The internal critic

I’ve almost always been aware of a dichotomous yin-yang of self-awareness.  As in, I’m either hyper-aware of or utterly clueless about how I might be perceived by anyone who happens to be standing around, glancing at me at any given moment.

I know.  It’s a little terrifying to think about.  People might catch me/us in their panoramic sweeps of their immediate surroundings, something that I/we never actually consented to.

If I were ever to happen upon a magic lamp with a genie inside, my first of my three wishes would be for an invisible cloak that I could wear or remove at will.  One that is always with me, so that I can’t forget it at home, either.

The hypo-awareness can be embarrassing, but perhaps semi-comical (years, decades) after the fact.

A FunFact I’ve never breathed a word about before: when I was a toddler, I was standing in line somewhere with my mom, and my hand happened to come to rest too close to my girl parts.  I wasn’t doing anything, but it was just Too Close.

My mom bent down close to my ear and hissed, “We don’t do that in public.”

Do what?

Oh, that.  I wasn’t actually doing anything, but OK.  Sure, whatever.  Before then, I hadn’t given any thought to where my hand was, or who else might have noticed, or what they might have thought, either of me or my hapless mom.

Then there were the countless misinterpretations of my verbal messages.

This phenomenon was too commonplace for me to be able to recall specific, isolated incidents, but let’s just say that it was the story of my life, and it all condensed into a theme of “I Had No Clue How Other People Would Take What I Said”.  As in, no idea how my words might come across to others.

I didn’t get that memo.  Apparently, I didn’t get lots of memos.  I wasn’t on someone’s Favorites email list or something.

I’ve been surprised too many times by peoples’ reactions.  File under: Never Saw That One Coming.

Hypo-awareness swung its pendulum over to hyper-awareness.

The Internal Critic was born.

And once she appeared, she never went away.

For example, I’ll be composing the simplest of emails.  Let’s start with an opening.

“Greetings!”

My Inner Critic awakens, instantly vigilant.  Are you sure you want to say that?  Isn’t that a little cheesy?  Who in 21st-century America says that?

Delete.

“Hi there!”

She nods, arms folded across her chest.  OK, good, friendlier, but it could sound condescending.  They might think you think they’re a little kid, or somehow subordinate.

Backspaces.

“Howdy!”

Not everyone is from Texas, you know.

“Hiya!”

Now they’re going to think you’re a little kid.

I can’t win.

I settle for “Hi!” and hope for the best.  I have to greet them somehow!

On to the next hurdle…

“How are you?”

Inner Critic shakes her head disapprovingly.  Too cliché.  Now you sound boring, predictable, and worst of all, trite. It’s not like they’re going to answer that, because it’s email and not a spoken or otherwise live conversation.

“How’s things?”

Inner Critic raises one eyebrow, something I frustratingly cannot do in real life.  Are you sure you didn’t say that in your last email to them?

I decide on a statement: “I hope this finds you well.”  And I move on, with fingers crossed, to the next land mine.

The rest of the email is full of similar land mines, but I proceed, with extreme caution and plenty of smileys, lest anyone get the wrong impression, and remain on guard, careful to step “this” way and not “that”, agonizing over every choice of word and phrase.

“Like I said,…”

Inner Critic gasps.  No, no, no!  That could be misconstrued as rude.  (“Like I said,..”)  It’s like you’re accusing them of not listening; it’s as if you’re getting testy with them.  Don’t sound testy.  Don’t even give them the option of imagining that you are.  Don’t even leave the question open.  Nail that shizz down.

OK, how about “like I mentioned above?”

Inner Critic touches her chin with the tip of an index finger and considers.  Ummm…better.  Not great, but better.  But it’s only acceptable because if you’re going to repeat yourself, you had better indicate somehow that you’re aware that you’re doing it, or you’ll sound like a forgetful clod.

Tone of voice, both online and offline, is a land mine.  I write like I talk, but not everybody does that, so my conversational writing might come across as rude, blunt, casual, sarcastic, offensive, brash, even uncouth.

Offline, when talking with someone, I’ve learned to modulate my voice enough and pepper my speech with enough wry grins or nervous chuckles to convey that I’m not actually being snarky or mean.  And when I do intend to be snarky (common, but not as much as one might think) or mean (far less common), my voice leaves no question.  It’s everything else, the words and messages I intend to be benign, that actually foster the most misunderstanding and thus land me in the hottest water.

Online, the advent of smileys has been a blessing, because they don’t leave any question dangling in the air.

