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Tag Archives: self-criticism

Constructive Criticism

I have trouble giving constructive criticism. I prefer the passive-aggressive route: just avoid the person altogether, or put their call on speaker phone and do my blog homework while they’re talking.

I know this doesn’t reflect positively on me as a psychologist. When I have a client who has problems being assertive, I have all kinds of good suggestions. And they usually take my advice. Which is a perfect example of why I often think my clients are more courageous than I am.

Part of the problem is that I can’t stand hurting other people. If it’s a choice between being annoyed by them or hurting their feelings, I choose to be annoyed. Because I can take it. But all those annoyances start to add up after awhile. Like being bitten by 1000 mosquitos. And I’m allergic to mosquitos, too. That’s why I have to keep reminding myself to pick me.

The other obstacle is the whole hyperempath thing, combined with being highly self-critical. When I think of how I would feel if someone were to tell me that I brag about myself a lot, I would be mortified. I’d probably never speak again.

Sometimes the other person is so sensitive that they, too, will obsess about it for the rest of their lives. We can never have a conversation again where the person doesn’t think about it, apologize for it, justify their behavior. It’s painful. It feels just as bad as when they were annoying me, except now I feel guilty, too.

That’s why I prefer to be so attuned to how other people feel that I can sense their annoyance and figure out why without them having to say a word. Which, admittedly, isn’t a great strategy–especially when you’re prone to depression. Because afterwards you have replay every social interaction over and over, trying to figure out where you offended the other person.

I can do it when it involves tennis. Especially when it involves wasting someone else’s time by being late, not showing up, etc. I may not think my time is valuable, but I won’t tolerate someone in my group or on my team who wastes other people’s time. But sometimes I still obsess about how I did it. Maybe if I had said it differently, I wouldn’t have hurt their feelings.

The reality is, sometimes there’s no way you can give negative feedback without hurting the person. And it’s not really my job to make sure that no one ever feels pain. Sometimes pain is necessary. It lets us know that we need to change something. And if something’s bothering me enough to tell them about it, then I am definitely hoping for change.

Sometimes I wish I could be one of those people who are so oblivious that they don’t care that they’re annoying. Someone who can dismiss criticism with some rationalization. Or someone with a really bad memory for negative feedback. But I can’t. I’m me. Empathic, sensitive, guilt-ridden me.

Perhaps I can think of this as yet another opportunity to practice self-acceptance.

Fatigue

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I have a tendency to be a little hard on myself at times.
 
Yesterday I had another one of those days where I slept 14 hours and didn’t get up until 4 p.m. And then I still went to bed at my normal bedtime (1 a.m.) and didn’t get up until 9:30. So as punishment for my excessive sleeping, I decided that I didn’t deserve a cappuccino today. My colleague thought that seemed a little harsh, but it makes perfect sense to me.
 
But in an effort to be kinder to myself, I’m trying to come up with alternative explanations for why I have been so tired, other than that I am weak, crazy, a bad person, etc. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
 
1.  I’m depressed. But other than the fatigue and excessive sleeping, I don’t really feel depressed. And even if it is depression, I’m already doing everything I can to treat it.
 
2.  I have some physical illness like chronic fatigue syndrome. This is possible, given that I didn’t know I had asthma for a long time, and it accounted for what I perceived as a lack of mental toughness on the tennis court. On the one hand, it would be a relief to have a valid excuse. On the other hand, there would probably be some medication that I would have to take for that condition, too, which would be annoying.
 
3.  I’m tired because it’s the end of the semester, and I’m always tired at the end of the semester. This would make the most sense, but it still bothers me because my colleagues don’t collapse from exhaustion at the end of the term, so that still makes me feel weak.
 
4.  I’m tired because I’m captaining and playing on 2 tennis teams and playing 4-5 times a week. This also makes sense. Until recently, I was only captaining 1 team and playing 2-3 times a week. But how lame is that to be exhausted from too much recreation? Boo hoo!
 
