I have some very poor ingrained behaviors that center around low self-esteem. Has anyone been successful in interrupting the chain from emotional reaction->saying stupid things->causing upset and hurt? If so, how?
I'm a guy, late 20s, grad student + part time job. I have extremely low self-esteem, despite being a successful grad student, instructor, software developer, and a bunch of other things. I am currently in therapy, but due to financial pressures I won't be seeing my therapist for another week and a half, and I'd like to start thinking about this problem I'm realizing I have sooner than that.
One really obnoxious way this low self-esteem manifests itself is that I suspect everyone who asks me questions or expresses disagreement with me of being intentionally hurtful rather than just curious or communicative.
Example: I was expressing excitement about a new job opportunity I'm interested in to a the woman I'm dating at dinner earlier this week. This opportunity could be great for me in many ways. The downside is that it's at a large organization that's known to not encourage tons of creativity in problem-solving in this role. I expressed frustration about this by saying "yeah, it's great for [a pile of reasons, seriously -- I want this job], but I'm not sure how much I'm going to learn, and how creative I'm going to get to be." Her immediate response: "Oh, of course you'll learn things! You may not learn new software dev skills, but you'll learn how to work with other people in this organization and things like that." In hindsight, looking at this intellectually, I realize that she meant to be encouraging and have a discussion, not say "oh, you are stupid! I'm right, and you're wrong, and of course you will learn things, you ignorant, stupid person." My immediate emotional reaction was to the latter thing, not to what she actually said, which obviously made the rest of the evening pretty awkward and uncomfortable all around. I got defensive and snapped at her and rather than reasonably acknowledging she had a point, dug my heels in and dug myself a hole. I was able to apologize and smooth it over, but only quite a bit later in the evening.
I also have trouble responding positively when people ask me questions about completely trivial things, such as what I'm reading, for example -- "why would they ask me questions about this book unless they want to point out how awful and silly it is?" (I do read a lot of genre fiction, but also more contemporary literary stuff, and the reaction isn't just limited to genre fiction, or to people who I have an reasonable cause to think disapprove of genre fiction).
I obviously DON'T intellectually believe that my friends loathe my taste in books, or that the woman I'm dating is an evil person who hates me and is out to hurt me, or other such things, so why do I react like this? I know it's a behavior I in part learned from my mother, who treated my father like this, and that's a large part of why they're now divorced. Given that background, and that I can see this is really screwing up my life, I want to figure out how to interject some reflection into my responses before I say catastrophically stupid things. I think a significant part of it is the need to stop and think before speaking, but I notice that even if I DO stop and think, the things I'm thinking in the moment are the obviously inaccurate things I described above. It's only later (a few minutes or a couple of hours, usually) that I can say "wow, self, you were responding in a defensive, hurtful way for no good reason." I know about CBT and have been attempting to practice it, but it doesn't seem to be working for me in this case because the onset is rapid enough that I can't seem to think myself out of it.
If you've successfully broke this kind of cycle, what was effective for you? I've been talking with my therapist about the general issue of self-esteem, but this behavior recently highlighted itself to me and I haven't had an opportunity to discuss it yet.