Dear Elderly Aunt: Like everyone, I’m sure, this last year has kind of warped my mind. Not being able to go many places has not only made me feel trapped, but it’s like it magnifies all the mistakes I make. I find myself at night scrutinizing everything I said to my children that day, how I handled each situation (especially those I handled poorly), and ruminating over every mistake I made (big or small) at work and at home. Was I that hard on myself before all this? I don’t recall that. Maybe I was and I just don’t remember how it felt before all this pandemic madness. What advice do you have or what advice have you relied on in your life to keep yourself grounded and cut yourself slack for being human?
– Needing a little reassurance
Ah yes, the unbearable loop-tape of self-assessment that cranks up in our heads when we don’t have our customary contact with the outside world. Over the course of this last year, the Elderly Aunt has come to realize we can all Zoom till the cows come home, but screen time will never be as effective as a good gad-about would be at refocusing our attention outside the confines of our own heads.
So what to do when we find ourselves mentally mired in self-criticism?
The Elderly Aunt suggests you start off by asking yourself if there was a hyper-critical authority figure stomping through your childhood who constantly battered your self-esteem? If so, then the Elderly Aunt suggests you stand tall, adopt an imperious glare, and say in a loud and commanding voice, “You—insert name—are not the boss of me anymore!” And then repeat this process anytime that voice dares so much as whisper inside your head.
About self-critical rumination in general, the Elderly Aunt has observed that many of us (including herself briefly at one long-ago point) have been conditioned to dwell on our mistakes and dismiss our successes. In her opinion, this is exactly the kind of conditioned flapdoodle that condemns us to spend time in our own personal Slough of Despond. Sure, we tell ourselves, other people may be okay, but I’m not and never will be.
The Elderly Aunt has a simple suggestion about how to climb out of this particular mental cesspool—re-embrace your personal strengths. Start by listing them. Writing them down! Preferably with bullet points! By all means ask your partner and your closest friends for suggestions, as those who care about us may be more comfortable acknowledging our good points than we are.
Once your list is complete, post it over the sink in your bathroom so you will be forced to read it every time you wash your hands. And don’t you dare tell yourself that your strengths don’t amount to a hill of beans simply because they’re your strengths. Embrace them as the glory of you!
As for the paltry number of weaknesses that you—along with the rest of us—have, will you stop with your pointless expectations of personal perfection! Experience has taught the Elderly Aunt that acknowledging her (very few) character failings is the best defense against letting them control her behavior. For example, she’s a bit of a pepper pot who is almost always irritated at someone, but her awareness of this fact keeps her from losing her temper. For the most part, anyway. She feels what she feels, but so what? It’s how she acts that matters.
Lastly—while offering you a virtual plate of her best chocolate chippers as comfort food—the Elderly Aunt suggests you take a deep breath, lighten up and stop taking yourself so seriously.
The truth is that the Elderly Aunt feels trapped, you feel trapped, we all feel trapped by Covid-19. It’s been an astonishingly trying year, and it’s no wonder that we’re all a bit worn down in the coping department. So join the Elderly Aunt in applauding you, dear reader, along with herself and everyone else who has had the pluck to keep on keeping on!
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”
Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).