Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Please don't judge me


In I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power, Brené Brown talks about "unwanted identities" and the fear of being judged as a whole on the basis of one small part of ourselves in a way that we don't want.

That is really ringing true for me lately. The thing that bothers me most about carrying extra pounds isn't even the way they look on me -- it's how they make others think of me.  I feel these unwanted identities slapping me in the face more than ever lately.

Maybe I am more sensitive because I have been making an effort to work out more and to work on improving the quality of my diet -- because I am actually doing the things I need to do, I guess I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming they know everything about me by the way my body looks.

My neighbor gave me a hard time a few weeks ago about not seeing me running at one of our local parks lately. At the time, I was apologetic and deflected the comment with something about "yeah, I need to get back to it, blah, blah, blah." But then later I thought, "I have been running. Just not at that park and not at the time I used to." And it made me angry to think that just because he didn't see me, he assumed I must not be working out.  "Of course, because I'm not skinny yet," was my next thought.

He saw me today from across the street and said something about going running. I was watering my garden and didn't hear him and said, "yes, it's a nice day for it," and left it at that.  But again, I thought, "Get off my case, dude."

So yes, this is about unwanted identities:
I want to be perceived as: Part of the crowd, normal, happy, healthy, fit, smart, strong, experienced, vibrant.

I don't want to be perceived as: An outsider, lazy, depressed, in need of advice, weak, a beginner, weak-willed.

I am sure that I sometimes make the same kinds of snap judgments that others make about me, but I think I am smart enough not to voice them, at the very least. People seem to feel entitled to tell me what I need to do and seem to think they know all about me and it makes me very angry. The worst is, because I feel shame and want to change the subject, I rarely am able to voice my feelings about it in an effective way, and instead tend to shrink and deflect the comment.

I keep asking myself whether I look so bad as to deserve so much unwanted advice about fitness.

I think the urge to have a hard body is an acknowledgement that a soft body is a vulnerable one. If I had complete control of how my body looked, it would be taught and lean and these comments would just bounce right off my body armor.

Of course later, when I am not in the middle of a "shame storm," I come up with all kinds of things that I should have said or did.  But those same brilliant replies are lost the next time this issue comes up.

The thing to do, I know, is to realize that no matter what I do, or how perfect I make myself, people are always going to be able to assign me unwanted identities of some kind.  I can't control that.

Perfectionism comes when I buy into the delusion that if I do everything right, nothing bad can ever happen to me.  That just isn't true.

There is a quote by Anne Lamott that I have been googling frantically for and cannot find right now, but it goes something like, "You are never going to have all of your sh-t together in one place and have everyone you love alive at one time." The implication is that there is no perfect life moment where we have done everything right and win the grand prize of everything we want all at once. Life is about learning to live in the imperfect reality rather in the perfect fantasy.  I keep coming back to that idea when I start thinking that the things people do that bug me will stop when I have lost 10, 20, 30, or 40 pounds.

I may never be able to stop my neighbor from thinking I am all of those unwanted things. But if I don't believe them myself, and don't get caught up in the whole crazy story, maybe I will be able to laugh these things off instead of spinning them into something bigger than they are.

4 comments:

  1. This is a fantastic post...I too find it disheartening that one label (say, for example, "conservative" or "depressed") can lead someone to believe a whole bunch of things about someone else that may or may not be true. As for your neighbor, I wonder if he *really* thinks unwanted things? Oh, and Brené Brown is so needed in this day and age...

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  2. I think it is pure habit. People get stuck in loop of associating a face/person and a topic. They see the person and revert back to the topic. It can be anything - price of gas, team/sports, politics. I think we attach significance to it when we have FEELINGS about the topic. I also think we can retrain the person to a new (safe, more comfortable) topic. I think most of the time the habit got started because we brought up the topic originally. We either brought it up in conversation (remember my story about the lady running at 5am, if not, leave me a note and I will re find it or retell it) or we inadvertently bring it up by situation (he saw you in clothes on way to park). I think you can retrain him to new topic.

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  3. Oh my--such a great post! I felt like it was meant for me, but in reality, I think it applies to most of us. I also don't want to be labeled and judged, and in turn, I try not to do that to others, but we human beings have a tendency, or as Vicky says, a habit of returning to topics. Maybe your neighbor wants to interact with you and doesn't know how else to do it.

    You're so right about perfectionism, it's a trap for so many of us who want to fit in and "be just right." But it won't make everything in the world OK. Thank you for sharing these insights. It made me think about these things today, and I'll have a better, more self-aware day because of it. Again, great post!

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  4. Wow, I think you take your neighbor's comments the wrong way. I LOVE it when people comment on my running and stuff. It means they are interested and give a crap about you and what you are doing enough to want to be involved!!

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07