I take things too personally.
In my head, it is only a small jump from “sorry, I will have to cancel tonight’s plans” to “I have recently decided that everyone I know is better than you so I have chosen to hang out with them instead of you.” From “thanks but we are not interested in working with you on this particular campaign” to “you are terrible at your job, we hate you and you will probably never make it.” From not being followed back on Instagram to not being followed back on Instagram because you are a fraud, a loser and being bitched about at every meet up that you’re not invited to.
I’m terrible at taking criticism, I am embarrassingly sensitive, I can’t not take everything way too personally… WAY too personally.
I can’t think of anything worse than not being liked. And that drives people mad. Ironically, this obsession with ‘doing right by people’ probably attributes to a large proportion of the criticism that I receive (or think I receive at any rate); an incessant need to people please coupled with the belief that everyone is out to get you is a sure fire way to guarantee that you’re not only a shivering ball of insecurity but in doing so, irritating the hell out of those around you.
We used to have a West Highland Terrier like this; in the end she was attacked by one of the other dogs and had to be re-homed.
Welcome to my life.
Exhausted permanently from being so defensive. So ready to be hurt. So sure that every single thing is a personal attack on me.
Not a good trait for a freelancer, least of all a writer. A really bad trait for a girlfriend (one that can read an awful lot into the question “did you take the washing out of the machine this morning?” normally answering in a shrill voice “NO ALEX, NO, I didn’t because I AM THE WORST GIRLFRIEND IN THE WORLD AND I’LL UNDERSTAND IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE ME AND FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL TREAT YOU RIGHT!!!”)
I told you it was exhausting, constantly waiting for the attack that will see you needing to be re-homed. Not least of all because I haven’t always been this way.
Admittedly, I have always taken things personally, but that was something I attributed to being born in July and thus falling under the Cancer star sign. Yes, I was one of those people who blamed my tendency to well up if a teacher’s feedback on my homework wasn’t utterly brilliant, on the zodiac signs.
It wouldn’t last long though, I’d swallow the golf ball sized lump of emotion in my throat that appeared every time someone implied that I wasn’t great, and I’d walk away from whatever teacher hadn’t liked my work and think to myself “well, do I really want to take advice from a 50 year old man who still wears velcro shoes?”
I was able to tell myself that if someone didn’t accept my Facebook request that it was their loss, that you couldn’t please everyone, that opinions were like arseholes; everyone has one and everyone’s stinks.
I was sensitive, but I was strong.
I had very little body confidence as a teenager; I didn’t think my body merited a compliment, I didn’t much like my face, but I was proud as hell of my mind and my opinions and I found myself doing that thing that a lot of people with insecurities do; I overcompensated.
Small talk was easy, my jokes were brilliant and I made it my mission to win everyone around me over; I made up for what I thought was a subpar body with my ability to talk my way into, or out of, anything.
But then two things happened, gradually, but in close succession: I started writing about and sharing my entire life online and my struggles with anxiety began to become harder to get away from.
When I started writing and blogging I didn’t care what people thought of me. Don’t like what I have to say? Fuck off and read something else then. Sure I’d have an emotional golf ball or two to force down my throat if I received a particularly well thought out criticism on a blog post, but I valued my work and my opinions. I thought what I was saying was important.
Of course at that time if you were to criticise my body or my appearance you’d have broken my heart, but as far as work went, it was damn near impossible to knock me down. I loved my work and my brain and I wouldn’t let anyone touch it. I didn’t think much of my body, I was inclined to believe every bad word said about it by anyone else. Or every nearly bad word, as was normally the case.
People were very rarely rude about my body, people are very rarely rude about anything (at least to your face) but in my head I heard it all.
“Oh my god you eat a lot of roast potatoes” I would hear as “you fat fucking bitch, you are greed personified, stop eating, the last thing you need is another roast potato“. I thought I was ugly, so I thought everyone around me thought I was ugly too. Thus I’d take everything much too personally.
And then somehow, at some point, the dynamics shifted. I stopped hating my body, in fact, I fell in love with it. I finally made peace with my curves and my edges and my imperfections and I concluded that it was no one else’s problem what my body looked like. The vast amount of roast potatoes I could put away was no one’s problem but mine.
In the scheme of what really mattered, my appearance was quickly overtaken by my ability, an ability that was regularly called into question. As a blogger, you write a blog post and you can see straight away how many people are reading it, comments are left (or more pointedly, no comments are left), follower counts matter, invitations are not received, everyone lists their favourite bloggers and you’re not mentioned.
It’s like being back in the playground except this time no one really cares if you have braces or if you are a bit overweight, they care much more about how good your content is, how hard you work, how smart you are. I was thrown back to 2005 except this time I wasn’t worrying about how pretty I was compared to everyone else, or how much pizza I ate compared to the other girls, I was worrying about how good my work was compared to everyone else’s.
And I don’t think that has happened ~just because I am a blogger~, I think this has happened because I have grown up. And as appearance begins to matter less, as we start to work, ability starts to matter more (read more about the pressure to be a girl boss here). It’s what’s on the inside that matters, we’re told.
As a teenager I felt like the only thing that mattered about me was my body. As a result I would take any comment made about that incredibly personally. I was sensitive to something that I was insecure about. I didn’t like it; why should anyone else? As a grownup, as an anxiety suffering grownup who relies on positive affirmations for her career, I can and will take everything to heart, everything personally, everything as an attack on me and my ability.
And that has got to stop. That is no way to live. It’s too tiring.
In the same way that I learned to value and love and respect my body, I need to remember what it’s like to value and love and respect my mind. To take pride in myself and my ability. To know my worth. And not just as a reaction to not loving my body but in a relaxed way of believing that I am enough (y’know, as a human should).
In reality most the time people aren’t being rude about me. In reality most people don’t care enough about me to think much into it. In reality I’m reading too much into a perfectly normal comment because I am insecure and I am projecting that onto other people. Well, if I can’t like myself, then you can be damn sure that I won’t let anyone else like me either.
So I’m on a mission. Not just to like myself more and have more confidence in my ability (the dream), but really to stop looking for things that aren’t there and hearing things that haven’t been said. The latter, I suspect, will come only after the former has been achieved.
I’m not under attack, I need to stop living like I am.
“Sorry I’ll have to to cancel tonight’s plans” is not code for I HATE YOU, it just means that something has come up… as things do.
“We can’t work with you on this campaign” says more about that campaign than it does about me.
Someone not following me back on Instagram is possibly the most pathetic thing I’ve ever read into.
Nobody hates me, and if they do? Well bitch, that’s on them. It’s okay to have an opinion, it’s okay that not everyone agrees with it, it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay that not ~everybody~ loves you, you don’t need everybody to love you.
The only person you really need to love you, is you… but you knew that already.
Your life is all about you and in your story, you are not the victim. You are not at war with the world. You are not infiltrating enemy lines, expecting and then deflecting insults and digs at every turn. In truth you are surrounded by people just like you. Normal, nice enough people who don’t have an agenda.
You can be sensitive and you can be vulnerable. But for the love of all that is good, stop taking things so personally.
The only opinion that you should read too much into, is your own.
Oh, and just so you know, it’s more than okay to ‘eat a lot of roast potatoes’.