Tag Archives: self esteem

Gnawing away at the roots

Trigger warnings – exploring the mechanics of abuse.

It’s all too common to imagine abuse in terms of obvious physical violence. In practice, when people are subjected to physical abuse it’s often late in a process that has already ground them down so badly that they don’t resist or complain and instead feel it’s what they deserved. The long term consequences of emotional and psychological abuse tend to be far more damaging than any physical abuse that is survived (but not everyone survives). Our criminal systems focus on bodily wounding.

Psychological and emotional abuse is not always deliberate. There is often no way to tell if it is meant to harm the recipient or not. People may be repeating their own family patterns and experiences, affected by their cultural background, religion, belief and so forth. They may think what they’re doing is fine, they may be projecting all kinds of crap onto their victim. This doesn’t lessen the effect, but it means if challenged they will be very clear that they aren’t doing anything wrong, and this makes them difficult to challenge. If you tell your significant other that they are hurting you and they respond by saying it is your problem not theirs, they are fine, it only serves to entrench the damage.

This kind of abuse is often a slow process of attrition and erosion. No single act will be enough to make you realise it isn’t ok. It’s just little nit picking criticism and complaints, it’s living without praise or kindness, it’s being told off and told you look lousy and that your cooking isn’t up to much. You make too much noise, you don’t smile enough, your taste in clothes, films, books, friends is piss poor… and slowly, day by day, more is shaved off your identity until you wake up one morning and you don’t know who you are any more, you just know you aren’t any good at anything and its all your fault.

You don’t know what happened. And maybe the person who did this to you tells you that they still love you, even though you look terrible and aren’t doing anything interesting. They still love you, even now you’re fat and boring. And you’re grateful to them. They’re heroes. No one else would want you in this mess and you are so desperately glad they are willing to put up with you that you’d do anything to try and make them happier. You wish you were a better person so that you could do more good things for them.

If you’ve grown up with this coming towards you from a parent, you may never notice that it isn’t normal or ok, and that your crushed self esteem and the anxiety that comes from it is not something that you deserve. If you take it from a spouse, you may keep taking it for years, all the while internalising your own alleged shortcomings. How do you tell that you’re ok when the key people in your life constantly undermine you?

There are no easy answers to this. It is very hard for a person in that situation to wake up and get out on their own.  However, most people who are being ground down in this way will defend the person crushing them if faced with a direct challenge (because you’re dissing the one person who can put up with them). A well meaning attempt to get someone out of this trap can instead push them further into it. The only thing I’ve seen work is to get in there and gently, persistently build someone up. Affirm them, praise them, encourage them, ignore whatever they do to deflect it. And keep doing it, for months, or years or as long as it takes for them to start questioning how rubbish they think they are.


Anxiety, Depression and Self Esteem

On the whole, anxiety and depression are best tackled with self care. Rest, moving away from the sources of distress, not being outside your comfort zone too much, good food, sleep, exercise… All the obvious things that contribute to good health are needed to bring a person back from mental difficulty. Some (many?) of us who suffer from anxiety and depression have terrible trouble taking proper care of ourselves.

The person with poor self esteem struggles to believe that they deserve basic, essential things. Getting the job done thus seems more important than being well. Being useful is more important than being well even if being useful in the short term may compromise your longer term viability. For me, for a long time, the idea of self-care was itself a panic trigger and if people suggested it, I’d get even more distressed. I think I’m not alone in this.

When poor self esteem underpins poor mental health, the odds are a person has internalised a lot of crap from other people. We do not come alone to the idea of being worthless, useless, and that we deserve to suffer. We may believe we’re lazy, making a fuss, a nuisance – because we’ve had prolonged exposure to people telling us these things. We believe that we aren’t really ill, that the problem is that we aren’t trying hard enough. If only we made more effort to be more positive, we’d be better people. Getting a person to believe the bullshit of positivity logic can be one of the cruellest ways of keeping a mentally distressed person trapped in cycles of ill health.

Getting out of this is not a solo project. I know this because I can look back on my own journey and see when things started to change. Wind the clock back seven or eight years and I did not see myself as a real person. I was a thing made of straw and only my usefulness mattered. If I struggled, I’d push harder, beating myself up – physically and emotionally – to keep moving. I’d name call and shame and ridicule to make myself keep going, keep working, keep doing all the things. Running on internalised hate, I’d use the energy of that to keep my broken self moving.

