Learning to Overcome Negative Feelings About Self
Everyone has insecurities. As such, it’s not unusual for someone to have the occasional bad day when it comes to their self-esteem. When faced with these frequent negative feelings about yourself, we must be able to remind ourselves of all of the qualities and traits that we should feel proud of. Everyone is entitled to an off-day, once in awhile. But when these days grow more frequent, it may be a sign of some underlying trouble. That being said, we are most often kinder to others than we are to ourselves. The criticisms we save for ourselves is seldom something we would ever tell to someone else, particularly those we care about. So why don’t we care just as much when the pain is self-inflicted? When it comes to scrutiny or harsh expectations, we are often our own worst enemies. Instead, we should try to mend the relationship and turn animosity into generosity. In other words, we should learn to be our own best friends.
Negative Feelings Can Lead to Self-Abuse
Negative feelings about oneself rarely goes unaccompanied by abuse. In fact, clinical assistant professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Seth Gillihan, explains that “negative thoughts and feeling about ourselves often go along with treating ourselves badly. For example, we might verbally abuse ourselves, deprive ourselves of sleep, eat poorly, or abuse substances that harm our bodies.” We may never think of harming one of our close friends or even an acquaintance, and yet when we feel negatively about ourselves we become much more likely to administer self-abuse. We are no more deserving of such treatment than anyone else, and yet we somehow feel as though we are. Negative mindsets such as these can have a harmful effect on one’s health, happiness, and well-being. We deserve to be happy and healthy just as we would hope for our friends. In this way, we must learn to view ourselves similarly. As a friend, not a foe.
Just as, if not more harmful is self-neglect. We might think to ourselves that if we just ignore ourselves for the time being that negative feelings will just disappear, but this is almost never the case. Placing emphasis on others can mean neglecting our own wants and needs, thereby contributing, not easing our bad spirits. Dr. Gillihan says that “we might be very considerate toward everyone in our lives except for the person who inhabits our own skin.” The problem is learning to view ourselves as someone of value. We are just as valuable as those closest to us, we just need to learn to see this for ourselves. Our friends and loved ones know this to be true, which is why they want what’s best for us. We are worth knowing and loving. However, this can be difficult to remember when we’re too busy talking down to ourselves or acting as our own abusers. No one deserves to suffer an abusive relationship, especially if they are fulfilling that role themselves.
Self-Abuse: A Vicious Cycle
Dr. Gillihan provides the following example to illustrate how negative self-treatment can affect one’s self-esteem and perception of self: “imagine being in a relationship with a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner who never asks how you’re doing. (Hopefully this is not your reality.) Imagine if this person never attended to your needs or did anything nice for you, and if s/he did, it was begrudgingly and with minimal effort.” Such treatment is almost guaranteed to have a negative impact on one’s perception of their own self-worth, which will only worsen the treatment in question. The same logic applies to self-inflicted negativity. When we treat ourselves badly, we are only contributing to the problem of our own negative emotions and low self-esteem, which only worsens the treatment in question. The only way to break the cycle is to realize that we deserve better. We deserve to be happy with ourselves and in our lives.
Fake It Till You Make It
But how can we break out of this dangerous cycle? Dr. Gillihan recommends that while changing thoughts can be helpful to some extent, the way to see real results is through changing our behavior. He explains: “even if we don’t feel it, we can choose to act as though we love ourselves. Act as if you’re someone who matters. We can, in fact, fake it, and the feelings often follow.” In other words, “fake it ‘till you make it.” This old adage holds more truth than we may have previously realized. When we alter our behavior, through reconditioning, we can also alter our mindset. We might start by treating ourselves to a nice lunch, whether at a dining place or homemade. In fact, we might take the time to thoughtfully plan our day, including time for at least one activity we truly enjoy. While running from place to place trying to complete tasks and fulfill obligations it can be easy to neglect ourselves along the way. We should remember to include time for what we want, not just what we need, and in doing so, build positive emotions towards ourselves through what we like. And perhaps most importantly, we should surround ourselves with those who help us become the best versions of ourselves, not those who bring us down. After all, relationships can have a huge impact on our happiness and well-being.
At the end of the day, we will always have ourselves. Therefore we must learn to love who we are. We are our own longest-lasting and strongest relationship and this relationship is one worth caring for and nurturing. While it may feel awkward at first, self-love is entirely possible. It doesn’t have to be forced, rather, it can grow organically through regular self-care and kind treatment.