5.  My anxiety is leading to mental and physical exhaustion. This is also possible. But then I start beating myself up about not having a reason for feeling anxious. And I’m not really sure what I can do about that other than to take the Ativan sooner when I’m having an anxiety attack rather than suffering for several hours. But the Ativan might make me sleepy.
 
6.  Blogging is mentally exhausting. All this honesty and self-disclosure is pretty draining. And I hardly ever used social media before. Now I have to use it all the time as part of my blogger duties, which kind of feels like homework. Still, I’ve never heard of anyone needing more sleep from intensive blogging.
 
7.  I don’t need to know the reason why. My feelings are always legitimate. It doesn’t matter what other people are or are not able to do; I have to honor my own needs. I may really need more than 8 hours of sleep, and most of the time I don’t even get that.
 
If this were a multiple choice question where I had to pick the best answer, I guess I’d have to go with #7, because this is what I tell my clients, over and over again, until they believe it. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Because my inner critic would give me a hard time about that, too.
 

Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person, but ever since my last depressive episode, my anxiety has gotten worse–especially around sleep. Which is terrible, because I love sleep more than anything. I started having anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. Or when I’m trying to fall asleep. Or when I wake up. Or before, during, and after a nap. In fact, I refer to naps as demon sleep. But I rely on naps to make up for the sleep that I miss out on because of my 1 a.m. bedtime.
 
I don’t want to call these episodes panic attacks, because that does injustice to people who have full-blown panic attacks. I don’t feel like I’m dying or having a heart attack. I’m not completely debilitated. But it does hurt. It’s like I have a bunch of bees buzzing inside my body. Or I have the psychological equivalent of a high pitched noise in my head that I can’t turn off. Or I feel physically and emotionally paralyzed. Or I feel like someone has punched me in the heart. I think that’s why my chest muscles are so tight–I have to absorb anxiety’s blows to my body.
 
I’ve written about how obsessive I am and how easily my inner infant gets rattled. Those forms of anxiety are annoying, but I’ve gotten use to them. I’m learning to accept that they are just a part of how my brain works. But when I have an anxiety attack with no apparent trigger, I feel crazy and weak.
 
It’s funny, because if I’m talking to someone else, I can convince them that they don’t need a reason to be anxious or depressed. That their feelings are valid, even if they don’t make sense. That it doesn’t make them crazy or weak. And they feel better afterwards. But saying these things to myself doesn’t have the same effect.
 
I guess that’s why it helps to tell someone else. Because without someone else’s reassurance, it’s hard to release the power that your inner demons have over you. When it’s just you and your demons, they convince you that you’re letting yourself off the hook too easily. You’re just lying to yourself. You’re really a bad person.
 
Last week when I wrote the self-compassion post, I was beating myself up for my lame excuses for feeling depressed. But after I gave myself permission to write them down, they didn’t seem so lame. And then when I got all these messages from people asking me if I was OK, I started to feel like my suffering might be real. And then I felt better!
 
So I thought I would try it again this week. And I just took half of an Ativan for good measure.
 

The Inner Infant

So my inner child, Sophie, has a younger sister. She is an infant and doesn’t have a name yet. While my relationship with Sophie is pretty good, I confess, I’m a terrible mother to my infant. But I’m working on it.

It’s easier to enjoy Sophie because she is playful, funny, cute, and full of energy. But like most kids, she can be a brat and gets on my nerves sometimes. And she doesn’t like it when I’m alone. She’s afraid something bad will happen to us. She advocated for my last relationship and was terribly anxious whenever she thought we might break up. It took awhile before I learned how to comfort her and assure her that I can take care of her by myself.

I only became aware of the infant about a year ago–mainly because I was neglecting her so badly it was affecting my health. I wouldn’t feed her when she was hungry. I wouldn’t soothe her when she was upset. I yelled at her when she cried for no reason. If Social Services could have seen how I was treating her, they definitely would have intervened. After awhile I was having so many physical problems that I was forced to attend to her needs. It was starting to affect my tennis.

