I guess we depressives are a tad sensitive. On the comment box of my post, “Brain Changes After Depression,” many readers confessed that they take criticism the same way I do–as a life sentence–and appreciated the scientific explanation as to why we might do that. Reader Leslie wrote:
Oh, I can so identify with this. I’ve come close to suicide at times because of my fear response to criticism. I hope it helps you as it helps me to know it’s not because I’m a bad person that I can’t handle criticism – it’s just that my brain is not wired the way those other “healthy” people’s brains are.
Yes, actually, it does help me to know what’s going on in my amygdala, or fear center, when I read the harsh comments that tempt me to go into hiding for awhile. In fact, my therapist and I focused on this topic for much of our hour together today … exploring ways to become more resilient to the nastygrams that arrive in my inbox. For so many years–and still today when I hit a vulnerable patch (like now)–I am utterly crushed by a friend’s or co-worker’s disapproval of me or of something that I’m doing. I can feel the fear and panic spread throughout my body almost as if I’ve swallowed poison. My reaction is that strong and disabling.
My therapist told me to think about these three lines: “I’m not who I think I am…. Nor am I who you think I am…. I am who I think you think I am.”
If you’re totally confused, don’t worry. I just stared at her for three minutes, and then said, “Huh?”
But then I got it. I so often base my self worth on something worse than another person’s opinion. In my mind, I create what I think the other person is thinking of me, and that’s what knocks me over. So basically, I produce my own toxin … and I produce a lot of it, let me tell you, like enough for leftovers for a Catholic family of eight. And because none of this is grounded in any way in the truth, that leaves me extremely vulnerable to the mood-wreckers.
But even if you’re not making it up… even if a real person who lives in a house and pays half of his taxes hates your guts … even then, it doesn’t have to destroy your day.
Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his classic, “The Four Agreements”:
If someone gives you an opinion and says, “Hey, you look so fat,” don’t take it personally, because the truth is that this person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs, and opinions. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours. Taking things personally makes you easy pretty for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up.
You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell.
Yeah, well, there’s a whole lot of trash-eating going on in my world. But at least now I know I’m consuming rubbish. There’s progress!
Like everything else, I suppose the first step is pretending you’re doing it … pretending over and over again that I’m really not insulted by the reader who wrote that she’d rather eat her mother’s disgusting tuna fish casserole than read another one of my whiny blogs … faking it until the rest of my brain catches on that this–not taking things personally–is actually a better way to operate. It’s baby steps, always … of letting our thoughts form neural passageways than can transform the hard matter of our brain and convince it not to freak at the sound of criticism … and to hope that the practice pays off in freedom, the kind Ruiz describes:
There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. You become immune to black magicians, and no spell can affect you regardless of how strong it may be. The whole world can gossip about you, and if you don’t take it personally, you will not eat it. When you don’t take the emotional poison, it becomes even worse in the sender, but in you.
Now THAT sounds good!