Friday, August 20, 2010

Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?

I took a personality test a few weeks ago and was rewarded with a 30 page long in-depth assessment detailing 15 different dimensions of just what this Sara person is all about.  This is not the first time I’ve been exposed to one of these personality inventory tools, and with exception, every time I’ve taken a similar test (Cosmo quizzes about your flirting style and “Which twilight character are you?” viral web tests don’t count.  But FYI, I’m a Jacob.) I find myself flabbergasted at just how accurate the findings are.  There are days when I can’t seem to take what’s pinging around my skull and form it into a coherent set of thoughts in 1000+ words (and for proof, I offer the last, oh, 90 or so entries below), but 45 minutes of yes/no answers, multiple choice questions, and rating various characteristics on a scale of “very much like me” to “not at all like me” appears to be adequate time to have me analyzed, pegged, printed, and spit out.

Flipping through the results (read: poring over the pages and highlighting particular passages in two separate colors, one for items that resonated with me for their accuracy, and another for the things that were totally true but not terribly comfortable to read—then adding a third color for things I want to bring up in therapy. Yep. Sell crazy somewhere else, we’re all stocked up here.) I found myself flattered by some things I knew to be true, enlightened by a few things I realized were true after I read them, and moved to action by a particularly accurate passage.  In the section that explores the impact that our words have on those around us, my report had this to say:

“You've learned over time to speak kindly. You find the right word to let your friends or your partner or even strangers know the best things you feel or believe about them. You have opinions, of course, and you hold strong beliefs, but the first thing out of your mouth in response to what someone says is not a contradiction to or a complaint about what they've said. You find a compliment either for what they've said or how they've said it, and you mean what you say. It may not be the whole truth but it's the truth that matters to you between you and the person in front of you.”

That rings true to me.  I believe that in nearly every situation in life we can choose to be kind, and that all too often the phrase “I’m just being honest” is code for “I can say any jackass thing I want because I deem it to be true”.  I will call a spade a spade (or a douche bag a douche bag, as the case may be) when appropriate, but I will also be truthful without being an ass about it.  For instance, I will never tell anyone they have an ugly baby.  The appropriate response to “isn’t she adorable?” is never “My God, if that showed up at my bedside in the middle of the night asking for a drink I’d fling holy water at it!”  The correct response to that question is “She’s so sweet, you must be so proud!” The choice to be kind and still be authentic is one that I’ve worked to make whenever possible in my life.  So that’s why I caught my breath a little when I went on to read this:

”Hopefully you are as kind toward yourself as you are toward others; hopefully your inner dialogue with yourself is as laced with positives as are your conversations with those you love. This may be an issue. Some people speak kindly and believe what they say about others, but their kindness toward others comes in part as a comparison with their more hostile feelings about themselves. You may want to check this out. There's an easy test: do you use the same vocabulary toward yourself that you use toward others? If not, why not?”

That was truth all right. Kindly stated, no less.  When I take that test, I fail.  Miserably.  Compassion for others is a trait that comes naturally to me, the impulse toward kindness isn’t an affectation, it is a part of who I am.  I can’t imagine meeting anyone on the street and looking them up and down and declaring them disgusting, or ugly, or unlovable, or pathetic.  But I’ve stared into the eyes of my reflection and thought all of those things and worse.  I can give just about anyone a break for behavior that makes the rest of the world cringe because I believe that it’s unfair to permanently judge otherwise good people by their worst moments, yet I will replay my own moments of shame on a giant drive-in screen in my head and judge myself harshly for them long after the moment has passed.

For most of my life, I’ve bought into those things that so much of the world still believes go hand in hand with obesity.  Fat people are undisciplined, they’re weak—and as a result they are disgusting, unattractive, and pathetic.  When I step back and look objectively, I realize that I am NONE of those things.  It’s time for me to take the golden rule, flip it on it’s ear, and start treating myself the way I treat others.  I’ve been practicing this lately, and while I’m no Stuart Smalley yet, it’s getting easier to look myself in the eye and realize that I like what I see.

Do you use the same vocabulary toward yourself that you use toward others?  If not, why not?

Do tell…


  1. I'm quite certain I am harder on myself than other people. I expect more and understand my own motivations more, so I think that makes me less tolerant.

    I think a healthy balance of self-criticism is helpful. But just like food. A balance is the key.

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  3. Much harder on myself than I am on others. Maybe, like "Fat Daddy" said it has something to do with understanding my own motivations. I'll have to chew on that a bit. If that is true and the self-criticism is justified by the motivations, then maybe I need to be harder on others rather than being "softer" on myself............unless I am the only one with less-than-admirable motivations. LOL!!

    Lots of things to think on here......................