And when smileys become too monotonous, there are always hearts!  I know I probably use too many, for fear of using too few.

But then once I start using them, I have to keep doing so.  People have gotten used to me using smileys and hearts, so if I suddenly cut back, they might not think I like them as much anymore.  Or they might think I’m in a bad mood.  They might even start to wonder what happened.

Part of me (The Inner Critic, of course) is always helpful.  That blog comment/reply sounds a little brusque, don’t you think?  Better add a smiley.

Thy will be done.  Smiley added.

But you added a heart last time, too.  Better type one of those.

Mmm’alrighy, then.

You added two or three when you replied to your good friend’s compliment.  Better add one here, too, so that no one thinks you’re playing favorites.  Everyone will read all of the comments all of the time, and they’ll always notice.  The whole world is always watching you.

Got it.  Done and done.

Now, are you sure that’s not too many?  You don’t really know that person very well yet.  You don’t want them to think you’re clingy.  Or desperate.  Or creepy.  You know how people are.

(Well, actually, I don’t.  Which is why I get into these messes in the first place.)

Better take out one of the smileys and add an “lol” to the end of that sentence instead.

Yes ma’am.

No no no!  You’d better clarify that you’re laughing at yourself, lest the other person think you’re laughing at their expense!

(Did I mention already that I can’t win?)

Compliments can be another land mine.  I’ve always been a little self-conscious about them, so I’m not sure how to accept them graciously.  I’m extremely grateful for them; they make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  They melt my heart and bring tears to my eyes.

But they’re also so foreign to me that I almost enter states of surreal disbelief and shock when I receive them.  Did someone actually just say that they think I’m cool?  Do people really like my work?  Did I actually do something right?

When you’ve lived a life of always being wrong, it’s hard to believe that you can get it right.

Better respond to that compliment; don’t forget to reciprocate!

“Edit” buttons come in very handy.  Except that email doesn’t have an edit button.  Once an email is sent, it’s sent, and there’s no editing it or taking it back.  Its fate is out of my hands and at the mercy of someone else’s.  So I take what feels like forever to compose what is “supposed to” be a “simple” message.

The Internal Critic stands over me, looking over my shoulder, in begrudging approval, only when there’s no other way to express myself.

I walk the line, which has been pulled taught beneath me, consulting dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurii?) every step along the way, diligently avoiding excess repetition, over- and under-formality, and the misuse of Big Words in attempt to come across as more competent than I feel inside.

Nothing gets past my Internal Critic.  She sees all, knows all, and scrutinizes all.  Everything must meet her reluctant ratification.

Closing an email is the hardest part.

“Talk to you later,” is my first choice.

Denied, by the Inner Critic.

Are you really going to talk to them later?  You’re presuming that they even want to talk to you again.  Maybe after reading this email, they won’t.  Do you even plan to talk to them again?  Isn’t that a little too conversational?

OK, fine then.

“Until next time,”

Now you’re just being cheesy.

“Best regards,”

Does any American say that anymore?  Are you trying to be British?  Brits are fabulously cool, and you’re not.  Stop trying to be something you’re not.

“Have a beautiful day!”

What if they aren’t?  What if their day isn’t quite so beautiful?  What if their area has just been devastated by a tsunami, a flood, a blizzard or even a drought?  What if they’re depressed or dealing with emotional trauma or pain?

Fine, then.

“Have a great day!”  That’s not too dramatic, is it?

What if it’s not daytime when they read it?  Hell, it might actually be nighttime where they are!

Aw hell.

I finally sneak a peek at how they closed their email to me.

“Have a wonderful day/evening!”

Inner Critic is begrudgingly satisfied.  For now.  Yes, much better.  But did you use that same phrase to close your last email to them?  You better check, or you’re going to sound unimaginative.

And so on.

If email isn’t bad enough, in-person communication is tougher.

Inner Critic follows me around the apartment.  Are you groomed well enough?  You really should have straightened your bangs/fringe today; they’re frizzy and not cooperative.  Where’s that Resting Bitch Face?  Better make sure it’s out of sight.  Are you making enough eye contact?  But don’t stare.  Pick a spot and look.  And for god’s sake, don’t switch from one of their eyes to the other; apparently you didn’t get the memo that it’s unnerving to people.  Check your clothes–any smoothie drip stains?  You spill all the time, you know.  Any Sharpie pen marks?  Better check again.  Look at your sleeves, too.