I’ve had to get to know my infant the same way any parent gets to know their child: by paying close attention. You don’t automatically know which cry is the hungry cry, the poop cry, or the tired cry; you learn from experience. She is usually upset when I wake up on the weekends because I sleep in and throw off her feeding cycle. So if I’m feeling depressed or anxious when I wake up, I get something to eat because she’s probably hungry.

Or she could be crying because that’s what infants do when they wake up–especially after a nap. It’s funny that we just accept that young kids cry when they wake up without understanding why and without being mad at them for it. I wonder at what age we start expecting people to have a good reason to cry.

I guess some people do acknowledge that they’re in a crappy mood when they wake up and turn to things like coffee, cigarettes, and drugs to calm them down. Those are not good ways to comfort a baby, though. And maybe they’re not ideal for us, either, really. But that’s for another blog post.

She also gets upset whenever I’m rushing around, which is essentially all the time. She is very sensitive to transitions: leaving for work in the morning, rushing to a tennis match, rushing to the grocery store. I have no idea why. Maybe my stress upsets her. Or maybe I’m neglecting her when I’m on the run. This is the distress that is the hardest for me to be compassionate about.

So now there’s this mantra I have to say multiple times a day to soothe her: It’s OK. Everything’s going to be OK. You’re fine. Everything’s going to be fine. And when I’m frustrated, I add although I have no idea what you’re anxious about!  It’s a process, accepting that she deserves to be upset and comforted, even when it doesn’t make sense to me.

I know this probably sounds silly to some of you, but it works really well. I use this analogy often with clients as a way to get them to pay closer attention to what they need, to honor their feelings, to have compassion for themselves, and to learn how to take better care of themselves. It can work surprisingly quickly, once you reassure them that having all these parts doesn’t mean they’re crazy.

So if you ever find that you are arguing with yourself, or that you’re frustrated because your thoughts/feelings/actions don’t make any sense, you might want to ask what part of yourself you might be neglecting.

Self-Compassion

My compassion reserves are running low. In my last relationship I took the words of Jesus and Buddha literally about how we should be able to love everyone. It was practically a 3 year exercise in compassion. But by the end I wondered if perhaps I had misunderstood what they meant about loving others. It was a lot of work to have to channel Buddha and Christ just to tolerate being in his presence. I feel like I’m experiencing a backlash now. All those feelings I tried to deny are coming out with a vengeance. I guess I was supposed to have compassion for myself, too.

I’m not very good at self-compassion. Every time I try, the Inner Critic berates me for whining about my problems when I have a good life. I don’t know what pain is. I’m not living in a war-torn country. My life hasn’t been devastated by natural disasters or school shootings. All of the people I love are still alive. Who am I to complain?But surely I must have the right to honor my feelings. My suffering must count, too, if God cares about all of us. So I’m going to write about what’s upsetting me, without apologizing for it or justifying it or willing myself to be positive.

This week I will be moving closer to divorce. Filing forms. Getting documents notarized. More tears. More snot. You would think there would be a limit to how much it’s possible to cry over something. That 4 years would be more than enough time. I used to pray to God–plead, even–to tell me what I could do that would allow both of us to be happy. Leaving seemed like it would just make us both miserable. And it has. And I don’t see an end in sight for me, at least. I’m trying not to blame God or myself. But in this moment, my faith in a happy future is wavering and I feel like I deserve the pain.

I have 2 family members who are currently on the opposite ends of the bipolar spectrum. My brother is trying so hard but still feels terrible.  It hurts me that he’s hurting. My dad is manic. Mania feels great for the person experiencing it, but it’s hell for the rest of us. But what power do I have to make him see?  If he were my client, I could make him see our psychiatrist, get him on meds. But as a daughter, I am practically useless.

