My job is to listen, and as I listen to fellow artists, mentees and colleagues I am shocked by the frequency of negative things they say to or about themselves. In fact there is a brutality and cruelness in the language that is a concern. What's that? Do I do it too? well... yea.... but that’s different right?
Minimising achievements (maximising blame), not accepting credit, banter, jovially putting myself down, self-deprecation, being "grounded", keeping it real ...... Maybe its because i'm British? Maybe its because I'm from the Black Country. Whats that? You want me to be show off! Be a big head?
I grew up as a young artist with fairly constant jokes about being a “Painter and Decorator” and a “Piss artist”. #Bants. As a defence I learned to make those jokes before anyone else got the chance. Often there was an implication that I had ideas above my station. Just to show the levels of friendly banter and ignorance I was up against my old school mates after hearing I was going to university to study painting called me “The Thespian” Yes, really.. and yes it was a bit funny!
As time went by though I picked up more bad habits and my dialogue with myself. These are like woodworm. The create small but permanent damage from the inside that only becomes visible years later.
I was eventually woken to just how bad things had got when a usually mild mannered and patient friend exclaimed mid conversation “Will you just stop doing that!” “doing what?” replied. “Saying that negative stuff about yourself. It’s really damaging, untrue and every time you do it, it leaves a scar “I think this was made more impactful that it came from a male friend and to hear such a heartfelt plea really landed.
“I always get that wrong”, “ I never finish things”, “I’ll probably mess that up” “that’s typical of me !” " I was just lucky" "I'm stupid really" etc etc and much worse.
Even if we just take those that are in a work context, ask yourself, would you ever speak to someone who worked for you in that way?
When talking about this phenomena with my friend and fellow consultant Helga Henry, she observes that, when this behaviour is flagged often the response goes something like “ Well! What do you suggest that I go round being arrogant or big headed??”
We are prone to swing to the opposite end of an extreme,
"OFTEN AS A WAY OF DEFENDING OUR CURRENT HABITS AND RESIST THE MORE NUANCED WORK OF BEING GENUINELY PROUD OF OUR ACHIEVEMENTS (AND HONEST ABOUT WHAT NEEDS WORK)." HH.
Of course that is not what I would advocate.
We are prone to swing to the opposite end of an extreme. Of course that is not what I would advocate. Mentoring can help here as having a relative outsider come in and hear things with a fresh perspective and mirror that back to is powerful.
Maybe just start with being self aware? And ask yourself a key question when you catch yourself saying these things.
Is that really true?