There have always been people happy to add to the inner hate pile, and then to humiliate me as someone who ‘just plays the victim’ on top of that. I have taken those words into every burnout with me. I’ve listened to well meaning people online telling me I needed to take better care of myself, and I’ve been afraid to do so. As though being kind to me would turn me into something even more horrible and unworthy than I’d already been told I was.

I’ve been able to change because my environment has changed. It has taken time. Support and kindness at home, for years, has had consequences. Good friends who treat me with warmth provide an antidote to the poison others have poured into my ears. Support from fellow travellers has helped create a context for looking differently at these things. I could not have done this alone.

It’s a thing about mental health that needs saying and saying again. Most of us do not fall apart on our own. We fall apart for reasons that are outside our heads. Trying to find a personal solution to this is often futile. If environments are sick, the people in them will become and remain sick. Where people exploit each other, treat each other as worthless, expendable, or mock visible suffering, things only get worse. Collective solutions are the only workable ones, and in treating each other better, and being kinder to each other we can overcome so much more. Individual positivity can’t heal much of what’s wrong. Collective determination to change things really can make a difference.


Self esteem and the spaces that hold us

I’ve struggled with the idea of self esteem for some years. Struggled in a way I imagine is vaguely comparable to never having had some other functioning part of a body in that it’s really hard to imagine the functioning of something you’ve never had. I can’t figure out how to grow one and the self-help books leave me anxious and feeling inadequate.

The conventional wisdom is that we must not base our self esteem on external things, because that makes us too vulnerable. The truth is that what passes for self-esteem in me is entirely dependent on what’s around me. If I’m in kind, accepting spaces that value me and treat me well, I can be quite happy and functional. Treat me like shit and it’s almost instantly internalised and I fall into despair.

When I act based on the idea that my self esteem *should* come from within, and that I *fail* at this, I remain vulnerable to spaces that hurt me.

My impression is that the person with good self esteem will not accept the spaces where they are treated dishonourably, casually etc. They will leave. The person with poor self esteem is more likely to accept it as fair judgement, and stay. When your self esteem is a fair percentage externally sourced, this means a low self esteem increases the chances of staying in spaces that perpetuate a sense of low self esteem.

It’s taken me long enough to figure this out!

If I admit that my self esteem derives from my environment, everything changes. I can look at my environment differently. Do I feel safe, welcome and happy? Great, this is a good place, I should spend time in it. Do I feel cheap, worthless, used, and the like? Bad place, need to leave because if I stay it will start to define me.

I note that by thinking this way, and acknowledging how I am, I get to behave more like a person with good self esteem. If I can manage to work with this, and spend most, if not all of my time in spaces where I feel safe and happy, then to all intents and purposes, I will be a person with good self esteem.

This in turn raises questions about the people who, usually for economic reasons, are not able to vote with their feet to escape from oppressive and dehumanising situations. The psychological damage of being forced into appalling conditions out of poverty and desperation, is something we need to be thinking about, and working to change.


How to grow wings and a tail

As far as I can tell, it all comes back to self esteem. I’ve read a lot about depression and anxiety and the gist goes like this: Rest, make time for good things, look after yourself, don’t push through pain and exhaustion, don’t keep going when you feel threadbare, take your needs seriously. It’s probably good advice. I’ve read books on self esteem, and the good advice there is about not pinning your sense of self worth to achievements or other people’s perceptions, because that way, getting knocked down is inevitable.

Pin your sense of self worth to something that isn’t about achievements or how other people perceive you.

I’ve gone round that phrase repeatedly over a lot of years, and I always come back to the same place. But what else is there? And those achievements, and the usefulness to other people that underwrites my sense of being ok, is hard to maintain when I’m sore and tired, and spiralling downwards. Without achievements I can point at, and people I can be useful to, the downward spiral becomes a nosedive. I’ve repeated it often enough to be confident about the mechanics.

Every time I go round this (which at point of writing adds up to a lot of times) the ‘wisdom’ I come back to is that if I tried harder to grow a self esteem that was a proper self esteem like a well and normal person would have, it would all be fine. I ought to be able to do this. I’ve yet to manage it. The whole thing seems about as feasible and available to me as sprouting wings. Despite all the books and all the sagely advice, I have no more idea how to develop self esteem that isn’t based on achievements or other people’s opinions than I did when I started down this route a good four years ago.

