I’ll be the first to admit that I can be cocky.
I’m certainly not egotistical about everything — most of my life is spent self-consciously over-analyzing everything I do. (For example, I forgot the word “party” earlier today and said “shebang” instead and it’s been haunting me for 11 hours now. Shebang.) There are a few areas, though, in which I have such complete confidence in myself that even I find it annoying.
Areas in which I Am Cocky
- I’m a pretty good writer.
- I’m a really good Google searcher.
- I have the PLU code for bananas memorized a decade after leaving the grocery industry. It’s not really a big deal. Quit applauding, you’re making me blush.
I feel good about these things. But for reasons I can’t explain — maybe because the list of things I feel good about is much smaller than my list of insecurities, or maybe because I’m an oldest child and was born eager to please — the second I receive negative feedback of any kind, I am crushed.
When I say negative feedback, I don’t mean particularly harsh criticism. And when I say crushed, I don’t mean it in the way Rocky Balboa sometimes appears to be crushed but then gets up off the mat and punches Ivan Drago in his commie face. I mean crushed in the way that a sugar cube would be if it was hanging out in a bounce house filled with joyful elephants. Crushed.
As an example, a month ago someone asked me in a kind and non-confrontational way to park in a different spot. “It’s ok for today,” he said. “Just remember for next time.”
Four entire weeks have passed and I am still sulking over this. In moments of low blood sugar, I say, “Just remember for next time” to myself in a mocking baby voice.
The weird thing is that my inner critic says much meaner stuff to me all the time. Several times a day, my brain will try to shoot down some idea I have by saying the kind of horrifying things that only a psychopath would say in real life. I accept that because my inner critic is not fooled by my confidence. It knows that any self-assurance is a fairly recent, carefully constructed lie. If a stranger says something even a little critical, on the other hand, it means they’ve seen through me and they know I’m a disgusting fraud. And suddenly I’m stuck in the 7 Stages of Bruised Ego.
The 7 Stages of Bruised Ego
Stage 1: Deep shame. How could I have parked in that spot? Am I some kind of animal?
Stage 2: Blind rage. How was I supposed to know not to park in that spot? What kind of stuck up, duck-footed, fart face would just assume I knew not to park there and then scream at me about it like that?
Stage 3: Internalizing. Somewhere in the back of my brain, I did know not to park there. He was so right. I am scum. I am the scum between scum’s toes. I always suspected it, and here’s the proof.
Stage 4: Giving up. What’s the point? I can’t come back from this. I should leave everything behind and go die in a cave. No, that won’t work either. I’d probably park my worthless carcass in the wrong cave.
Stage 5: Penitence. This is what I get for being so cocky. What, I think I can just park anywhere? Like I own every spot in the lot? I sicken myself.
Stage 6: Spite. I’ll show him. I’m going to park in the right spot so well from now on. No one will ever park in that spot better than me.
Stage 7: Eventual recovery with occasional immature relapses. Man, I’m really killing parking in this lot. I bet other people wish they could park like me. Don’t park in the wrong spot, dummies. Just remember for next time, nyah, nyah, nyah.
Healthy, healthy stuff. Shockingly, this is not the way a self-actualized, well-adjusted adult handles criticism.
How Self-Actualized Adults Handle Criticism
- They zero-in on the helpful lesson in the feedback
- They recognize that feedback is not a reflection on them personally. They are not their parking spot
- They take a moment to cool down and consider before responding calmly
- They move on with their lives afterwards
That sounds great. It sounds like those self-actualized adults are saving a lot of time and energy. I’d like to be one of them someday.
Someday, I said. Today I’m going to sulk.