My career requires that I write…a lot. I absolutely love writing, but at the same time I struggle with it. Whenever I write in my journal or express my thoughts in a space where I assume no one will read it, I’m able to fully let go and it feels amazing. If too many days pass by without me writing something, I don’t feel right.
By using letters to form words that grow into sentences and expand into paragraphs, I’m able to declutter my mind and actually make sense of things that didn’t quite make sense before. It almost feels like a cleansing. But when I know other people will read my writing and possibly judge me, it stresses me the fuck out! The fact that I’m an INFJ (according to the Myers-Briggs type indicator) who is already predisposed to grappling with issues of perfectionism certainly hasn’t helped matters. Since my income and livelihood are dependent on my ability to put pen to paper or rather type out letters on a keyword, you can see why this is a dilemma.
Usually, when I have an assignment, I end up putting it off and wait until the last minute to finally complete it. I keep convincing myself that I have more time until it finally gets to the point when I have to start writing in order to meet the deadline. It’s like the threat of the deadline pushes me past my fear of writing something shitty or the fear not being able to satisfy the other person’s expectations. The fact that I’m not well-organized and don’t complete my writing assignments days in advance has always been a source of embarrassment for me.
I recently reached a breaking point and confided in a friend. She stated that my fear and stress related to writing is probably connected to being beat as a child whenever any of my homework wasn’t done perfectly. After she said that, I thought, “oh, shit!” When I was a child, my mom spanked me and yelled at me if my homework didn’t meet her standards. I couldn’t just erase my mistakes. If I made a single error, I had to start all over. There were nights when I rewrote my homework 9 or 10 times before it looked acceptable in her eyes. According to my friend, on a subconscious level I still believe that whenever I write something subject to being critiqued, there is a fear that I will possibly be physically harmed.
As soon as she said that, this is how I felt:
Like many people who’ve experienced childhood abuse and trauma, I still have a difficult time seeing the numerous ways those events affect my life on a daily basis…until someone shines a light on it. It dawned on me how much time I’ve spent over the years procrastinating before I started writing book reports, papers, blog posts, articles, and every other type of writing assignment throughout high school, college, graduate school and in my professional career.
On an intellectual level, I knew the overwhelming fear of criticism that always crept up didn’t make any sense and was totally irrational. I really couldn’t understand my own behavior. I was on autopilot stuck in avoidance and procrastination mode until it finally reached that time when I had to get the work done. But on an emotional level, my behavior makes complete sense. Of course I would want to avoid doing a task that could potentially lead to me being physically harmed if it wasn’t considered good enough in the eyes of the person judging my work. At least that is how my subconscious sees it – the part of me that controls the steering wheel.
In the African American community, hitting your child is an acceptable form of discipline. Hopefully, that mindset is starting to change, but when I was a child, spanking your kid was considered the norm. My mom spanked me, her mother spanked her, and my grandparents were also spanked as children. The pathology of abuse was passed down from generation to generation.
I always knew that being hit as a child definitely damaged my self-esteem. I’ve talked to my mom a few times about how badly I was hurt by getting hit. The physical wounds healed years ago, but the psychological wounds still exist. She validated my feelings and stated she had no idea that I was holding on to the pain for so long. She said that if she had known much pain hitting me was going to cause, she wouldn’t have done it. She was just raising me the same way that she was raised and never questioned it.
I’m still in the process of healing those wounds, but knowing that my issues with writing are related to the childhood physical abuse is a relief and has brought me a lot of clarity. Now that I know what the problem is and why I act the way I do, I can finally address it.