Amazing Grace: What Do We Do When We’re Our Own Worst Critic?

grace, graciousness, gift, giving, Kristen Lamb

Grace is one of those things I am pretty good at giving. Receiving? Not so much. I’ve really missed blogging, and a lot has been going on at home. Translation? My brain vapor-locked when I tried to come up with a blog topic. Hopelessly stymied, I did something dangerous…

I asked some fellow writers for help.

Y’all can guess from the title what they suggested. Talk about grace, Kristen.

Okay. *cracks knuckles* I can totally do that. Well, this is my third, fourth, or maybe sixteenth attempt. Once I started trying to post about grace? I floundered until I realized that anything other than the complete truth would be hypocrisy. Because, if I’m totally honest? Asking for grace? Receiving it?

Can I just crawl over some broken glass instead, and we call it a day?

This reaction flummoxed me more than a little bit. Alas, anyone who’s followed my blog any amount of time knows that I strive to be transparent. When I had almost an allergic reaction to the idea that I might be anything less than perfect, it was time for me to eat a big ol’ slice of Humble Pie.

Apparently, one can’t have whipped cream with crow.

So, here goes.

Grace & Pride

grace, graciousness, accepting a compliment, self-help, Kristen Lamb, perfectionism

It isn’t easy admitting you’re a prideful person. But isn’t that what I am? When I’m willing to move heaven and earth to help a relative, a friend, a fellow writer who’s in over their head, but can’t ask for help when I’m drowning, what does that say about me? That ‘other’ people struggle but I’m too smart, talented, unusually good-looking to ever need a hand?

Ouch.

I’ve spent most of my life tangling with perfectionism. For instance, it’s taken years to learn that I can accept a compliment with a simple, ‘Thanks.’ If someone says something nice about my crochet project, I don’t need to follow it up with, ‘Thanks, but if you look closer, you’ll see I dropped this stitch here and here and here and here….”

Why do I feel the need to scuttle perfectly wonderful praise?

False humility is actually pride in disguise. Deep down, for whatever reason years of therapy have failed to fully uproot, I have a weird belief that compliments are only for perfect performance. At least when it comes to me.

WHY?

I’d never in a gazillion years believe that about another person. Why am I so special? I’m not. That’s the thing. If I can’t give myself the same grace I offer others, that’s pride. I’m essentially saying that there is one absurd, unreachable, ridiculous standard I should be able to achieve. Everyone else? I can grade on a curve, because they need it.

Hey, I promised transparency.

Intellectually, I can see where and when this belief began. I didn’t come from the most emotionally healthy family. Maybe one or two of y’all reading this can relate.

And no, it isn’t like my relatives sat up all night devising ways to make Little Kristen grow up into Neurotic Adult Kristen.

My grandparents (who reared me) sincerely thought they were helping when they ignored all the As on my report card to grill me like a POW about the one B. They thought refolding all the towels I’d just folded would help me learn the ‘proper’ way to fold towels.

For most of my growing up, I got the, ‘It would have been perfect, except you didn’t do X.’ I spent decades of my life bending and twisting and overachieving, trying so hard to get some accolade that didn’t include a ‘but’, an ‘except for,’ an ‘if only you’d….’

Always weighed, measured, and found wanting. Sigh.

Their treatment, oddly, made me want to do better as an adult. I strive to be generous with compliments sans ‘advice.’ So why do I still feel the need to add those qualifiers in when anyone praises me?

Kristen, you baked a fantastic cake!

Me: Yes, except the icing didn’t come out as thick as I would have liked. And I’m no professional for sure, and, and…

*kicks self*

Grace & Control

grace, graciousness, perfectionism, need to control, Kristen Lamb

Control is just another facet of pride. 2020 has been hard on everyone. COVID has turned everyone’s world upside down, mine included. Apparently, I’m an early adopter. I caught COVID at the beginning of the year and was deathly ill until March…then slept most of April and May.

Before 2020?

Most of my adult life I’ve naturally woken up at 4:00 a.m. to write, take a walk, read, or whatever. Even when I was sick with Shingles, bronchitis, bronchial pneumonia, it didn’t matter. I was up and at it. Then? COVID. That hit me like nothing ever has. Even now, it is making me BONKERS that I struggle to rally by 8:00 a.m. and that I’m not blogging, teaching, speaking, knitting socks for orphans….

Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat

True story.

My cat, Odin (picture above), is an Egyptian Mau. When he meows? He is LOUD. And I mean, really, REALLY LOUD. When the virus flattened me, Odin started howling at our bedroom door every morning, certain I was dead. He’d only calm down once Hubby opened the door so my cat could see proof of life…then try to sleep on my head.

Odin was hysterical and for good reason. Since he’s been a kitten (for seven years), I’ve always been up an hour or more before dawn. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting up at all.

Now, if anyone else was as sick as I was? OMG! I would have brought soup (homemade, not that crap from a can), cleaned their house, run errands and chastised them if they tried to do anything but rest.

But ME?

Nope. Things to do. Stuff to write. Every day feeling like a failure because I didn’t write 4,000 words, go to the gym, do the laundry, clean the house, negotiate world peace…

I warned y’all I was ridiculous.

My biggest fear. Seriously, anything could happen after this past year…

Why I am SO eager to help, but frequently don’t even THINK to ask for help? *winces* Because I need to keep the metaphorical books balanced. I don’t want to owe anyone. It’s better that others are in my debt than the other way around.

I know, I know. It’s awful.

But, have any of y’all been in a relationship where you NEVER wanted that person to do ANYTHING for you? Because you knew you’d never hear the end of it? If I wasn’t related to some such person, I probably dated them at some point.

Love my father and miss him dearly, but yeah. One time, in college, I got food poisoning so badly I couldn’t drive. At the time, I drove a stick and couldn’t shift and lean out door and puke at the same time. Out of options, I asked my dad for a ride to the nearby ER. Unfortunately, he had a big date that night and I never…heard…the END of it…EVER.

Um, I asked for a ride, not a kidney. Jeez!

I Like Need to Be Needed

grace, graciousness, perfectionism, need to control

Didn’t y’all know that there is no inherent value for being my friend? Unless I can DO something for you? If I can cook, clean, lend money, volunteer, reorganize your sock drawer, THEN we’re cool. What other reason is there for anyone to want my company? I should be useful instead of just decorative, right?

…..right?

Man, this post feels like ripping off a Band-Aid made of duct tape, nails and sad puppies. But there it is. I wish it were different. Maybe it will be after this post. But total honesty ? My value goes up or down in relation to how much others need from me. If they don’t need anything from me, I am somehow less of a friend, ally, partner…and, yes I am well aware how cray-cray that is.

There’s a difference in enjoying that others need me and requiring it in order to justify the oxygen I consume.

Grace & Graciousness

All I can say is I’m a work in progress. I can’t change what I can’t see. Grace is a two-way street. I can’t authentically give what I won’t accept myself. When I don’t accept the kindness of others, or I feel I have to match their gesture with my own, it’s like someone handing me a gift and me trying to hand them money to pay for it.

Sort of defeats the whole purpose of giving a gift. One doesn’t PAY for a gift because then it’s no longer a GIFT.

When other people ask for help, it gives me great joy. Why, then, am I so quick to deprive them of a feeling that offers me so much pleasure?

For instance, my mom had major surgery last week. My mom originally planned for a friend to take her (then her friend’s grandchild came down with chicken pox). NOT a person one wants going into a hospital with you. I was the only good last-minute option.

Then, the hospital said Mom’s surgery would take ONE day. Aaaand she was in the hospital most of the week. But, I was happy to be there for her even though I didn’t sleep for days. I had my phone next to my head just in case the hospital called and there was an emergency or she needed me.

Now, I enjoyed driving my mom to and fro, taking care of her pets and house, making sure to bring her flowers and stock her cabinets with all the post-op food. She’s doing well and recovering, for the record.

Wouldn’t I love someone doing the same for ME? I should. Working on it. I’ll get there…probably. Maybe?

What Are Your Thoughts?

Am I the only one who should probably paper my walls with Post It Notes that read ‘IT IS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP!’ or ‘JUST SAY THANK YOU THEN SHUT UP.’

