The more I get involved, the more I do things that are out of my comfort zone, my impostor syndrome amps up as well and it is like I am waiting to be “found out” any second now (granted there is quite a different approach on this syndrome that rang true to me these days, but anyway …). Asking for honest feedback is a task that scares me. But I do it anyway. Shaking.
The other day I ran a 360 degrees survey and consulted the results: on a scale of 1 to 4, I was on average 3,3 / 3,5 but my attention was drawn (to the point of obsession) to the one person (out of 17) who rated me across the board with an average of 2.5, on matters that are truly important to me: empathy, conscientiousness, empowering others, flexibility. My emotional response was so loud that I could not see, I physically could not get myself to look, at any of the other feedback. It was just like the moment when you get a certain type of car and then it is all you see around you. Except this was a situation where I felt someone was pointing a finger at me in a crowd and saying you! you are ousted! you are not the way you want us to believe you are!
Consciously, I told myself that I need to look at these results in context: both in the context of each person seeing me through their own filters and in the context of a 360, not one on one. And still, it was almost impossible for me to shake this. As I am writing this, a few days later, I still get anxious. My hands are still shaking and I get tunnel vision. I still wake up from the recurring dream of not having finished college, not actually getting a degree, not living the life that I built. Of it all simply being a dream I have no access to. It is easy to deal with these when I am rested. When I am exhausted, the game is rigged. I always lose.
I tried to sit with this and dig deeper, to understand why this happens, why my insides are velcro for this type of feedback. Like most times when I really listen, the answer was instantaneous: the reason this sticks is because it matches the voices inside of me that ring most true. The answer took me back to my early childhood, to my caretakers’ feedback that hard wired connections into me which are very sensitive to any threat even 44 years later. It is unbelievable to me that this part of me is still so raw. What will people think? You are too blunt / dry / bitter / black and white? What grade did so and so get? Why couldn’t you do better? Better not laugh too much, crying follows laughter! Always consider the worst!
It is not that these voices appear in my head every now and again and I recognise them as such. What started as an external message in my early youth, repeated and repeated and repeated, found a cushy place in the membrane of my soul and tricked my tired mind and heart into believing that they, these voices, represent the truth of me. When pastures are green and skies are blue, when there is nothing to stand in the way, I can see them for what they are – messages people outside of me provided to protect me as they best knew how at the time. And conditioned me in the process. When clouds of exhaustion, anger, frustration, anxiety cloud my soul, I forget that what I hear are just voices and give them the power of truth-telling. That is when they wreck havoc in me and leave me completely open to additional wounds.
We must be careful what voices we plant in our children’s heads. They will stay with them forever, whether we believe so or not, whether we intend to provoke this or not. And most of our children might not have the fortune of a strong personal character to push them into a nervous breakdown meant to reset the narrative they believe about themselves. And won’t have the opportunity to ask the question, well, what if this isn’t so? They will simply continue believing the voices.
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash