There are some pieces of advice that sound good on paper, but don’t work in practice. Sure, telling a kid that they should stand up to the school bully because “he’s more afraid of you than you are of him” or that they should “just talk to the girl, the worst she can say is no” might be straight from the handbook of life, but those words aren’t always rooted in reality.
Most times the bully isn’t more afraid of you as you are of him. That’s why he feels free to pick on you relentlessly. The guy he’s not picking on is the one he’s afraid of. You, he can take. The same can be said for the girl who you’re afraid to approach. She might say no…and then mock you relentlessly for years. While saying the opposite might sound like an Oprah life lesson that everyone follows, it doesn’t mean that it should be.
However, those painful pieces of advice pale in comparison to his classic:
The only person whose opinion of you matters is you.
I would hate to think that’s truly the case because, if we’re being honest, no one on Earth is as relentless in their criticism of me as I am to myself. It’s not even close.
An acquaintance or “friend” might offer a backhanded compliment or mean-spirited barb regarding something you did recently. Most times, it’s a topic they know next to nothing about. Maybe they make fun of your clothes or taste in music. In some cases, it’s based on a rumor about you that’s not even true. Sure, they sting a bit, but ultimately they’re superficial and can be chalked up to “eh, what do they know?”
My clothes? My Hootie and The Blowfish CDs? That’s all you got? My own brain puts any outsider to shame. Eh, what do I know? Well, about me – everything.
When I come down on myself, it’s about some deep stuff. I’m bringing up stinging memories from when I was seven years old, birthday party failures from Elementary School, terrible things I said to people in the mid-1990s, and all sorts of insanity from years gone by. I’m dusting off recollections so old and buried that even those who were there for them probably don’t remember.
Oh, but I do. I remember it all. Every trip and fall, every stumble down the low road, I have it all filed away in my head. It’s on hand, ready to spring out at the drop of a hat, and doesn’t even have to be relevant to the situation.
I could be sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter’s school to get out. Staring off into the distance, when my brain will say, “Hey! Remember when you broke that window when you were ten and the lady freaked out and made you pay $110 because it was a special window with security things on it? Let’s revisit that whole craziness for the next few minutes while you wait.”
That’s not to say that every attack I make on myself is from a distant memory long ago. I’m my most ruthless during real time screw-ups. While I’ve grown to remain calm when spilling, dropping, or breaking something, I still have the same immediate mental reaction.
Nice job, moron.
My words aren’t even hurtful in the moment. I don’t sit down and cover my sobbing face because I called myself a name in my head. It just is. I hear it and I endure it. Over time, though, it can build up and become more than just a piece of frustrated background noise.
We all do these things albeit to different degrees. It’s easy to look at other people and think, “That guy’s got it together. He must be happy like all the time.” It’s never really the case though. I know we don’t talk about it much, but we’re all in the same boat. We see our weaknesses first and our strengths off in the distance. It’s important to remember that we’re not alone in that fact, no matter how fabulous and shiny everyone looks on Instagram. We all spend our lives chasing ghosts and trying to tie together the mistakes of our past to build a better future. That act alone requires a certain amount of internal tough love.
Tough love is a nice thought, but I’m not saying that’s the reason my inner dialogue rips me to shreds now and then. I’m saying that’s how I’ve decided to view it. I’ve chosen to see it as a tool to help me improve rather than an anchor pulling me down into a pit of self-doubt. Do I do that in every case? No. That’s pretty hard too, but I’m trying.
We tell each other from an early age that the only opinion that matters about you is your own. So as we grow and our inner monologues change, we begin to take that as fact. I must be whomever I say I am. I’m dumb. I’m unattractive. I’m a bad person.
You’re not. You’re critical of who you are because we all are. Every day, we walk around and try to not be the person we sometimes tell ourselves we are. Some days we succeed. Some days we don’t. On those days, my mind is always ready with the boxing gloves.
The bottom line here is that no one’s opinion of you matters – not even your own. That’s because you’re constantly changing. Who you were five minutes ago might be different than who you are now.
Yes, a mean comment from a co-worker about a story that isn’t even true might not define you. Then again, neither does some random embarrassing memory from twenty years ago that jumps into your mind at the worst possible time. They’re both equally pointless when it comes to who you are today and even less when it comes to who you’ll be tomorrow.