‘What a waste! She can’t even do this properly!’
The child got up and dusted herself off. ‘Fine, I won’t do it at all!’
This rebellious response to a situation where someone is being a bully appears to be justified. After all, there is no need to prove ourselves to a random person. However, if this wasn’t an external voice, but an internal one, would we still walk away that easily?
With every mistake we make, we bully ourselves over having overlooked the obvious. We hit ourselves even when we are down, in the hope that we can shame ourselves into doing better. Spoiler alert: Revenge rarely motivates us to make productive change the way it drives characters in the media.
‘Life has no do-overs’ is an anxiety-provoking statement in itself. To deal with that absolute reality, we try to create as many do-overs for ourselves as we can. Think of the times we reached the point of no return in a relationship, at a job, or a personal project. Once a certain mental threshold had been crossed, we decided that we couldn’t continue after having blotted our copybooks, and would prefer to start on a clean slate elsewhere. This all-or-nothing response is driven by a “Do it well or don’t do it at all” adage that voices the bully.
This drastic response occurs because when we feel stuck at a point of no return, we are confronted with vulnerability while everyone else seems to have it all together. We interpret that vulnerability as a poor reflection of our identity and abilities. Rather than seeing it as a temporary block in the course of the flow, we see it as the end of this journey. Being faced with that uncertainty sparks fear within us, so we are quick to jump ship while we still can and distance ourselves from that vulnerability and existential doubt of who we are if not what we thought we were.
The flaw in humans is that we expect a steady pour of productivity and creativity to produce at will, like turning on a tap, for it will mean that we “have it all together”. However, our brain is more like a flowing stream. It bends and curves but the water flows naturally. At various parts, the flow is blocked or interrupted due to the growth of nature. Nonetheless, the water trickles there but gushes elsewhere. When we encounter a block in an actual stream, we walk ahead to find where it has an abundance of water. Similarly, when we have a block in productivity, we need to give ourselves time so that we can gush later on.
Practising self-compassion requires us to adjust our mental threshold to that of everyone else’s. It requires us to allow ourselves to make mistakes and be human. In adapting to this situation, we can take a break from the task and ask ourselves what within us feels threatened for us to be unable to work on this task. It calls for a reminder that we are not defined by this task or all the work that we are meant to do. We are human, and by that virtue, we are worthy of faith, hope, compassion, and pixie dust. Remember: Just because you trip on a step doesn’t mean you throw yourself down the whole flight of stairs. You get up, dust off, and continue on your journey!
This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.