Critical Juncture

6 Feb

Dear LetterBalm: I grew up in a home where my parents verbally and psychologically abused me and a school where I was verbally bullied by several teachers. After years of therapy, I understand that all this maltreatment, even though it didn’t physically harm me, damaged me very much emotionally. But I’m still working through the problem of being terribly sensitive to criticism. Even a passing remark can send me into an emotional tailspin that sets me back for the day. I blame myself, call myself an idiot, really get into the self-hatred. Intellectually, I know the criticism mostly means nothing, but emotionally I’m still struggling with self-esteem. I snap at the person, and sometimes I’m on the verge of tears. What can I say to people to tell them it’s not their fault I’m so thin-skinned?

–Work in Progress

Ah, the power of words. They can raise you to the heights of well-being or cast you into a lifelong pit of suffering and psychological trauma. Ms. L.B. is glad you’re working through your harmed childhood with a therapist; you know it will take a long time to eradicate the damage done to you. Only you and your counselor can determine what sort of closure you can expect from your parents, be it anger, denial, acknowledgment of their actions or forgiveness from you. It’s good that you’re empathetic about the effect of your actions on others. Work up a disarming, brief statement to ease hurt feelings and awkward moments. Something like this:

I’m sorry I reacted so strongly yesterday/earlier to your remark. It’s hard for me to take personal remarks, even if they’re harmless and just passing, which I know yours was. I take them as criticism, and they can throw me for a loop. This has absolutely nothing to do with you, and it’s not your fault at all. The fault is mine, and I’m spending a lot of time working through this so I can handle it better. I hope you understand.

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