I’m always humbled to receive replies from friends who appreciate my thoughts when I do express them. They don’t always agree with my opinions but invariably seem grateful when I articulate them. They appear delighted when I write but don’t judge me when I don’t.
Significantly I don’t judge myself when I don’t write. I regard it as one of my greatest achievements in life that I have moved beyond the need to be self-critical in this way.
Self-criticism is common in young people. With particular generations including my own, it might be a product of religious teaching. Or it could be a matter of poor self-esteem that is the result of bullying or other psychological or sexual abuse.
A turning point for me occurred on this day three years ago, when I had a private session with the Commissioner at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
I’d always regarded my experience of sexual abuse as insignificant. The meeting with the Commissioner did not change that. But it helped me appreciate the context of the abuse, which was the psychological power plays in institutions that prevented many children from growing into confident adults.
This often occurred at the hands of authority figures in the institutions who themselves were damaged human beings. Their behaviour tended to go hand in hand with distortions of religious doctrine that fostered guilt and diminished young people’s self-image.
Like many of my contemporaries, I was affected by this right up until the moment of my retirement, also three years ago. It was not coincidental that I’d spent a large part of my working life working for religious institutions, for the most part adopting a subservient demeanour.
But I feel I was able to draw a line under this self-critical pattern of behaviour in 2015, around the time of my retirement and my meeting with the Commissioner.
On the day of that meeting I had a sense that I was shedding the yoke of my past and entering a new life in which nobody including myself would judge me. That has proven to be the case.
That day was in fact my my birthday, as is today. I’ve just turned 60 and officially become a Senior in the eyes of the NSW Government. I have my Seniors and Gold Opal transport concession cards as a badge of this particular honour.
For me, being a senior means that I am affirmed and not judged. There can be many challenges for people at this stage of life, including health, loneliness, finance and often greater suffering when natural disasters strike.
But if other seniors have learned the lessons I have, our often newfound psychological resilience can allow us to face adversity in a way we couldn’t when we were robbed of self-confidence in our younger days.