There was a time when the people I dealt with were merely making appearances in the soap opera that was my life, or so I must have believed on some level. I starred in it, directed it, and expected each actor to play their role as I created it. Under these circumstances, less-than-favorable outcomes are magnified and often unendurable. Even petty slights are infuriating and upsetting.
In twelve-step programs, it’s called “Rule 62”—Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously! Becoming aware of that and then understanding it and accepting it was another thing pivotal to my recovery.
We have to be able to laugh at ourselves! Have you ever noticed that people who take themselves too seriously are the perfect target for internet trolls? I observed one guy on Twitter complaining that trolls wouldn’t leave him alone. It was evident from his feed that he’d been sitting around, answering them for quite some time. That is a waste of energy because trolls are devoid of empathy.
Bullies tend to throw stuff out there to see what will stick. They know it when they hit a nerve, and they’ll use that to provoke you. The more misery they cause, the happier they are. These are not people you can reason with or convince. If they can’t get a rise out of you, it’s not fun for them. So, it’s best never to “feed a troll”—not so much as a crumb.
We don’t have to tolerate bad behavior, but we don’t have to live in agony because of other people’s behavior and perceptions. And we don’t have to be obsessed with damage control. That’s a full-time job, with plenty of unpaid overtime. And it’s exhausting! Allowing people to infuriate us and rob us of our serenity gives others way too much power over us. Humility saves us from ourselves, keeping us aware that we’re human and flawed.
Before I understood Rule 62, I told someone, “It’s not that I want to be better than others. It’s the opposite; I strive to be acceptable because I feel inadequate.”
Inadequate in my view because I aimed for perfection. I didn’t understand that I wore my inferiority complex inside out. I’d taken it to the superiority complex level, never realizing that those were two sides of the same coin. It never occurred to me that I held myself to a higher standard than others.
The first thing I had to do was take myself down off the pedestal. (Yes, we can put ourselves on pedestals, too.) I had to realize that I was not the star of everyone’s show. Things are happening to everyone on the planet—not just me.
Before I grasped “Rule 62,” I expected fairness, always, no matter what. I had to learn that there’s so much about this life that isn’t right, and life’s been far more unfair to others than to me. It’s all relative, and I had to process the fact that while we can fight for justice when appropriate, life ultimately isn’t fair, period. Accepting that removed a tremendous burden from my shoulders.
Humility, in my view, is something we continually strive for, not a trait we crown ourselves with because we’ve risen to sainthood. And none of what I’m saying here means we’re not important, or we shouldn’t have healthy egos. But if we try not to perceive ourselves as overly important (more so than anyone else, anyway), then we’re less biased when it comes to ourselves. We’re able to recognize certain things for what they are and not take so much personally—be it constructive criticism, a bit of teasing, or someone being an ass.
It helps me to acknowledge that I’m not this person the whole world is watching and with staggering expectations, hoping I will fail. Also, if we stop looking for adversaries, perceived enemies, and their agendas, for the most part, they somehow cease to exist.
It comes back to balance for me, but when you’re able to keep an open mind, discernment about what to take personally and what to blow off becomes more effortless.
As an author, I put my words out there in a world divided on many topics. The varying opinions don’t always come from someone with a reasonable frame of reference. Someone may read about a tragic event and say it isn’t an accurate portrayal. You can write about something that actually happened or describe exactly how it was, and someone might view it as a misrepresentation because that’s not what they experienced. People do have personal biases and triggers. Sometimes, they’re turned off by something that has more to do with them than with you. I’ve noticed fellow writers getting two-star book reviews for reasons unrelated to the book. Internet trolls may say negative things merely because they can. Also, the best writers out there have had plenty of critics.
But not every critic is a troll, which is essential to acknowledge. Some people don’t have a vested interest in us and are not biased, and, quite often, they’re right on the money.
A bit of lightheartedness and a good sense of humor are critical.
Years ago, I realized I could change my relationship with criticism by changing my perspective. Criticism isn’t comfortable, and we don’t like feeling uncomfortable, so we tell ourselves we can’t handle it. If we take ourselves out of that fear mode, acknowledging that we’re not comfortable but can handle it, it’s easier to decide how we’ll do that. Stressing makes things worse.
In those moments, it also helps to remember we’re not alone—others are going through it or have been through it. I tell myself I’m no less capable of handling it than they are, and it only seems so much worse because it’s happening to me.
Sadly, though, some people fear criticism and rejection so much that they don’t pursue their dreams or find true happiness.
As far as I can tell, we must keep listening to learn. On a personal and professional level, there’s always room for improvement. I am obsessed with learning more and more about things that knocked me for a loop when I had to deal with them in others or myself. I can’t help being grateful for these opportunities and challenges to overcome the obstacles that derailed me.
Falling in love with the process of learning, growing, evolving, and recovering helps us to succeed more and suffer less. It’s about wanting to be the best we can be. It’s okay to be vulnerable, but only as long as we know we are and how! Then, instead of worrying about how others perceive us, we do what we do from the heart. I tell myself this: I’m another person trying to learn and figure things out here. We are transmundane beings in an astounding old universe. We are vulnerable—not merely to the force of nature and random happenings, but to each other. Life gets better when we accept ourselves as a part of everything rather than the center of everything.
I maintain that until we fully heal from whatever we need to recover from, we remain in bondage to something or another and are prone to obsessions. Disentangling ourselves from that is a painful process, but as I witness people becoming who they were before the pain and unwarranted shame, I have no doubt what awareness can do. It tells me there’s hope for everyone.
*Excerpted from my forthcoming memoir, Grateful to Be Alive: My Road to Recovery from Addiction*
Feature image at the top by Stefan Keller from Pixabay