Judgements and Ego

Just because you can’t see a persons struggle doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because you can see a persons struggle doesn’t mean you get to judge them for it. All of us have something we are working through. Some issue, or vice, or unhealthy habit, or irrational tendency that has a negative affect on our lives. Every single human being has something. Our need to judge other people is just our ego trying to build itself up. It is also our ego that makes us take other people’s judgments to heart. The judgment of ourselves and others have a huge impact on our mental well being and I believe we should all be more cognizant of our shared humanity when we find ourselves judging someone else.

What does this have to do with my current mental health journey? Everything. The anxiety in my mind consistently tells me that I’m not good enough and that I can’t be better. It makes me hyper aware of other people’s judgement of me and their judgments of others. Therapy is helping a great deal and I feel like I’ve made quite a bit of progress. I’ve seen how this anxiety formed as survival instincts during an abusive childhood. I can see how it served me then to think and feel the way anxiety tells me to think and feel. I can clearly see how those irrational thoughts and feelings are only destructive to me and my relationships as an adult. I can see how I formed the coping mechanisms I have, specifically how I developed Binge Eating Disorder as my main coping mechanism. I hadn’t binged in over two months with the help of introducing better coping mechanisms and going to therapy.

Then I received some bad news. Without even thinking about it I grabbed junk snack food at the store and binged on it in the car. When I realized what I was doing the shame I felt was extreme. I again became very aware of people’s judgments of those who are overweight or obese. Today it literally feels like I have made no progress with my self image and the anxiety voice that tells me I’m fat and weak and worthless is quite loud. I mean, have I really made any progress if some bad news takes my mind back to square one?

The answer is yes. Yes, I have made great progress. I know this because I can see this as a small slip up. I can recognize that voice as being irrational and a tool that kept me under an abusers thumb. I can remind myself that I have worth and strength and mostly believe it. I can lean on the people around me for support instead of hiding my struggle. I can feel the anxiety in my mind and write about this issue I face to help me cope with it. I can recognize people’s judgments as their own irrational problem trying to build up their own ego and not as a true reflection of me.

You can’t see the anxiety in my mind, but it is there. You can see the binge eating disorder that has helped me cope in the past, you can see it on my hips and thighs, on my chubby belly and flabby arms. Before you judge someone else’s appearance, or someone else’s struggle, look at the issues your own ego is facing and decide to focus on self improvement instead of taking the easy way out and building up your own ego at the expense of another.

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Selfishness

It’s a trait that is pretty universally known as a negative. Being selfish means you don’t care about others, that you only care about yourself. At the extreme end some can use it to describe a person that lacks empathy or is narcissistic. Where is the line, though? That’s where it gets fuzzy, and where my anxiety lies. For people raised in healthy homes it seems clear that taking care of yourself and being selfish are two completely separate things. For us that were not raised in healthy environment the two become one in the same. Attempting to learn the difference between self care and selfishness as an adult has proven difficult.

First I had to process what it was that made the line so fuzzy in the first place. For me, and many others like me, it was both obvious and subtle. Obvious things, like getting punished for using your earned income as a teenager to purchase something on a class trip for yourself instead of purchasing souvenirs for family members. Things like being punished for having an emotional reaction to being verbally abused in public. These things would make a developing brain think that what they want or need does not matter and that in order to survive they must put the needs of those around them before their own in every instance. Then there are the more subtle things that groom us to be over-givers and overly empathetic, like never having your thoughts or feelings acknowledged as valid. Like being expected to know the adult’s mood instantly and behave accordingly or suffer the consequences.

For example, I remember at 8 years old or so, that when my dad came home in a good mood he enjoyed walking in and “looking” for us, so we were expected to hide and play the game. If we didn’t do this in anticipation of his arrival he would be upset and make us feel guilty for not wanting to make him feel special after his long day at work. If we did hide in anticipation of his arrival and he came home angry we would stay in our hiding spots until he and my step mom moved their fight out of the living area and then we would scurry down stairs to stay out of sight of his anger. Recalling memories such as this one helped me to see that I was groomed to be self-less to a fault. I was explicitly taught that any thought for myself was a selfish thought.

Now that I know where the wires in my brain got crossed, how do I move forward to straighten them out? How do I recognize the difference between positive self care and selfishness as an adult? How much longer to I have to live with this dissonance while I figure it out?

Right now, logically and rationally, I know that going to therapy is the best thing I could be doing. I know that putting my son in daycare instead of trying to pull double duty working and watching him all day is the best thing I can do. I know that taking time to read, write, get a pedicure, meditate, is a good and healthy thing for me to be doing. Rationally I know this. But instinctively my brain tells me that all of those things are selfish and wrong. It tells me I should be focusing on my son, not giving him to another to care for, no matter how much the double duty wears on my mental health. It tells me that taking time for myself, whether its for therapy or a pedicure, makes me a horrible wife and mother. It tells me that if I wanted to be deserving of my family I would be willing to put myself last at all times and sacrifice my health as needed. Better yet, it tells me that I don’t deserve my family because if I did I would be able to do everything on my own without it negatively affecting my health.

My anxiety is me having to talk back to my brain constantly. It is me seeing my irrational thoughts and not being able to change them. The best I can do right now is to counter my irrational thoughts. To remind myself of the rational reality and to model my feelings and behaviors off of rational thought. That is a big step forward, being able to recognize and dismiss my irrational thoughts, to see where the wires are crossed. It doesn’t make arguing with your own brain any less exhausting, though. When it comes to selfishness and self care I fear I will have to live with this dissonance for a while longer. Some of these problems are so deeply embedded that even after you see them it takes diligent work to affect actual change.

When you see someone who is overly-generous, who is extremely sensitive to the emotions of others, who never seems comfortable doing things for themselves, maybe take a step back and realize it could be traumatizing events and abusive grooming that made them that way. There is a good chance they developed those qualities to survive. Think on how those qualities affect that persons quality of life before you default to it being a positive character trait. There is such a thing as being selfless to a fault and if more people understood this perhaps there would be less stigma around the term “selfish”.