Some people, like me, shudder inwardly at the thought of making mistakes. Some people shrug their shoulders, and the thought doesn’t really trouble them. Since I’ve been really anxious in the last days about a mistake I made at work – or actually a mistake I thought I had made – I want to look more at this. Why is it such a big deal to me when I get something wrong?
There are a few reasons I know of, like the fact that I’m the youngest child, and in that position, I was quite often made fun of for not knowing things or not being able to do things that my older siblings knew/could do, especially my brother (the firstborn). Nothing surprising in that, from a psychological viewpoint. The usual dynamics. But I feel that and I still need to move on from that.
My father was really critical of everything we all did (both us children and my mother), and in my experience in particular of what I did. I was usually to blame when something went wrong, sometimes with reason, often without. But his response to me certainly didn’t come from a place of kindness. I couldn’t do anything right for him, no matter how hard I tried, no matter my best intentions, and it’s unsurprising that there still is a strong habit of trying to please people in me, the need to know what is the right thing to do, the need to
n o t m a k e a m i s t a k e .
I needed him to love me. And if I couldn’t have that, I tried to get at least some form of positive attention. Trying to earn it. Never worked. But sometimes no attention by not causing trouble was better than getting “negative attention” for behaving in a way that pissed him off.
Weirdly, I had quite a few rebellious moments at the same time. I rebelled more than both my siblings. And I still felt the need to please him as well.
So I’m still trying to get people to be kind to me because I do well and I don’t cause them trouble. People-pleasing, in other words.
Making mistakes, needing help, causing anyone any kind of trouble tends to make me feel afraid that I can’t be acceptable or loveable. As a kid you can’t survive without your parents, you depend on them – so what happens if you feel that they might just turn away when you haven’t done well enough? That they can’t deal with you not being perfect? That things will fall apart if you don’t play your role well?
Fear. That’s what happens. And now that I’m an adult, it’s called anxiety… And I try to solve every problem that I see approaching far away,in detail and comprehensively, I try to be prepared, to be ready, to n o t fail. I need to do that to feel safe.
Makes sense, I guess. Or rather, it made sense.
I don’t have to do this anymore.
These are old patterns in me, and I don’t want to live them all the time anymore. I don’t need to put this kind of pressure on myself anymore. I don’t have to depend on my father’s acceptance of my existence anymore. I look after myself. And I have good people in my life who care about me.
I need to trust people more. I have friends. They won’t go away or hate me or look down on me because I’ve done something stupid. And when I make a mistake, it does matter how I feel as well. It’s just a mistake. It’s not the end of the world… Can I believe that there are people who will still support me?
I grew up surrounded by this tension of on the one side being told that there’s a clear answer to every question, a right way to do everything (church), and witnessing on the other side an enormous fear of failure in my parents. They had grown up with the never-good-enough mentality themselves. My grandfather’s response to my mother’s grades in school, anything less than an A, was a constant refrain of “It could be better”, and my father was (and is) viewed by his mother as the least successful and least important of her sons. And consequently, in our family, we, the children, had to prove our grandparents wrong in their opinions of their children. Because if we turn out well, our parents can prove that they are successful at being parents. We raise our parents’ self-esteem, and their standing in the parish and in the family – if… (My mother was rather disappointed that I’m now not going for the PhD. Possibly more for her own sake than for mine.)
How can I move beyond the idea – or rather the fear – that my worth lies in how well I perform to someone else’s expectations?
I think at the moment this question has grown more important again because there’s been so much going on at work, I felt so much stress and pressure, and I lose sight of what I knew at some point already. Too much “functioning” and achieving, too little living and enjoying. I’m exhausted, and when I realised that I had made mistakes during an extremely stressful evening at work, I felt like I would be in tears the next moment. I’ve been pushing myself too hard, for too long.
But I have time now. I am resting. I’m writing. I’ll create and I’ll travel. I have time to be with myself. And I hope that by the end of this month, for my 30th birthday, and for some time to come, I’ll be more at peace with myself again, allowing space for exploration, space for experiment and imperfection. Being a little more deaf to whoever might want to judge me (even if it’s myself), a little less scared of how people might see me, a bit surer that I’m perfectly (…) loveable as I am, flaws and all. Loving myself a bit more deeply.