Last fall I was with some friends, hanging out, chatting away—when I said something that made them stop dead in their tracks. It was only for a millisecond, but in it, the confused looks they gave me were palpable, pertinent.

The conversation continued on, and I with it, but my brain was busy flying backwards around the earth, trying to reverse time so that I could figure out what I’d said right before their faces looked at me like I was a martian. (and not the good kind).

As soon as I could the next morning, I asked…because I just couldn’t figure it out on my own. I thought maybe my friend would ask me what in the world I was talking about, proving that this was all in my head, but instead her reply came out readily—sharp and blunt.

“It was because you self-disparaged,” she said. “And it was in such sharp contrast to how you normally hold yourself, how you talk about things you love—your writing, your passions, so many parts of yourself. Then, you sneak in these horrible tidbits of self-loathing where you cut yourself down. It’s jarring to witness. To be honest,” she said, “I felt embarrassed for you.”

Embarrassed.

I felt embarrassed for me, too. And humiliated, ashamed, emasculated. This friend does not mince words, and ‘to be honest’, this was a blessing.

When I heard my voice/actions/message shot back at me like an echo in a 2 x 2 torture chamber, I actually heard it all for the first time. And that was it all it took. I stopped self-disparaging. Right then and there. Once I’d experienced it, I was ready to never set eyeballs or eardrums on it again.

Fat singing

Imagine creating a masterpiece—let’s say a beautiful song. Many people love it, they ooh and ahh over it, they want to hear it again and again. But you just walk amongst them, interrupting their reverie, shouting things like, “I WAS SO FAT WHEN I WROTE THIS SONG!” What is your point? Who are you hurting? What are you hoping to accomplish?

After I stopped, I would still feel horrible diatribes about myself, my body, my work, my parenting well up in my throat, but I’d just let them out with the carbon dioxide and used air, without letting them take shape as words. And soon, the internal parade of mean started to get quiet.

Mind you

To Not Self-Disparage does not mean that you gloat, boast, show off or wax poetical about how great you are—these are not its antonyms. It simply means that you don’t say mean things about yourself.

I noticed a monumental difference in myself and my life and my way of being immediately. As it turned out, my self-disparagement had been following me around like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. Constant, smelly, blurry-making to the point that neither I, nor those around me, could even see me clearly anymore.

Without it, the good bits could shine.

Me: Wagon: Floor

And so it went. Until a couple of months ago when I relapsed in the typical fashion—I’ll just try it once, I can handle THAT, I said to myself, and then, quite quickly, the self-inflicted barrage came tumbling out in a lurid gush. About nine months worth.

You see, my original Sober-inducing Environment was filled with people who didn’t respond to, “I suck” with “No! You’re wonderful!” It was filled with people who cringed and thought about walking away. Now, the Relapse-inducing Environment was filled with people (okay, just one people) who was telling me how wonderful I was in an unbridled, unprompted, unaskedfor, onaregularbasis way.

So, like any good addict, I thought, hmmmmm….I’ve been dieting for quite some time…what if I just have one bite? Before the question was even fully formed, I started rolling out the insults, shamelessly begging to be absolved of my self-manifested fat/ugly/worthless/mean/bad sins.

It worked like a charm. My self-loathing was turned into beauty and perfection at every turn by this ‘one people’. Sometimes, I’d even double dip—emphatically shrugging off the first compliment-ridden rebuttal just loudly enough to get another dose/hit/high.

Too aware

But, dang, my conscience. It knew what I was doing was wrong. And it told me so. My own self now capable of stopping dead in its tracks, for only a millisecond, but with enough weight to make the look it threw my way both palpable and pertinent.

And with enough weight to help me fill the air around me with blessed silence once again.

Image credit: Raizo

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • ryan says:

    Julie,

    You saved my day, perhaps my family’s weekend. Since no one else can bite my self-incriminating tongue, I guess that is up to me. Thanks.

  • Leon Noone says:

    Julie, Julie, Julie, to coin a misphrase,

    You wuz warned! I tole ya that the peanut butter would strike back. I’ll say it again.”Don’t mess with Peanut Butter.”

    Apart from anything else, it’s our role to disparage, not yours. I preach that almost all interpersonal conflict arises from lack of agreed role and goal clarity.

    Let us do the disparaging like we’re paid to. You write, we bite.

    Remember, be kind to the peanut butter. And permit me to remind you please…..
    Make sure you have fun.

    Regards

    Leon

    and…avagoodweegend

  • Angela Moore says:

    You hit the nail on the head. What’s the point? We’re just wasting energy when we do that stuff. Hope you’re back on the road to recovery

  • Such a wonderful post that I’ve delayed my writerly trip to the coffee shop to leave a comment (WiFi at said coffee shop is on the fritz … which actually makes for better concentration :)

    I am absolutely guilty of self-indulgent self-disparagement … both to beat myself up and to fish for the occassional pat on the back. There, I said it.

    You’re so right, though. We must get OFF that slipperly slope entirely. The only result of constantly bad-mouthing yourself is that a) other people will start to believe you, b) other people will think you’re fishing for kudos and roll their eyes, or – worst of all – c) YOU’ll start to believe you & you WILL suck.

    Like mom said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

    ’nuff said.
    ;)

    • Julie Roads says:

      Jamie (Lee?) I love this comment. You are so right about the 3 results. No good can come.
      I’d also like to note that we would NEVER let anyone speak about us the way we do. NEVER!!! If someone told me I was fat and worthless and would die alone, I’d clock them upside the head and never speak to them again. Yet we tolerate this abuse from ourselves over and over and over and over again.

  • Yes – Jamie Lee (one and the same – how awful that I have schizophrenic ID’s across the Web. Maybe I’ll just stick with Suddenly Jamie ;)

    Seriously, though, great follow-up point. Helpful to think about that “downer voice” as a separate self … and when you hear her piping up, go ahead and give her that smack upside the head. She deserves it just as much as any Real Life person. (Plus – how fun and empowering!)

    Love it.
    Enjoy the rest of the day!

  • Res says:

    Oh God. That came like a slap in the face, only a few hours after I posted on my blog that I had finally finished my novel and that it was “shit”.
    I’m now cringing at how obnoxious I must sound.
    Thank you.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Admitting you have a problem is the first step, Res. (okay, taking my tongue out of my cheek) – please, feel free to brag to us about how kickass your novel is. (and congrats)

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