**Warning: S-bombs ahead! (They’re like F-bombs, but they start with “S” and rhyme with “hit.”)**
This morning, I picked up the knife passed down to me as a child. The knife I was never able to deliver to my parents’ porch step because, somehow, I believed one day I’d need it as a tool for defense.
I’ve become 99 percent more equipped to store this knife safely in a drawer of my compartmentalized mind, but today I awoke with an open drawer—and a willing hand.
We were supposed to leave at eight a.m.
By 9:15, his relaxed state was pissing me off as he enjoyed his lemon water and tried to engage me in happy conversation.
I wanted to leave.
His calm then turned neurotic as he worried whether the baby’s car seat strap was too tight.
It was fine—I wanted to be in the damn car!
Neuroticism during “relaxation” used to be my forte, and he was inviting in a world of criticism.
He just sucked.
His calm offended me, and so did his worry. I was unsettled, and his settlement during my unease was a sharpening stone for the knife I was never able to return to its rightful owner.
As if the knife was a tool to help him succeed in some way, I cut him with it.
We were raised on criticism (or, I was).
Congratulatory messages weren’t given because our accomplishments were expected. If our accomplishments weren’t up to standards, though, we felt the piercing sting of self-doubt, which the bitter sound of parental criticism drove into our brains.
We desperately wanted to make them proud.
At a certain point in our lives, we realized, we never could.
Truly, nothing would ever be “good” enough.
After realizing nothing will ever be good enough for “them,” we find a way to empower our self-doubting psyches enough to decide what is good enough for “us.” We step into self-defining standards of success and drop theirs off at their doorstep.
You can take the kid out of the criticism, but you can’t take the criticism out of the kid (even when we’re adults).
We bleed with the pulse of criticism as if it’s our only gauge for our worth.
The same criticism we lit on fire on our parents’ front porch pulses through our veins. The same veins that pump our loving hearts. The same veins that desire to be good enough for someone else.
We handed their criticism back for our own sake.
Except, we now find it bleeding through the cuts we drew in our intimate relationships whenever we glimpsed that knife.
We haven’t yet managed to give it up for the sake of our lovers.
This is for all of us who know how shitty it feels to be constantly criticized.
Those of us who are taming the temptation to gouge deep wounds into the backs of our partners when the knives that wounded us come into view.
We are the ones that find ourselves using our left hand to slap the right, which in turn is pointing the weapon towards someone we love.
We are the ones who find it painful to put the knife down, and also the ones to slap ourselves for playing with it in the first place.
We are the brave ones who stare criticism in the face when we want to deliver it unnecessarily.
We are the ones that do all that we can to break the cycle from which we emerged, but only we know that it wages war on us as much as we battle it.
Some days, we do not tame our tendencies. These days, we become the patterns we thought we burned on the porch.
These days, we are the critic.
Constant criticism felt like shit, and we may be the only people on the planet blessed by seeing a running theme in the whole of criticism: It feels equally like shit to be the constant critic.
I woke up exhausted, distracted and driven by an agenda of “doing.”
This state of being isn’t typical, as I’ve created a life that wakes with enlivenment and presence and facilitates my “being” as much as possible.
We who have experienced criticism in this way feel shame around relaxation—around not “doing” enough.
Though I energetically and intellectually know that there is nothing shameful about enjoying relaxation, I often need to meditate on my desires to distract myself from self-doubt and shame by “doing” a lot.
Then, I don’t have to hear words like “inferior” or “lazy” whispering in my blood.
When I “do,” I don’t have to focus on the underwhelm of the notion that it’s okay to just be me.
When I do this, I’m still running on the stories that criticism wrote about my life.
I know far too well that this knife is a weapon of destruction and not a damn tool.
Luckily, he’s someone who can conceptualize criticism but wasn’t raised on it. He has a way of gently approaching me, taking the knife right out of my hand and asking which drawer it goes in.
He holds a mirror to my face and suggests I look into it, because he’s smart enough to know my criticisms aren’t truly about him.
He’s also perceptive enough to see that for me to be playing with the knife that cut me so deeply, I must feel like shit myself. The same weapon that wounded me is a sign that I’m bleeding.
He knows me well enough to know that if I’m being the critic, I’m “doing” something to distract myself from the whispers of my own self-criticism.
All angles of criticism feel like complete shit, and there is a common denominator…
That common denominator is me.
I am forgiving myself today for still housing the knife of criticism, but I’m also self-aware enough to know that when I’m using it on someone I love, I’m not practicing self-love.
I’m projecting self-hatred and hoping they hold it today so I don’t have to.
I’ve found a partner and guided him to where my weapons are stored—and to where my wounds are held together by stitches and not yet fully healed.
I taught him how to reach my definition of success in a relationship by example rather than criticism, so on days like today, he can be an example of reflective self-care by putting my knives away for me, closing the drawer, thanking me for showing him how and saying without saying, “Now, knock off your shit because neither of us deserve it.”
I gave the keys to all of my secret doors to someone I learned to trust.
The weapons our family mistakenly believed were tools for improvement need to be surrendered to those we love, rather than used against them. If we are truly willing to drop off the rest of the shit on those porches, it starts with a walk of personal responsibility on the way to the house.
I handed him the keys so he has resources to defend both of our wounds when the patterns of criticism I’m used to make their way through my blood stream.
These days, though, I’m proud to say that 99 percent of the time, we can both relax.
Author: Stacy Hoch
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Hamed Saber/Flickr