Inner Critic Points a Finger: Fearful, Fake Adulting

I am full of fears and personal hurdles that get in my way of being a competent adult. I have recently (re)acknowledged this about myself. I was in denial for some time, but moving into the new house gave me space to examine this aspect of myself more honestly. Maybe I can be better?

Unfortunately, my Inner Critic is very noisy and gives me all kinds of awful feedback. Sometimes I think his mean comments need to come to light. So here we go…

INNER CRITIC POINTS A FINGER: You are fearful and childish. At best, you are faking being an adult.

Actually, that’s not entirely wrong. I have fears, not to mention anxiety. And I struggle in a lot of ways with being a capable person. Lately, I feel like I am collapsing into a safe little shell.

I am quite lonely and at the same time, I am a loner. My mother was this way, too and had funny stories to tell about her revelation, after we moved to rural Pennsylvania, that she wasn’t as much of a loner as she thought.

INNER CRITIC POINTS A FINGER: Proper adults have friendships. You are not a good person without a big circle of supportive, true friends.

I have spent most of my life feeling socially awkward. In school, I was fearful that people wouldn’t like me and so I judged folks for their flaws and differences because that is safer than feeling judged myself, and way easier than extending compassion. I envied successful, popular, beautiful people – all being traits I did not have. I spent much of my life afraid of being betrayed or abandoned in friendships and so didn’t form them often.

Growing up, people thought I was shy. But I’m not afraid to get up on stage, to teach children or adults, to lead groups. Being on display is fine when I have some control over the audience and a shallow connection to them.

I have friends – really close good ones. But not too many. I am uncomfortable in social groups larger than half a dozen. My attention gets distracted; I hear all the conversations at once. It takes a great deal of concentration to attend a party. I have gotten so much better, but mainly only if I host the event.

INNER CRITIC POINTS A FINGER: Fake friend! A person in charge is not a friend.

Another place where I have a lot of fear is my body. In later life (now!) I hesitate to move in ways that make my heart pain me – which could be any sort of movement; it’s a roll of the dice whether or not it will get stabby or heavy. I’ve always alternately feared physical risks and recklessly engaged in stupid stuff like climbing rickety ladders with sharp tools in hand. Growing up, I was extremely aware of my physical limitations. I only participated in activities when I was sure I wouldn’t get hurt. So no sports for me. Definitely no team sports – risk of injury combined with group activity? Way too scary.

INNER CRITIC POINTS A FINGER: Scaredy-cat. Your fear is limiting your body’s health and wellness.

To be fair to myself and to counter the Inner Critic, I went through almost a decade when I had my physical and social fears under control. Or maybe they were expressed differently. It was scary to be in a circus, but hell, I was in a circus! Cool. And I bonded, at least temporarily, with my fellow circus members. It was scary to perform in front of large crowds (or any number of teenagers) but I did it every time. These stage-fright fears were big but also associated with Big Things. I traveled around the world on my own for seven weeks. That was pretty frightening sometimes, but also extremely rewarding.

INNER CRITIC POINTS A FINGER: “Fake it ’til you make it” was your mantra back then, wasn’t it?

But that era of my life is well over and nowadays I am afraid of mundane things, like driving, taking a bath, and conversing in Japanese. These frightening tasks add shame to fear because they are so dull and expected to be accomplished without effort. Trying to do things that normal people do is sometimes overwhelming. I mean, who is scared of taking a bath?

INNER CRITIC SAYS: No normal adult is afraid of baths. WTF?

Baths unnerve me because I am afraid of dying from my heart being overtaxed in the heat, or passing out and falling into the tub like I did once in 1999. That experience causes me to hesitate every time I take a bath. But I overcame my fear last night and drew myself a bath as the final effort in a day full of doing scary things.

Because in the morning, I had a good reason to overcome my fear of driving: I took a friend to the hospital in town. I parked in the multi-level parking garage. Parking garages haunt my nightmares – one of my recurring dreams takes place in one. The garage was the nearest entrance for getting into the clinic, so I did it. The Cow was a little crooked in her stall, but I got her in between the lines. And nobody came out to chase me into the dark.

A few hours later, I navigated the car out of the garage, down the road to the shopping center, and filled the tank (167 yen/liter at J-Quest). I even took the Cow through the carwash. I got money out of an ATM that was not associated with my bank – it took two different cards, but I did it. Used the money to buy groceries. I felt triumphant, and then sheepish that I was excited to have done these simple things.

INNER CRITC POINTS A FINGER: Real grown-ups don’t get scared to drive and run errands. Get a grip and stop congratulating yourself for the most basic of tasks.

Through all of this, I was interacting in my second language… and finding ways to avoid speaking it. I stumble through conversations with my limited vocabulary and clumsy grammar. I am never sure if what I say makes sense – judging by the polite bewilderment in people’s eyes, I think I do rather poorly. On good days, I care less and speak more. On scary days, I clam up and find ways to avoid talking. I clammed up, mostly, yesterday.

One of my biggest fears is growing old, losing Tod, and winding up alone in a nursing home with a brain that doesn’t work well and no way to communicate. Almost all my fears funnel into this one.

INNER CRITIC PREDICTS: Yep, you are headed directly to a mute existence without support. Better get ready for that.

Ouch.

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I unpacked the groceries and laughed at myself when I saw what I had purchased: hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried chicken. To be honest, the hot dogs are actually lemon and parsley sausages and the chicken is pre-crumbed chicken pieces to pan fry, but still. Hello, 12 year old Kristen.

Inner Critic might be right, I really am a Fearful, Fake Adult. But I’m a pretty good 12 year old!

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures.