I’ve discovered that I have an addiction. I am addicted to self-criticism. As is often the case with addictions, it was not obvious to me, the addict. It became apparent first to someone close to me, and it didn’t demand my full attention until I discovered it was hurting someone else.
Some people think more highly of themselves than they should. I’ve never understood those people. I suffer from the opposite problem. I look at things God has put in me and I downplay them like they are of no value at all. My insightful wife explained to me yesterday how that dishonors God and ultimately robs others of the benefits that could have been theirs if not for this compulsive commitment to self-deprecation.
If you have ever tried to compliment me (or the book I wrote), you probably have no idea how quickly I dismantled your praise in my own mind moments later. Without your knowing it, I found multiple reasons to discount what you said, almost as fast as you could put it into words yourself. That’s sick, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for a long time, but somehow I had never seen a legitimate reason to curb this compulsion because it seemed to serve a useful purpose for me. I figured it can’t be a bad thing for someone to keep their ego in check. And how embarrassing it is for someone to have his bubble burst after thinking he was “all that” only to discover he’s not! I’ll explain in the next post how this came to be, in case it could be helpful to someone else. But here’s what my wife helped me realize yesterday:
It does a kind of violence to God’s creation when you excessively disparage the good things about who you are and what you do. It dishonors him because it implies that he has done a bad job in making you who you are. I suppose that’s a failure to follow the first of the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God. Then again, it fails on the second one, too: Love your neighbor as yourself. When someone gives you something, it is rude and uncaring to immediately throw it away like it isn’t worth anything. I suppose a compliment is no different.
And maybe it goes deeper than that. When you repeatedly discount some skill a person has (including you yourself), he or she learns to bury it like the money that guy buried in the parable of the “talents.” That gifting could have brought life to people, but instead you stuck it in the ground. I think I’m in danger of doing the same thing myself.
To some degree, my circumstances have led me to this point. But I don’t imagine I’m free from responsibility here. There’s a strange self-gratification in being down on yourself. It ultimately keeps your attention on yourself, when you could be asking how you could be spending yourself and your gifts to benefit others. You prefer the safety of burial. If your gifts were to see the light of day, then you would risk the exposure of your all-too-sensitive ego. Someone could find a flaw in you that you missed yourself (how awful!). Or maybe you could become susceptible to pride, which, let’s face it, would totally ruin your perfect state of humility, wouldn’t it? I suppose even humility carries with it a kind of pride in being so humble. “At least I’m not like all those other cats who think they’re something.” Whoops.
Well anyway…For the next little while it looks as if I will need to take on a new discipline. I will be attempting to check my own tendency to dismantle the praise of others. I am going to try to see me the way other people are seeing me, even if that means admitting to myself that I did something right. How else will the good things ever be reinforced? If I denied my students all positive reinforcement, then how could I ever expect them to keep doing it right? I’ll have to learn to think the same way about myself. I’m no super human after all.
Perhaps God will be honored more by that, after all. So I’ll give it a shot.