With everything that’s gone sideways this year, it’s tough to chill. It is what it is. Roll with it. AHHHHHHH! *breathes in paper bag*

Guys, if I were anymore uptight, you could bounce me off a sheet like a quarter.

Thoughts? Feelings? Suggestions? I can’t be the ONLY person like this, so maybe y’all can share the story of a… ‘friend?’ *wink wink* 😉

I love hearing from you, especially now. It’s easy to feel alone in normal times. These days? *whimpers*

All in all I hope, despite all the chaos we can’t control, that y’all have a wonderful, healthy, happy, safe holiday. Lots and lots of love from me! ((((HUGS))))

35 comments

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  1. Perfectionism can be difficult. Here’s what i wrote about how to deal with it:

    The Perfect Enemy

    https://organizeyourworkandlife.com/the-perfect-enemy/?mc_cid=609b4cea4c&mc_eid=0fcfed565e

  2. I love all your posts, but this one especially resonates with me. I felt like you were practically bleeding onto the page. I literally feel your pain because everything you said is true for me too. I don’t have any answers, but I do know that anyone who can be so relentlessly honest is way ahead of most people. You’re awesome!

    1. I am glad you think so because I was having a panic attack writing it. And you aren’t far off base about the bleeding onto the page. But authenticity matters to me. So I’m thrilled you enjoyed it because I now want to live in a blanket fort and hide. But I’m getting better, LOL.

  3. I can relate! Especially about the thing of not wanting to incur obligations to anyone. (Not so much with the getting up at 4am thing. I feel I’m doing well if I’m conscious by 8.)

    However, may I suggest… that if you are going to be obedient to God’s command to love others as you love yourself, you better start being kinder to yourself. Or, you know, harsher to others.

    • Roger Nay on December 21, 2020 at 5:30 pm
    • Reply

    Great seeing a Lamb blog post, I hope your mom is fully recovered. No doubt I attract only a tiny percentage of the compliments you field daily, but like you feel the need to add a qualifier. Earlier today, I texted off and on with a women I’ve known since my twenties, when the Wright brothers and that new fangled powered flight was the rage. She told me, “you’ve always been a good looking and still are.” Woman who have only known me a few years would probably say, “huh?” My reply? “You’re prettier and look years younger than me.” I couldn’t just blush and say thanks that’s sweet, but compliments and nice gestures somehow make me uncomfortable. Calling me low maintenance is an exaggeration, maintenance free is far more accurate. I enjoy your well written and entertaining blog posts and look forward to your self-deprecating remark. Have a nice Christmas, stay healthy.

    • Angela Guajardo on December 21, 2020 at 5:32 pm
    • Reply

    I totally get you. I want to go hide and cry when I need help. I feel like I’m weak, inadequate, a failure, etc if I have to ask for help. I’m adulting wrong if I have to ask for help.

  4. Umm, I have to raise my hand and admit I’m your emotional sibling. I had a eerily similar upbringing, although mine had a slight twist that left me not offering to help as much since I figure nothing I could do would be helpful. I’m the same about asking for help, though. I’m going to go hide now.

  5. Oh, Lord, you just described me. 100%. I am sitting in judgment on my worthlessness when there’s no productivity. I am expecting myself to have done ALL the things this year and in this lifetime. Thank you for sharing your struggle and being so open. I recently read a great piece from Emergence Magazine on the way our consumerism, our commodification of all things art, leaves us all feeling like cogs in the machine and all competing in a scarcity myth. Is it any wonder we judge ourselves for not being as good as an assembly line? An economy of abundance gives me hope. https://emergencemagazine.org/story/the-serviceberry/?fbclid=IwAR2aHl8lGv9b48HCvvwg7XAvBKcNCxfHlpQU5mi3hnqXlikMojRLLtJxWMM

  6. Ugh. I too was raised by a perfectionist. All I ever wanted was a “You did good” that wasn’t followed by “but”. Alas, it was not to be. No matter how hard I fight it, deep down inside, I’m still that little girl. Sigh.

    • Mary Foster on December 21, 2020 at 6:06 pm
    • Reply

    Oh, Kristen, big hugs right back!

    I’m sorry for your prolonged and horribly hideous experience with COVID! More hugs!!