There is an uncomfortable truth in all of this – that the idea of thinking well about myself frightens me. To say I did ok, or it was good enough, or I am good enough… even as I type this I can feel my throat tighten, and my stomach. Dangerous things to say. And then the other voice pipes up, the one that says I have no right to say whether I’m any good or not and no basis for knowing, or judging. That my view of myself is inherently suspect and invalid. I know where that voice comes from, and the only viable response I’ve ever found for it, is to have achievements I can hold up, and the good opinions of people I trust to know better than I could, whether I am ok or not.

Self esteem is not actually something we grow in isolation. We learn it early, or we don’t, from those who are around us – family, friends, peers, teachers, neighbours, etc. We grow it from what’s reflected back to us. When you’re never good enough for the people around you, self esteem is bound to be in short supply.

As an adult it’s turned into a need to please. A need to prove that I can be good enough, and do enough, to be worthy of respect and inclusion. It has made me incredibly vulnerable to people who wanted to use me. For most of my life, all a person had to do was hold the hoop a little higher than I could reach and watch me desperately try to jump through it anyway. I think some people find that kind of thing entertaining.

I look at my desire to fix the self esteem issues, and I realise that I can’t, in no small part because I see it as something to achieve, something I am supposed to do so that other people find me easier to be around. I’m still not trying to do it for me, I want it so as not to be high maintenance, or inconvenient. Think how much more useful I could be if I didn’t get regularly mired in bouts of depression! But that thinking negates the whole project.

Seeing the mechanics is not the same as having an answer, but it’s a lot more useful than just keeping on doing what other people tell me I should be doing in order to become what they think I should be. In acknowledging that I’m still not really doing this for me, and not even comfortable (panic levels of not comfortable) with doing this for me, I am probably further forward than I’ve ever been. And yes, I am going to chalk it up as an achievement because I do need to score it that way.


First, grow a leg

A couple of years ago I had a bit of a stint with self help material, trying to work out how to avoid some the deep holes of despair I regularly fall into. It became evident that I tick a lot of boxes for low self esteem. This has consequences. I have found it hard to say no to people. I do not cope well in situations where my wellbeing is compromised, and mentioning this might inconvenience someone else. I am attention hungry and affirmation seeking, needing fairly steady signs of being approved of just to stay functional. This, it has to be said, is not a very good way to live.

The self help books talked about how to improve self esteem. Resting more, taking time to pamper yourself and doing happy things, not valuing yourself purely on achievements and most critically, not looking for external affirmation all the time. It felt like being told to grow another leg (hence the title). Your problem, Nimue, is that you don’t have enough legs. Grow another leg, it’ll work then. But there was never any information about how to do what felt like the equivalent of trying to grow a leg. I found that less than helpful.

It’s sent me on a long journey. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

Good self esteem is not intrinsic. It’s a thing schools now actively work on because having it enables kids to be happier and do more. Private schools, it is worth noting, go out of their way to develop and reinforce the self esteem of every student. The comprehensive system of my childhood did not do this.

Where do we get our self esteem from in the first place? Well, my best guess is that this develops, or doesn’t, as a consequence of our relationships with our first caregivers. It’s worth noting that what a caregiver thinks will help, and what actually helps, are not exactly the same. Children are developing identity, ideas and beliefs about the world from the moment they arrive, if not before. It’s a while before they can express much of that and give you any kind of sense of the sort of person they are, and what they might need. So even when everyone is trying their best, you can, with the best will in the world, mess this sort of stuff up.

Not every child is wanted. Not every child fits their parent’s idea of how a baby is going to be. Some are a disappointment – wrong gender, not pretty enough… and not all parents respond with open hearted love and generosity to children who have something wrong or unusual about them. Not all parents have as much time to give as an attention-hungry infant craves. There are lots of ways you can start out in a well meaning home and not feel loved, valued or wanted, and gods help you if you start out not being loved, valued or wanted.

I was told, from as far back as I can remember, that I could not make value judgements about whether anything I did was good enough, and that the only opinion that counted for anything, belonged to someone other than me. Lo and behold, I have carried that my whole life, looking for people to stand in that position of authority and power and tell me if I am good enough. People for whom my being good enough might mean something, and would ward of the terror, and the darkness that exist for me in the realms of failure. I was taught to live and die by other people’s assessments, I was taught to have no inner capacity for holding self esteem.

Grow a new leg, they say.

I’m finding better ways of managing the need for validation. I’m also getting better at picking my people, and finding generous hearted folk who help me feel good about what I’m doing. Increasingly in my life there are people for whom I tentatively feel that I do not have to ‘do’ and that they will accept me, just as I am. To be good enough without achieving, without making or working. To be good enough in and of myself, for someone else. That was the thing that had not happened before, and had not taken root. It’s a very small seedling of a possibility just now, but apparently things like this can be grown from scratch, in the right circumstances.


