Cognitive psychologists have been studying self-esteem for decades. They have identified thirteen kinds of mental distortions that people use that result in negative feelings. There are 10 ways to feel bad about yourself. Spot your most commonly used distortion and consider how it affects how you feel about yourself:
2. Shoulds, musts, oughts.
These are the demands we make of ourselves. For example, “I should have known better”, “I should be more efficient with my life”. We think that we motivate ourselves with such statements when in fact they make us feel worse.
3. The fairy-tale fantasy
This means demanding the ideal from life. This kind of expectation results in feeling things are not fair or feeling a victim of circumstance. The fairy-tale fantasy is one where life should be ideal, without pain, suffering, or failure. The reality is that everyone has to carry the unavoidable burden of such experiences. When you measure your life against the ideal life you inevitably feel disappointed or stressed-out.
4. All or nothing thinking
This kind of thinking is when things are either a complete success or a total failure. You hold yourself to the impossible standard of perfection and when things fall short of it you conclude that it was a total disaster. You might assume that just because one person does not like you at work, that work is therefore intolerable. If you cannot give yourself between 95 and 100% in your how-I-did-today score, you feel you have failed. Try to see that a score of 75% is very good, and with such a score you are entitled to feel very good about yourself!
This is when you decide that a particular negative experience should be generalised to your entire life. For example, “I always ruin everything”; “I always make a mess of things”; “I never do well in maths”. Such global statements make generalizations from specific incidents to everything else which is unkind and always inaccurate. Instead of saying “I can never cope with being a parent”, say, “Sometimes I cannot cope, but overall, I am doing okay”.
Here you give yourself a label, which is a form of name-calling. You will say to yourself that you are ugly, stupid, awkward, boring, uninteresting, etc. The truth is that you care so much more than what your name-calling of yourself. You are usually only about 5% right in what you say. 95% of you is very different. Putting yourself down in such derogatory ways should not be acceptable. You would not treat another person that way, why do it to yourself?
When you obsess about the negative you go over and over the same unpleasant incident that either has happened or might happen. This distortion makes you re-run action replays of unpleasant incidents over and over again. Or else it runs action pre-views of the mistakes you expect to make. Instead of obsessing about unpleasant incidents that you imagine will occur, try running previews in your head of the positive experiences that can happen.
8. Rejecting the Positive90% of your daily events could be described as positive, 1% might have been negative, with the other 9% as neutral. However, what the person with poor self-esteem will do is react to themselves as if it was 95% negative and 1% positive. Most people have a tendency to do this. For one day, see if you can give yourself credit for all the small successes you achieve. Went to the shop, tidied out the cupboard, phoned Mom, made a lovely dinner, showed sympathy to a neighbour, posted those bills, had 20 minutes with my sister, read a nice piece in the paper, spoke to husband about the holidays, made out a Christmas list, etc. Instead of giving yourself a zero on all of these – give yourself one unit of credit in your self-esteem bank where ten units equal a GREAT DAY!
In this instance you see yourself as much more involved in negative events than you really are. You make be taking all the responsibility for your teenagers bad moods, or may feel responsible in some way because your husband is under stress, or may feel unable to get everything done at work. Think again. You may have some influence on things but you are not the cause! Ask yourself, am I the cause of this or do I just have some influence, along with a lot of other influences?
In this instance you turn an unpleasant event into a catastrophe. You convince yourself that something is so overwhelming that you cannot cope with it. “I cannot cope with my children!” “I cannot handle the fact that I am so shy”; “If that happens, I will literally fall apart”. Some people create enormous dramas in their head where difficult situations are dramatised into soap-opera’s over which they feel they have little control.
Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.