Whether I’m in the grocery store line or at the playground or somewhere completely different, I’ve become used to being watched and judged by others. Some people just stare. Others voice their opinions loudly. Total strangers have asked me if all my children have the same father, who supports my children, and if I have ever heard of birth control. I’ve been accused polluting the planet by overpopulation. I’ve heard a lot of crazy things from a lot of crazy people.
Being judged this way has been a consistent part of my life for the last several years. There’s just something about a young mom with four young kids that critics can’t resist.
Of course, this has only added to my own inner critic’s repertoire. Now, all it takes is a glance from a stranger to start up the steady drumbeat of self-criticism.
Everyone is watching. Everyone can see that I don’t measure up. I’m never going to be that good. Everybody heard me just snap at the kids – I’m such a lousy mom. She’s got twice as many kids as I do, why can’t I handle my own like that? I’m a mess. I even forgot to brush my hair today. I’ve got to get my life together. I’m never going to accomplish anything. I’m never going to be that pretty, that talented, that accomplished, that organized, that put together. I just don’t have what it takes. I’m never going to get this right.
I think everyone has an inner mologue like that.
I know I have one. Negative self-talk that just goes on and on and on and never stops. Constantly criticizing, constantly hating, constantly worrying and constantly degrading my own self-worth.
And it’s all lies.
Over last year or so, I have met several women who I admire greatly . Women who have as many or more children than I do and who seem to have it all under control. They seem so organized, so confident, so radiant. They seem to have it all and have it all together. They seem to have figured out everything that I just can’t get right. To me, they represented everything that I wanted to be. Everything that I was not. Everything I could never be.
Recently, one of these women I admire so much decided to come visit me. Although I was flattered, I was so anxious and ashamed. Ashamed of my messy home, ashamed of my completely chaotic yard but most of all ashamed of my self. My faults, like my laundry pile, seemed too big to overlook. I was certain that her visit would be a total and complete disaster. Besides, I rationalized, I don’t think she’s ever really liked me anyways. I don’t know why she would.
Yet I couldn’t refuse.
On the day of the visit, I waited nervously for the anticpated phone call. But the phone never rang.
She figured out I’re worthless. She’s not going to waste her time coming over here. Why would she ever want to be friends with me? Why would she bother? It’s not like I have anything to offer. There’s no way I could measure up. I’m so lame. Why did I even think this was going to happen? Did I really expect to become friends with this woman? She’s so much better than me. Of course she’s got better things to do with her time. I need to quit being such an idiot. What’s the matter with me anyway?
On and on went the negative narrator in my head.
Suddenly, a large vehicle pulled up in the driveway. After unloading all of the children, she came to the door frazzled and apologizing. Turns out she had called my sister-in-law, who has the same name as I do, and arranged a visit with her. She thought that she was talking to me. She had even driven to the wrong house before she realized her mistake. That’s why the phone call had never come.
Although it sounds absurd here on the page, the thought that this wonderful and impressive person had actually made a mistake like this was shocking. My negative narrator was stunned into silence. Mistakes like that are so… human. So me.
As our visit progressed, we discussed and laughed about our messy homes, our unruly children, our cranky days and so much more. As the afternoon wore on, I realized that we had a lot more similarities than differences. We had many of the same frustrations, faults and failures. Our stories were so much the same. As the conversation wore on, the distance that I’d built between us shrank. Her pedestal came a little lower, a little more within reach. And I discovered that I hadn’t sunk as low as I had thought.
In all the time I’d known this woman, I had felt like she was judging me. I had felt like she looked down on me for the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way my children acted and whatever other reason crossed my mind. I had always been uncomfortable around her because I was certain that she disliked me. Nevertheless, I had always admired her because I had always thought she was just so much better than I was.
The barrier of discomfort that existed between us was not her fault; it was mine. I had become so used to being judged, usually negatively, that I had become my own most negative judge. The thoughts and feelings I had projected onto her were really my thoughts, my feelings. It was more of a reflection of me than a reflection of her. I felt judged and so I had judged her for judging me – but it turned out that the only one judging anyone was me.
It’s interesting to see the differences between reality and perception, sometimes. This was certainly an enlightening experience for me. Discovering that I had robbed myself of a rewarding friendship because I thought that I was unworthy of it was such a startling revelation. I have learned, since then, to ignore that little, lying voice that whispers to me about my failures, my shortcomings, my unworthiness. After all, the enemy of our souls is mean and a liar – and to listen to this self-criticism is to let him destroy us. Negative self-talk is so damaging to the soul.
There will always be people who have opinions and voice them loudly. Not everyone will be my biggest fan – and that’s okay. Regardless of what others might think, I can love myself anyway. I can encourage myself anyway. At the very least, I can treat myself with the same forgiveness and kindness that I would treat others. And I think that’s a lesson that everyone needs to learn. 🙂