Sunday, August 16, 2009


In a earlier post I wrote how I managed to turn an offer of help from my sister into a full-blown critique of my obvious failure in life. I was, pre-meds, notoriously over-sensitive.

I still have difficulty in this area; I don't have a good handle on it and it's not particularly predictible. Family conversations are not a problem; we don't criticize each other much, and it's almost always teasing, rather than any kind of attack. As my mother told me in a letter after I was diagnosed, my sisters spent a lot of years walking on eggshells, trying not to set me off. I'd guess it's habit by now.

I think the difficulty I have is in drawing the cognitive line between "you're doing that wrong" and "you, yourself, are all wrong."

When I lived with my illness on a daily basis, I knew I wasn't like other people, but I had no idea what it was that made me different. I was just wrong, somehow, and it was important not to let anyone else see it. I moved under a constant cloud of anxiety: something was wrong, something had been wrong, something would go wrong soon. I don't know anyone else who could conjugate error!

So when I am found to be wrong about something. my immediate reaction is that the disguise has slipped. The disguise is never, ever supposed to slip, so criticism - wrongness - is a major failing no matter how small the error might be.

These days, when I am directly criticized, I try to run through a number of questions/steps - the first one being to take a deep breath; the second is to think.

After that, and in no particular order, I ask these questions:
Is the criticism valid - did I get something wrong?
Have I done any harm? Can or should the harm be repaired?
Did I make the mistake out of ignorance? If so, can my critic enlighten me?
Did I make the mistake out of inattention or laziness? If so, is this a chronic failure?
Is this an error that I can avoid in future? (If not, stop thinking about it!)
How ashamed do I feel, why do I feel ashamed, is there any purpose or validity to it, and if not, knock it off!

And the biggest question of all, to which I almost always know the answer: Is this criticism a condemnation of me, as a person? It very seldom is. Once or twice I've received this sort of all-out-attack criticism. It's almost always made by someone who does not know me, and has no basis for attacking the whole Julia. After all, most people have enough redeeming qualities never to be rejected out-of-hand. So when the criticism is truly an overwhelming personal attack, I tend to believe it has much more to do with the critic than with me.
This really is an issue I haven't thought much about, but it's an important one.

This all sounds very logical and direct and well-adjusted. But the reason I'm writing on this particular subject today is that earlier this morning, I posted something on another site which may have caused a problem, which I corrected as quickly as possible. It was a problem I wasn't aware of so couldn't have prevented. Now I know how to keep it from happening in future.

That's good, and I'm pleased with the distance I've come. But...for a good hour after the incident, I felt tension, embarrassment, and an odd feeling like pebble loose in my ribcage. Those are pure emotional reactions based on an old thought process. They're not comfortable; I want to learn to change them.

It's really important to try to track down these errors of logic, these psychological limps, and build new paths. Part of the reason I left the local zen center is that learning there seemed to be based heavily on observation; one was to be aware of one's surroundings, and errors received sharp (but not particularly unfair) correction. I had spent a lifetime, not observing my surroundings, but trying to blend into them, and the thought of sharp public correction made me so anxious that all I could observe was my own failure to observe. When I have trained myself out of those personality traits, maybe I'll be able to go back to zen practice.

Oh. Today I finally decided to let a few chosen friends know about this blog. With an entry called "Criticism" at the top. It's a good thing I don't buy into Freudian theory.

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