Becoming aware of the neurotic mind and overwriting it for a happier self

Let’s imagine that you grow up in an environment where your parents engaged in negative self-talk in front of you, self-punishing behaviours, call you stupid or brainless when you do something wrong, or continue bring up the past mistakes you made every time they are not happy about something you did today.

Then as you got older, you engaged in similar activities without being consciously aware of what you did.

And that’s all because of nurture. After all, you were just a child and your only true role models are your parents. Even when you have friends, they won’t be there to influence your life every hour of your life. So you will just learn that what your parents do is normal, therefore correct.

As a result, you don’t question all these learned behaviours. Until someone pointed them out or came to realise it one day because of what you’ve read or heard people talk about.

And you know what?

Those activities I mentioned earlier actually examples of being neurotic. And it actually leads to poor quality of life. You are never happy. And it can actually contribute to the development of “perfectionism mindset” in a person.

I know because that’s the kind of environment I grew up in. I seek perfection in my work. Was never happy, constantly depressed. Hated the world. And it was during my research to understand myself better that I came upon various psychology articles and essays about being neurotic and the neuroticism personality traits. It was then I realised I’ve got a problem.

So over the past few months, I have actually pushed myself to engage in self-compassion and self-care. It was hard at first since it was unnatural for me. But if you keep doing it,  practising those skills for a while, it’ll become easier. Just like training yourself to be able to lift certain weights or to run a marathon.

And it took me a while before I was able to catch myself before I engage in such behaviours. And these days, I can see my mind doing all the weird negative self-talks and punishment-type thinkings. But I will myself not to act on them. I simply acknowledge those thoughts and then push myself to focus on the present. Because at the end of it, you can’t control the events that happened but you can control how you react or respond to those events.

So I actually feel happier compared to when I was in my early twenties and late teens. I also recognised it’s still a work in progress because those negative thinkings and self-talks hadn’t been completely eliminated from my mind.

The other thing that I also realise is, I was actually able to focus more of my attention to creating the kind of life I want because my mind isn’t cluttered with all those bad thoughts. With that, the friction to complete the micro-goals that will put my closer to my destination is much lesser.

Growing up feeling inadequate makes you a miserable person

When you don’t have that confidence in what you do, or when you constantly compare yourself with others, you will always feel inadequate. Allow that feeling to go on long enough, you will start to resent your life. This is also how you will develop anxiety disorder and subsequently depression.

I’m speaking from my own personal experience. During my growing up years, adults ranging from my school teachers to my relatives always questioned my abilities to make it in life because of my failures in some things. When I make a mistakes, they would berate me and call me stupid. Or they would find ways and means to twist the situation to make you feel like you are the worse thing in the world.

I still remember the time when I found myself ranked fifth during my fifth year, also my final year, in secondary school amongst 80 students. My aunt was with me to pick up the result sheet and have a talk to my form teacher. On the way home, she commented that, “Looking at your current score of only two As and so many Bs and Cs, you ranking fifth means your cohort of 80 students aren’t the brightest. So your score isn’t that good.”

Being at a rebellious age, I did get quite pissed at her and countered, “At least I got fifth and didn’t fail any subjects.”

All she did was to give me a shrug and a contemptuous yeah.

And in an asian culture—specifically Chinese ones, parents beating their kids for mistakes they made are common. Poor score on your result card, you get spanking. Teachers call up your parents complaining about you making some silly mistake at school, you get spanking. You fail to come home on time or play too much, you get spanking. There could easily be countless reasons why an asian parent will spank his or her kid. I get my fair share.

So when such a thing enter your life from a young age and continue until you reach your teenage years, it’s very easy to internalize it. Before you know it, your self-esteem is gone and you grow up thinking it’s perfectly ok to keep criticizing yourself when you make a mistake. After all, people have been telling you in your face that you are stupid and that’s why you make mistakes. If you are smart, you won’t have this kind of score. If you are smart, you should have been this or that.

So that’s what I did as I got older. I treat myself so harshly that I did contemplate maybe I’m better off dead. So that means I never was once happy during my early teenage years because I constantly fail to meet expectations.

It was only during my three year stint at a polytechnic getting a Diploma in Information Technology that I found something I’m truly good at. I can code better than most people. I could grasp technical concept faster and even found myself teaching my friends. But there were times when I do feel like a failure if I didn’t get the result I wanted. Yet overall, I would say I felt slightly happier.

Then came the mandatory two year conscription service. After that, it was a three year stint at a local university where I studied Computer Science. Because I didn’t keep myself abreast of what’s happening in the technology world nor practice programming, I found myself feeling miserable during those three years. I feel inadequate again. And instead of finding ways to improve my results, I simply let it be and resented myself for not achieving at least a CGPA of at least 4 out of 5. I thought, yeah, I’m stupid and that’s why I only get that kind of grades.

After graduating, I found my first full time job and the same thing happened over and over again. Every mistakes I made I scold myself, blame myself and forget all about self-care or acknowledging that I am only human.

By my third year as a member of the working class, I completely lost my way, feeling anxious, and depressed. A big contributing factor was poor cultural fit at my new company. I didn’t know I was a highly-sensitive person and don’t do well under stress. My self-awareness was suddenly gone. It all became me trying to meet everybody’s expectation and I no longer know what I wanted to do with my life anymore.

It took me a while to realize I am suffering from depression and decided to take control over my life again. I went to see a psychologist, then a psychiatrist for deeper diagnostics, and took a one long month break. I used that time to rediscover myself and figure out what I want to do actually.

Now I’m happier than I ever was but I’m not saying I’m completely above that self-critical nature. I still blame myself rather harshly for poor viewership of my writings but I pick myself up faster and earlier rather than let myself stay on the ground for very long. Because I finally acknowledged that making mistakes, as long as those mistakes don’t kill or hurt anyone seriously enough, is only human. It’s part of the experience. One should learn from it and then do it better next time. I have also learnt to stop comparing to another person because everyone leads a different life, have different personality and want different thing.

I for one wants a unbusy life, surrounded by friends and my family, have meals with them, play video games, watch movies or shows, and publish at least one fiction novel during my life time. Everything else is really just superfluous. Once you establish what you want and proceed to do the things necessary to achieve your goals, you will stop feeling inadequate.

*** This post is also published here on Medium

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash