This is how the habitually self-bashing person thinks. Maybe I’m not alone: Maybe it’s how a lot of us think.
A wise man about a decade older than I am once said to me, when I made some routinely self-deprecating remark at a church meeting: “Hey Ann, you know that stuff we hear every Sunday about forgiveness? That’s supposed to start with yourself. That famous line about loving your neighbor? It’s ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ remember?”
Many’s the new year I’ve vowed to be kinder to myself. And in many ways, I have, over time, learned to be much kinder to me than I was as a teenager. Back then, the way I treated myself resembled the way Jane Eyre is treated at that awful orphanage. You’re ugly, you’re not a good person, you’re terrible at sports, you’ll never be popular because you’re just a big loser, went the script that ran in my Orphanage Headmistress head.
Things have improved considerably since then.
One of the ways in which I now try to treat myself more kindly is to accept my lack of self-confidence, rather than trying to make it go away. I used to think I shouldn’t talk about it, but talking about it can be a way of getting a little help from my friends, or at least getting them to help me laugh at myself. For example: my agent recently wrote in an email that trying to sell a memoir, like mine, that has anything to do with Alzheimer’s disease is like, “hurling Kryptonite.” Not exactly a confidence-booster. But it’s something I’ve repeated and actually laughed about with several writer friends, because I know they will bolster my courage to take the next step: pitching the book, myself, to a smaller, more Kryptonite-friendly press.
So: I don’t have the self-confidence to be, say, a politician. But I do have the nerve to keep writing.
And though I flunked flirtation, I did find the courage to love.
And though I flunked Getting Rich, all my life I have sought and mostly found work that is meaningful.
Getting back to that wise man at my church: when I was a self-judging teen, I was much more pious than I am now. Fanatical, at times. But eventually my youth group-inspired fundamentalism lost out to my love of literature, history, travel, college and, let’s face it, the hedonism of the times… for which my inner Joan of Arc regularly rose up to berate me, calling me out as the spiritually spineless, directionless, purposeless child of the 70s I was.
It wasn’t until I had children of my own that, like so many of my age-mates, I found myself back in the pew. Humbler, this time. Less fervent. More willing to accept how very little I, or anyone else, knows about what or who God is. But it has taken some time to shake the adolescent self-judging out of my spiritual life. Clearly, I’m not done. It still rears up, as, for example, a big birthday approaches.
Which is why I look forward to reading Patricia Cohen’s new book, In Our Prime: the Invention of Middle Age. In an essay published recently in the New York Times, Cohen writes that most elderly people look back not on youth but on middle age as the best time of life. Perhaps because it’s when we learn, finally, to be a little kinder to ourselves. To count blessings more eagerly than we enumerate failures.
And here’s one I’m counting right now: on the day before my birthday, a short piece I wrote called “Blue Nest” was published in the new Verbalist’s Journal. You can download it for free. Check it out!