I’m Pretty Sure There’s a Gene for That


My grandmother spent her entire life thinking she wasn't attractive.

There are times when I truly believe I am the most self-critical person on earth. At the same time, I also believe that, for the most part, I’ve become pretty good at hiding that trait from all but those who know me best.

(And yes, I also know those people are doubled over laughing at that idea that I think I can hide anything I’m feeling or thinking. But, believe it or not, I really don’t reveal everything. Really, I don’t).

But here’s the thing.  I’ve begun to wonder if there might be a gene for self-criticism.

 I say this in all seriousness.

While many women point out their flaws more often than they point out their strengths, there are those who take it to a whole new level.

My mother, the over achiever, is a prime example. For all her accomplishments, I don’t remember her ever being satisfied with what she had achieved. Instead, she was always comparing herself to others and thinking she didn’t measure up.

For skeptics of my self-criticism gene theory who believe it’s simply a learned behavior, let me go on the record saying my mother tried her hardest to ensure she didn’t pass that characteristic on to me.

Her efforts didn’t work. And neither did her mother’s.

I’m fairly certain that my grandmother carried a self-criticism gene that weakened upon passage to future generations.  There’s simply no other explanation for why my grandmother would have been critical of herself.

First of all, she was beautiful.  I look at photos of her and wonder how she ever could have any self doubts about her appearance. But she never thought she was attractive

Secondly, she was one of the strongest and most intelligent women I’ve ever known. She grew up on a farm in Michigan. I’m told she held the record for the hundred yard dash at her high school  for decades. And she, like her three other siblings  was so determined to get a college education that worked hard to pay her own way through Michigan State University.

In the early 1930’s.

As a female.

 During the Great Depression.

And not only did she graduate, she excelled.

But, like my mother and like me, instead of seeing her accomplishments, she often focused on her perceived failures. And she constantly compared herself to others, particularly her older sister Sylvia.

I never understood why.  I always thought my grandmother was prettier than and just as accomplished as my Aunt Sylvia. I also thought  Aunt Sylvia was a really cool lady who lived her life in a manner completely foreign to me.

Sylvia, by all accounts, completely lacked the self-criticism gene.

What Sylvia didn’t lack was a passion for living and a limited fear of failure: all things my grandmother strived for.

While my grandmother thought she was too skinny, Sylvia carried a few extra pounds.

While my grandmother was cautious, Sylvia embraced life.

While my grandmother aimed for perfection, Aunt Sylvia aimed for laughter, love and music.

And while my grandmother always felt like she was being judged, Sylvia never seemed to worry what others thought.

Admittedly I can relate too well to my grandmother. I have battled some of these issues all my life (with the obvious exception of thinking I’m too skinny. I have NEVER had that concern.)

But, here’s the really cool thing about genetics.  They combine with those of our other ancestors to create some really remarkable combinations.

So if you can buy into the whole “self-criticism gene” theory, you can also accept that there are genes for compassion. And humor. And tenacity

All traits I think I got from some of my amazing relatives.

Which means while I believe “there’s a gene for that,” I also believe that “there’s a family for that.”

And I got one heck of a great family.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, and a husband who works strange hours. I can generally be found wandering through the woods my dog, playing in and planting in dirt, and generally stirring things up.

Posted on May 12, 2011, in Family, My life, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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