Well, last night I experienced quite the emotional rollercoaster. Without going into too many uninteresting details, I turned in a small assignment for a philosophy class and thought I got a negative or dismissive response to my work from the professor. While I had felt good about what I submitted, even starting to feel like I might be able to do this graduate philosophy thing, the response wiped out every ounce of self-confidence and hope that I had so carefully and deliberately built up over the last few months.
I cried. And I couldn’t stop crying. All my self-doubts and questions about my value and worth came rushing to the surface and I was at a loss to answer them in a way that didn’t leave me more depressed and hopeless about my ability to pursue this driving passion of my life. I could not shake my feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Then, a mere 30 minutes later, I found out that I misinterpreted the response. My work wasn’t dismissed, wasn’t marked as “not good enough.” I just didn’t know all the details about how the professor was marking the homework.
I wish I could say that I bounced back immediately. After all, I got information that directly contradicted my initial emotional response! Shouldn’t this new information restore my self-confidence back to earlier, hard-won levels?
Unfortunately, no. I felt better, sure. I stopped crying and stopped spiraling down from self-doubt into self-loathing. But the vestiges of those feelings and beliefs of my worthlessness lingered. I think the episode actually strengthened my doubt. My beliefs corrected, but my doubts-in-the-face-of-belief remained and were reinforced a bit by that swing. How can I ever feel certain of my worth in this area when I am that prone to spirals of self-criticism?
I realized last night just how big this weakness of mine is. I fully embrace and internalize all messages of my incompetence as if they are be default reflective of something true about me. I do it quickly, unthinkingly, instinctively. I really want to have a more resilient sense of self and sense of self-confidence so that little episodes like last night don’t throw me so intensely. I don’t really know how to do that, but I’m going to think about it and try to work on it. I don’t think my extreme self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness are coming from something true, not are they reflective of the real situation. I’d like to believe that more strongly, without losing my willingness to humble myself and my willingness to be shown to be wrong or deficient in some areas of life.
What a balancing act the mental life is.