Archive for the ‘criticism’ Tag

Lessons in Self-Talk

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about my efforts at personal growth and self discovery. Some of what I’ve covered deals with the insecurities with which I still struggle, despite all of the hard, intentional work I’ve done to be the best version of myself. I call the source of those insecurities my internal critic, because it’s my own voice that’s raging at me.

That internal critic isn’t easy to slay. It rears its poisonous head and spews the most shocking invective into my tender, impressionable psyche when I’m at my most vulnerable. Stress, sleep deprivation, nervousness, performing in unfamiliar circumstances, exercising new skills — these are some of the things that leave me exposed to the inner jerk’s most insidious evil. And when I’m in that state, I have very little ability to overcome, silence, and escape that internal saboteur.

A perfect storm of those conditions formed this week. It was the culmination of weeks of hard, frenetic, hugely significant executive lawyering, in preparation for depositions in a litigation matter for my company, all while battling my first real experience with insomnia. I’ve been working 11-15+ hour days for weeks on end on the shaky, unsustainable foundation of an average of 5 hours or less sleep per night. And everything I’ve been doing at work has required intensely critical thinking and application of new and old legal skills to meet the challenge of this unfamiliar litigation activity. So my defenses were kind of low by the time I showed up for my 30(b)(6) deposition – where I was testifying on behalf of my company, rather than in my individual capacity – yesterday.

I expected, and had prepared for, a very challenging experience. Litigation isn’t a joke and the stakes in this matter are high for both parties. I fully expected to be pressed hard and to have to be on top of my game. But even as prepared as I was, I had underestimated how hard it would really be.  Here was my raw, unedited reaction that I posted to a different platform last night:

So here I am, just getting home after my third consecutive 15+ hour day this week (4th consecutive 11+ hour work day) more than 10 of which were spent giving sworn testimony in a deposition conducted by a class-A asshat of the most egregious kind. I’m mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted. I know I did an incredible job in this depo – another day of undeniable Butch Boss Badasserry. Still my traitorous brain only lets me see the one momentary slip when, after over 9 hours of grueling questioning and countless repetition of futile questions, I lost my composure and was forced to go off the record and leave the room before I dissolved into tears of angry frustration on camera and in front of that jackass. Suddenly weeks of work and two long days of testimony are reduced to: “yeah, but he made you cry” by my overly critical brain. Damn.

So, yeah. The internal critic got me hard and sharp. That whole reductive reasoning trick is dirty and underhanded and has a really devastating bite to it. All the true, positive, celebratory thoughts get rendered ineffectual in a single blow: it doesn’t matter that I knew more than anyone in the room, including the other side’s attorneys and my own counsel, about this case and had a smart, cogent, legally significant answer for every question and didn’t fall into any of the verbal traps the deposing attorney lay in front of me, it only matters that he was able to break my composure and made me cry.

But, thankfully, a wonderful friend, who also happens to be a rock star Butch lawyer, too, reminded me of something important: the nature of depositions, the rules that apply to their conduct, create an environmental pressure-cooker that often results in the witness being reduced to tears and I did well, in spite of the tears. In other words, I need to give myself a break.

Not only is that timely, supportive reminder a deeply kind gift at a critical point, it has the virtue of truth. After a few hours of sleep and a short work day this morning, I was able to put a bit of distance between my wounded pride and the critic’s barbs. That let me have room to think about the overall problem of the internal voice. Here’s what it comes down to, for me:

Self talk is a dangerous thing.  Like a blade, it can be both a tool and a weapon, and both functions can have both beneficial and damaging effects. Balancing the utility of such a volatile thing is a critical skill that requires constant attention to detail. When one aspect gets the better of the other, whether weapon or tool, damage results; too much of either yields an internal voice with a skewed world view< The imbalanced voice will be either irrationally confident and blind to flaws, or overweeningly negative, drowning out all accomplishment and confidence. Without the confident self-discipline to manage the internal critic, spiraling negativity takes over.  But falling too much in love with your own voice, logic, skill, position on any issue – self delusion of even mild degree – and you get a big head and lose sight of your biggest opportunities for growth.

