Think back to the last time someone criticised, judged or rejected you. It probably didn’t feel that great, right? Admittedly, no-one likes to be mistreated in any way, especially by people who are important to us. What if I told you, however, that the pain, anger and anguish we tend to experience when criticised, judged or rejected is mainly because we don’t accept ourselves fully, often feeling not smart enough, attractive enough or special just as we are. If a colleague told you you’re not good at your job, for instance, but you believe in yourself and your work abilities, this comment may annoy and anger you, but you probably wouldn’t agonise over it. If, on the other hand, you doubt your abilities and have low self-worth, a negative comment from a colleague may hit quite deep. You may feel defensive and lash out, start worrying about losing your job, wonder if everyone else thinks the same as your colleague, or feel hopeless, sad and self-critical. In other words, such negative experiences only impact you so deeply because a sense of not being good enough already exists within you.
Where does this belief that you’re not good enough stem from?
There are a number of factors and experiences which shape our core beliefs, particularly when we’re children and our impressions about ourselves and the world around us are still forming. Possible sources of the ‘I’m not good enough’ core belief are listed below:
If you were bullied as a child, or experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace as an adult, these experiences may have led to you question yourself, your abilities and your worth as a person. You may have been shamed or criticised for how you looked, your performance on the sporting field or in the classroom or simply for being ‘different’. Whatever the excuse, bullying can have a devastating impact on self-esteem, making you doubt your abilities and worth as a person.
Physical, sexual or emotional abuse at the hands of parents or caregivers can be quite devastating for a growing child. Not only do abused children learn very early on that the world is not a safe place, but that people cannot be trusted. Abused or traumatised children often blame themselves for their treatment and experience deep shame related to the abuse and themselves.
Growing up in a critical environment
If you were regularly criticised by authority figures (parents, teachers, sports coaches etc), you probably learnt very early on that your efforts or capabilities were below par. Chances are you learnt to be very self-critical as a result.
Lack of academic support
Children all learn at different paces and in different ways. If you experienced difficulties in the classroom and you didn’t have the support needed to help you understand what was being taught and what was expected of you, you may have internalised the belief that you’re ‘stupid’ or ‘not smart enough’. In some children, this can manifest in misbehaviour, giving up, and a gradual decline in performance, thus reinforcing this belief that they’re not smart enough, or good enough.
We all experience loss at some point in our lives. However, if you experienced a traumatic or confusing loss, such as parents separating without allowing you time to adjust and maintain a relationship with both parents, the unconscious conclusion you may have made is ‘I’m not worthy of mum/dad’s love’. The same goes for children whose emotional needs are not met or they experience neglect.
Social media can be a great medium when used wisely. Unfortunately, it can also be a very unrealistic portrayal of people’s lives, creating a platform where people compare themselves, their accomplishments/achievements and daily lives with those of others. People are often left feeling – ‘I’m not slim enough, pretty enough, successful enough or doing enough’.
How can I start to feel better about myself?
If you’ve read the above and recognise yourself in any of the scenarios, you’re probably quite keen to learn more about how you can start to feel better about yourself. I feel compelled to tell you that there are no speedy remedies for repairing low self-worth. However, there are things you can do to start seeing yourself in a different way and eventually come to a place where you like and accept yourself exactly as you are. Below are some methods you can use in this process:
Seek the help of a therapist/counsellor
A trained professional can help you understand where your ‘I’m not good enough’ script developed, identify ways in which this script plays out in your relationships and life in general, and begin processing any abuse or trauma you’ve experienced. They can also help you develop more healthy coping mechanisms and a more loving and compassionate relationship with yourself.
Stop criticising yourself
It’s quite interesting that adults who were bullied or highly criticised as children often grow up and continue where the bullies or critics left off. They may have escaped their bullies or their critical parents/teachers/coaches only to carry the critical voice in their heads, berating themselves regularly. If you want to start accepting yourself, this needs to stop. The first step is to start becoming aware of when and how often you criticise yourself. You’ll be quite surprised how often this happens. Then, the next time you criticise yourself, gently stop yourself. Your internal dialogue may go something like this – ‘No, I don’t want to criticise myself anymore’. Then replace the critical statement with something kinder, such as – ‘I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes’. With practice, you’ll find yourself criticising yourself less and less.
When you want to show someone you care for them, you’d probably do something nice for them or act in a caring way towards them, right? Well, the same applies to yourself. If you want to start liking yourself, you need to start treating yourself as you would a loved one. That means cooking meals you enjoy, eating healthy food, finding activities you enjoy, not over-working, getting enough sleep, allowing adequate time for rest and relaxation, and so on.
Set realistic goals
Whether it be to improve your fitness, gain a qualification, become more sociable or find a new job, having goals and slowly achieving them helps you believe in yourself more. It’s important, of course, that you acknowledge each small step towards achieving your goals and then allowing yourself to celebrate successes, no matter how small. In the process you may stumble across skills and talents you never knew you had.
Choose wisely who you spend time with
I recall someone once telling me that when she started taking care of herself and establishing healthy boundaries by occasionally saying ‘no’ to people, a few of her friends and colleagues didn’t seem to like it. Surprise surprise. We often put the needs of others before our own or put up with things which bother or hurt us so as not to rock the boat. Be careful who you choose to spend your free time with. Notice if anyone consistently drains your energy or makes you feel negative or bad about yourself. I’m not telling you not to spend time with these people. However, be aware of how people affect you and assess if there’s anything you can do to limit its negative impact.
Stop comparing yourself or your life to others
I wish this was an easy one. It’s not, particularly with social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram enabling a platform where people can project images of a ‘perfect life’, when in fact there’s no such thing. When you hear about or see others’ success, see people looking good, enjoying life and seemingly enjoying things you don’t have, choose not to compare yourself or your life with theirs. We are all at different stages of life and will achieve things at our own pace. Acknowledge your positive attributes, what you’ve achieved, and the things in your life which are important to you – a job you enjoy, a partner, a close friend, etc. Ideally we could be happy for others whilst also being happy with who we are and what we have right now.
Acknowledge your strengths and achievements
Silence the inner bully for a second and allow yourself to come up with a list of things you do well, have achieved or even (brace yourself for this one) like about yourself. I’ve often worked with people who find this so difficult, even though as I sit there with them, I can think of so many things I really like and admire about them. If you find this too difficult, ask someone you trust to help you. While we’re on the topic, the next time someone gives you a compliment, resist the urge to turn it into a joke or quickly change the subject. Say ‘thank you’, breathe and allow yourself to accept the positive feedback.
That’s quite a lot of work, isn’t it? Yes, it is. However, keep in mind that this needn’t be a rushed process. In fact, for most people, this is work that needs to be re-visited again and again throughout the years. The great thing is, though, that as you grow to accept yourself more and even start believing you are good enough, you’ll be much less affected by failure, mistakes or the judgement of others. That’s because you’ll be stronger at your core and therefore much more able to tolerate not being validated and accepted by others. You may even accept and be quite okay with being completely imperfect, just like the rest of us.