Why in God’s name do we tell ourselves such harsh things?
One reason I think is because we believe we know ourselves better than everyone else in existence. In a way, this is true. We know every single deep dark secret, every action, every thought, every lie, every misgiving, every emotion. But does knowing all these things mean we’re better judges of who we are and therefore should not be open to explore and make mistakes and be human? And so, what we do is, good or bad, we listen to this ‘expert’ of ourselves, and what’s more, we trust more of the bad stuff than the good. Or ANY of the good. And then we judge ourselves even more unworthy, closing off opportunities of praise, love, humanity, and creative freedom. When things don’t go right for us in our impossible expectations (and they won’t if we keep this up), we get depressed, and so we judge ourselves again, just confirming the hateful things we already knew were there. It’s a vicious cycle, one that all writers go through, and many get lost in, burying themselves deeper and deeper. You’re not alone. We all do this. And can I tell you something? That’s bullshit. All the things you know and have lived through aren’t serving you, right here and now. You deserve every single bit of happiness in the world, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you beat yourself. Sometimes, the things we do and the truths we think aren’t right and true, but simply habits. You must break the habit.
Another reason we judge ourselves so harshly is a cold and logical answer: we’re adults. Adults are supposed to know what they’re doing. It was only when we were young that we got to make them. In other words, you should know better.
Look, I don’t remember much of my kid’s psyche, but the one thing I do remember was that adults were so OLD! Their rules and restrictions, their time tables and routines, were so stifling you could scream, so dusty you could sneeze. All we wanted when we were kids was their freedom with our dreams. We wanted to make a rocket and fly to Jupiter, we wanted to write musicals about giraffes, we wanted to fight monsters and save the people we loved from certain doom. What happened to us? Now we judge ourselves, and what we’re really saying is, You should know better. Again: bullshit. Not only should we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we shouldn’t judge ourselves for it. We have a growing problem with judgment right now, and I believe it begins because we’re judging other people, simply projecting our own failures and feelings to other people. We must stop this. You have no idea what the people you are judging is going through because, in a way, you yourself have no idea what you’re going through.
Use a trick I learned from a friend: Take out a photo of yourself when you were a kid.
I have one of me when I was thirteen years old. There I am, skinny as a pole, wearing jean shorts and a brand-new Chicago White Sox shirt. I was holding a fish I’d caught off a lake earlier that day when my family and I went camping. I don’t remember what that kid thought or worried about (probably the same stuff I worry about now), but the expression on his face looks so dorky that every time I look at it I have to laugh. I take this photo, and whenever I start getting into judging myself too much, I pretend I’m telling my younger self the exact words that I’m using for myself–What are you doing? Why do you have to be such a fuck up all the time? Are you serious, you call yourself a writer with that story? Your novel sucks and so does everything you’ve ever written. It’s because you’re fake, it’s because you didn’t get your Masters, it’s because you don’t have any stories to tell. It’s too late, you’re already too old. Why can’t you just do something good for once. Like HIS writing, or HER writing. Are you even listening to me?
This is abuse, plain and simple. When I first tried this out, I nearly dropped the photo, I couldn’t believe some of the things I was saying, so damaging to my own mind, spirit, and heart. I’d internalized them, and the worst was that I kept listening to them because they were ‘the TRUTH’. Because that’s what we shelve this crap under, right? The TRUTH. The lesson of the hard knock life.
Let me tell you another TRUTH: you can be whatever the hell you want to be. I’m telling you, it’s you against you, and guess what? Your negativity is not stronger than you, it’s just a bully, and like all bullies, as soon as you stand up for yourself, no matter how terrified you are, the bully will back down. I promise you. You may get hit a couple of times. You may reel and fall back. But the bully WILL back down. There will always be bullies all throughout your life, on the outside, but if you don’t deal with the bully inside you, you’ll never be able to face the world. The one inside of you is the toughest, I’m not going to lie, but you CAN beat it. I believe in you, if no one else does. I fight with it every day myself. I talk back to it, telling myself that I am loved and I have such great qualities and I believe them because they’re true. It feels silly and hokey but it works. Someday soon, it’ll get dimmer. I know it’ll never go away, but I can beat it. Once you begin to conquer your demons, they lose the will the fight as much as you gain it.
Be an adult. But be a kid too. Please stop judging, other people but especially yourselves, based solely on the microscopic information you get from the world or the biased, distorted voices and events and old versions of yourself. Be open and creative with yourself.
Deepak Chopra once said that where there is judgment, there is no room for creativity. I am a writer, and like all writers, I am part-child. For crying out loud, we make-believe every day! Writing is one of the most beautiful, playful, messy satisfying things you can do, and the easiest way to stop being happy and productive is to send your child into the corner while you’re working or reading or editing or critiquing. We need our creativity like blood, we need our wonder like air. And it stems from a firm belief that we are always learning: kids are awesome learners! They fall and get right back up. They can’t wait to try something else.
Go at life with that same fire and wonder. Do your adult things, you have to. But find balance. Never, ever stop asking questions, about anything, even the stuff that 99% of the world knows. Forget the rules when you’re creating, and definitely forget all the dusty, old expectations and assumptions of the writing life. In a world where people want to put up walls to keep out the things they fear, we need to have the courage and the innocence to keep wanting to tear them down. That means having the capacity and the courage to be wrong and the willingness to listen to connect.
When you get bogged down by your bully, don’t listen to it. Do whatever you can to gain back your power. Love it for what it is or let it go. Or simply treat it like a child as well, with patience: “That may be true, but what if it’s not? There are many examples of success, not just your version.” Suddenly, that bully doesn’t have anything at all to say to defend himself except, “Because it just is.”
Nothing is ever “just is”. There are other ways. You’re doing just fine. Forgive yourself, every day, and keep writing.
Create and complete, fellow writers!
>QUESTIONS OF THE DAY<
What is one way you judge yourself too harshly as a writer? And what is one solution you can think of to combat this judgment and stay motivated?
Please leave your comments below! Thank you so much!