I’m afraid to answer the phone when my parents call. Which makes me feel horribly guilty, because I know their time on earth is limited and I will regret not talking to them more when they’re gone. But the call is almost always about something bad. Something I’m expected to fix. Or something I don’t want to do. At minimum, I’m supposed to be a receptacle for the stress, but I can’t take it. It’s too much. I’m not able to function afterwards.

So I have to be strategic about when I call or when I answer. It has to be a time when it will be OK if I fall apart. But since it’s hard to choose something where there’s a good chance you’ll fall apart, I often forget to call altogether. Which makes me feel even guiltier and reactivates the vicious cycle. I wish it could be easier. I wish there were some way I could be a good daughter but also protect myself.

It takes a lot of work to maintain my health. Since I have GERD, allergies, and exercise-induced asthma, I have to take shots, nasal sprays, pills, steroid inhalers, rescue inhalers. I’m not supposed to have coffee and chocolate. I can’t eat or drink 3 hours before exercise or bed time. If I drink too much during a match, I’ll even throw up water. It’s frustrating to have to worry about throwing up every time I play. Or brush my teeth, even. But giving up dental hygiene and tennis are not options.

My mental health is always hanging in the balance. It’s work to maintain my sleep cycle because of my night owlness. I can’t miss any of my drugs. I can’t miss Ativan for even one night. I meditate, pray, journal, exercise, and all of the other self-care strategies. But despite my best efforts, I can never make it to the end of the term without burning out before I cross the finish line. I can’t handle the stress of my life. I can’t get out of bed right now. It makes me feel weak. Inadequate. Unable to do the basic tasks of life.

Just got a call from my lawyer friend that my paperwork looks good to go, so I guess I’ll be filing for divorce this week for sure. If you believe in God, feel free to say a prayer for me. If you don’t, send positive vibes my way.

Head Games

Competition can bring out the worst in people. It is not uncommon to see anger outbursts on the tennis court from people who are ordinarily even-tempered. They’ll yell, hit the net, or knock the ball out of the park. You don’t see too many people break their racket at our level, but I had a partner do it once because he was mad that I wasn’t coming to the net.

I actually think that I have a better attitude in tennis than I do in real life.  For example, since I obsess about money, I would never break a $200 racket. Plus, I try to not let my opponents know that I’m upset because that gives them a mental advantage. Plus, I love my racket in part because it’s purple, and if I had to get a new model it would not be purple.


Some people will use head games to gain an advantage. They will intentionally make bad line calls or accuse you of making bad line calls. They will argue about the score, time violations, lineup changes, coaching, and bathroom breaks. Or they’ll do seemingly positive things to disrupt your concentration like crack jokes, be chatty, or tell you how awesome you’re playing.


I admit, sometimes I’ll use positive head games to counteract negative ones. I try to capitalize on the fact that it’s hard to be mean to someone who is being fair and kind. Last year I played against this person who is known for causing drama and making bad line calls, so I was super nice to her from the start. It worked for the most part but she still made one bad call. My partner went ballistic but she insisted the ball was way out, which was a flat out lie. I said “it may have been out, but it wasn’t way out,” just to end the argument. There were no other disputes about line calls and no hard feelings by the end of the match.


In a relationship, however, if my partner uses head games I yell at him for trying to manipulate me.


Another common way to deal with frustration is to blame your partner for blowing the point. If my partner criticizes me I either ignore it, call them on it, or never play with them again. This is one place where I won’t try to make the relationship work at all costs.


I rarely criticize my partner on the court. In fact, I take pride in being able to bring out their best game. I praise them for the things they’re doing well. I help them stay focused and positive. I get them to dig deep when we’re on the verge of losing.


However, in real life I am pretty sure my exes would tell you that I have no problem doling out the criticism.


