Sometimes when I am drowning in anxiety and my depression is fierce and I am not being as productive as I’d like to be, I say to myself in a vicious high school football coach tone, “Get it together. Stop crying. This is not a real issue.” I say this a lot and I recognized recently how incredibly problematic it is. It’s problematic for a few reasons: Firstly, this faux kind of “motivational speech” trivializes mental health struggles. Secondly, it assumes that automatically “getting it together” is even an option. And thirdly, it is extremely verbally abusive.
We don’t often think of verbal abuse as something committed against one’s self. We don’t perceive this behaviour as a boomerang that we launch into the sky only to have it ricochet back at us. We imagine it soaring far away and landing on another. It’s an insult directed towards an intended victim. It’s not harsh ridicule masking itself as healthy commentary said into a mirror while making direct eye contact with your sad reflected pupils. It’s not pounding your own confidence and worth into microscopic dust. It’s not questioning your choices so regularly that you resist taking any risks out of fear that you will mock yourself later. It’s not cracking a joke about how pathetic you are because you took a long nap and my god isn’t that so horrific.
But, that IS verbal abuse. It’s the definition of it. If you’ve experienced it, you know that enduring this treatment is torture and it feels inescapable because you are both the executioner AND the prisoner. How can you combat the enemy when you are the enemy? And recurring self-judgement rapidly develops into a cycle that cannot easily be disrupted or noticed. I only identified the cycle a couple of months ago in session. My therapist asked if I was aware that I had called myself “stupid” about five times in the last half an hour. I wasn’t aware at all. In fact after she brought it to my attention I couldn’t recall saying the word even once. Using that term in relation to my mistakes and my ignorance and my day-to-day life was so routine that it slipped out of my mouth with total thoughtless ease. It felt completely natural to take myself down a notch. I had normalized referring to my existence as “stupid” and I didn’t see the harm in doing so.
I can’t even remember what I was discussing with her that elicited such guilt and animosity and spite within me. I would assume it had something to do with my career or romance or my family. Those tend to be the three areas where I degrade myself the most, but it could have also simply been that I forgot to pay my Rogers bill on time. In the world of self-judgement, every minor trouble is a giant catastrophe and you are always the one to blame. When I can’t tick off everything on my unrealistic to-do list I instantly launch into a self-chastising marathon. They say you are your own toughest critic. Well, I’d say that I am my own toughest asshole. ‘Cause this isn’t a fair critic wielding constructive analysis. This is a fucking asshole who wants to name call and debase and disrespect and discredit and prey on any and all weaknesses.
The strangest part about the presence of this self-hating asshole is that I work very hard. I don’t slack off. I am constantly pushing myself and trying to do more. I regularly shut down relationships that I consider increasingly hurtful. Yet I still manage to find fault in everything that I do. My standards are impossible to meet. No matter how much I have accomplished, I still think that I’m not trying hard enough and that I should have said goodbye to that relationship earlier and that I should push myself further until my body gives out and my friends stop talking to me and I weep away my supply of water and a raccoon family moves into my bed and they become my new social circle.
The second strangest part about the presence of this self-hating asshole is that I know I would never speak to a loved one in the same despicable manner, especially not to a loved one who is suffering from anxiety or depression. “Stupid” would 100% not be an adjective they’d hear. “Get it together. Stop crying. This is not a real issue” is not advice I would bestow. I wouldn’t say that they need to try harder. I certainly wouldn’t scorn them for not ditching that crappy dude before he ditched them or roll my eyes when they sob over a casual fling ending (which is a popular move I pull on me).
I would say to them, “I’m sorry that you’re hurting. You tried your best and you can only do what you can and you need time to rest too and you push yourself so hard and I’m proud of you for everything you have achieved and the choices you have made to better yourself. I know that you may not feel this way but you are brilliant and talented and an inspiration.” A number of my close friends are like me, in that they painfully shit on themselves, so I am frequently sharing this type of positive encouragement in hopes that they will believe that what I am saying is truth. But alas, delusion tends to go hand in hand with self-hate. Regardless of what you say to your pals or what they say in return, it’s almost impossible to apply that same truth to yourself.
But if I would never toss such cruelty in the direction of my friends, why is it okay in my mind to treat my own person this way? ‘Cause you can’t bully yourself, right? ‘Cause I’m a much more terrible person? ‘Cause I am as bad as my insecurity has concluded that I am? No. It’s because I am my own toughest asshole. I am the meanest bully on the block and there often isn’t anyone around to demand that I cease and desist with said bullying. Therefore, the cycle continues on inconspicuously and it becomes more problematic and more anxiety inducing and more abusive as the years quickly pass. Eventually I normalize this negative behaviour and it transforms into a solid routine. I can no longer hear the abuse no matter how loudly or how many times I yell “stupid.”
The third strangest part about the presence of this self-hating asshole is that I know that I don’t deserve to be treated like this. No human being does. You don’t deserve it. The person sitting next to you doesn’t deserve it. Your family, your friends, your colleagues, your baristas, your dentists, your dog walkers, your annoying uncles who tell awful jokes that don’t make logical sense definitely don’t deserve it. It’s not right. It’s not okay. It’s unacceptable. Verbal abuse is always unacceptable regardless of who the perpetrator is. We all deserve to be loved and respected and appreciated and supported and not shit on every morning and we especially deserve that from the person we spend the most time with.
So, here’s a suggestion to remedy this problem and possibly begin the healing journey. Now. It’s not a quick fix and remember that change always takes time and dealing with mental health issues is a proven slow process; however, this is a start and can apply to anyone’s existence, specifically mine.
My solution/suggestion is: talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend. Compliment yourself. Encourage yourself. Adore yourself. Allow yourself to fail and make mistakes and forget to pay Roger’s bills on occasion. Wipe your own tears and hold yourself when you find out that the person you like is an asshole or when your dad forgets your birthday again or when you’re anxious for no particular reason.
And most importantly, take it easy on yourself. Life is so damn hard and you’re doing great. Tell that reflection that you are a big fan of their work. They’ll appreciate it. You shouldn’t have to listen to an asshole say, “Get it together” over and over again. Tell that asshole to go fuck itself and then take a sweet ass-long nap. It’s not horrific and neither are you.