I can be overly defensive at times. Usually, it is because I am already doubting myself and down on myself and I assume that any criticism will just feed that lowness. And worse, I feel that if I let the criticism stand, whoever it is will see me as I see myself, inept and unworthy of their time or attention. Even when I know these feelings are a lie, the defensiveness I’ve honed over years of struggling is quick to make an appearance. Yet just as hard for me can be when someone gives me compliments.
Yesterday, when I was in my weekly therapy session, my therapist offered evidence that I am not the failure I see myself as. This is an important part of my cognitive behavioral therapy, recognizing evidence to counter my negative thought processes. She pointed out that I made it through law school, passed the bar exam in Massachusetts, have a decent job, and am married. And my first reaction was anger. How dare she compliment me like that.
A big part of it is that I struggle with impostor syndrome, a common co-conspirator with my anxiety and depression, which tells me that all my accomplishments were mistakes, that I didn’t deserve them. And it is the demon of impostor syndrome that raged as my therapist reminded me of how far I’ve come.
And that is one of the truly scary things about mental illness, that moment when one of your demons co-opts and corrupts your emotions, twisting them into something illogical as it turns your own successes against you. And you nod at your therapist because you know what she is saying is true, but are still worried that if you open your mouth the demon will be the one that speaks.
And you hurt. You don’t even understand why the compliments hurt you at first, but you realize later as you sit down to write this post that they do. But now, reliving the moment and pouring it into words, the demon is defanged, as it withers in the light, fearful that its story is being told.
I don’t like criticism, few people do I guess, but I don’t like compliments either. Yet with the help of meds and therapy and outlets like this I am slowly starting to see myself in a more honest light. Sometimes at least. Other times I still struggle. But the truth is that is okay. I’m going to stumble and make mistakes and be worthy of the criticism I get and I’m going to have successes and compliments as well. And I’m just going to have to learn to live with that. And so will my demons. And I’ll have to learn to live with them and their illogical self-destructive reactions as I keep working to get better.
And maybe someday I will be. And that will be something truly worthy of being complimented for.