Help me believe in myself
October 27, 2008 5:18 AM   Subscribe

What did you do to get over your deep-seated belief that you'll fail at everything you do? In the past this has manifested itself in overtly self-destructive behaviors (e.g. substance abuse), and while those are currently under control I still engage in massive self-sabotage that I'm pretty sure is connected to my belief that I do not deserve success and will fail at anything I try to do.

More background: I'd say I'm no longer depressed. I say this because I know what major depression feels like, I've been in the "I do not want to move from bed unless it will get me closer to my death" place and this is not it. I get up every day and go through the motions, I make half-hearted stabs but ultimately never try all that hard because I'm convinced my efforts at being more than a fuck-up are futile. To give you an idea of how bad this is, whenever I have nightmares of wherein my death/destruction is imminent, like being chased by a monster or something, my immediate reaction in my dreams is to give up and wait for the end to come. If friends as the question whether I am a better person than, say, Jeffrey Dahmer, I can't answer it. I know the logical answer is that I am, but I can't say that without feeling like I'm speaking a horrible lie.

I'm not suicidal, I'm not working towards my death. But I'm not working for my life either. There's just no sense of self-preservation, of planning for the future, of feeling like it's even possible to reach my life goals. Goal-setting seems ridiculous--my rampant procrastination and self-sabotaging behaviors ensure I fail at reaching any goals I might set. I have ADHD, which worsens the procrastination issues.

I work out regularly. I get enough sleep. My diet is not perfect, but it's OK. Understand, this whole hating-myself thing doesn't consume me all day. 90% of the time I try to be happy and oblivious and just go on merrily through life fucking things up. I don't want to die--so why can't I live?

I'm in therapy. Yes, I'm already in therapy! It's not working. Therapy has never worked for me--I can say this pretty confidently because I've been to two or three psychiatrists and five or six therapists in the past decade and they have all done pretty much jack-shit. Any improvements I've made vis-a-vis the substance abuse and major depression have been through force of will and social support. The therapists were nice and all but all they did was get me more bogged down in self-analysis. I don't need more self-analysis--I have done so much goddamn self-analysis I can't keep it the narrative straight anymore. I know where all these problems come from, I've known for longer than a decade, and knowing hasn't helped any. I need action. But what should that action be? How do I begin to believe in myself?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I never got over it. I just decided not to let myself define my reality. Suck it up and move along, all of that.

May not work for you, but my tendency to navel-gaze is not helpful.
posted by QIbHom at 5:32 AM on October 27, 2008

I hesitate to say you haven;'t found the right therapist yet. Sorry. I totally understand where you're coming from, but I do suspect that you are still depressed. I know that most of the time I'm depressed, I *don't even realize it* and it takes the observation of outsiders to clue me in. I can seem shiny and happy in my 60 hr a week job(s) and practically no one's the wiser...till i break down and say something like what you've just told us. Since I'm kind of in a black pit right now I'm not sure I have any better advice for you, except for don't give up...take small steps...and i read this quote in a surf magazine of all places a few years ago but it's always rung sort of true for me "sometimes when you're coming out of a corner like it's the back of your hand, it's best to let your reflexes do the walking and not to think at all." Can't remember who said that. And maybe it only makes sense to me. But anyway. I wish you luck.
posted by Soulbee at 5:40 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

You get over failure by failing. So fail. Fail spectacularly, even.

And then turn every failure into a book. Or a song. Or a painting. Or a stinking blog post or something that transforms it from an abstract feeling into a solidified experience made real, so that you can put that failure in a box and treat it like an actual learning experience -- an action that produced something, even if that something is just a slightly-wiser you.

Then take a shower. And do it all again.
posted by rokusan at 5:40 AM on October 27, 2008 [12 favorites]

I said this in another post - you might want to look to the body in therapy instead of a 'talking cure'. There's various schools of body psychotherapy.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:34 AM on October 27, 2008

Several years ago, I became aware of a book that espoused a philosophy that made a whole lot of sense to me. I have been trying my best to practice it ever since.

Don Miguel Ruiz The Four Agreements advocates personal freedom from agreements and beliefs that we have made with ourselves and others that are creating limitation and unhappiness in our lives. Ultimately, it is about finding one's own integrity, self-love, and peace within this reality.

agreement 1

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

agreement 2

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

agreement 3

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

agreement 4

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Working on those four agreements a little bit every day has helped me to be more confident, content, and serene. It didn't happen all at once. I have to constantly remind myself when I'm in challenging situations to think of how I should react, rather than just reacting. Repeating, it doesn't happen overnight, it takes practice. Most importantly, it absolutely does work as a philosophy for achieving serenity.