Ultimately, it comes down to mental discipline, being kind, yet firm, with myself, taking care to feed my mind the right mix of messages that can build healthy confidence while starving the internal critic so that it can’t have strength enough to sabotage the positive with unwarranted negativity.  Simple enough to say, Exceedingly difficult to maintain.

It certainly would help if I could sleep more…

Slowly imploding

Ever seen a time lapse video of something (a tin can, a vehicle or building) weathering, crumpling, decaying? Remember how the thing starts by looking new and whole and shiny?

At first, it’s straight and un-damaged and looks like something you’d like to own or have in your home. Then weather and age and use and abuse start to happen. You can see in the video how it starts slowly, almost imperceptibly, with a scratch or ding or fading. But then it accelerates.

Soon it’s shape is significantly altered, sagging or buckling or caving-in, here or there. Maybe it shows signs of vandalism or mistreatment. Maybe it’s natural erosion by age and exposure. Either way, pretty soon it’s looking sad and forlorn and dingy and ratty and not at all like something you’d want to have or touch.

It’s not long before the thing is unrecognizable as its original self. Bleached or dusty or rusted, it’s labels and distinguishing characteristics are gone. It’s a generic lump of twisted, rotted, useless material whose structural integrity is compromised and its utility is depleted.

I find such videos fascinating. They speak so eloquently of the insidious damage caused over time by forces both avoidable and inevitable. They are a metaphor, of sorts, for the creeping decay to soul and spirit from the harsh disdain and callous indifference we face in the world at times.

Right now, for instance, I’m feeling a great deal of empathy for, and affinity with, that weathering tin can. That gradual, yet accelerating, erosion of strength and dignity is exactly what it feels like when under constant strain and scrutiny. Every suspicion, every undeserved criticism and every added burden of obligation feels like a blow. Each leaves a mark or bruise or scar, like the dents and chips and dings that distort the shape of the tin can.

It’s really a slow-motion implosion. Everything turning inward and compressing, getting smaller. But since there is also erosion, the material doesn’t get deeper and more dense. Rather, everything of value is leached out, leaving an empty husk.

Now, some of these videos go on to show new life reclaiming that material and space. This is supposed to be an uplifting message of continual renewal, the circle of life and what not. But from a certain perspective, this positive spin glosses over the sadness and devastation wrought in the process. While it is true that good and great things can arise from the ruins, it is equally true that those benefits come at the expense of the life, the existence, the entire value of the original source.

Shouldn’t some time, attention, emotion be spent in mourning what is lost, before all focus and energy turns to celebrating the renewal or rebirth? Shouldn’t there be some homage to honor the value that was there before it was trodden down to base elements?

Are we in such a huge hurry to change everything and everyone from what it is to what we want it to be that we leave no room for those things, those people to simply be enough, good enough, just as they are?

I’m a huge believer in continuous improvement, of bettering oneself, of trying always to be a better person than I was the day before. But there has to be a balance between becoming the best ‘me’ I can be, and eliminating everything that is ‘me’ in favor of everything that everyone else thinks I should be.

What is the secret? Where is that elusive division between constructive criticism and oppressive reconstruction? How, when you’ve given so much, worked so hard at positivity and self-improvement, do you tell the difference? How, after such a struggle, do you not internalize these things as “not good enough”, “not worthy”, “wrong”, “broken”, “inadequate”, “less than”?

That’s exactly what it feels like. And its abysmal.

And the glib platitudes that accompany these needles of derision – “well, look on the bright side, this is just one area for you to work on”; “stay open minded and look at it as a gift, the knowledge of what you can fix”; “it’s character building”; and my favorite “just think how much better you’ll be after you change ___” – do nothing to soothe the sting of message that “you’re not good enough “.

It all just leaves me wondering how long, how many times, a person can pull herself up before the bootstraps break.

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