I can tell you what’s wrong with everybody I know.
Actually, I’m so good at spotting others’ flaws that I can do it in people I don’t even know. That person is a terrible driver. He’s rude. She has horrible grammar. He won’t learn from his mistakes. She’s too stupid to do her job.
I’m humiliated to admit this, partly because I’m the biggest hypocrite I know. Not all the time, but sometimes.
I catch myself viciously criticizing others for something as they drive, but I catch myself doing the same thing — and finding a quick way to justify myself — a day or two later. I tell myself somebody is a failure — or at least not achieving what he could — because he won’t live up to my idea of how he should pursue his life, but I regularly make the same mistakes and try to justify those mistakes when I do them.
My only consolation is that almost everybody I know does the same thing. I realize I’m trying to let myself off the hook by saying, “Well, everybody does it,” but it’s true. The question is why I do it — and why all of us sometimes do it.
It’s because we’re all terrified we aren’t good enough — that we’re not worthy of love.
I used to lie to myself about this. For a long time, I tried to pretend I wasn’t harshly judging others, but when I finally couldn’t deny it anymore, I had to come up with a new internal strategy. So I told myself that my standards were just so high others couldn’t meet them. (Don’t laugh.)
In this way, I tried to justify my fault by blaming others. Do you see a pattern here?
I’ve come to believe we’re all terrified of not being enough — not good enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, not a good enough parent, not attractive enough, not loving enough, not worthy enough — of somehow being unworthy of love and acceptance.
We deal with that fear in very different ways, but we all start by hiding the fear from ourselves. The more we hide from the fear, the harder we work to do whatever it is that’s our defense mechanism. For some of us, it’s being successful in ways the world can recognize. For some of us, it’s being the smartest guy in every room. For some of us, it’s convincing other people to accept us by being just like them. For some, it’s winning acceptance by trying to help others and making them feel in debt to us.
There are a lot of different defense mechanisms — and I’ve come to see lately that our personalities are largely collections of defense mechanisms which we don’t recognize. Whatever emerges as your personality is largely the strategies you developed at an early age to avoid looking at your fear of not being enough.
The sad thing is that those defense mechanisms allowed us to survive our early years, so they came to seem to be who we really are. But the truth is that they’re largely habits which allow us to avoid our worst fears.
I’ve talked some in the past about my own defense mechanisms. The criticism I have for other people — the embarrassing examples I’ve shared with you here — is another way that I still do the same thing. As long as I’m silently telling myself how horrible other people are — how flawed they are — it allows me to try to tell myself that I’m not the flawed one. They are.
I’m not the imperfect one who’s unworthy. They are. And the worse they are, the less it’s important for me to fix my own problems.
That’s an important layer of understanding, but the real lesson isn’t that I need to be fixing myself. I’ve understood that for years and I’ve been working on it. I’ve come a long way, but I still haven’t really learned the more important point.
I don’t become “good enough” — or worthy of love — by fixing myself.
I’m already good enough. I’m already worthy of love. And you’re good enough, too. You’re already worthy of love and acceptance.
If we can learn this, we can quit trying to prove things to each other. We can give up the childish defense mechanisms that we learned by being whatever we thought would get us love in the past from those we feared would reject us.
If we can learn this, the pressure to be perfect can be gone.
We can love each other. We can accept each other. And we can be done — forever — with the burden of trying to prove we’re good enough by outrunning those we fear might be more worthy than we are.
It was never a race to see who was more or less worthy. We’re all worthy of love and acceptance. We just have to get rid of the horrible baggage that has come with our childhood fears. We have to finally love and accept each other — and that’s so hard to do.