I met Al in college. He was awkward, clumsy, ugly and small. His mannerisms labelled him – loser. He had a sharp wit but that didn’t seem to matter. Al was an outcast.
I’m not sure of the reasons but a few of us decided to use Al for an experiment. We had heard a speaker talk about loving the unlovely so we decided, with somewhat dubious motivation, to use Al as our guinea pig. A sows ear to a silk purse…
So in typical Pygmalion fashion we began to convince Al, and everyone around him, that he was a winner. We told him he was good looking. we had pretty girls flirt with him. At the college sporting event we started a cheer – “Al, Al, Al”. It wasn’t long before the entire stadium was yelling his name. He ate it up. He became our team mascot, then our school mascot; our own personal Gurgi (from The Chronicles of Prydain, if you haven’t read it to your kids, why not?).
Something started to happen.
It wasn’t long before Al began to look different to us. I wasn’t sure if it was his dress or his manner but he had changed, and continued to change. It wasn’t that he became more like the rest of us, more like society. Al became more “Al” like. He realized that in spite of the media, in spite of all his previous experience, he was obviously good-looking – everyone was telling him so. Apparently he had a good body as well. He was popular, though he probably didn’t understand why.
And Al started to blossom.
It wasn’t long before Al really was cool, very cool in fact. He was hilarious, witty, engaging, even gregarious. He started to approach girls. A few didn’t turn him down. At sporting events he ran the crowd. It wasn’t long before our little Pygmalion was indeed the most popular guy at the college.
Mental health professionals tell us that our self-image is largely determined by the attitudes of those closest to us. If our friends think we are ugly we soon believe them. If they think we are amazing then this too will define us. It is for this reason that I have always insisted that my boys are winners, beautiful, talented, and incredibly humble. just like their dad.
So many of us have been belittled by spouses or friends so long that we have come to believe we are ugly, or stupid, or unlovable. Some of us have been in abusive relationships with someone who reminded us, often in subtle ways, that we are losers. For some reason our self-esteem has been ruined. We no longer think of ourselves as winners, as valuable. We have lost our “Al-ness”. We have succumbed to the inner and outer voices that demean and negate. There are probably people in your life who find their self-esteem from making you feel like less. They need to hurt you to feel good about themselves.
And some of them are closer than we realize.
I have that inner voice that reminds me of my failures and has a list of the ways I fail to measure up. You probably don’t need to tell me my faults, I have a complete index of my mistakes, most of us do. It is easy, the older we grow, to forget that we once loved ourselves, were once allowed to share our “Al-ness” without ridicule. Most of us have become so fearful of sounding arrogant that we can barely remember how special we are, or at least were.
A little Al can go a long way. You just need someone to believe in you.
Stop listening to your critics, especially if that voice sounds an awful lot like yours…
- One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others (scott-williams.ca)
- Why Sarah Cuts. (The ugly side of low self-esteem) (dr-carol.com)
7 thoughts on “Listening To Your Critics”
I just think it would be odd to say “Thanks” on my blog without notifying you… Also, don’t worry. I guess I’ll stop bothering you from now on. It may be hard to understand but it really helped me a lot that you published my weird comment. For reasons. Thank you. http://wp.me/s2sdiQ-zero (You’re free not to publish that one if you don’t want to.. but why am I even saying that? It’s your blog. Not mine!) 🙂
it was weird, i was just reading your blog was thinking, “is she talking about me”. Glad you had a chance to make a difference in some lives.
Interesting post (and comments)! No doubt we are our own worst enemies………wonder what Al is up to now.
I couldn’t resist. Sorry. How about that version of your story? Maybe you should have written something more realistic:
I met Juliet in high school. She was awkward, shy, ugly and fat. Her mannerisms labelled her – loser. She was smart but that didn’t seem to matter. Juliet was an outcast.
I’m not sure of the reasons but a few of us decided to (ab)use Juliet for an experiment. We had heard a speaker talk about pushing outcasts to suicide. So we decided to try that out.
