Archive for August 24th, 2017

When the Mirror Lies

Is it normal to feel like a failure when you’re 21 and you still haven’t finished high school, even though your parents don’t make a huge deal out of it and are very supportive of you?

Very, very normal.  Many people are our own worst critics, including me.  When I look at myself in the mirror or in pictures, every flaw jumps out at me, and other people often praise essays of mine which I thought were lackluster and phoned-in.  In my personal life, I tend to blame myself for everything that goes wrong, every time there’s a bump or rough spot in a relationship, every time something doesn’t turn out quite as planned; I apologize so often for things that aren’t my fault that the people who love me sometimes fuss me about it and insist I stop apologizing.  The number of times Matisse or Lorelei or Grace or someone else who loves me has said, “Maggie, you are not [bad thing I just said about myself],” are literally countless.  And I feel like a failure so often I doubt I ever make it through a week without experiencing that at least a couple of times.

The truth is that, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we ourselves are often very poor at weighing those against one another.  There are many things I’m extremely good at (like sex and writing), and many things I’m extremely bad at (like keeping quiet or dealing with formal systems), and I often feel that the bad things outweigh the good.  But people who love me are there to tell me the truth, and to help me keep perspective.  It may be that you’re not very good at doing the formal education thing, but I’m sure there are plenty of things you didn’t mention in your letter that you’re very good at.  And if the people who love you (in this case your parents) are supportive and don’t think it’s important that you haven’t yet finished high school, then try to draw some balance from them.  Focus on the things you’re good at and work to get better at them, and try to remember that our brains often lie to us about ourselves, and that you aren’t alone in that respect; it is, I’m sad to say, part of the human condition.  But fortunately, we don’t have to rely only on our own perceptions and thoughts; we also have people we love and trust, and they can help us to recognize ourselves as lovable and valuable human beings even when we ourselves can’t see it.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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