Tuesday, June 18, 2002

A Peek Into My Psyche, Part the First

When I was a kid my parents were very low pressure about everything. Their attitude towards raising my sisters and I was pretty simple, but damn effective. At its most basic level it broke down to, "Do your best." Whether we're talking about dating, friendships, schoolwork, or a job the only advice they gave was that. I don't remember ever getting a talking to because I didn't have my homework done, I don't remember them ever pressuring me to do anything, all they would say is, "If you're doing your best, then that's all we can ask of you."

This, of course, resulted in incredible pressure on me (I can't speak for my sisters) because I never thought I was doing as well as I could. I always thought I could do better than I was, even if I'd done my best. I knew, given time and more experience with a topic or activity that I could do better than I was doing currently. That continues to frustrate me to this day. I think I should be able to do anything I put my mind to -- very, very well -- the first time I do it.

Because of this, I've always downplayed my achievements because I'm never happy with them. I always think that I haven't mastered a skill because there's always something more to learn, something more I could add to it, something more, something. Those of you that know me well probably can't think of many times that I've said, "I'm completely happy with what I've done." Instead, you're probably more familiar with me picking apart everything I do to find (not the faults) but the areas I can improve on. I don't celebrate my victories, no matter how small, I zero in on the imperfections and make note of them so that I can do better next time. And, of course, next time I do the exact same thing; I find the new problems with whatever I've done. I may have improved on the things I didn't like last time, but now I have a whole new crop of "imperfections" to concentrate on.

I'm conscious of it. I've often said I have a pretty deep perfectionist streak. I may not be the most orgainized perfectionist (see, there I go again), but I make note of all my mistakes, faults, and areas that need improving and concentrate on those rather than saying, "Damn, I did a good job. I started with nothing, no knowledge or skills, and now I've done it. Good work!" I'm constantly in competition with myself and I always know I can do better. But, how can I be better than myself? My answer is, I can't, so I can never win and I'm never happy with my performance. I beat myself up over the smallest failing and latch onto what I need to improve on as opposed to looking at the result as a whole and congratulating myself. As a result, I don't have very good self-confidence.

(All of this relates directly to the effects I've had on myself and doesn't take the effects of others into account. Add my psyche to all the negative comments from people -- "you're fat, you're ugly, you're stupid, you're slow, you're not good at this" -- that I've heard over the years and, well... You see how easy it is for me to hear things like this and say, "Ah, this person is telling the truth. I have these doubts about my abilities or myself and they've just confirmed them. They're not being hurtful on purpose, they're being honest. I really am fat/ugly/stupid/slow/no good." I believed that garbage not because they were right, but because it played into my knowledge that I wasn't perfect. Again, never building up and constantly wearing down whatever ego and self-confidence I had.)

When other people achieve something they sing their own praises, they feed their ego by playing up their successes, and point out their victories to anyone who cares (and often, those who don't). In this way they build up their ego and self-confidence. After a while they believe they're really that good, even when they fail they find something good about what they've done. Or they find someone or something else to blame for their shortcomings. Regardless, they believe they can do anything and their ego and self-confidence follows right in line.

I've never worked like that. I find the faults and stick with them. Not because they're faults, but because I want to know how to improve for next time. And I've done this for so long that I never think anything I do is all that remarkable. I take the faults and blame myself for not doing better. Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing is ever perfect. Nothing I do ever pleases me, so I never sing it's praises (or my own) and allow whatever successes I have to whither on the vine, starved from lack of attention. Instead I downplay my achievements and rob myself of praise from myself and others. (After all, why should I believe that someone else's praise is honest and earnest when I can see the faults in the project? Clearly, they're not being critical enough and just saying kind words to make me feel better.) Which means I've never built up my ego. That I don't believe in myself. That my self-confidence is lacking, not because of what others say, but because I can't let myself succeed.

That stops now. I've figured it out and now I can fix it.

Stop back for Part II tomorrow when I clue you into the fact that not everything is my fault.


Post a Comment

<< Home