Time off for good behaviour

I didn’t blog yesterday, or pick up my email. This is a rare thing for me. I did however, spend a lot of time wandering around Gloucester, and also a lot of time doing happy things with wool. That was all very pleasing. I’m starting to appreciate just how important rest is, in all manner of ways.

I have several friends who are really into fitness and activity, who talk about the importance of rest days. Now, my lifestyle often doesn’t allow that because I have no car, I am my mode of transport, and there are days when that’s a bitch. But, I’m making a point of trying not to cycle once or twice a week, and being gentler with me. Net result, less bodily pain. Time to heal makes a lot of odds. Time to recover from illness, and to let stressful things pass without being beaten up by them.

I’ve learned over the last few years that rest is essential to mental health. Time spent on quiet, gentle things that do not tax the mind and body allow me to find calm, and to keep things in perspective. If I rest, I don’t get as anxious, or as depressed (I piloted the boat all by myself for a little while yesterday and didn’t panic at all!). I sleep better if I take the time to wind down before bed. When I sleep better, I work more efficiently and don’t get as depressed – there are many cycles here.

When I try to run flat out all the time, I get ever slower and less inspired with the work. I’ve learned that the time when I’m not striving is vitally important. I consolidate stuff I’ve learned, for a start. I can then ponder and make connections. I can also daydream, play with ideas and let my mind wander. It’s often the times when I’m not trying really hard to get somewhere that result in the best ideas turning up. Creativity does not always flow to order, needs time to meander, and comes more readily when I’m not pushing like a mad thing. In undertaking to do less, I find myself able to do more and frequently better. That took a long time to get my head round. I feel like I *should* be working really hard all the time. That way lies rubbish output and burnout and misery. The time off matters.

I think part of my problem is that some people I’ve run into along the way basically assume that the creative life is a doss, an easy option, and involves never getting out of bed before lunchtime. I wanted to be taken seriously, I wanted to avoid ridicule. So the appearance of hard work became important to me. I started to believe that hours spent at the keyboard meant something. They don’t, necessarily. So I’m making a new space for myself, in which I can gaze out of the window for as long as I need to, or go for a walk, or appear to be doing very little. When I work, I work like a mad thing, because I can. I only get to do that if I pace it right, and I like the overall balance. There’s a self esteem, self respect thing here too, letting other people cause me to feel crap if I’m not working enough for their ideas about what I should be doing… and not rewarding myself with the time off and rest any person actually needs. These things make me feel less like a person and I have to get away from them or they will grind me down.

So, more ambling, and a ghost walk ahead of me, and I’m aiming to do something truly epic in the not too dim and distant. I’m not being lazy, I am brewing! And I no longer care whether others disapprove of me.


The joys of good inventions

I can sound like a luddite sometimes, and it would be fair to say that I have mixed feelings about modern technology. I am very fond of the internet, and of the things I own, the netbook I’m typing this on is of particular value to me. Not that I own much hi-tech stuff. There are some kinds of technology that seem to be made purely so that someone can sell you a new thing. Many of them do nothing for me. I get far more excited about inventions that have genuine impact, aren’t just a faster version of an old thing with more bells and whistles than I have any use for at all. Technology that uses less energy than old ways of doing is a win, technology that enables new creativity. If they make 3d printers that run on old food packaging, then, and only then will I be wildly excited about them.

It’s snowing here today. As a child, snow was a source of fear. I was born with my feet pressed back against my shins, as a result my ankles are dodgy and I spent my childhood falling over a lot. Snow, ice, even frost, increased the risk of falling, and I never really enjoyed snow as a consequence. This stayed with me right up until 4 years ago, when my brother discovered and introduced me to a thing. Microspikes. Also known as fell runners crampons. A rubber upper that slips over the boot or shoe, and on the underside, chains and little metal teeth. They’re designed for those gloriously mad people who want to run over mountainous terrain in adverse conditions. Lightweight, fairly low tech, but absolutely life changing. I can walk in the snow without any need to worry, and that makes it possible to enjoy the snow rather than being mired in fear.

Every year, elderly people, especially women with brittle bones fall on slippery surfaces. Broken hips are an all too frequent outcome, leading to long hospital stays, wrecked confidence, and terrible physical pain. Many never really get over it. Add to the list of campaigns I want to start, one to get microspikes and similar things given to all pensioners as a matter of course. They’d pay for themselves in a single winter, not just in unoccupied hospital beds, but also in the well being, happiness and self esteem of the people affected.