    Of course you’re having a hard time facing the world again. If you’d bounced back shockingly perky and chipper . . . we might wonder. Who can do that? We don’t want our difficulties to be normal, but they are. And however we come through them is also normal. Maybe not pretty, but absolutely 100% normal.

    You might not hear this yet — because it goes against the preprogramming — but you’re not just normal, you’re perfect. Some people work hard night and day to prove they’re worthy, because for some goofball reason they’re convinced they’re not. While others know they’re not worthy and work hard to hide it. They’re afraid someone will see them and magically realize exactly how unworthy they are. The pendulum swings between the two. Most people suffer from some form of the “I’m not perfect” virus, but its symptoms vary widely.

    The thing is, you’re perfect as you are. It’s the ego that tells us otherwise.

    Ted Turner said something funny in a speech he gave at the United Nations years ago: “If God hated us, we wouldn’t be here!” Which is a very backward way of saying that God loves us. And if the Creator loves us, then let’s just go with it.

    Lots and lots of folks love you and wish you well, Kristen. We’ll be here when you need us.

    XXXOOO

    • Julie Carbone on December 21, 2020 at 8:26 pm
    • Reply

    This post is incredible! Thanks so much for your honesty. I mean your dirt raw honesty. Keep doing what you’re doing. Your words resonate with me. Not just this blog but just about all of them have helped or impacted me. Thank you. Wishing you a peace filled Christmas from sunny Adelaide SA to wherever you are in USA.

  7. Thank you for your brutally honest post, Kristen. I know it resonated with a lot of people. It certainly did with me. I love helping other people, but accepting help for myself, or God forbid, admitting that I actually need it, that’s another story. This year, though, has somewhat cured me. It’s just been way too hard to keep that I’ve-got-it-all-together mask firmly in place. So sorry you had such a tough battle with COVID. My husband and I just got over it and are slowly working our way back into our normal activities. 2021’s got to be better, though. I think there will be a bunch of us on New Year’s Eve staying up, not to see the new year in, but to make sure the old one leaves!

    • Mary Blackhurst Hill on December 22, 2020 at 2:28 am
    • Reply

    Oh, I am just so glad I read this today. While I haven’t been writing (because business plus pandemic means working like crazy to keep any kind of income coming in) I haven’t had time to read either.
    I recognise your position; it’s like looking in a mirror. Worse, I recognise it in my daughters. Thank you for writing this. It is harder to be a grateful receiver than a generous giver.
    But, I’ll try.

  8. This has always felt like the opposite side to the “American”/Anglo family/cultural success story… We are not great workers because we like work: we are successful workers because we are manic in our attempt to please the unpleasable and bury the noise of our own insecurities. We have a lot to learn from cultures that value differences and different contributions. We have a lot to self-learn about self-forgiveness… and we need to learn or we do indeed make ourselves sick and remain emotionally vulnerable to the barbs of our own making… (Which means, by the way, that we are ALL your twins! And this was a resonating post!)

    1. That is EXCELLENT insight. I know if I am not busy being productive I feel guilty. It is really hard to just have fun or relax. But, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop and an idle mind is the Devil’s playground.” Not that this negates me being a person of faith, and even GOD rested on the 7th day. But that Protestant work ethic creeps in and whispers…”You know, you could be CLEANING something….”

  9. Thank you for sharing your insights, Kristen. I wasn’t raised by a perfectionist, but somehow perfectionism runs in my veins, and I struggle with that inner critic in everything I do. Luckily, my husband’s genes have counteracted mine in our children! 🙂 I’m so sorry to hear how ill you were earlier this year, and so glad you made it past the worst of it. I hope you will continue to gain strength, even a little, each day. Wishing you health and blessings in 2021.

  10. Your post is so honest, and I can relate, absolutely. Years ago my mother-in-law whom I loved dearly told me that I needed to learn to accept … gifts, help, compliments … with a simple thank you instead of a litany of excuses that made the giver sorry she tried. Such great advice.
    Hope next year is better and you regain your health. I enjoy your posts.