Unfold your arms; you look standoffish.  Take your hands off your hips; you come across with a bad attitude.  No, don’t put them in your pockets; don’t teach them to treat you like an underling.  Don’t give them the upper hand yet; they’ll take it soon enough anyway.  Don’t play with that spot on the palm of your hand; it already has enough of a callous, and it looks funny.

Inner Critic is a pain in the ass, but at the same time, she probably saves mine.  (Sometimes.)

Don’t tell her as much, though.  I wouldn’t want the idea that she actually comes in handy sometimes to go to her head.  Best not give her any more ideas.  It’ll be our secret, OK?  Even walls have ears.

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46 Comments

  1. My son refuses to email but he’ll text all day long. Maybe because there is more of an instantaneous reply than waiting for someone to pull up their email to read? I can see how the waiting and reading into why hasn’t this person responded can be tortuous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe yep 😉. I imagine that there’s an element of anxiety there 💞. I know that I agonize after I’ve sent the email and there’s always a sigh of relief when the response comes back. I know that if it takes them “too long” to respond, I’ll imagine the worst 😊💖

      Liked by 1 person

  2. so often youre writing my life story, laina. you cant even imagine how well you know me.

    we arent clones, but we have worlds in common. you and i differ sometimes. we have so much in common, you know me so freaking well, we are like half-twins, or fraternal twins. of course anna is a little like this, but (proof we are not all identical) you are more like me than anna. you are more like me than any other nd i know or have known, and yet still different. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol truth! I like the words you used – “scissor in our brain” – that’s a good one! 👏🏼👏🏼😉❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG😂😂😂 Dude, you just described every email I’ve written. I was literally laughing so hard. I write like I talk too. And correct myself out loud. Yep, I’m that weird lady mumbling to herself😂
    There have been hypo awareness moments when I pass a mirror after being in public and think “Dang! I can’t believe I went out like that” What a great post my dear❣👏💞🌹😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol!! I’m totally tickled that it made you laugh! 😘😂🌺. Also so happy to know I’m not alone! It’s so funny–in your comments I can almost hear your voice! I can imagine you saying what you say. You’re one of the rare souls I think I’ve always understood 😘🌴👍🏼💘🌷

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Hehe yep! I only edit for spelling, grammar, or clarity/clarification 😊 I don’t pre-edit as much, except maybe to find an alternative to an ableist term or something 😉❤️

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah yes, the Inner Critic. Mine tells me much the same things – the “don’t cross your arms, you’ll come across as stand-offish” rang true in particular.
    It’s true, though, you can’t just fire off an email, you’ll have to draft and edit until you’re sure you get the tone just right, and even then there is always an element of uncertainty. At least with email you can take your time to compose, whereas in a conversation you have to compose super quick.
    By the way, your conversational writing style is super friendly, openhearted and showers the recipient in smileys, hearts and flowers…oh dear, that sounds like a criticism now – I like being showered in those things, I do! I can never reciprocate. But I have just downloaded the app onto my phone, which has an emoji keyboard, so watch out for hearts, flowers, cake and random items coming your way soon!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I totally dig the caterpillar!! 🤗💝. Do you have my other favorite – the dragon?? 🐉🐉 😘

        Like

          1. Yay!! I love the snakes and spiders, too. But yeah, the caterpillar takes the cake. Too adorable!! 😘🌺💓

            Like

    1. “it’s true, you can’t just fire off an email…” Yes! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

      Thank you so much for your kind words, too 😊 I find it easier and less complicated to talk like I write; so happy that you find it to be a good thing 😘❤️🌺

      Like

  5. I was hoping you’d cover this. Mine is usually “hi” and “how are ya” and then disaster usually ensues. I actually spend time thinking about what to say to people before I say it. That’s probably not healthy, but I don’t know what else to do. And when I get a question I didn’t prepare for….anyway, great post Laina.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you luv! Hehe ironically, I was sitting on it for a while, chewing on just the right words 😉 (File Under: True Story) 🌟. So happy it struck a vibrant chord! 💖🌟💖

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post! I think we can all relate to it and you’ve gotten right to the meat of what happens. When my, Mr. Doubt comes knocking on the door, I invite him in for tea listen to what he says and then show him the door. I will have to think of how to listen to what my inner critic is really trying to tell me. Maybe, there are times she is doing me a favor.🤗❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oooh! I love the idea of inviting them in for tea! 😉. (Half kidding, half serious lol) 💞. Yeah, that inner critic is a friend at times, even if she is tough 😉🌺💓

      Liked by 1 person

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