If you’ve got a person with confidence or mobility issues who is likely to suffer in the ice and snow, consider making the investment and getting a set. Being kept in for long periods by bad weather is so isolating and demoralising, and the freedom this little bit of inspired invention gives a person, is incredible. They aren’t totally fall proof, but I’ve walked over steep and ice coated hills in them and never so much as lost my footing.


A sense of self

I know from the self esteem help book that to have good self esteem, it has to be internal and not too dependent on what anyone else thinks. I’ve not merely had sense of worth issues of this shape, but for much of my life have depended on looking outwards to get some feeling of who I am. I’ve not had a terribly coherent sense of identity. Now, the business of looking outward is fine and dandy when there are smooth clear mirrors to look into, but most of life hasn’t been like that. Most reflections are a bit wobbly, some have been downright distorted. But with little intrinsic sense of identity and not much innate self esteem, how could I tell what was useful feedback and what was rubbish?
The short answer is that I couldn’t, and that it caused me a lot of trouble.
It’s been a testing week. Many of them are, that in and of itself is not unusual. Partly because of that habit of looking outwards. Partly because there are a great many things I care about and partly because it is not in my nature to choose the easy options.
I know what I do and I know what I have done, as well as anyone can reasonably hope to. I know my intentions as well as anybody ever does. I know what drives me, and what gets me out of bed in the morning. (Needing a pee, mostly.) Judging myself on how well I fit other peoples’ expectations and interests is not a particularly useful measure. Not least because I fail to come out as ‘normal’ in so many ways and there are people who keep on not liking this about me.
I saw a beautiful thing this week, thanks to Paul Newman. It was a photo of a Nazi rally. (Stay with me). In the middle of the sea of raised arms, was one guy with his arms folded. One failure to conform. One questioning face. It made me cheer. As an image it pinned down so much of what I feel and believe, and I think this stuff matters, and apparently I’m not alone in this.
I know that I do the best I can with the resources I have. I know that I try very hard to do the right things, for the right reasons. I also know that, being human, I muff this up sometimes. I no longer accept that I deserve to be beaten to a bloody pulp for every shortcoming, real or imagined. I also try very hard to accept people on their own terms, see the best in them, tolerate difference and celebrate diversity. This does not mean that every bigot and idiot who crosses my path has the unassailable right to treat me like shit. I’ve let that happen far too often.
I realised, this week, that its no good talking about doing the right things for the right reasons whilst letting total assholes push me around, belittle me, and otherwise make my life unnecessarily difficult. I do not have to accept the bendy freak show mirrors they offer as reflections of who I am. I do not have to internalise every piece of criticism that comes my way. I am not the sum and total of how everyone else perceives me. I am the sum and total of what I do, think and feel. Only I can ever really be the judge of that.
I do know who I am. I do know people who share in that sense of my identity and who consequently like being around me and treat me as though I have innate worth. The other ones I can do without. Of course the people who put me down tell me that they are cleverer than everyone else, they see more, understand more, and so forth. I do not have to believe them. I have a choice. I also think I might be a lot more useful and functional if I stopped trying to please people who are innately unpleasable.
Show me another twisted, misleading mirror and I’m going to put my boot through it.


Radical inclusivity

There’s a sign up about playground rules at my son’s school. There are all the things you might expect about when to stop, and line up. It also says something to the effect of ‘include in your games any children who are on their own.’ The implications are huge.

When I went through school, the general assumption was that a loner had no one but themselves to blame. If other kids wouldn’t play with you, it was because you were weird and antisocial, and that was fine. Either you learned to fit in, or you stayed out. Children who were crippled by poor confidence, who had not been well socialised prior to school, who didn’t follow the ‘in things’ easily, became exiles. The exiled child readily becomes a scapegoat and a victim, and again when I was a child, picking on the one fat kid, the one weirdo, was considered perfectly normal and no one did anything to stop it. For the record, that would indeed have been me – vegetarian before it was trendy, living without a television, wearing second hand clothes, and with some physical problems that meant I couldn’t run and had little confidence. Oh, and I was, definitively, a weirdo.