    1. I hear you. And I am so happy this post resonated. I was absolutely terrified to write it but I am glad I did. So at least we know we are not alone. ((HUGS))

  11. I love your honesty, Kristen, and I know it’s not easy to expose what we consider our shortcomings or flaws. But as you already know, facing those fears are the only way to grow. Don’t be so damn hard on yourself, girl! You have given more of yourself to total strangers than most people share with their closest friends. In the process, you have helped thousands to embrace our own flaws and reach for stars in a way that nobody else really understands, at least, that’s how it feels to me. Thanks for being a little bit flawed, for being a woman, for being that girl who’s looking out for everyone else’s best interest. Now take some credit for that and just say, ‘you’re welcome!”

  12. I too was on a treadmill similar to yours. Free will is an illusion, so try as you may, you will keep going as you are until something breaks and lays you low. For me, mental breakdowns and suicide attempts didn’t cause changes. Nearly dying reset me only because it forced a result after an unexpected near-death accident. I hope Covid is the catalyst for your reset . Be of good cheer if not. All creatives are a little nuts–maybe more than a little. Try and not let that bag of nuts you drag around drown you. The world didn’t stop spinning when you did, keep that in mind.

  13. I hear you so loud on this, Kristen! I was a perfectionist for a long time and can identify with the whole, “I have to help others, but I don’t really need help from anyone else” spiel. Then I started doing something I realize I should have done long ago — I started answering “yes” when people offered to help. And they didn’t look at me funny or berate me or condemn me. They smiled, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work.

    I still have a long way to go in learning to let go of stuff and let others handle it, but, honestly, it’s such a relief. That’s the biggest takeaway for me and the biggest motivator for me to keep saying “yes.” The relief I feel when the job gets done and the release of not having to worry about it anymore.

  14. Woah! This post is so relatable to a lot of peeps like me. Lacing the “thanks” with self-doubt, adding a pinch of critique to acceptance of praise is so “me,” and I do accept it comes from trying to please people, to make a show of humility where none is required.

    • Jean Lamb on December 22, 2020 at 11:24 pm
    • Reply

    Talk to me if you need a couple of thousand words or so for a blog post. “So you’ve decided to create a multi-book series. You FOOL! But here’s some tips how to plan things out and remember how old everybody is over more than one book.” Seriously. Just give me a week. 🙂

    • Michelle Meeh on December 23, 2020 at 7:06 pm
    • Reply

    Reading this was like looking in a full-length mirror. I read it aloud to my husband, and he agreed it sounds like someone he knows! Thanks for reminder to receive as well as give both compliments and help. Sometimes letting someone help us or give us encouragement is just as much a gift for them. May your holidays be bright.

  15. Your post really resonated with me on two levels, the outer prompting of giving of yourself so you are never in debt to someone, and not knowing how to accept the grace given unto you. Have you ever read Kody Bateman’s book, “Promptings, Your Inner Guide to Making a Difference”?

    If you haven’t, you may find chapter 7, “Balance between Self and Others,” and chapter 12, “Loosen Your Grip,” may resonate with what you are coping with as well as his metaphorical advice to let go of old tennis balls. Perfectionism is a hefty burden. You do deserve the praise and gratitude you receive. And I thank you from the top to the bottom of my word cloud.

  16. Kristen, I am also someone who couldn’t ever ask for help. A couple of years ago I had a stroke (only minor damage) and I finally started learning what that meant. I had no choice. Now I have learned what I should have learned in the last 71 years. Don’t wait until you reach my age. Having the virus can’t be any fun, but you have pulled through the worst. Yes and Thanks are powerful words. And they don’t hurt.

  17. Kristen. You are not alone. 🙂

  18. Hatcha, that was hard to read. I feel very squirmy now. But thanks for writing this and giving me some perspective. Also it’s very good to hear your voice again. Sometimes with 2020 I realize there’s no going “back”, just going through to some new place. I wonder what I will look like on the other side, and I really hope I love that person.