I am not perfect, far from it. However, I am probably happier at this point in my life (age 56) than I have been since I was a child. I have my own home in the mountains of North Carolina. I am debt free. I have a job that won't make me wealthy but is very easy, and I don't have to bring work home with me, I leave it all there. I've met someone that I've had a long distance telephone and internet relationship with for several years, and I really don't have a care in the world. I'm more involved in charity. Getting out of ourselves and into helping others can give you that feeling of success.

I hope this will help you. You are worth it.
posted by netbros at 6:51 AM on October 27, 2008 [17 favorites]

I was up at 2 am last night having similar thoughts. After all of the hard work I've done on myself, the different ways I've tried to heal myself from the past and 15 years of therapy, I sometimes still get overwhelmed with nagging thoughts about how much I am destined to fuck up my own life. This is despite the fact that I've never really fucked up that much.

Still, it drives me crazy. The funny thing is that I am actually very happy and have been happy for quite awhile. Like you, I have had major depression in my past and do not experience it all that often anymore. But sometimes, I go through patches (a day, a weekend, a week maybe) where I feel paralyzed with the fear that I have been doing everything wrong and I've been too stupid to know it and it's all going to come tumbling down on me. Everyone will walk out on me and shut the door. (Describing my fear here, not necessarily yours.)

Unfortunately your self-doubt will probably never totally leave you but I believe that you can gain some power over it. I recommend developing a way of counteracting this self-talk. It's really hard to do but I think you may have to just try the negative thought interruption/replacement with something positive technique your therapist(s) have probably described.

I also recommend finding some sort of group. I know what you mean about the self-analysis of therapy, after awhile, you realize you not getting any further with it. In the first few year, it really helped. It was great but after learning certain skills, it topped out for me. Mainly, I just sick of hearing myself talk and go in circles.

A few years ago, I ended up going to group therapy. It wasn't a group for substance abuse butgroup but it 12-step format and it met in the same place as AA, NA, etc. I liked it because there wasn't a therapist to confer with and I was under no obligation to go every week though I usually did.

This helped me immensely because I heard other people talk and you know, there were some of them who really had fucked up their lives in a big way and I realized they were still standing so I was going to be fine. There were also those who fucked up their lives by not trying. They had lived long lives of quiet desperation. It was sad but they were still there too and they were people with love in their lives despite it. This got me out of my own head and I realized these people were no different than the people I see out in public everyday. They are normal people. And so am I. I realized a large part of my problem was perspective.

The body psychotherapy that Not Supplied recommended sounds intriguing. I've heard of it before and read "Waking the Tiger" which was interesting. I haven't worked with a body worker but I think about it. A good friend of mine said she had a neighbor who was one and although she wasn't interested in the idea, she let him work on her. She said she was amazed because she really had thought it was a bunch of voodoo before the experience but afterward she was truly impressed. (I've tried to find this guy myself and I think he moved out of the city or I'd have gone to him.)
posted by i_love_squirrels at 7:09 AM on October 27, 2008

I just decided not to let myself define my reality.

Yes, but our thoughts do make up our reality. What we think is who we are. I do think QIbHom has the right idea, though. You could allow that 10 percent of negative thinking and accept it for what it is. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and try to work on getting your negative thinking down to 5 percent. Each time you have a self-loathing moment, try hard to replace it with a positive statement. This is difficult, I know. If you cannot replace it, at least remind yourself that your negative thoughts are not reality. They are only your perception. Write down affirming, real statements and put them in your wallet, your mirror, your steering wheel, wherever.

"I am a capable person."

"I am worthy."

“Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better” (from this page)


I am sure you are doing work to improve your self-esteem with your therapist. Ten Days to Self-Esteem is a great workbook to work through if you need more work in this area. Improving your self-esteem is hard work. Put in the work and you will see results.

Be open. The fact that you've seen several doctors and therapists causes me to wonder if you are completely open to therapy, or just open in general. These people did help you in some ways, whether you acknowledge it or not. Open yourself to new experiences. Allow yourself to be open to new ways to get better and improve your life.

The fact that you have life goals is a huge plus. Some people are content with the status quo and are trudging through day to day. Write down your goals. Be very specific and do not forget to write them down. Writing them down allows you to clarify what you really want. Without a concrete, specific goal we will run through life without accomplishing what we really want. Make a plan on how you will achieve these goals. Be specific. Each day give yourself a few tasks that you will achieve.

Practice gratitude. Happiness is not possible without gratitude. I don't care what anybody says. You do not need to be a religious or spiritual person to practice gratitude. You may not like yourself all of the time, but appreciate the fact that you like yourself the majority of time. Gratitude raises your spirits. It feels so good to be grateful. Things will go better for you when you are appreciative and when you make the conscious effort to take notice of the good things in your life. When we are grateful we feel good. When we feel good things seem possible. When we feel good people, and good things, gravitate to us. This quote from Buddha is a good thing to post on your fridge: Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. Come up with more things you have to be grateful. You will have many.

