When I hosted Christmas dinner this year I wrote about how I caught myself pre-criticizing every element of the dinner…from the dishes I cooked to the way I set up the tables and wrapped the presents. I wrote about how it was almost like it was a strange involuntary reflex that my brain was prepping for the negative thoughts people might have, and addressing them first, like that would somehow take the power away from them or keep people from having them.
And as I sat back and reflected on the night I was so mad at myself for it. I could see it in hindsight and how annoying it was, but while I was doing it I didn’t notice.
Several of you mentioned having family members who do that and how it drives you crazy and I needed that feedback very much to settle my mind on the truth that this habit needed to be torn apart in a shredder immediately. Luckily, I only host family dinner a few times a year (there’s enough of us to split up the job so no one has to do it too often) so I have plenty of time to work on cramping those instincts. Right?
EXCEPT THAT NOW I REALIZE I DO IT IN EVERY ELEMENT OF MY LIFE.
I pre-criticize myself in everything, and I never noticed it until after I noticed it at Christmas dinner. Before I had my first meeting at a new volunteer job I kept saying things like, “I’m new. I’ll definitely make mistakes.” Before I gave presents to E for his birthday I said, “It’s really hard to shop for you so I gave you the receipts in case you want to take everything back.” Before my kids partake in activities I set up I say things like, “I’m sorry if you hate it.” I’m constantly apologizing for failing at housework and laundry before anyone has ever complained. I mean, I understand that in every one of these cases you could justify the pre-criticism statements but I do it waaaaaayyyyy too often. I never allow people to just experience something, or maybe even enjoy it, without me pre-criticizing my role in whatever their experiencing.
Of course, let’s be honest, it’s not like I woke up and realized I had two heads, this revelation wasn’t that surprising. It’s kinda on brand for someone with terrible self-esteem and who feels love through Words Of Affirmation.
(Sidenote: I demonstrate love through Acts Of Service but I feel through Words of Affirmation. Anyone else show/feel using two different love languages?)
It was not a shocking revelation that I do it at all, I think the shocking part was just realizing how often I do it. How do people not get so annoyed with that? And how am I so in tune with what I expect to be criticized about but I never thought, Maybe what really bothers people is how critical I am of myself?
Never considered that, nope.
But noticing it is not the only thing you have to do to stop. It turns out it’s a really hard habit to break and so I’m coming to you guys to see if you have ever noticed that trait in yourself or in others and have ideas of how to undo that. I feel like I kinda need to approach like I do with my body-hatred issues and do some immersion of counter programing. Like I would force myself to tell myself, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!” to try to drown out the voices that say, “YOU ARE HIDEOUS!” But I’m not sure what that looks like in practice.
Especially because part of my brain is still convinced that I need to verbalize my flaws before anyone else does….and so that part of my brain doesn’t want me to change because it thinks this is a good habit. And in certain moments I logic myself that it’s okay. I think? I mean…do I really need to warn people who I’m helping in a new volunteer position that I’m new and will make mistakes? Because part of me is like, Yes! They need to know you’re new too so that if something gets neglected they’re understanding!
I mean…let’s be honest…all of this truly goes back to being mindful and present. Us people with anxiety disorders are prone to worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and probably won’t happen. And some of the coping skills with anxiety is to try to stay present. So maybe if I just continue to work on that, the pre-criticism habits will fade naturally. I need to focus on what needs to be done today or in this minute and not think hours or days or weeks ahead preparing for the criticism if I’ve done something wrong.
It always comes back to mindfulness, doesn’t it?