I beat myself up after sharing in meetings
October 14, 2009 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Almost every meeting I go to and share anything I beat myself up afterwards. This happens to me in business meetings and at something as simple as a knitting group. At my knitting group, if I share something about my personal life, I feel judged, not only by the people in the group but by me! It is so bad that it has even caused me to quit going to certain groups because it is so painful to feel the feelings after the meeting of "why did I say that?" , "she doesn't like me" , " I bragged when I shared that about my daughter" , why did I tell that story about my husband? and on it goes.

I am an otherwise happy, well- adjusted, mostly confident woman of 50 years old. My husband says it must be self-esteem. I feel unsafe in most groups and ALWAYS question ANYTHING I share! I have even tried not saying much in the group/meeting but I always end up saying something and HATE it afterward. Anyone have some tips for me? I can ruin lots of my day ruminating over the things I said, so I would like to get some help from you. Yesterday I was in a meeting to discuss candidates for a position and I had some misgivings about the candidate in question. As soon as I shared my opinion, I started the whole "beat self up" routine. In the parking lot after the meeting, I saw 2 of the men from the meeting having a "parking lot meeting" and I "KNEW" (yeah right) they were discussing how pathetic my comments were. I know in my heart that there in nothing "wrong" with what I say, but this habit of self-talk really gets me. Do I just quit telling about my life and my feelings and keep to the facts and to surface conversation? HELP!
posted by seekingsimplicity to Human Relations (22 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
No, you don't stop talking. You start talking. To a therapist. About your low self esteem issues. You claim to be mostly confident, but everything you write here drips with the self-doubt and self-criticism of someone with truly horrible self esteem. Trust me, you'll start having a lot more fun in life once you deal with this. A lot.
posted by amelioration at 10:51 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good job posting this here. That must have been scary. In case you're second-guessing yourself right now... don't.

**favorites question**
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2009 [10 favorites]

It might calm you down to know that most people aren't even listening that closely. Those who are listening are likely to be forgiving. Those who aren't forgiving aren't worth your time.Don't worry so much, conversation is supposed to be interesting and enjoyable.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 11:02 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel this way from time to time. You haven't even said anything to embarrass yourself, but you are afraid perhaps you have. Can you recall your embarrassing moments from decades ago? I can recall mine. Now, can you remember anyone else's embarrassing moments, even from yesterday? Very few, if any. No one else remembers yours. And if you keep in mind that everything you said was pretty normal and non-embarrassing, there is even less reason to worry.

I just have to remind myself that no one else is spending their time rethinking what I said. How narcissitic am I that I believe they are evaluating me? Nearly everyone spends their time reviewing what they themselves said.

Sometimes, when we are critical of ourselves, it is because our parents were very critical of us, and we are taking up where they left off. This is dangerous not just to a person's own self-esteem, but also because that person might tend to be very critical of others, too, or to expect too much of them. If you find yourself thinking about the dumb or annoying things that other people said, you might have been raised this way.

I second the call for talking to a therapist. No big deal, just someone to talk to about why you think you might be so hard on yourself. You wouldn't treat a friend that way, would you? So you shouldn't treat yourself that way.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:04 AM on October 14, 2009 [11 favorites]

You need to interrupt your cycle of "I'm so stupid for saying that" by asking yourself some questions to challenge these thoughts about yourself:
- How much do you believe the thought you're thinking (I shouldn't have said that, those people think I'm pathetic, etc.), on a scale of 0-10? [You might also include a part where you ask yourself what the feeling is that's associated with the thought, and how intense the feeling is, 0-10.]
- What are some reasons to believe that thought is not 100% true (look for evidence or possibilities)?
- What are other possible ways to look at the situation?
- What's the worst that could happen as a result of this? What will probably happen as a result of this?
Then, you might check in again about the intensity of the thought and feeling, and see if it's lessened.

This is a super basic cognitive behavioral thought-testing exercise. If this sounds interesting to you, I'd recommend seeking out a therapist experienced in CBT, or if that seems too much, check out some books like Mind Over Mood or Thoughts & Feelings. A therapist would be ideal, though, because s/he can help you get the hang of how thought-challenging can work best for you.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I tend to do this also, although not usually a acutely as you do. I've found a few things that help. One is to remind yourself again and again that: Most people are too busy beating themselves up to worry about what you said, nothing that you say can be as bad as you think it is, even if you make a huge faux-pas - no one will remember it after a day or so.

