Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Are We Always So Quick to Believe the Worst About Ourselves?

Yesterday, out of the blue, someone said something quite unflattering to me (actually, he texted it), which got me thinking more than it probably should have. But I'm impressionable like that, especially when it comes to accentuating the negative. I'm so appreciative whenever anyone says anything nice about me. Yet it's the occasional negative review that always seems to affect me most.

I've spent much of the past 24 hours dwelling on the negative, wondering if I'm really as bad as that person implied I was. I know I'm not, but I could be mistaken? What if other people are slamming me in their thoughts while smiling in my face? When will the next text message or email arrive unexpectedly from someone with a litany of complaints about me?

Insecure much? As a matter of fact, I am. When the mask of self-confidence falls off, it lands with a thud.

After more than 20 years as a professional journalist, one might expect me to have confidence in my ability, and in general, I do. But every time I turn in a story, it's 1991 again, and I'm a 22-year-old upstart in New York City, on the verge of cracking under pressure. I sit (or go for a run) and wait for my editors to tell me how much they hate what I've done, and I'm always a little surprised when they don't.

I suppose this is healthy to a degree -- it forces me to maximize my effort -- but why do I still believe the terrible feedback of an editor who once pretty much dismissed one of my stories as the misguided ranting of a near-illiterate neophyte (okay, I'm exaggerating, but that's what I do when I'm focusing on the negative) more than the apology he issued a few hours later, admitting he'd been dead wrong and that I had actually done excellent work?

When I first started blogging in 2008, a colleague issued a friendly warning: People are more likely to comment on what you write when they have something negative to say. How right she was. And never did the negative commentary come as quickly and as forcefully as when I dared to speak of NCIS in less than glowing terms. I should know better than to give too much credence to what the "haters" say, but for me, negativity stings a lot more than positively uplifts.

I've really got to work on that. I need to improve my selective memory, too. When I think back on the letters that I received from readers back when I was reviewing music for People magazine and Entertainment Weekly in the '90s, the guy who ripped me apart for daring to say something not-so-nice about Mary Chapin Carpenter's Stones in the Road album (He threatened to hunt me down... and laugh in my face!) stands out in my memory more than than the handwritten note I received from John Waite complimenting me on nailing what he was trying to convey with his 1984 No. 1 hit "Missing You."

Speaking of "I ain't missing you at all"...

Two years after I broke up with my last boyfriend, despite all the lovely things he said about me over the course of more than one year, the review that still stands out most in my mind is his parting shot: He called me needy.

Needy? Really? Anyone who knows me more than just in passing realizes how ludicrous that charge is. When Chrissie Hynde called Pretenders' 1994 album The Last of the Independents, I like to think that she was referring to me. If I were as needy as my ex suggested I was, we probably would have lasted longer than we did. No way would I have left him in Melbourne to spend six months traveling around Southeast Asia on my own. In fact, needy little me probably still would be living in New York City, surrounded by doting friends who could shower me with all the attention that my needy ass needs.

This past weekend while working on a story, I had to do something I rarely do, something that makes me as uncomfortable as sleeping in the nude. I had to ask for help from good friends and people I barely know. Most of them were incredibly gracious and giving, but at the end of the night, I still lost a lot of sleep. Thankfully, though, I wasn't tossing and turning on anyone's couch, or in their guest room. That would be so unlike me, too.

Yet here I am, wondering, am I too needy? Am I a terrible person? I know I'm neither, but it's probably a good thing that I receive the occasional dissenting opinion to make me wonder. Though it might cause my insecurity to flare up, leading to uncomfortable silences and near-sleepless nights, it leads to self-reflection, too. Might the haters have a point? Maybe not, but there's almost always room for improvement.
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