Archive for the ‘insecurity’ Tag

Assumptions

Wow, sometimes I think I might be prescient. I started writing this last Saturday, following a train of thought that has been nagging at the back of my brain on and off for a while now. A couple of things have happened in the three days since I started writing that seem to confirm all my thoughts on this topic. Weird how the brain works sometimes.

——— o0o ——-

Everyone assumes things, big and small, right and wrong, from time to time. There are some overt assumptions given as a starting point in certain situations that everyone involved agrees to be true. But often when we speak about assumptions it is in the context of blind assumptions, those thoughts that set a baseline, coloring our actions and outlook on a given topic, person or activity, without much basis for that thought or opinion. Those kinds of beliefs can be tricky to navigate and hard to challenge and change, especially when they are about ourselves.

Lately, I have been encountering assumptions that I have about myself in odd, unexpected ways. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. Being aware of what we think about ourselves helps us examine our path and can help us make good choices (or bad) and take us in new and exciting directions. It can also make us retrench in those beliefs, habits, practices that we find comfortable and true, often regardless of other knock-on effects of keeping those things in tact.

At times, I feel that this constant self-examination, endless striving to improve, to be and remain positive, to challenge every shortcoming, is just another treadmill of “not good enough”. It feels like all this self awareness, personal growth and discovery work is more about destruction than construction. Some days it feels like there’s nothing good enough in me and I’ll have to completely remake my entire being in order to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror (both physical and metaphorical) and be content that the person looking back is acceptable.

This self assumption of inadequacy is insidious. It lurks in places you don’t ever expect to find assumptions. There are plenty of overt, obvious places where it is easily recognizable. These are predictable and annoying, sometimes hard to cut loose, but they don’t have much camouflage and are capable of being tackled head-on. The cynic in me sometimes thinks these are intentional distractions, ruses placed by the subconscious to divert attention from the deeper places where this assumption truly lives, to make it nearly impossible to root out and eradicate. If all our energy is focused on the surface assumptions, then the roots have time to go deep and unchallenged.

A place I’ve recently confronted this assumption – that I am not and will never be good enough – is superficially obvious, but there’s a taproot from the obvious surface to the hidden depths that I didn’t expect. And that unexpectedness makes me question if it’s really an irrational assumption or just the plain truth that I have to accept.

The surface bit is easy: I encounter disapproval/rejection/reprimand and I immediately assume I’m in the wrong or not up to standard, so that treatment must be deserved and I need to change and improve to be worthy of better treatment.

Now, clearly, there are times when everyone falls short and that self-castigating assumption is accurate. Being a mature adult means taking accountability for our mistakes and flaws and committing to do or be better. This is a healthy response to confronting personal shortcomings.

But the deeper bit is harder to articulate. It’s part “I’m working really hard to improve X quality/personal trait yet am not seeing expected results” and part “damn, I thought I’d mastered that one, but I guess not”. I guess what it boils down to is that frequency matters, more so than personal effort. Basically, if criticism is repeated, especially when it comes from different sources, then I gotta think that it’s not my irrational insecurities, but fact.

That’s painful on a lot of levels, but mostly it hurts to know that my inner saboteur was right all along. It’s painful and embarrassing to discover that I was a fool to take comfort in the easy platitudes of well-meaning acquaintances who urged me to believe myself to be good and smart and worthy, when my brain was telling me where I was falling short of all of those standards.

So what do you do when the illusion is revealed and all your comfortable self beliefs are debunked by cold fact?

I suppose the healthiest response is to redirect all that self-improvement energy to a more realistic, achievable goal. When your inadequacy has been proven to be reality, get to work on becoming adequate. Seems fairly straightforward. But so much in life that seems simple is not. Bootstrapping yourself to the finish line from square one is really f’ing hard and exhausting. Especially when the leaden weight of failure is still hanging around your neck.

So the real question is how do you take that leaden noose off your neck?

Let me know when you find out, won’t you?

Humility or Insecurity?

A thought occurred to me today as I was thinking about my job, my role as a leader, and my professional aspirations. It seems to me that there is sometimes very little difference, to the observer, between humility and insecurity and I wonder if demonstrating either trait is ever truly beneficial to career advancement?

Probably not a question I’m ever likely to definitively resolve for myself or anyone else. But it’s something I ponder. Not out of fear, really, but genuine curiosity. Because I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that I’m always going to have a certain level of doubt or insecurity about myself. The instinct to question if I’m good enough, doing the best I’m capable of, smart enough, etc. is deeply ingrained in my psyche. Those questions have served to propel me into greater effort, igniting my senses of competition and duty, spurring me strive in academic, personal and professional endeavors. They also can be detractors, internal critics that erode confidence and self worth, inhibiting courage.

Like so many things in life, taken to either extreme, this instinct to question myself can be harmful, a weapon against self growth. But, given its proper place, monitored and employed carefully, it can be beneficial, a useful tool for self improvement and advancement.

That’s how I distinguish between humility and insecurity for myself: humility is constructive, insecurity is destructive.

I’ve tried very hard to build my professional skill and expertise, to achieve professional success and earn the respect and confidence of my colleagues and clients. I’m proud to say that I’ve done that and enjoy the results of that achievement and respect in the form of a trusted leadership role in my organization. Although I have consciously worked to inhibit arrogance along the way, it is not always easy to detect when confidence and pride in accomplishments slips into conceit. I hope that my recounting in this blog of my thoughts and the accolades I’ve received don’t spill into that category. But I do know that, despite having achieved much in my career, I still get a giddy kick out of unexpected compliments on my skill and work product.