My son is, and has always been a bit of an oddball, and has always taken pride in being different. He doesn’t want to look like everyone else, he’s televisionless and does not spend all his spare time playing computer games. Nor does he play football. With his interests in philosophy, green issues and steampunk, he’s not on the same wavelength as his peers. But he’s not any kind of social exile in the way that I was. One of the reasons for this, is that school cultures have evidently changed. There is more onus on the majority to take in and accept the minority. Teaching philosophies around self esteem talk a lot about recognising and celebrating difference. When you get down to it, every child is different. Each one has a unique set of experiences, feelings, needs and intentions.

A system where those outside the boundaries of ‘normal’ are fair targets for bullying or just exclusion, enforces conformity. Those who are ‘in’ are under a lot of pressure to stay in, to be as much like everyone else as possible. That in turn helps to reinforce the boundaries. Those rigid lines between in and out encourage fear and mistrust. Anything different from us is not ok, we should resent it, is the message this conveys. And that attitude plays itself out across the world stage in terrifying and destructive ways.

If you start children with the idea that including people is good and excluding people is not, there is a radical scope for widespread change inherent in that. If you encourage children to accept difference and diversity, you enable them to explore their own natures and not to feel threatened by anything that might make them different. It’s often said that the most aggressive gay-bashers are closet homosexuals afraid of their own natures. Where acceptance is the norm, you just aren’t going to get that kind of fear.

When I was a child, fitting in was the business of the individual, and exiling weirdos was the prerogative of the majority. If that changed, if it became the responsibility of the majority to include, to reach out, to try and understand, to respect the differences, so much would change. And perhaps all it takes to achieve that, is a message on the playground to encourage four year olds not to leave anyone out.


Voices in our heads

Most of us hear voices. I don’t mean this in some kind of needing to take pills sense. It’s about the way in which we process, and often internalise the voices of other people. For example, a person who has grown up hearing that they are loved and valued, who has been treated with compassion and respect and encouraged to feel good about themselves, will probably hear a kind and helpful little voice. The voice that says ‘you can do this’. “You are worth it.” “You are lovely and you will pull through.” That kind of inner voice is incredibly sustaining, reinforces good self esteem and encourages feelings of hope even in hard times. It’s not proof against every setback, but it will give you a fighting chance. But what about the other voices? The ones that criticise and condemn. Now, we all hear plenty of criticism going through our lives, and we all need to be able to hear it, but every now and then, one of those comments gets in and sticks, and becomes part of the inner landscape. You are bound to fail. You cannot sing. You’re just an emotional blackmailer. You’re a waste of space. No one will ever love you. Things we fear may be true. Things too vague for us to readily disprove them. This kind of little voice can sit inside your head, eternally critical and demoralising. Forever undermining achievements, mocking emotions or otherwise eroding self esteem. Many people who seem compassionate with others, are veritable sadists when it comes to how they treat themselves. And it’s very much about what the inner voices are telling us to do. It’s worth taking some time to reflect on the voices you hear. The ones that turn up late at night, or that wait at the bottom of bottles, or that show up when things go wrong. The ones that snipe and destroy. Simply identifying them is helpful. Notice what they say and that this is not you saying it. The odds are you know perfectly well whose voice you have internalised. You may well remember when the words in question were thrown at you. What makes you think you’re so special? Why should anyone care what you think? It’s not your voice. It’s the voice of someone else. You’ve given it free bed and board. It may be that if you have the mental focus, you can tell it to pack and leave. Kick it out of your head space. Resisting the inner voices is otherwise a slow and painful process, and I think the only real answer is, keep recognising where it comes from, and keep resisting. Good criticism is helpful, it shows us something we need to know or learn and by acting on it, we have scope to grow and improve. “You got that specific thing wrong” is a door to learning how to get it right. The ones that haunt and hurt, tend not to be about specific mistakes, more a sense of being inherently a failure. The comments that suggest you are not capable of being good enough. The ones that say there is no hope, you might as well not even try. Save everyone the hassle, why don’t you? These will often come with the assertion that this is to help you, put you straight, save you from yourself. It’s hard to fight off someone who is convinced they’re doing you a big favour by knocking the illusions, pride, stupidity out of you. But that doesn’t make them right. None of us is made of fail. None of us is beyond hope of improvement. None of us is destined to cock everything up. If that sort of little voice has got inside your head, I’d like to offer you one magic word to use against it. It’s a potent word, and a powerful charm against that kind of destructive, abusive treatment. The word is ‘bullshit’. Try it. Say it out loud. Bullshit. When you hear the derogatory, rubbishing, unhelpful, you can never win comments, say it again. Bullshit. It will help.