If the things I say to myself (that I would never dare say to another person – even if true) were put onto paper, I’d probably fill a landfill with all that garbage.
It’s a lot of junk.
Many of the roles I’ve served or worked in the past twenty plus years – mother, dean of students, office manager, church administrator, contractor, direct sales team member – I’ve worked with other people, for other people.
And because I did not often have the confidence to speak my mind to people in many of these scenarios, I spoke to myself.
Me in my head. In my thoughts. In my experiences. Filtering out the challenging feedback or rough interactions that pushed me into further, deeper analyzation, into more critique, into more self-consciousness. Ultimately into more insecurity and self-doubt. Not because of the feedback but because of how it was delivered.
I can hear important things that are less than sunshiny about who I am, what I do, but it matters so very much how the information is delivered.
And I know I’m not unusual. That many others struggle to parse out negative or difficult things with quick and permanent turn-around. Without swimming in the dregs and after effects of being hurt or feeling misunderstood or in some cases humiliated. It’s happened to me a lot and I’ve been the offender too.
I specifically think back to my two years working as building administrator in a small school in Wisconsin. And though there are many stories or incidents where I’m certain I made a positive impact on the staff, parents and students at our campus, most of my takeaways from serving in that role are negative.
And to be clear, I’m not making that up. (I’ve stopped asking myself if I “imagined” that.) There were some very sad, dangerous and just plain wrong things that happened to, through and around me while working there. I acknowledge it and learned a lot from that those missteps and failures.
But the good. The benefit. The fun. The smiles. The growth. There was so much of it.
And while that’s true, I carry so much negativity about myself and how I served the people during my time that it is all I can recall or even consider. That I was too harsh. Too naive. Too black. Not black enough. That I was too focused on my faith and too critical of those who did not focus on theirs enough (in my opinion; though it was a Christian school).
So many things about that time we’re not conducive to leaving the end of a long day, week or term feeling great about the time put in or there person I was showing myself to be.
Incredibly fast paced (which I can do well in), high needs (almost 100% of our students were on the free/reduced lunch program) and an unbalanced organization (meaning many of the people in leadership did not look like/could not relate to the population they were hired to serve). It made for such a tumultuous work experience at times. So much so that I lost my best self in that culture rather than having and making time to have deep connection outside of it to pull me back to the center and to my best self.
It was a recipe for personal abuse.
With little time to stop the train and ask questions, change the direction (even though a decision had been made) or do what was best for people involved long-term, I found myself cracking under the pressure and subject to all kinds of attacks.
Eventually, I had to quit.
But while I was in it, we were operating on “business as usual” and acting like things weren’t wrong when everyone knew that it was. I kept quiet thinking it was the path of least resistance but mostly because I’d been beaten down as was believing that the negative feedback was the only truth.
So I chomped on it. Swirled it around and tried to pick the beneficial out of it but could not separate the good from the bad and ended up limping it all together and slapping a cherry (which I don’t even really like) on top.
I stowed it away. Let it create its own life in my head and heart. I allowed it to change my perception of others, of an entire profession and essentially myself.
Because here’s the thing…
You believe the mean stuff people say about you more than you do the positive stuff. Even if only 1/16 of what they said was true, you latch onto the whole thing – the comment, the interaction, the audience, things on the periphery and you take ownership of it.
I do this.
I then replay the stuff over and over. Embarrassed that I didn’t stand up for myself. Or that when I did speak it was as eloquent (or to be honest, as sassy and “strong”) as I would have liked. It cut right to my insides, to my soul. And I begin replaying it over and over and over, taking it to new heights. Expanding upon it, amping it up to epic proportions and the worst? Defining myself by it.
I am that mistake I made.
I am unlikeable because that person doesn’t like me.
I am not datable because I’m shy and they see it as something else.
I can’t lead because I take too long focusing on their heart than the numbers.
I’m a problem, rebellious, disrespectful because I ask question and challenge the status quo.
I’m unworthy because I’m not a good fit.
I’m harsh because I’m direct.
I am this or that or the other thing because someone outside of me touched a nerve, on some area of weakness that I thought I was hiding well but actually do need to develop in and now I’ve been exposed. Some parts of the feedback above may be true but I have allowed it to go too far.
I take it and become nasty with myself. Chiding, berating, just beating myself down to worse than what they expressed.
It’s so backwards.
I end up embracing the very types of things that I would not say to someone and heap them upon myself. And then morph myself to live up to those hurtful, horrible things – even without realizing it. If my girlfriend was dating a guy who talked to her the way I talk to myself, I’d tell her to dump him with no friendship options; cut ties and move on gurl. That’s what I would tell her to do.
But I’m turning a corner.
In the next post, I’ll share what it is I’m doing now to change the way I speak to myself. I’ll give you a hint…I’m not doing it alone.