That happened twice today and it’s a pretty great feeling having my colleagues’ trust and confidence confirmed. The instance I’ll share arises from something small and ordinary, but it illustrates my point, I think.

My boss is out of town on a well-deserved vacation, and one of the senior leaders who usually relies on my boss to provide review and approval of certain public releases was frantic at not being able to reach him. The issue is not one I normally address and providing a response would take me out of my comfort zone a bit. But there was no call for me to interrupt my boss’s vacation for this – I’d just have to carefully examine the task, review applicable statutes and case law, and apply good judgment. After all, that’s the core of an attorney’s job, right? Nevertheless, I felt compelled (out of both humility and insecurity) to warn him that this isn’t my area of expertise and practice, and give him the chance to ask outside counsel or consider waiting for my boss to return. He said waiting wasn’t an option and that he had confidence in my judgment. So, I took on the task, even though I was a little nervous.

When I was able to provide the necessary answers and approval in a short turnaround time, with a high degree of confidence in the accuracy and appropriateness of my conclusion, I thought the guy might actually cry in relief. When he thanked me for my help he said it was a great relief to know that my boss had such a reliable “right hand” to keep the business going while he’s away.

That was a big ego boost and a compliment I’ll keep in my pocket for those days when the doubts turn toxic and loud.

Have a great rest of your week and I hope you find reason to celebrate your own victory over insecurity.

Ogre or troll?

This post is hard for me to publish. I’m afraid it will come off as very self-serving and mawkish. I cringe at the blush-worthy sneers it could easily attract. But it’s about a nagging irritation that I feel might be helped by putting my thoughts out in the universe. So, take this one as it’s meant: an airing of aggrieved confusion and irritation with only myself, and no cause for offense to anyone else. 
— — — — —
My beloved is generous with her praise and compliments. She puts effort into finding ways to tell me that she thinks my fashion choices on any given day are good and attractive, that she thinks I look nice, and that she’s pleased with my appearance. She is kind that way, solicitous of my feelings. I am a very lucky butch in this regard. And I make an effort to be grateful and also to reciprocate her kindness. 
The last bit is easy. I always think she looks good, even straight from sleep or when she’s under the weather. She is my pretty girl and seeing her always pleases me. So telling her that she is beautiful and helping her to know that I see her, her uniqueness, her innate loveliness, is not the hard part. 
The hard part is graciously accepting a compliment without feeling false in either my reaction to the compliment or in my treatment of the one giving it. Doesn’t matter who it is, I always struggle with this. But the struggle is especially troubling when it’s my Lulu. Her kind heart and genuine pleasure at seeing me and complimenting my appearance is something I never want to trample, dismiss or trivialize. 
Yet…I can’t help the visceral, instinctive and strong reaction that occurs every single time. Inner critic voices immediately shout in my head:  “That’s not meant for you.” “You don’t deserve that.” “They can’t possibly be talking about you that way.” “Don’t be ridiculous, that description doesn’t apply to you.” And, most disturbing: “That’s what they think you want to hear.” and “What do they want from you to try flattery of that sort?”
These doubts, outright denials, and motive-questioning reactions are reflexive, almost autonomic in their immediacy following any kind of praise on my person. I shrug, grimace, sometimes cringe and shudder inwardly, when my beloved calls me gorgeous or handsome or beautiful-handsome. I gesture away the comments about my attire with a flick of my hand. And the qualifying comments, down-playing and deprecating responses are just as quick to my lips as the shrugs and grimaces.  

I’m sure it’s frustrating for her. Maybe infuriating and sad, too. Those emotions are not what I ever mean to inspire in her. But they are the predictable byproducts of the ingrained response I have to praise and compliments. 


So, what’s the problem? 

It feels so wrong to simply say thank you. It’s as if by acknowledging the other person’s remark and thanking their kindness, I am claiming that superlative for myself, boasting by proxy. It feels unseemly and big-headed. 

Yet I never think these things of others who graciously accept compliments I’ve given them. It never occurs to me that anyone I compliment is anything but deserving of the praise and validation. Their acceptance of, and pleasure in, the comment is gratifying to me, with nary a qualm about their motives. 

So why do I hold myself to a different standard? Why do I struggle with accepting the thought that what is said is what they genuinely believe? How is it okay for others, but not okay for me?

Fundamentally, I genuinely think others deserve to be complimented and I don’t. I can’t identify why this makes so much sense to me. It seems so right and rational inside my head and heart, but sounds so stupid and insane when written down or said out loud. Why should I be utterly undeserving? Am I such a loathsome ogre to be devoid of aesthetic appeal? Clearly not; no person is. 

I think the nasty secret behind it all is, predictably, fear. Specifically, fear that my internal critic’s worst poison will manifest itself in the voice of someone I care for and respect, sneering in surprise and derision in response to overhearing me being complimented, sealing the deal on my self doubt: “This confirms it! You were right all along, you are a loathsome troll!!” (For some reason that internal saboteur’s voice is that of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape at his most venomous.) 
Never mind that no one I love and respect today has ever displayed anything like that sort of hatefulness toward me or anyone I love. Never mind that the whole scenario is ludicrous. Logic and sanity don’t play a part in irrational insecurity. 
It’s just fear of not being good enough. 
Time to get over it. Hopefully saying it out loud will rob the gremlin of its power and free me to just be grateful next time. 
%d bloggers like this: