Why is it so hard to shake "him" off?

I still wake up with anxiety, this unsettling feeling that I’ve done something wrong. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

I’ll think back on the things I did the day before - did I make a mistake and I just don’t remember? Maybe I could have had more patience with my son at bath time, or maybe I didn’t need to eat the second piece of coffee cake (but it was blueberry!), but no - there was no mistake. Nothing that looks like a mistake to me, that is.

“He”, I’m sure, would have pointed out at least five and they would have been grievous and unforgivable and together they would have proved that I’m inferior to him. Mistake is not even my language - it’s his.

“He” was obsessed with mistakes - finding them in me, yes, but even just with the word “mistake.” I can hear his voice, thin and high-pitched with condescension, linger on the “s” and spit out the “t”.

One afternoon, two months in to our relationship, I was standing at the kitchen sink cutting the tops off strawberries. “You’re doing that wrong,” he said over my shoulder. I explained that just because I’m doing something differently doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.

“Why can’t you just admit when you’ve made a misssTake?” He asked, taking the knife from my me. And then he “taught” me the “proper way” to cut the tops off strawberries. Because I somehow made it to adulthood without learning this critical skill.

But the tricky thing - the insidious, dangerous, damaging thing - is that because I valued his opinion, and because he was so confident in the superiority of his intelligence, inwardly I wondered if he was right.

Logically I could say that my method of strawberry-top-cutting was equal to his. His method was more precise, and prioritized wasting as little of the strawberry as possible. It was also sloooooow. I could de-top five strawberries for his every one, and because time is often a priority for me, the efficiency of my method made it the right one for me.

But after these lessons were over - while he’d be feeling energized and satisfied (“That was fun!” he’d often say), and I’d be feeling like a failure of a human being - I couldn’t help wonder if he was right?

Maybe the problem isn’t just that I’m sloppy with a paring knife. Maybe my priorities are all wrong, too. Maybe valuing time over not being wasteful is a character flaw? I didn’t know how to know who was right. It was confusing to say the least.

It was also anxiety-producing. Because once your spouse plants the seed that what you do and how you do it is wrong, you’re always questioning your actions and waiting for him to point out the mistake you didn’t even know you were making. The anxiety is about fear - the fear of getting criticized, the fear of getting humiliated, the fear that he is right about you.

I’m still looking for the antidote to the fear that I’m just one giant mistake walking. I’d prefer if it came from within me, like I could just banish his voice from his head. But honestly, what seems to be most helpful is surrounding myself with people who see me differently than he did. I guess I just need some external validation before I can start to give it to myself.