This post’s topic is one of my favorites, well, in a sense that together with the other Life Traps it gets to shine through and take over my life like no other. The constant feeling of not being enough and having to be better, if not the best, has crippled me for a very long time.
A brief summary based on what the book, Tunne Lukkosi by Kimmo Takanen, tells us of the Life Trap of Hypercriticalness:
I am demanding and hard on myself, and I feel like I have to be continuously doing something, making things, and keeping things in tip-top shape. I lean towards being a perfectionist, I aim high, and the feelings of failure and shame are right behind the corner, waiting for me to not reach that bar I set for myself. If I do not get to the goal I set, I remain unhappy with myself. Nothing is enough, there is always something better and no need for me to settle for less. I have to always be peppy, hardworking, and adult.
In my own mind, I’m not that demanding towards myself, even if other’s see the situation differently. I push myself in order to avoid the feeling of being inadequate, which brings with it stress. Stress often has physical symptoms such as insomnia, abdominal pain, and migraines in my case.
As my body is on overdrive it becomes hard for me to enjoy life as it comes. First I must do what I set out to do, and if I stop, it makes me restless. This type of flow in my life makes me constantly unhappy with myself and others, making me frustrated in the daily wheel of achieving. My life is moving from a trophy to another, never being able to appreciate the work and effort I put in it before heading towards the next one.
All my life I had to push harder, faster, better.
Before I even was able to start making memories that I’d remember in my adult life, I was steered into being a swimmer. A competitive one. I would go to the pool at least five days a week, stay there for about two hours, and when I grew the training got more intense and with the purpose of getting somewhere high, irony being I never knew what that goal even was. I hadn’t chosen it.
Now, what is a child to do when this is all you have known, your normality? I broke away from swimming around the age of 12 or 13, and I still cherish some of the memories I made while I was at it. Other ones though… When you are a kid, and you never really had any other option but to comply with your parents, your needs and wants become a very pale thing in comparison to the ones that are voiced by the people that ‘’know better’’.
Say you wanted to be a scout, enjoyed it, I mean hell, you got to play with other kids and go to forests and do all this cool survival stuff. You even learned about the stars and for years to come, you’d look into black holes and the constellations. And now, you are told that the scouts have to go. Why? Because you don’t have enough time to focus on your school, swimming, AND the scouts. Did you make the decision to stop doing what you enjoyed? I doubt it.
Bitter bites of reality.
From early on I learned that my life is not for me to decide. Young Maria will swim, she will do good in school, and she will be a good girl in general. Sometimes she isn’t understood and gets called out for using her own brain and methods to learn, and thus she understands that if she does that, she gets called arrogant and worse.
Do everything in the way you are told, and do it perfectly. Do it harder. Do it better. Spread that butter on the bread so that it is an even layer all across! And scrape those car windows in a similar fashion! If you hammer in a nail, it needs to be exactly straight. If you don’t get an 8 or higher on a test (in Finland tests in elementary went from 4-10 when I was in school), you are a failure. Oh, how I failed hard on my high school percentage and logic test by getting a 5.
See it doesn’t matter what I am trying to do, if I don’t excel, I’m terrible as a human being. The garbage of mankind. I was never any good at logic and percentage-type things in math, but I felt my heart break and my worth as a live being vanish when I couldn’t do it. Needless to say, I dropped out of high school when the time came for the finals. I just couldn’t take the stress and failure that was inevitable in my mind.
If that’s not a thing already, it should be. The moment of having set the bar so high, that you break at the sight of it and fall into a depressive state. There is no way you can climb that mountain ahead. No way you’ll be getting a high enough score in it. No way you’ll manage to get out of it with grace and shining like the star you are supposed to be. And so you give up. You freeze and you stop trying. Because if you can’t be perfect, why bother at all?
When I have this paralysis my body goes into panic mode. It gives me all the signals of being a failure, and by the grace of my inner demons, the voices start. The thoughts of never being enough. Of being stupid. Of being a waste of air and space – well, I think you get it by now.
It doesn’t matter what it is, could be a simple new dish I’m attempting to cook for my husband. Could be that I got on the bus and asked if it goes where I want to go, only to find out it doesn’t and having the shame ensue. The shame of not being good enough. The pain of knowing, that I will never be good enough.
Make peace with yourself.
It has been a long road, and I’m still tumbling over some rocks here and there as I walk it, but I have finally found some solace. As a borderline, I never really looked at myself as anything worthy, I merely mirrored my value from what other people thought. This led to a lot of pain and stress since, as you can probably imagine, we can not please everyone. I had overlooked the one person that I should aim to please over everyone else on the planet: Myself.
In my husband’s words, nobody else has to live with me. Everyone else can walk away when they feel uncomfortable, but if I feel unhappy about myself, I can’t just go have a breather. For the sake of myself, I have to find a way to make peace with myself. Make peace with the failures, not matter if they are real or perceived. Make peace with the anger and bitterness, we treat pained people with compassion and love instead of beating them down more, make sure you do that for yourself as well.
Keep breathing the air you think you are not worthy of breathing. Keep being your imperfect self, keep learning about your strengths and the things you love. Learn to make compromises that bring you joy too, not just the other party. And keep breathing, and living. Because here is another secret from your pal Maria: You were born. A miraculous, delicate, and incredibly complex being, made from cosmic stardust. Just by being born, you claimed your right to breathe, you claimed your worth, even if it sometimes feels that you are unworthy. And that’s something nobody can ever take away.