Aging Out Of Our Insecurities (Or Not)

style blogger Susan B of une femme d'un certain age takes a break at a sidewalk cafe in Paris

Older And Mellower?

“With age comes wisdom,” or so we’re told. I don’t know about wisdom, but one of the pleasures and privileges of reaching a certain age is realizing that a lot of stuff that we thought was SO important when we were younger really isn’t. We were raised with so many conflicting sets of rules and expectations about what women were “supposed” to be. And those rules and expectations seemed to change every few years or so.

So what a relief it can be to wake up one day and realize that the world isn’t going to come crashing down if the towels aren’t folded just so, or we didn’t make someone’s Top 10 list in our field, or we didn’t sign that new client, or we bought cupcakes for the school bake sale because we didn’t have time to make them.

The ability to let go of some insecurities that have plagued us may also be a perk of age. I’m much more confident than even a decade ago. Negativity rolls off my back more easily these days than when I was younger. I don’t take most other people’s “stuff” personally. I’m (usually) able to remain mindful that criticism or put-downs usually say more about the person spewing them than the recipient.

The Chronic Inner Critic

But I still have some areas of insecurity that when triggered manifest themselves in bouts of self-criticism, not the least of which is my weight and shape. I’ve done a lot of work on this over the years, but still it’s there.

No, it’s mostly not rational. There’s some deeply ingrained s&*t from my childhood, kind of like a virus that no longer exhibits outward symptoms but remains in the system. Both of my parents were fat-phobic, and my mother especially was extremely and vocally critical about anything appearance-related. I know it came from her own insecurities. I know better, and yet sometimes still respond reflexively, seeing myself as filtered through her critical lens.

The thing is, I don’t do this to anyone but myself. And it goes against what I believe about diversity and the tyranny of current beauty standards. So I give myself the talk, “you wouldn’t judge a friend this harshly, why do you do it to yourself, shouldn’t you be more evolved at this point in life? yada yada yada” And then I end up being hard on myself for being hard on myself.

Ingrained Behaviors

our dog Byron, guarding a "treasure," in this case a rug from our bathroom...

Lately I’ve been trying a different tack. It was inspired in part by our dog, Byron. He’s almost 12, which makes him a Senior Dog. For his entire life, he’s had a behavioral issue called “resource guarding.” He’ll aggressively guard his empty food bowl, and anything of interest he finds the floor gets taken to his bed and By Dog it’s HIS. (Above, he’s taken to stealing the area rug from our bathroom.) We’ve worked with three different trainers and one behavioral vet over the years. Training and behavior modification techniques, even medication…nothing’s ever completely eradicated this tendency. It just seems to be how he’s hardwired.

At some point, we gave up trying to eliminate the behavior and switched to managing it.* We know he’s going to do it, so we just try to minimize his opportunities, and when it does happen, we ignore him. Nine times out of ten, he forgets about his Preciousss within an hour and wanders off. We’re all a lot less stressed.

Managing My Inner Critic

I was thinking about this one day when I was out walking the dogs, how at some point we came to accept his foibles and manage rather than trying to change them. And it occurred to me that I could try this on myself. So now when those critical thoughts start up, rather than pushing back or trying to eliminate them, I try to remind myself, “oh, there’s my insecurity again,” and move on. Naming it and bringing it out into the light robs it of a lot of power. Like Byron with his treasure, it’s sooner forgotten.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take an honest and clear-eyed look at ourselves from time to time. I hope to continue to learn from my mistakes, grow and keep trying to be a better person. But it’s been my experience that the Inner Critic isn’t conducive to that. When the IC voice pipes up, I feel defensive and shut down.

Nixing Comparisons

And I also try to remember the adage “don’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside.” I’m certain that even the most outwardly serene, confident and self-assured people also wrestle at times with insecurities and their Inner Critic. To struggle is human.

What strategies have you come up with that help manage your Inner Critic?

Top photo taken last year in Paris by Carla Coulson. I was a bit self-conscious at first about having my picture taken in public, but everyone else seemed to be taking it in stride, so eventually I did too.

*While you are welcome to share in comments any training techniques that have worked for your dog with a resource guarding issue, we are sticking with what’s working for us now. Thanks.

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74 Comments

  1. June 9, 2017 / 5:25 am

    Don’t know much about dog behaviour but I deal with my inner critique by welcoming the “stories in my head” like old friends and giving them labels preferably labels with a slight sense of humour to them.

  2. Veronica
    June 9, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    You are beautiful Susan! And your weight and body shape issues are in your mind only! I am sure nobody around you sees anything wrong! You are loved, we are all loved, regardless of how we look. And love is all that matters 🙂

  3. June 9, 2017 / 7:54 pm

    Say its name, look it in the face, and breathe.

    At least that’s what I’m trying to do;).

