I’m the kind of person who has always been extremely self-critical. “Type A” would be a more theoretical way of terming it. I’m also the kind of person who is more inclined to give the benefit of doubt to the other individual than to my very own self. My internal monologue is anti-me, especially at this given point in time in my life, and it has been this way since the last couple of years. It took a very hard hit to realize how this is an acute vulnerability, a weakness that can be exploited to no end. One that makes you your own worst enemy, and with no one else on your side, it’s exceedingly torrid waters to navigate through. The end is almost certain, and it is doom.
I mean sure, there is a positive side to being Type A. But right now, I want to talk about the less than glorious side. I don’t want to talk about going the extra mile, running oneself thin, planning, scheduling, prioritizing, dedication etc. No. I want to talk about Type-A gone awry.
My sense of self-criticism is not limited to continuous self-assessment and nit-picking faults and flaws as to what could have been done better and/or differently in a given scenario. But it also goes a notch further and believes in reprimanding myself for any mistakes made.
This too is something that started developing within me quite early on. An ‘easy*’ example from the heydays would be when I used to be studying day in and day out, locked away in my room with intense focus and dedication. At times to check if I am comprehending things correctly, and whether I am able to “recollect/reiterate” them correctly (read: Indian Education System) or not, I used to quiz myself. This included anything from taking written tests, writing down the concepts or simply closing my eyes and “repeating” them. Sounds pretty solid so far, I know. But here comes in the toxicity- if and when I used to “forget” whatever I was testing- I used to go ahead and reprimand myself by giving myself a good smack. I think sometimes, I used to talk down to myself too. As there was no one else to do so. As this is something that another person (teacher/parent) would have done. It was the right thing to do.
Young, impressionable minds, I tell you. It’s insane what they can learn at times, pick up from people they look up to. Given the obedient child that I was, with a high sense of virtue, I sure did.
Overtime I learnt to reform these behaviours, but did I really?
Just 2 years ago, I remember, literally been moved to tears and feeling extremely bad about myself (internally) because I had managed to forget some strawberries at the back of a very packed, mini refrigerator that stored a week’s worth grocery of 2 grown adults. This was a good and a bad moment that I remember vividly. Bad because, I had committed the sin that I did- wasted the strawberries > wasted food > wasted money> been irresponsible and careless (you get the line of thought). Good because, in this seemingly mundane moment (for others) but an intense one for me, I had someone to share my misery with- a privileged thing- to be able to share your ups and downs with someone. Or even have someone around who you’d want to share your (and theirs) ups and downs with. This someone being very receptive and responsive in that moment taught me something very valuable:
Me (crestfallen, furrowed brows and a sense of urgency): Omg. Look, what I did?! The strawberries rot! Blah blah blah…
Person (calmly and sweetly): It’s ok, it happens.
Me: No, it’s not okay. I was careless and irresponsible. Now, I am not going to buy strawberries again to punish myself.
Person: But you needn’t do that you know, because you’ve already received your punishment. Not being able to consume these berries- is your punishment.
Now, even with all my neuroticism, I am a person who respects logic, science, facts. Or should I say, when I am conducting the internal audits (lol) and assessments I try to be logical about them, use facts (scientific and/or historical evidence) for rectification and improvisation purposes- now the logic can be faulty at times, clearly? But I try.
So, yes. Whoa!
Whoa, because this was a moment that changed things for me, so much so that it’s clearly stuck. It’s been over 2/3 years now that I am talking about it. 2/3 years later that when my brain tangles into a miserable web of guilt, shame, regret, criticism- valid or not. I tell it just that- valid or not… no further punishment is needed. If I really had managed to commit a sin (as my psyche tells me I have), I am already paying for them by virtue of losing whatever I am beating myself up about.
Yes, this doesn’t help me with being more self-compassionate, at all! For that is a separate, long journey I have only just begun to undertake- by educating myself and most importantly, by undertaking decades of unlearning. But it helps me contain that toxic inner voice and tell it that even if by your logic I am the demon, I am already suffering and paying the price of the sins you’ve decided that I have committed. Even if I really am the worst being on this planet, I have already attained a pain that I’ll have to live with forever.
While this kind of negative inner monologue seems counter-intuitive. It does help in the moment to stop obsessing, to be more rational and to divert the focus to the right things like acceptance. Acceptance of the situation and acceptance of self. For only then, can one start with the bigger goal of self-reformation, compassion… and healing.