Forgive. Forgive the people that have hurt you. Forgive yourself.

rokusan has it. Allow failure to happen. As they say, there is no such thing as failure only feedback. We learn from our experiences. Mistakes make us better people. The more you screw up the better. You will become a richer human being. I have read something on AskMe that has stuck with me. It went something like, "there is very little to be fearful of." We have very little to be afraid of in this life. Fear of failure, not being smart enough, incapability, etc. is all such bullshit, really. It's this irrational fear of our inability to succeed that keeps us in a state of mediocrity and . You are capable of great things. Your great thing will be different from your friend's great thing. You are capable of fulfillment, joy, and success. Life goes by very quickly. Start now. You are worth it and you can do it. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 7:13 AM on October 27, 2008

I think the key to beginning to believe in yourself is giving yourself a bucket load of compassion. Just because you aren't suffering from "major depression" doesn't mean that you should expect perfection. Think about how to you are measuring success? Do you have a reasonable expectations when you are not at your best and struggling with life?

My suggestion is to start small and aim for a fairly simple goal. It doesn't matter how small it is. I also suggest that you should aim for something that you know will be enjoyable even if challenging, maybe learning a new skill or something that you will enjoy.

And celebrate each success, each time you do something for yourself. Don't belittle your success by wishing it was bigger or thinking that it is something that "normal people" have no problem with. I've had to accept the fact that I am no good at cleaning my house, and I struggle with the idea that if my house isn't clean, then I am a complete failure. (see it looks ridiculous when written down, of course I'm not a failure! some people might think it's unforgivable to live in constant clutter, but I've decided not to hate myself)

You should be able to find a therapist to help you achieve a larger goal. Discussing your progress with someone could help you get through rough patches.

Best of luck!
posted by Gor-ella at 7:16 AM on October 27, 2008

nthing all those above who tell you to forgive yourself.

don't forget that failure is the means by which we learn. maybe right now you're learning this truth. maybe you're learning how to find a good therapist. maybe you're learning the limits of therapy, and learning how to live without.

the frustrating thing about true, lived learning is that we don't often know what it is that we're learning until we've learned it. real, true learning isn't like the lessons we're taught in school at all, save for one huge commonality: both are predicated on the fact that we learn by failure, and subsequently trying again.

or as mr. dylan once sang: "keep on keepin' on, like a bird" that flies . . .

or, on preview . . . what gor-ella says above.
posted by deejay jaydee at 7:28 AM on October 27, 2008

More background: I'd say I'm no longer depressed. .

That may only be half-true. I dont believe people with major depression just get over it. Most of the time they fall into a functional low-grade depression for years, if not decades, that is hard to notice and even harder to treat.

I don't need more self-analysis--I have done so much goddamn self-analysis I can't keep it the narrative straight anymore.

You sound like you may benefit from some kind of pharmacological treatment. Talk to your doctor about anti-depressants.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:35 AM on October 27, 2008

Any improvements I've made vis-a-vis the substance abuse and major depression have been through force of will and social support. The therapists were nice and all but all they did was get me more bogged down in self-analysis. I don't need more self-analysis--I have done so much goddamn self-analysis I can't keep it the narrative straight anymore.

I think you have your answer right there.

Look, even posting askmefi posts is bogging you down in self-analysis. The more time you spend on reflection on past failures, the less time you have for action. And action--spending our time being productive--is what keeps us from feeling like failures.

In other words, apply the same methods to other areas of your life that you applied to substance abuse and major depression. I'm a type-A personality, and even so, I've come to believe that force of will is the only thing that keeps us from total laziness and entropy (or, keeps me from total laziness and entropy). Remember that depression and self-loathing are cyclical and will pull you toward more depression and self-loathing. Self-reflection, beyond a point, is not helpful because it's not productive in the most literal sense; you'll have nothing to account for your efforts at the end of it.

When I start to feel like you're feeling, I do this: I force myself to do something despite the fact that I feel awful. Do you write? This is my method--but I make sure to write something that's not self-reflective, because otherwise I'm still stuck in the same head space. If you draw or paint or make models or cook, do those things. Or exercise--take a walk even. Getting outside often helps with this sort of thing. Make the task separate and deliberate from what you're already doing. You'll still probably feel awful at first, but soon you'll lose yourself in the process. Even if you're not working on a big project (and I wouldn't, at least at first--Big Projects are often a way to set yourself up to fail), you'll be spending an hour or two doing something. I would focus on this initially: doing something, anything, rather than doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself. And if your goal is do just "do something rather than sitting around feeling sad," it's easy to succeed.

I don't want to die--so why can't I live?

This is silly. You are living. You don't have a choice about that. But you do have a choice about how you spend your time. When you find yourself sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, remind yourself that you're making a choice to do this, just like, at one point, you made a choice to abuse substances. Your will got you out of that, then, and it's your will that will get you out of this now. Now that you've chosen life, chose to lead a productive life. You have it in you, I promise.

