If the mistakes we made as children were met with unhealthy responses, we likely didn’t develop an internal mechanism to accept our humanness or learn resolve our mistakes in a healthy way. Consequently, we weren’t able to develop a loving, compassionate relationship with ourselves with regard to our missteps along the way. I know this is true for me.
As a result, later in life, I experienced great pain every time I saw–or someone else pointed out–that I’d made a mistake. I tend to say that I’m the worst person in the world, and I don’t deserve to be forgiven. Clearly, this is not a healthy way to deal with the inevitable mistakes in life.
What do I need to do? Well, I acknowledge that my motivation is to avoid pain. Once I put on my big girl pants, I can resolve to change my dysfunctional ways.
Growing up under constant condemnation, I tried really hard to do things perfectly. I’ve come, finally, to realize that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tied; but I’m doing the often hard work necessary to attain a healthy self-concept.
Suggestions I’ve found–and have been trying–include these:
- Say “stop” to my inner critic. “No, no, no! We’re not going there!” or some other word or phrase that stops that train of thought, and refocus on something positive.
- Use healthier motivation habits. Remind myself of the benefits of what I’m trying to accomplish.
- Take a two-minute self-appreciation break a couple of times a day. I set the alarm on my phone, and when it sounds, I take a deep breath, slow down and ask, “What are three things I can appreciate about myself?”
- Write down three things in the morning that I can appreciate about myself, in my journal. A benefit to writing it down is that after a few weeks I can read through all the answers to get a good self-esteem boost and change in perspective on days when I need it the most.
- Do the right thing. When I do what I know deep down is the right thing to do, I raise and strengthen my self-esteem. Most recently, it has been taking the dog out for a mile-long constitutional as soon as I’ve brushed my hair and teeth and gotten dressed. If I don’t roll right out of bed, she gets antsy, which is an added motivation!
- Replace the perfectionism. Few of my thought habits have been as destructive in daily life as perfectionism. I’m going for good enough.
- Handle mistakes and failures in a more positive way. I make a real effort to go outside my comfort zone occasionally, trying to accomplish something that is truly meaningful. I accept the fact that it means that I will inevitably stumble. I’m recognizing that it is normal. It is what people who’ve done something truly significant have done all along, even though we never hear much about their failures. I’m trying to be my own best friend, when I take those missteps, talking to myself like a true friend would. How can I support and help myself in this situation?
- Find the upside. Focus on optimism and opportunities. What is one thing I can learn from this? What is an opportunity I can find in this situation?
- Try something new. I choose to challenge myself in a small way. I don’t expect anything. I just tell myself that I will try something out. Then I do the same thing a few more times. By improving my performance, my opinion of myself goes up.
- Stop falling into the comparison trap, because I can never win. There is always someone who has more or is better than I am at something in the world. Instead, look at how far I have come. I am cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
- Spend more time with positive, supportive people, and less time with negative, destructive people. Also, I think about what I read, listen to and watch in the same way, with an eye toward building myself up rather than making myself feel less valuable.
It may be that you find yourself–like I did–in a relationship with significant others who employs narcissistic defenses to deal with his (or her) own residual childhood stuff. It’s just a theory, but it seems to me that there are inordinate number of us self-contemptuous people (living with narcissists) among the population having weight issues.
There are some red flags to consider. Does it seem that the other person feels immune from making mistakes? Does he or she try to control everything, and then blame you for everything that goes wrong? Do you sometimes feel intimidated by him/her? Do you generally give up or give in because if you don’t, there will be no peace until you do?
If you’re beginning to feel uncomfortable with this line of questioning, you may be thinking about blaming yourself for your cowardice. “If I would just stand up for myself…,” you say. Stop that right now! I even had a counselors tell me that all I needed to do was to stand up for myself. Of course, she didn’t know what erupted when I tried it.
Consider that it may not be possible for that person to see you as an individual in your own right, but as an extension of him- or herself. Really think about it. If your life isn’t really your own, it may call for drastic action for you to get it back. It most certainly won’t be easy, trust me. But are you really willing to give someone else that much power over your life?
I know I tried very hard to understand why he was the way he was, but because he never wanted to talk about it, and became angry when I asked, I can only guess. As a child, he may frequently have felt threatened, and developed a dysfunctional response to perceived danger, threat or stress. His coping mechanism may have caused him to react in such a volatile way. His childhood experiences may have resulted in his difficulty controlling his emotions, and, perhaps, brought on his exaggerated fight response (of the physiological fight-or-flight response to threats). I’ll never know for sure.
The point is, it doesn’t matter. Thankful to have recognized and begun to deal with this pattern of mine (which has caused significant difficulties in so many relationships, including the one that I have with myself), I see more clearly that I must have compassion for myself. It’s too important to the new life I’m constructing as a healthy-weight person for me to give up.
Hence, this post. It’s my declaration of intent (to stop my inner critic, replace the perfectionism, handle mistakes in a positive way, find the upside) by trying something new and scary. I hope it helps you in some way, too.