I Will No Longer Be Defined By My Shortcomings


I was in my therapist’s office yesterday and I was losing my mind. Sometimes I am in her office and I’m composed and the conversation is civil, but sometimes I’m unglued. I was unglued yesterday. And, of course, my therapist handled it with her typical patience and grace.

My problem is that I can’t do anything right. I fail constantly at whatever I attempt. I should have the wisdom to not try, because ultimately my efforts will end in failure. At least that’s what my dad says. He died decades ago, but he’s alive and vocal in my head even today. “Stop whining and be a man! You can’t do that; step aside and give it to someone that knows what they’re doing! Just give up before you embarrass yourself! You’re just weak! You’re a fraud and you’ll be found out soon enough!” And the comments go on. My therapist allows none of this type of talk.

She listens to my rants that shout insecurity, but they don’t phase her. Her unwillingness to get on board with my inadequacies is at once comforting and disarming. I want her to affirm my frailty, to finally agree with me that I’m not worth her effort. But she will have none of that. Time after time, when I’m spewing my negative self-talk in her office, she stops me and asks me to rephrase what I just said in a way that shows the same kindness to me that I would extend to someone else. I don’t have that kind of foresight, so I’m caught up in the flood of negative critiques before I know I’m there. That kind of talk doesn’t happen for long inside her office.

I think I’m trying to prepare those around me for the disappointment I will almost certainly bring. But this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to announce my failure before anyone else can. Unsubstantiated bravado is repulsive to me, but I go to the other extreme, and that isn’t any more attractive. I need to find that balance, and I’m slowly beginning to see that I can acknowledge successes without being prideful; I can do things right without having to be perfect. My failings and shortcomings don’t define me, but it is my love that defines me.

This is revolutionary to me. If I’m defined by my successes or failures, then the focus is on me always. Did I make enough money? Were my efforts good enough? Am I clear enough? Why didn’t I do this better or say this more effectively? But if my goal is to show my love to another person who needs it, the focus shifts from my performance to the other person’s needs. And that seems so much more worthwhile.

I received a text yesterday from the hairstylist I’ve been going to for years. When I saw her last, I mentioned to her that I was interested in a specific conditioner that I couldn’t find anywhere. She happened to be at a place that had that conditioner and wanted to know if I wanted her to get it for me. She thought of me. That is love. That kind of others-focus seems to be the remedy to my deflating internal dialog.

I’m too often concerned with crossing lines or being a bother. My dad’s voice is too loud. The reality is I’m not a bother most of the time. My efforts are appreciated, and it is okay and encouraged to love others, even if my attempts are sloppy or imperfect. The goal is to love. My therapist would be proud.