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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Discovering your worst enemy

When I was growing up, I thought my dad knew everything. He was like a god to me and I thought he was right about everything. Now it is true that he was always highly critical. I have no memory of him ever offering any praise for anything I did during my years growing up. As I reached 18, it simply made sense to me that I was just an inept person very inadequate to life.


I was 28 before I realized he was so very wrong and so very abusive. And that was when I came to hate him. I hated him for every word of criticism he gave that destroyed my confidence and my every moment of depression in my life. Someone very dear to me told me, "He did not raise you, he lowered you." But to be honest, in spite of all my emerging anger and hatred towards him, I still felt like an incompetent idiot. I tried convincing him I was not an idiot but that did not seem to impress him at all. In fact I once said to my father that he was way too critical of me while I was growing up and that I needed more encouragement and recognition of my accomplishments. He responded by saying in as honest a voice as I ever heard him say, “Obviously I was not critical enough, after all, look how you have turned out.” 


Then one day I discovered the truth. The truth is – it was me who destroyed me – not him. Yes, me, I did it. I discovered it one day when someone else very critical in nature accused me of being stupid over something I knew a great deal about and that they knew precious little. I noticed that it did not hurt me at all to hear them tell me they thought I was stupid. So I asked myself, “Why did it not hurt me?” My answer was this: it did not hurt me because I did not regard their statement as credible and I did not believe them. That’s right; I knew better and knew I was not stupid. You see - hateful, abusively critical words cannot hurt you unless and until you believe they hold some sort of validity. 


That was when I realized that I was my own worst enemy. No not deliberately, and I cannot blame my child-self for lacking the sophistication to appreciate and understand the alternatives or the dynamics. But it still remains that I was the one doing all that damage. When I decided that various hostile events in my life actually said something valid about me – that is the very moment in time that the damage to my self-esteem occurred.


Our perception of ourselves is not affected by anything anyone says or anything we go through unless we at some level agree that what it says about us rings true. Others may throw verbal knives at us, but we are the ones who catch them and then stab ourselves by thinking they are true. Just as a hot poker will not burn you until it touches your skin, so too, words cannot do damage when you give them no credibility. 


This is good news. This means that if I am the one who gave those lies credibility, then I am also the one who can work through a process of exposing those lies until I no longer believe them. And that is what I did. Forget dad; forget trying to get him to change his tune. I will simply change my tune and I will discard the notes that fail to ring harmoniously true. I will feel good about myself based on MY opinion, not the opinion of others too self absorbed to recognize the loveliness of their child.


Strangely, as I independently moved forward, my father, before he died, came to see me as quite capable in ways that he grew to depend upon. But I digress; my point is that I had to take complete 100% responsibility for what I accept as true about myself. I had to accept the role that I and I alone must decide what aspects of criticism are valid and what aspects are not. Of course I make mistakes; I am not perfect. And many a genuinely honest person has helped me to discover some of my shortcomings. So I am not closed to all feedback simply because it might be critical or uncomfortable. But I have discovered that the only criticism that has any validity is the objective criticism that helps me see what I might not be doing procedurally correct or developmentally not quite fully formed. But all that criticism that seeks to bring me down a level as if I were some inferior existence or that seeks to place me into a category that eliminates me as a valuable human being are completely bogus.


And given the cultural craziness that promotes a self-deprecating false humility, I have come to believe that an honest evaluation that any of us could give to ourselves would involve a comfortable recognition of our limits but an incredibly high estimation of our value and beauty as a human being.


What is the key to being healthy in how you think about yourself? That’s just it, there is no key. This is an open door and you are the only one who ever walks through it and the only one you should ever allow to walk through it.


I encourage you to accept 100% of the responsibility for what YOU decide is true about you. I encourage you to be honest about it. There is no need to pretend to be what you are not, but whoever it is and whatever it is that you really are, is already quite amazing. If you learn to be that gate-keeper at your internal open door, no one can ever knock you down in their attempt to get you out of their egotistical way.


Lesson two is very similar: be gracious to others. They might be struggling with this concept. It is more likely than not that others are unquestionably just as valuable as you are. Encourage them to question the negativity they borrowed from the assessment of others. And as you think of others, take 100% of the responsibility to make sure your thinking about them never attacks their immutable dignity as a human being without regard to how unacceptable their behavior may or may not be. I have become convinced that the only way to get bad behavior out of a person is to first find a way to convince them they are intrinsically inferior to the acceptable standard of being human. They are only acting out their core self-imposed truth.


When you love yourself for just being you, you end up with one of the best friends in the whole world. When you do not love yourself, you end up with an enemy who knows a bit too much about you. So stop being your own worst enemy; become your best friend. It is really the only foundation so that you can be a good friend to others.

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