Good luck.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 AM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Therapy has a way of not working on these issues that are at the core. Kabbalah worked for me. You might want to check out what's been coined the Technology for the Soul. Oh. And it DOES work. Like nothing else out there and it's the same wisdom that ingrained in nature, the cosmos and everything below and above - which the soul is comprised of. There are a few gazillion sites out there. Check out the ones that begin with Kab not the Cab or Qab, those are offshoots that have really whacked out the concepts where they no longer resemble the original.

You can find a lot of introductions on YouTube as well. Just that alone will open your eyes that there ~is~ a way out, over and above this whole hogwash bs reality and into something real, true and absolute. Start.
posted by watercarrier at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2008

My suggestion is to start small and aim for a fairly simple goal. It doesn't matter how small it is. I also suggest that you should aim for something that you know will be enjoyable even if challenging, maybe learning a new skill or something that you will enjoy.

Nthing this. Start small, and simple.

Actually, a good goal to consider is "living one more day without falling back into substance abuse." Which may feel like old hat to you, but dammit, that is a huge, huge acccomplishment. So you've already accomplished something enormous. Think about that.

Then add one more small thing. Maybe -- pick one kind of dish you've wanted to experiment with -- say, cookies. Or some kind of stew. Something that's forgiving enough that it'll still be pretty decent no matter what you do -- but what you're going to try to do is make it even better. You are on a quest for the ultimate cookie/stew/cake/muffin/whatever. But this is all to satisfy your own taste -- you will get to eat all the results, so you will get to experiment to your heart's content, and there is no fear of failure because if you're the only one who eats it, who cares?

but something small like that, something that you can work at for your own self, and something that is tailored to your OWN personal sense of comfort and well-being. (It doesn't have to be food, it could be "knitting the perfect sweater" or "painting the bathroom exactly right" or whatever). But when you perfect it just to your specifications, you will not only have something you've accomplished, you will also have a weapon against the other things life throws at you ("...Boy, my day has sucked -- but, hey, I know how to make the best damn jambalaya ever, and a bowl of that will make me feel much better, so I'll have that for dinner tonight to cheer myself up.")

Gradually take on more of those around you, and you'll get to a point where maybe you want to share them with someone else -- maybe asking a friend to help you test a couple different batches of fudge to help you decide "walnuts, or pecans? Which works better?" And then you'll also get positive feedback from them ("Damn, you made fudge from scratch? That's awesome!") and that positive feedback will raise your mood even more, and give you more belief in yourself. And by that time you will also have acquired friends, a few interesting talents, and you'll still be able to make the perfect bowl of jambalaya to comfort yourself with on bad days. :-)

And eventually you will feel more ready to tackle larger things, and let in more people, and...etc. But starting small, and gradually expanding, works very well.

Hell, doing that is what finally got me to start sending my writing out to publishers and sign up for NaNoWriMo, when about 5 years ago I wouldn't have dreamed of doing so.

Good luck. You can do this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

You don't say where you're located, but you might want to seek out a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy program in your area. It was developed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder, who are pretty much the most self-destructive folks around, but it can help with more minor depression and self-sabotage as well. It also sounds like you have dysthymia, which is milder and longer-lasting than major depressive episodes, but still considered depression. I don't know if that helps, but I thought it might mean something to know that there's a name for what you're experiencing. best of luck to you.
posted by granted at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2008

I can't believe no one has mentioned medication for the ADHD. My husband is on Ritalin and it has made a huge difference in his procrastination and his general level of motivation to do things that make him happy. Talk therapy has done little for him; seeing a psychiatrist has completely changed his life.
posted by desjardins at 4:41 PM on October 27, 2008

Learn to love the feeling that you may fail.

People who no longer fear failure are often those that have become too comfortable with the status quo.
posted by brandnew at 5:07 PM on October 27, 2008

There are two kinds of depression.

  • 1. the deep black pit of despair that is so close to death (You've come out of this — congratulations! )

  • 2. a much milder kind that you might not even think of as depression.

    I think you are experiencing 2. The lack of confidence and enjoyment of life sound very much like that.

    Depression is related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Rather than therapy, I suggest you talk to a psychiatrist about medication to treat your current symptoms.

    Being free of depression means wanting to live and having the self-confidence and self-esteem to attain that. You deserve that.

  • posted by exphysicist345 at 8:24 PM on October 27, 2008

    I'm not sure I have anything comprehensive for you. But I offer this: you speak as if therapy and self-analysis are interchangeable terms. One's a subset of the other: there are other types of psychological therapy that do not focus so much on self-analysis. If you are sick of self-analysis and that technique is not working for you, investigate other psychological therapies and find a practicioner in your area that practices them.
    posted by WCityMike at 11:26 AM on October 29, 2008

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