So in typical Pygmalion fashion we began to convince Juliet, and everyone around her, that she was the most disgusting person on the planet. We told her that she was a piece of shit and we had other classmates screw her up as well. We started calling her nasty nicknames. It wasn’t long before the entire class was using these names. She ate it up. She became our scapegoat, then our toy; and our own personal victim.
Something started to happen.
It wasn’t long before Juliet’s world started to fall apart. I wasn’t sure if it was her dress or her manner but she had changed, and continued to change. It wasn’t that she became more like the rest of us, more like society. Juliet became more “Juliet” like. She realized that in spite of the media, in spite of all her previous experience, she was obviously disgusting and dumb – everyone was telling her so. Apparently she had an awful face as well. She was unpopular, though she probably didn’t understand why. Till she started believing we were right.
And Juliet started to rot. Inside.
It wasn’t long before Juliet really was awkward, very awkward in fact. She stopped reading, she stopped speaking, she stopped living. Luckily, she also stopped feeling. She started disappearing. Whenever we closed in on her she dissociated and afterwards, at home, she spent her entire leisure time in bed, staring at the wall or sitting under her desk or in her wardrobe. Her grades dropped and she didn’t leave the house anymore (because she lived in a small town where everyone meets everyone every day and having to face us after school would have been too much for her to take).
Juliet failed the year and everyone thought she was dumb although she had always been thought to be so smart. But failing meant that she got new classmates and they didn’t treat her like shit. Still, Juliet didn’t trust anyone anymore. When she graduated (top of her new class), she left her hometown to move far away and to study at a university where no one would know her and her past. Turns out, no one, not even smart Juliet can run from the past.
Now she is pursuing a degree she always wanted to pursue. But she still is convinced that she is a piece of shit; no matter that she’s actually made some friends and is more or less successful with her studies. Even though Juliet’s friends trust her, Juliet doesn’t trust them, not really. And there are still days where she cannot believe that it’s over and these people (us) from her past are gone.
Juliet hasn’t killed herself. Our experiment failed. But I guess there are worse things than being dead and twenty-two. Namely, being dead on the inside and twenty-two. For you can only kill yourself if you aren’t already somewhat dead.
But Juliet is such a bitch. She just doesn’t give up although she is mostly dead on the inside. She sees her friends, goes out, works, studies, even sees her therapist (needless to say she doesn’t trust him either)… but I guess her nightmares and triggers will eventually accomplish the mission we wanted to accomplish. Who knows?
I’m sorry. But I just had to write this. Your post really bugged me. And I know you’re a therapist, so you can guess the rest behind Juliet’s story. Your post bugged me because you guys set out to change Al’s life – in a good way though (if it is a true story). But it’s kind of ruthless, I think, to use someone for an experiment and you know that anyway. Here endeth the sermon though 😉
I’m tempted to ask you not to publish this comment or delete it… but I don’t care. Do whatever you want to do with it.
I’m sorry if you’re pissed now. I never meant to offend you.
It’s just… Juliet is sometimes still hurting so much …
Your post didn’t ask for such a fucked up story. But I felt the urge to write it down anyway.
yes sir…truly agree with you…this wouldnt happen if we stop listening what others have to say about us….and only listen what we think about ourself….that is the most imp thing….to love yourself is very difficult for some people because their concious mind always find falts in them….rather than doing that one should find good qualities in themselves……and believe me there are always there…..people just get blinded by self – hatred…..many peolple complaint about their body or hair or teeth….etc etc…..but one can truly blossom like Al….when one starts showing respect and love for onself…..because Al dint became cool because others were saying so……he started to become cool because he believed all the good things others had to say…..he started to believe in himself !
Very very relevant post!
I think this thought should get into each and every one that self -image has got lot to do….
Critique/review/comment my flash fiction in the LINK please
Balance in Al things! Too much praise can turn you into a horrible person (witness certain celebrity flip-outs and ego’s).
Perhaps one of the reasons for the apparent increase in mental health problems (although this may be a myth caused by over-diagnosis of previously acceptable states) is that we are social creatures, defined primarily by and through our relationships with others, living in an increasingly individualistic culture?