• Josh Polgardi

Client Blog | “Joke Cookie”: When You’re Honest with Everyone Except Yourself

Insights on how we cage our potential with flawed self-perception. Here are some thoughts on how we can score ourselves more fairly and live more fully.

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Joking in Germany

After two days in Germany, all the kids were calling me the “Scherzkeks.”

A somewhat awkward and unsure 15-year-old, I just went with it. The attention felt good and they seemed happy enough. Why not?

Eventually, my curiosity took over and they finally explained. Scherzkeks translates literally as “joke cookie” – or someone full of jokes. The significance of this experience is only now occurring to me.

I always wanted to be funny. To be more precise, I always wanted to make people laugh – and I couldn’t help myself from trying. So, you would think this affirmation would go a long way. Maybe I would find my way into a morning radio show or become a stand-up comedy hobbyist.

Fast forward 18 years, and I still have not embraced this part of myself. I have yet to mumble dad jokes into any microphone around town, though I think I would really like to one day.

Believing We’re Not Able – Like Me

This prompts some serious questions: If I cannot stop joking, why don’t I perceive myself as funny or capable of making you laugh? Why do I remember my failed attempts exclusively? Especially when, if I really think about it, I’ve made quite a few people spew milk through their nose. Enough to be called a joke cookie, anyway.

Philosopher Carl Jung observed that there is a voice inside each of us that is irrationally hard on our actions and life. It’s called the “Negative Narrative,” and it only records hyper-focused, negative evidence of where we fall short of the mark in our lives.

For many, the Negative Narrative is often unhealthily reinforced by a lack of nurturing or understanding of our youth. It's always there, but with neglect, abuse or consistent negative feedback, it’s a dark force inside us that’s well-fed but untrained. This view of ourselves follows us throughout our lives and can even make us ashamed of what we “have become.”

Typically, none of our family, friends, or co-workers would agree with these portraits we paint of ourselves. But for some reason, they persist.

When Self-Perception Becomes Fate

One way to identify the Negative Narrative is that it’s often counter to who we are or want to become, and it’s characterized by the fear of not achieving our aspirations. For instance, what would happen if I found out my jokes are not funny enough for the big stage? Perhaps it’s better not to try?

And there you have it: The Negative Narrative made sure my self-perception became reality. It’s powerful, it’s subtle, and it’s too easy. On the surface, it seems better not to take the risk that failure.

But if I go deeper, I haven’t been courageous enough yet to aim for something great.

Taming the Negative Narrative and Being Honest About Who You Are

We underestimate how powerfully the Negative Narrative dominates our memory. It's below the surface, rarely identified, and offers no credit for our positive attributes. Furthermore, most errors of our youth - the ones that perpetuate all the negative feedback from parents, teachers, and others - seem to be the ones we cling to and feel ashamed about the most.

However, no one has to get stuck under this weight. Perceiving yourself for your positive traits and actions can be difficult, but it’s entirely within your ability.

Here are a few practical steps to help you tame the Negative Narrative and perhaps grow into some of the potential you may have put on the backburner:

  • Ask a close friend or two: think hard for a minute about some of the negative ways you view yourself. Now think about things you aspire to, perhaps aspects of the life you want to have but you’re afraid you’ll never realize. Finally, pick up the phone and call (yes, call!) your two closest friends and ask them if they see you the same way. You’ll be surprised.

  • Devote a counseling session to it: your counselor knows about Negative Narrative. Ask him or her about dedicating time to evaluating the origins of these thoughts, their validity, and some good exercises on how restore control in your inner dialogue. Don’t have a counselor? We’d be happy to help you find one. [link to your therapist contact info here].

  • Make a list: this is not a prideful exercise. It’s a truthful exercise. Make a list of 10 things you’ve done this year that have had a positive impact on friends, family, and even strangers. I’ll bet you right now that if you can make it to five things, you won’t stop at 10. This begins to shed light on the importance of what you do now, rather than cycling endlessly on the usually minor infractions of the past that nobody remembers anyway.

The Negative Narrative will exercise too much control over our lives if we don’t take proactive steps to identify and contend with it. We can eventually become what it tells us to be. However, if reckoned with, it becomes a source of renewal and a powerful method of growth.

As Carl Jung said, "I have never encountered a difficulty that was not truly the difficulty of myself.” It is up to us to take a strong, hard look in the mirror and be truthful about our gifts and positive attributes.

Are You Considering Counseling?

You may be reading this because you are searching for guidance as you navigate hurdles and issues in your life. We are here to help and hope you will take a moment to [link to your therapist contact info here]. Together, we can explore practical methods to help you grow in your life and relationships. Keep hope and remember that it is never too late for positive changes - or to get experienced support as you do so.

Created and distributed by Joshua Zello LPC and Josh Polgardi at, with publishing permission granted to this practice.

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