Do you sometimes look at yourself and say, ‘I wish I wasn’t me’ or ‘I don’t like myself much?’ I’m not talking about your personal looks here, though that can come up too, but more who you are inside.
There’s a niggling voice that says you aren’t all you could be; you haven’t achieved what you could; you’re not the best son or daughter you could be. Your partner or friends could be getting more from you, you could be more diligent or skilful at work. The list could go on and on.
If you’ve experienced parental narcissistic abuse or childhood emotional neglect, I imagine this feeling is particularly acute.
My guess is that you might spend a lot of energy on keeping others happy, though you might well tell yourself you keep falling short.
And when it comes to yourself, I imagine it’s difficult to keep that same loving attention and intention. The voice inside tells you you’re not measuring up, not good enough in some way.
A common response when you have that relationship with yourself is to put all your energy into other things: family, friends, hobbies, work. Anything that takes you away from dwelling too much on yourself. For some, the distraction is more high-grade: alcohol, sex, drugs, compulsive behaviour.
Alongside that, you probably have some resentment simmering away, for the lack of appreciation, or recognition for all your efforts. In fact, the more you give, the more others seem to expect of you, with little thought to you.
Don’t get me wrong; everyone has an inner critic of some sort, berating them for this and that. ‘You shouldn’t have said that. You should have been more careful with that. You didn’t think that through.’
While it’s helpful sometimes to have a voice to keep you in check, when that voice is dialed up all the time it can become limiting and quite harmful to your sense of wellbeing.
Could you imagine how a friend would respond if you were berating them all the time? So if you take a moment to think about how it feels to you, to berate yourself all the time? Right… not comfortable or pleasant, I’m guessing.
So why do you do put yourself down?
There’s a really hard message at the heart of ‘you’re not good enough’ and that is a belief, in some way, that you aren’t loveable for who you are. Somehow the sugar-coated, helpful you might get some positive strokes and affirmations, but if someone saw the ‘real you’ you might fear that they’d run a mile.
How could it not be that way? At some point in your life, you probably started to internalise that idea, that whatever you did, it wasn’t good enough. When that message is said repeatedly, overtly or covertly it starts to stick.
If you grew up in an environment where you weren’t really accepted for who you are, or you had to be a certain way to get approval and love, this inner critic can really take hold.
It’s particularly virulent if you grew up with emotional neglect or a narcissistic parent.
You begin to think, if I can’t be acceptable that way, I’ll need to change my tune so that I can get love and attention of some sort. Even if it comes at a price, that of ignoring your own needs.
Often with that way of thinking, comes anxiety and depression. The anxiety is the anticipation of not being good enough, fear of being rejected. Depression is the locking away of the anger that accompanies these feelings.
If that inner voice and feeling of not liking your self starts to become inhibiting in your life, it might be time to get some support. Counselling can really help explore who and why you started to think this way about yourself, so that you can start to change your relationship with that inner critic and the other parts of yourself. With time and support, you can bring other parts of yourself to greater awareness and prominence, so that you have more choice about when you please or don’t please others and even more importantly when you please yourself.
This week’s lifeline
Sometimes it can be helpful to explore these lighter and darker sides of yourself with an ‘I am list’.
It will probably be easier to start with the negatives about yourself. So if you can, come up with up to negative 10 ‘I am’ statements about yourself, putting them in a left column of a page.
I am weak
I am stupid
I am clumsy
I am uncaring
Once you have got your 10, pause for a moment and check they ring true as things you might say to yourself.
Now make a second column to the right of this and for each statement, write the opposite.
So ‘I am weak’, becomes ‘I am strong’
‘I am stupid’, becomes ‘I am intelligent / smart’
For each negative belief about yourself, find an affirmative one that speaks of a quality you have or want to cultivate in yourself.
When you are done, cut or tear away the negative list and destroy it. Keep the positive list with you, either the individual statements or the list all together and allow yourself to read it and say, ‘Yes I am strong, yes I am intelligent etc’, working through the whole list.
If you’re struggling with liking yourself
If you feel you are your strongest critic and that is limiting you in some way, why not get in touch via email, or text / call 07443 640556 for a first counselling session.
I specialise in working with people who have difficult parent relationships, particularly a narcissistic parent, a controlling parent or an emotionally neglectful parent.