Toggle, my book, has been getting great reviews. Here’s the most recent from someone in the States:
“I bought the book for my husband. That was a couple of months ago. He LOVED it, so much so that last week he finished reading it again and commented about how much more he got out of it the second time. This from a man who is a voracious reader but rarely reads a book twice.” J Meadows.
I am touched and, well, I admit it, riskily thrilled, by this review from someone I don’t know. There have been many others.
When the book came out 4 months ago I had no idea how it would go down and in the first few stretched-out days I became depressed by an apparently devastating silence: it was all going to be a flop and two years work had come to nowt. But then good reviews started to arrive and have continued ever since. I had nervously hoped that the book might bring a few people a modicum of enjoyment but it was shocking when people continued not only to buy the book but began to report it had moved them – even changed them.
All this has had an alarming undercurrent though. The reviews are a seismic challenge to my fall-back psychological defence that anyone who says something positive about me (or something I’ve done) must be mad, foolish, blind, sycophantic, manipulative or insincere. Or, alternatively, that no praise can outlast the imminent discovery of my faulted, fraudulent, true self which will soon be devastatingly exposed. And so I fear, or more accurately my ego fears, that on account of the reviews I may be forced to change my negative self-orientation. Perhaps I will even have to let in and believe…
And here lies the rub. Not believing praise is a trusted fall-back position. Sure it is painful, sure it keeps me feeling unloved and unlovable, but it is at least ‘the known’. It has served me for 58 years and as such it feels fundamentally safe – it’s a practised and successful survival strategy. Letting in praise might upset all that. My ego fears it threatens our very survival. So it has been working overtime of late with warnings: my all-too-frequent check for new reviews/sales is ‘pathetic’ and ‘neurotic’ and I have become ‘a praise junky’. Worse: I am becoming ‘seriously over-inflated’. Perhaps this particular post is a further example of this. It is time to default back to the armour of silence and British self-effacement. Better that than to fall through the thin ice between self-love and self-inflation… And so on, and on… .
It’s a background mental chatter pattern that is super familiar, and boring. Perhaps a variation of it may be familiar to you.
I don’t claim to know a reliable route to transcend this toxic narrative but I have found an analysis that can help:
Praise and criticism are part of the same paradigm, two sides of the same coin. They are only meaningful in the context of my ego world, in the mindset of me thinking I am a separate being, disconnected from the whole. But I am not disconnected from the whole. The book is no more than the product of many influences that I have received. Indeed whatever my life and achievements amount to, or not, they are not actually ‘mine’ but just another aspect of the flow we, and all things, are a part of. None of us are separate, so none can individually or ultimately take credit or blame with any justification.
In my better moments this works for me and it does seem qualitatively more wholesome than either the dismissal or acceptance of praise. It runs the risk though of being accused of false modesty (and what a paradoxical conundrum that phrase can induce).
It could also, of course, just be my crafty ego adopting a more sophisticated strategy…