It seems like one of the primary aims of therapy is to look at the assumptions we make, the beliefs we have, and compare them to what is reasonable. In my approach to certain fears, I looked at the fear objectively and rationally and decided whether or not it was a reasonable fear under the present circumstances.
I was able to let go of a lot of fears in this way. It is harder to let go of beliefs I have held about myself. I suspect that this is in part because I have difficulty visualizing my responses, my life, without these beliefs, or rather with changed beliefs.
On a radio program a few years ago I heard someone discussing depression. This person said the difficulty with chronically depressed persons is in getting them to learn how to live as an undepressed person. That hit me when I heard it, because I realized that my standard responses and approaches to persons close to me tended to be related to my views of myself and the "depths of my despair". I hardly knew how to be an undepressed person. Yes, I could laugh, I could enjoy funny things. I could be helpful or accept help with something I was doing. But in most situations I tended to relate to others in terms of the pain I was experiencing.
I think just being aware of this helped me work toward changing it. I still register as a mildly pessimistic person on some scales, but overall my view of the world is remarkably optimistic, and I can express my love of it in many ways.
Which is rather a long preamble!
The first thing I thought about, when considering how my past experiences affect my present writing, was my mother's critical attitude. When my sister Mary would sing, my mother would cover her ears and complain that she was off-key just a little (I had the impression she said there was nothing taht could be done about this). When my sister Abby sang (very differently), my mother urged her to take voice lessons to make the most of what she had, and she would always find fault one way or another. I remember her remarking that I was not using the metronome when I practiced piano or not practicing enough. She told someone, later, that she did this because that was how she learned, from criticism.
I think she did not realize that when all you hear is criticism it becomes you, all of you. To this day I have to resist the notion that when someone makes a small suggestion for improvement, they are not saying I am a bad person or that what I have done is impossibly bad. I have gotten so much better at this, so that I doubt most people who work with me realize that criticism is very hard for me to take.
So on a case-by-case basis I can counter these suggestions that I hear inside myself, that I am not good enough, not going to make it, don't have the stuff. IT is a harder thing to not hear them in the first place. I hope that in time I won't. I wonder, though. When I was first set on conquering fears I simply put myself in a place where I would experience fear again and again. This didn't do a bit of good. May have made the fears worse. What did work was looking at them one at a time and rationally evaluating them.
So - once again, I am writing as I think, not editing - I think I have already answered my own question. In time, I do expect to be less vulnerable to criticism and more willing to seek it out.
I was a fat, messy child. My mother was sick after she gave birth to me, so I was bottle fed. I was a chubby baby, chubby toddler, larger and larger child, until I was just monstrous by the time I reached junior high. Other children made fun of me. I learned not to let on that I was affected by their cruel comments, which were often said within earshot but not to me directly.
To this day I will often experience the feelign that others are looking at me, thinking how fat I am. I have to remind myself that I am no longer absurdly overweight, and that these days so many people are, in fact, that I don't look like anything unusual - except for my height. (In rereading this I am reminded of some passages in some of Margaret Atwood's books. She conveys some of this feeling of not fitting, of being out of step, as a child, really well.)
When I have to lead workshops or otherwise be some kind of "presenter" I can usually do so without too many qualms that people will be thinking how terrible I look or smell. Nevertheless, this child still lives inside me. Sometimes I hear her, see her, and want so much to hold her.
My mother was not affectionate. I can remember one time when she hugged me. I was an adult then.
I think these things taken together suggest to me that I am just "not right". And no end of work will change that.
Work. Our large family lived in a large house. we had a housekeeper who came in one day a week, who vacuumed, ironed clothes, did some other things. This did not mean we had a clean house. It was usually a disaster, and my bedroom was wall-to-wall clothing, toys, books, unmade bed in the middle. My mother came up with "chore lists" from time to time. I always did what I was given to do. But it was never enough. She would continue to complain and I would notice other things that were not clean, and I would continually feel it was my fault.
What was funny is that I thought that when we moved out my mother would then have a clean house. Turns out she didn't. She was always a good organizer, and her drawers and dresser were neat as could be. But otherwise, stuff everywhere.
Somehow through all this I developed the feeling that no matter how much I did it would never be enough. Obviously that feeling is with me today. I can never cut back and feel okay about it. And spending time just on me is such an indulgence. Not that I don't do it, but it is hard for me to do so and feel entirely okay about it, or even to enjoy it.
I don't know how to "have a good time" in many respects. As I read this over, I think that my writing is a "chore" that must be done, that I certainly can't enjoy.
IN recent years I have learned the zen of car washing and bed making and a few other things. I have discovered that I can be one with the sponge and can relax and enjoy some of these activities, each little piece, the ritual of it (in a way like grinding coffee, rinsing the pot, wiping off spills). My house is still chaotic but better. The important gain has not been so much in the appearance of the house as in my attitude toward maintenance and cleaning.
I remember something in my mother's attitude that suggested to me that being seen cleaning was somehow a subservient position. She would love to see us cleaning things and would usually not complain (oh sure, there were the comments that the glasses aren't really clean enough) but there was just something unspoken, something I felt, that I was "less than" when I did these kinds of things. So when I did clean things I did it as secretly as I could. I did not want others to see me doing it, just wanted them to see it already done.
I have a roommate. For a long time I would vacuum only when he was out. He doesn't go out much, so this became difficult, so I finally brought out the vacuum when he was home one day. He made a remark that someone must be coming to visit. I said no, I do this every week (which was true). I am happy to say he has left me to it.
As I write this it reminds me another reason I have kept it secret. When I was a child, sometimes a sibling would take up a dust cloth or broom and start cleaning. There was in this person's attitude an accusation: I was doing nothing. I was sitting on the couch reading. Or cutting out paper dolls. Even when I was upstairs in my room, if I heard the sounds of cleaning downstairs it spoke loudly to me, made me feel hugely guilty. So when I clean secretly, I am keeping other people from feelign guilty. It is hard for me to understand that most of them are probably not feelign guilty.
I don't have a great summation here. What I sense is that I have dredged out some of my past feelings and connected them to feelings I have today. I can, of course, take that same "rational" approach to these feelings. Listen to them and challenge them as they come up. Haven't I been doing that? I don/t know, don't think it's been conscious. I do see how some of these things relate to blocks in my writing.
Writing as fun: a huge no-no. shouldn't be fun.
Writing well: who, me??
And of course: it's never enough. Perfectionism, perhaps? A huge block.