Before my parents divorced when I was two, I’ve heard from family that I would always laugh and figure out how to have a good time. After my parents divorced, I would always scream and feel very confused. To not choose sides when my parents were arguing, I would symbolically hide myself and be caught in the middle and not choose sides at all (or just say what my dad or mom wanted to hear). I’ve always thought that it was my fault in every situation where my parents would argue. Because of this, I’ve grown to only know how to be hard on myself. I’ve grown to have absolutely no self confidence and to always thinking that I was in-important, a bad kid, and wrong in every conflict. This has extremely effected on how I live. In every hobby or sport I perform, I feel that I am extremely untalented or horrible and I would quit the hobby or sport seeking no point to it. It’s really hard to get close with a person or make friends because I feel that I am a unlikefull, socially akward person and that nobody would want to hang out with me . This has caused me to try to act differently, or, “cooler,” so that I would feel important to my friends and community. This has caused me to be very confused with myself, and has caused me to be more hard on myself if I wasn’t, “cool.” Currently, I am meditating and trying not to think about how people think about me. Although this has helped me get to know myself more, I’ve discovered that I involuntarily change when I am hanging out with a friend. I’ve tried to just be myself around them, but it’s extremely difficult. I’ve also tried to not be so hard on myself in general, but I honestly don’t know how too. I don’t know how to gain self confidence and I don’t know how to not shoot myself down. Any advice?
A. It is important to be accurate about one’s abilities, skills and talents. Because you have a tendency to think negatively, you likely underestimate yourself. The unfortunate outcome of this is that it inhibits your ability to grow and develop. It essentially stops you from realizing your full human potential.
Because you struggle with personal objectivity, it would be very helpful to have an outside, nonbiased perspective. A therapist could provide this for you. Therapists are trained to deal with cognitive distortions (especially therapists who practice cognitive or cognitive behavioral therapy). He or she could objectively evaluate your personal self-opinion and compare it against reality.
How can you do this on your own? Focus on facts and reality. For example, if you hold the opinion that you are not “smart enough” then ask yourself: what evidence do I have to support this conclusion? Analyzing your academic performance could help to answer this question. If you receive mostly A’s and B’s then it would be difficult to conclude that you are not “smart enough.” If the papers you write impress the teacher, then again, it would be difficult to conclude, based on the facts, that you are not “smart enough.”
Another example: let’s say you believe that you are an unlikable person. Challenge your belief. One objective measure of likeability is whether or not you have friends. If you do have friends, this would likely disprove your view of being an unlikable person. Again, the approach I am suggesting is to focus on facts and reality. Do not allow yourself to believe in ideas and thoughts that are untrue and unsupported by evidence. Let factual evidence (i.e. the truth) guide your thinking.
Changing one’s self-image is not an easy task but it can be done. It requires practice and patience. Therapy could expedite this process and I believe it could be very beneficial for you. You may also find The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns helpful as well. Another good resource is Abraham Maslow’s work on self-actualizing people. In his book, Motivation and Personality, Maslow describes the characteristics of mentally healthy people. It may serve as a useful guide for how to change your thinking. It can also help you to see how healthy people think and behave.
I hope that my answer is helpful to you. If you would like to search for a therapist, please click on the find help tab on the top of this page. I wish you well. Please take care.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Aug 2010
Randle, K. (2010). How To Stop Being So Hard on Myself. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/05/how-to-stop-being-so-hard-on-myself/