Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people – the beauty within themselves. ~ Langston Hughes
Two things that are hard for me to hear: compliments and criticism. Compliments are hard because I don’t believe they are true. Criticism is hard because I don’t want to believe it’s true. I’m my own biggest critic and am really hard on myself: I don’t give myself enough “credit” for my talents, skills, or good qualities and I focus too heavily on my flaws and failures. I churn and ruminate over every word I think I’ve misspoken and I fret over every little mistake I think I’ve made.
I am also overly sensitive to how I think other people see me. When I pick up on other people’s facial expressions or a certain tone in their comments – especially when I don’t understand the meaning behind them, I assume that they are directed toward me. If I feel a sudden distance from someone I was once close to, or sense someone’s bad mood, the story I tell myself is that I must have done something wrong and I start replaying and over-analyzing my most recent exchanges with the person, trying to figure out what I may have done. When I don’t know the answer to something, I make it up. And these stories, which may not actually be true, become my truth anyway and change how I interact with the other.
This is part of my daily struggle with being a sensitive introvert. I am in my head a lot, I overthink and over-analyze everything, and I take pretty much everything too personally. Even though I enjoy my time alone, I still have a deep need to feel connected to others. I want to be appreciated and liked, and any criticism or judgment – perceived or real – is a huge blow.
Part of my journey has been to change my relationship to criticism, and there are two major lessons I’ve learned so far. One is that a lot of the feedback we receive from others isn’t really about us at all. It’s about the other person and their needs, preferences or expectations. They want us to behave a certain way and when we don’t, they give us feedback about how we need to change and conform to their wishes. When we receive this kind of feedback, we need to decide if there is any truth to what they are saying, and if it aligns to something that *we* want to change – not to appease the other person, but to evolve into our best self. If there’s no truth to the feedback then we need to be comfortable with letting it go.
The second thing I’ve learned about feedback is: that which hurts the most *always* has some truth to it, even if I can’t see it yet. This kind of feedback supports something I already believe to be true about myself, even if I’m unaware of it. Someone once told me that everything had to be my way all the time, that I left no room for people to do things their own way. This feedback hurt. A lot. I emphatically denied it and tried to prove how wrong the individual was. Only to realize later how true the feedback had been.
In addition to changing my relationship to feedback, the other part of my journey has been learning to see not just my flaws, but the beauty and the good within myself too. I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate my own good qualities, and to reframe my unique nuances as gifts. There are a lot of challenges that come with being a sensitive introvert, but there are a lot of benefits to it as well, many of which I’m really just starting to understand and appreciate. Instead of always striving for acceptance from others, I am learning to accept myself – flaws and all. I’m not perfect and I never will be because perfection isn’t real. I’m learning to be more compassionate with myself when I say the wrong thing or make a mistake. If I feel like I need to apologize to someone for something I said or did, I apologize to the other and then I forgive myself.
These new ways of thinking and behaving don’t happen overnight and require regular, ongoing practice. But one thing that has really helped me with all of this unlearning and relearning has been a consistent use of healthy reflective practices such as journalling. In my journal, I explore the feedback I receive, my reaction to it, and whether or not there is any truth to it. I get curious about other times I may have received the feedback, or look for other examples of situations where I exhibited the behavior in question. Through this examination of my behavior, I can make a decision whether or not it’s anything I want or need to change, and why.
I’ve also been using my journal to explore my good qualities, to make note of when I observe them in action or when someone offered a compliment that was true. I also use my journal to support my self-appreciation, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness practices and inquiries. I once asked myself in my journal: “What do I still need to forgive myself for?” I filled pages and pages with examples of grudges I was still holding against myself, and I made the decision to let them go.
My journal has been a wonderful tool for increasing my self-understanding and self-awareness and has been instrumental to my personal growth. My journal is a safe space. It’s the one place I know I can consistently show up and be myself. I don’t have to worry about what others think and I don’t have to be careful about what I say. I can just let my thoughts, feelings, and emotions spill all over the page without feeling like I need to censor anything. And often through this raw, unfiltered writing, a new truth starts to emerge. A truth that acknowledges that I have flaws and I make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, but these flaws and mistakes alone do not define who I am. The truth of who I am goes so much deeper and I’m eager to see what I have yet to discover.
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