  19. I used to be a bit more chill about accepting help and being gracious. Then my mom supposedly died of suicide more than five years ago. Talk about messing with a person’s everything. After the grief and anger began to subside a bit, I suddenly became the person who felt the need to save the world, the one thing I couldn’t do for my mom. Largely because we lived 4 states apart when she died. Didn’t matter if someone else wanted it or not. It is still very hard not to be that person, and be at peace with myself. Then last year I returned to writing, which has since led to other crazy projects like an e-commerce author website and doing audio projects like pod casts and audio books. While I like writing for them, audio is completely outside my comfort zone. For the past year & a half, I’ve frequently asked myself where my sanity finally hopped the rails. Then again, I guess surving until at least one’s fifties should be celebrated with kamikaze style self-improvement projects.

  20. Dear Kristin,
    Nearly 3 years ago, God sat me down, as he has done you. For me, it was Follicular Lymphoma. I retired from my job because I had two years of treatment ahead of me, and planned to finish a few novels, relaunch my blog, maybe submit a few picture books. I did none of this because I was too wiped out and instead sank into a deep depression, on top of illness. My favorite word to describe myself was “useless” until my saintly husband forbade me to speak it.
    Like you, I have had to face up to my perfectionism and pride, as well as work-a-holism, fear of failure, and traumatic events from my past that I’d spent too much time trying just to survive instead of deal with. It has been quite a journey, but the Lord has been with me every step. From the very beginning I was certain that the only reason I might die is because God planned it that way. Nothing can just kill me. He’s got control.
    A little song, repurposed from childhood helped me make the adjustment from active to sick–(sung to the tune of “I’m going to sing when the spirit says sing.”)–I’m gonna sit when the spirit says sit…. It brought a smile to my face when I had to do what I didn’t want to do.
    It has been a long journey, but it has also been an amazing one.
    More than anything, I learned about the amazing love of our Lord and his amazing grace.
    I pray this journey into quiet and rest will be this fruitful for you.

  21. I think reciprocity is a concept that is primal for us humans. I was fascinated by your account of needing to accept grace, because my experience in pastoral ministry has caused me to bump up against this constantly. Part of the gospel, or good news, is that God offers the free gift of eternal life, which includes forgiveness from him and a relationship with him. Your statement “Sort of defeats the whole purpose of giving a gift. One doesn’t PAY for a gift because then it’s no longer a GIFT” sums it all up, what I want to often shout at people. We think we have to do something to earn it, when he offers it for free. That’s the whole idea behind the sacrificial system in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and the cross of Christ in the Christian scriptures (New Testament). Someone else earned it and paid for it for us. It is PRIDE if we then think we can or should try to be good enough to earn favor with God. I think you’ve hit on something both cosmic and very personal.

  22. I can relate to this so much it was actually a little uncanny–like looking around going “Okay, who was it? Fess up…Who shared all those supposed-to-be-secret things about me?” Only to realise I was talking to myself again.
    In fact, this is so much a part of me that I’m working on a novel with a main character who decided to have this exact problem and it is driving her plot-mates bonkers (and of course, seriously driving some of the plot). Thank you for sharing this and describing it so very well! <3

  23. Hi Kristen, I can relate to this far more than is probably healthy. I’ve been on both sides of that fence – growing up in an environment where the focus was always on that glaring imperfection, not the 99 other things that went well. No doubt from a place of love and wanting to help me improve. And I’ve had to unlearn all that and learn when critical feedback – however well-meaning – is simply not appropriate. And I am deeply uncomfortable receiving any kind of praise.

    Anywhooo, I hope things are better in your world these days. 2020 was a shit show for sure. But I see this post is over a month old and I hope the long silence means you are taking time out to look after yourself. Take care!

  24. Thank-you for this! We all need to be kinder to ourselves. We are all doing our best.
    https://risingsunrisingmoon.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-suns-lament-to-moon.html

  25. Kristen, I’m catching up on some reading and this post could have been written by and/or about me! I had a total knee replacement (TKR) in November and *HATED* being dependent on my husband for *everything*. Worst of all was not being able to drive myself anywhere. (I’m glad I had this done during COVID!) Less than three months after my surgery, I was done with physical therapy. But that knee still tires more easily and I need to take breaks. Asking for help is the hardest thing for me to do.

    I’m ‘back to work’ now and trying to meet a personal deadline — which means I need to make an effort to ask for help, if I need it. We’ll see how I do. 😛

    Anne

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