I am also less critical of myself in tennis than I am in life. Most of the time I’m able to let mistakes go and focus on the next point. I don’t get too upset about losses. In fact, my current record is 7-11. But I play so much tennis that another opportunity to win is just around the corner.


In relationships I focus on all the negative outcomes and wonder what I’m doing wrong. In tennis, I focus more on the process than the result. As long as I’m happy with how I played, I don’t mind losing. And it’s fun to win, but the thrill of winning doesn’t last as long as the joy of trying to get better, looking forward to the next match, and fighting for the win on the court.


Maybe I should treat my next relationship like a tennis season.

100th Post!

One of my favorite books of all time is What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty. It was our most popular book in our Remedial Book Club; we actually had a meaningful discussion about it for the entire meeting. Ordinarily we talk about the book for 30 minutes–mostly about who would play the characters if the book were turned into a movie–and then we eat, drink, and gossip about people in the tennis community for 2 hours.

The book is about a woman who falls off her bike in spinning class and loses her memory of the past 10 years. In her current life, she is about to turn 40, has 3 children, and is going through a bitter divorce. After the accident, she thinks she is 29, madly in love with her husband, and is about to have her first child. The book also follows the stories of Alice’s mom, sister, and grandmother, all of whom are in the process of letting go of grief. In addition to being hiLARious, the book also makes you reflect on who you have become and what you thought your life would be like.

I am now in the process of filing for divorce, at my husband’s request. I am glad that I waited until he was ready, because now he understands why our marriage can’t work. I have a better appreciation for the significance of rituals. Even though it’s just a formality, since we’ve been apart for almost 4 years, the legal aspect of it has reawakened my grief about losing him. Of all the people I’ve been with, he is by far the one who was the most stable, reliable, and trustworthy. It saddens me that this wasn’t enough to make things work.

I will be 45 in a few months, and I would have never predicted that this is what my life would look like. Although it is still sad and scary to be alone at times, I am thankful for this opportunity to get to know myself better. I am still experiencing compassion fatigue from my last relationship, and I really want my next one to be different.

I’m currently reading The Art of Empathy, by Karla McLaren. It’s the first book I am aware of that teaches hyperempaths like me how to keep from burning out. I’m hoping that this will help me be more intentional about my next relationship. I’m hoping that it’s possible to break the pattern of relationships that you’ve grown up with and that you’ve followed all your life and to start anew.

Since I have reached my goal of 100 posts, I thought I would also take stock of my blogging life, which is much more positive. This blog is the first time that I’ve shared my writing with others, and I am so proud of what I have written so far. Even prouder than I was when I finished my dissertation.

I’ve been trying to write on and off for about 10 years now but only took it seriously a few years ago. Until then, I never realized how demon-filled the writing process was. Every time I sat down to write, Perfectionism, the Inner Critic, and the Drill Sergeant were all there to meet me, reminding me of how much I suck. So to commit to blogging 3 times a week–and to share the most vulnerable parts of myself in every post–is a huge accomplishment.

However, now that I’ve learned more about publishing, I am forced to accept that the odds of writing a best seller are not great, and even if it does happen, it won’t be any time soon. I’m not going to give up, of course, because I never give up, but I’m trying to focus more on the process of writing rather than the end result.

I’m trying to approach blogging the way I approach tennis. I’ve made $60 in prize money, which was several years ago when I won the 35 and over singles division of a tournament. (I was also the #1 rated 35 and over singles player in Virginia that year!) But I spend hundreds of dollars a month on tennis, so as a money-making enterprise, it’s a failing business.

But that’s OK. I’m not doing it to make money. I play tennis because it’s fun, because it challenges me, and because I have made wonderful friends. Although my romantic relationships have been a disappointment, my friendships have far exceeded my expectations.

Blogging is also fun and challenging, and I enjoy getting to know my readers and other bloggers. And it’s way cheaper than playing tennis. So I’m going to set another goal, which is to write another 100 posts by my blog’s first birthday, which is September 24.

Hope to see you then!