  4. MARLA
    June 11, 2017 / 12:08 pm

    Wow here I am commenting AGAIN. I just ADORE the cafe photo at the top of this entry. Susan, while your exterior is very “smart” and attractive it is just dressing for your wise insides.You have learned how to express your inner beauty thru your external chic and beauty (and pass it on to the rest of us!). I think Americans are and have been very influenced by Hollywood where the ever important commodity is sexual value!!! I mean we are finally just now realizing what the French have known for years. Sexuality and attractiveness and self worth has nothing to do with youth, the size of your breasts nor even you weight.
    When I watch French women from within my own family ( I am half…mom) or in Paris what I note is a relaxed “bein en sa peau” that we American gals hear so much about. They are comfortable and never seem rattled nor particularly self observant when in public….however they are passionate about their passions IE politics, arts, books, family whatever it may be. I do wonder if they are as hard on themselves as we yankee girls are? My birthday one week ago was 68. I endeavor everyday to be more relaxed and forgiving. I have learned also from the French to greet people….shop owners, those I pass on the street or walk near as I enter a bldg or restaurant. Americans seem either charmed or bewildered by this but always surprised! Isn’t that interesting? So one of my self worth value is to see myself as a groomed ray of sunshine as I pass thru life each day. I have thought of starting my own blog on this subject. Frankly I am told about twice a week how “great I look”…..and here’s the kicker I’m an Eileen Fisher size 3X former plus size model. Voila, cest moi! Love you SUSAN. Theeee best!

  5. The Lisa Marie
    June 11, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    Susan, thank-you for sharing your personal struggle. Many of us are in the same boat. Something I’d read long ago helps me. (I’m sorry that I don’t remember the author.)

    “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.’

  6. Sharon Martinuzzi
    June 12, 2017 / 12:46 am

    My goodness, Susan, so well said! You are so ‘me’ though I couldn’t have said it so well! But let me tell you something, I am ten years older than you ,and you just get better at it from here on! All those issues we have carried with us just start to minimalize (is that a word?) I cannot believe from where my new found confidence has come! So there are some great things to be said for aging! Or should I say maturity! And I no longer worry about what ‘people’ might say about me, just hope they still do! Ha ha! I so admire your confidence doing it as you do! Keep it up, I do love reading your stuff! Sharon

  7. Patricia
    June 12, 2017 / 2:27 pm

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman struggling with Anorexia. She could look in a mirror view of the two of us and see me as “normal” and herself as obese and I probably outweighed her by 40 lb. To some extent, many of us have a milder form of this sort of vision. We judge everyone else as normal and ourselves much more harshly.
    I’m working on focusing on my virtues; I’m healthy, loved and quite happy. But I’d still like to fit back into a size 8. So I’ll notice that and then move on.

  8. sequinist
    June 13, 2017 / 2:21 am

    First, that is such a beautiful photo of you. No one would ever guess from the ‘outside’ that you struggle with critical thoughts on the inside.

    I also have fat-shaming parents and grandparents who feel that commenting and judging everyone on their figures is a god-given right. They spend so much time and energy discussing the fat on strangers they see out in public. Yes, America has an obesity problem, but it isn’t theirs to fix!

    I’m not immune to their critique, and while I’m not fat, they enjoy reminding me that I’m not at ‘my best’. It is hard to silence such a loud critic, but I remind myself of my great health and the fact that my body is MINE and functions very well. I can run, lift weights, and do anything I need to do with it, which is the whole point of a body in the first place. xx

    • Monica Mary Maul
      June 13, 2017 / 9:58 am

      Those critics are ‘not at their best’ when commenting silently or verbally on your figure. Remember that!

  9. Lori McKee
    June 13, 2017 / 8:20 am

    I knew I liked you! Great post – and what a lovely community of commenters you have, too!

  10. Monica Maul
    June 13, 2017 / 9:55 am

    What I am facing this week is the disappointment of not being hired because of my age. I have a great resume, it is sensible, full of great talents and loaded with great history. Unfortunately, I am being passed over at 58. I have more education (specifically trade work in design) and work experience than any college graduate…. I would like to be able to uncover ‘how ‘ discrimination happens, even though it is written into laws, there are loopholes, including the one person who can decide on a good or a bad day… whether they like your resume or not, or your face, or ‘meh: she looks too old, maybe she will want to retire in ten years….” why not ask the candidate instead of assuming. Many of us have to work until we can no longer, (i.e., 70) …. and we are loaded with talents to advise and teach others….. Really feeling sad about this. I remember when it was nothing for me to get an interview. Now I am no longer being invited to the ‘party’.

  11. Judy
    June 14, 2017 / 6:41 pm

    Something to keep In mind is that, much as we may loath to admit it, women of a certain age become invisible. But the beauty of that is you can simply quit worrying about what anyone else thinks about you. Just let it all go. Let it all go! No one cares except you. Stop worrying about others and try…try.. to accept, and enjoy, yourself. It is a good place to be.

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