantly making in my life; I don’t think they knew how to stop. Criticism and finding fault was a stuck mode for them just as it became a stuck mode for me to run all my “coping” mechanisms, which included:
- Criticising myself first
- Rationalising everything that could get criticism
- Hiding whatever would get criticism
- Anticipating their criticism
- Just hiding and avoiding attention
- Keeping myself “safe” from the dangers they anticipated
- Minimising myself and my interests first
- Pretending I didn’t care
- Getting ready to deflect criticism by pointing out worse things and going “at least I’m not ________”
- Sometimes being the hypercritical asshole to other people because it again deflected criticism from myself
…And having all these tied to my rock-bottom self-worth because I couldn’t even make the money that would justify my existence and “wrongness”, always feeling like I was on the wrong planet.
I shouldn’t have been in this self-defensive, self-hating survival mode for so long. I was around people who were emotionally derelict. I should have stopped seeking their permission and approval. I can see how building my life around protection from constant criticism, inside and out, lead to my autoimmune problems and other chronic (and expensive) health issues.
And despite EMDR therapy, I recognise how much time and space I still need to get out of these thought patterns around criticism and defence, even if I’m now less triggered, more regulated, and don’t interact in any meaningful way with the people who set, and frequently activated, these fight/flight patterns. I just don’t want to fall into these patterns again. The damage was such that I was often deeply unhappy and numb, and I’m still healing. But at least it no longer matters to me if these people change, because now I’m making sure nothing in my life is dependent on their actions and opinions.
I’m determined to live a different way. Actually I’m just determined to live. (Losing one’s only sibling to suicide can harden that determination.)
I know now that the healing work with the nervous system takes time and space, and a wholly different environment with different people: loving, supportive, and hopeful people, people who see me, people who accept me as I am, people who don’t jump into judgement and attack for whatever I present that is new to their experience so far.
I suppose and I’ve accepted that I can challenge certain people just by being me. In a weird way, I’ve learned this is where the (occasional) narcissist and their shaming and projection attempts can be useful.
I meditate on the words: “You can’t use against me what I accept and love in myself.” (If you know who I can attribute this to, I’ll look into it and give credit.)
I feel like I fought my entire life to love myself and everything I found meaningful and worth pursuing. Miserable bullies and cowards attack what gives others joy and meaning. And I know I was one for a while too.
I’m still often angry and wondering why I had to go through the experiences I did. But that anger is an energy I can channel into writing and speaking.
The morning after writing this, it strikes me as ridiculous how privileged I am in that I’m cis and het but my “crimes” had been being female, sensitive, attracted to art, and questioning of dumb norms. But it also might have had nothing to do with me at all, just the “bad luck” of being around insecure and hapless adults in a society obsessed with conformity and superficial signs of success. Live and learn.