Remind yourself of these things whenever you start with the negative self-talk. Next, learn to shut that voice down. I sometimes need to stop whatever I'm doing and say out loud "I'm not thinking about that right now." Repeat until it's gone. It will take time, but this is more of a bad habit than low self esteem - you know intellectually that you haven't said anything terrible, but you have an automatic reaction that you need to derail. Good luck!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:09 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

From lifehacker: Although you may have committed yourself to keeping your mouth shut unless you absolutely had something critical to add to a business meeting, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Check out the link for the whole story.
posted by battlecj at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2009

This is one of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Definitely find a therapist, you don't have to suffer like that.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:26 AM on October 14, 2009

I have this problem. It's because I'm a dork.

I found this helpful, from Mr. Llama: No one else gives a shit, why do you?

It didn't really resonate with me at first, but after I trotted that one out to myself mentally a few times, it really cheered me up.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, meds, those are all go-tos as well, but as far as something to carry around in your pocket, that sentence has been useful to me.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:32 AM on October 14, 2009

I struggle with this same thing. The Light Fantastic is right - you have to do a full stop to the voices in your head whenever you start descending into the spiral of negative self-talk. I adopted this quote as my mantra: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." --Bernard Baruch (often misattributed to Dr. Suess).
posted by snowleopard at 11:33 AM on October 14, 2009

Get over it, or find a therapist to help you get over it. Life is messy. We're imperfect creatures that rarely say the right thing. I let my fear of saying "the wrong thing" hold me back from making meaningful connections with other people for years. Don't do it to yourself.
posted by word_virus at 11:39 AM on October 14, 2009

I have this problem. In my case, it's related to OCD. They call it scrupulosity - though this is of a secular type and not religious rituals as it's more commonly used to describe. The self esteem points raised above could be good, but.. it could also be OCD - so it's worth thinking about because there are different ways to (attempt to) resolve it.
posted by wackybrit at 11:46 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I do this too. So, first of all, you're not the only person and I can validate that it's crazy painful.

I think what I've learned is that, for me, it stems from recieving a lot of criticism as a child. I read a book called The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller that helped me understand some of it. YMMV: this may or may not relate to the cause of this for you.

In terms of managing it, I've taken anti-depressents for social anxiety symptoms which did little good. Again YMMV. I've done some CBT to combat it also. I found the use of Daily Mood Logs to be a good way of handling it after the fact when I'm sitting at home and can't stop freaking out about something that happened earlier in day. When Panic Attacks is a good resource for learning how to complete a daily mood log.

One thing I'm working on is learning to recognize the self-doubting self-talk as soon as it begins. It's easy to deal with if I don't let the anxiety sneak up on me later in the night, after I've let it roll around in my head all day. If I acknowledge it right away, before it poisons my whole persecption of the event, it's easier to send away. I don't know if you do this, but I tend to beat myself up for having what I know are irrational worries. So, I beat myself up for sharing and then I beat myself up for beating myself up. It's a viscious cycle. Stopping it before it gets to that point makes it much easier to deal with.

Another thing I've realized is that people (the people I assume are judging me) are usually too worked up about thier own problems to pay much mind to mine or to something stupid I might have shared.

Learning to forgive yourself is vital. Sometimes when it's really bad, I bring to mind a picture of myself as a child and try to imagine yelling at that child for whatever I'm beating myself up over. I can never justify yelling at a child for innocently sharing with others and so I forgive myself for my imagined transgressions much easier after that.

I wish I could tell you that there's a magic pill or mantra that will work everytime. There isn't. But figuring out why I do it has helped me accept and forgive myself a little better. Therapy wouldn't hurt, if you're so inclined. Plenty of people down thread will suggest therapy and CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), in particular. Good luck and I hope you can get a hold of it. It's an icky monster to tame. You can memail me if you'd like to talk about it further.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:51 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

One of the secrets to keep in mind is that 99%+ of people are so self-centered that they will rarely register your mild embarassments at all, and even your major ones will be forgotten in a day or two. The other <1% are so insecure they look for faults, foibles, embarassing moments, etc., of others to make themselves feel better, and you might as well forget them because they'll either find something or make something up if they feel the need to focus on you.

Try CBT as suggested above, or EFT, along with mindfulness and stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. You're doing this to yourself and you have the power to make it stop.
posted by notashroom at 11:55 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANAD, but yes, this is almost certainly a symptom of social anxiety. A good first step would be to talk to your doctor about it (believe you me, they've heard it all before!) I had this problem, and I would wake up feeling sick over social situations after they'd happened - even though, like you, I was well aware that nobody else really cared about whether I said something dumb, and I knew that nobody was talking about me behind my back. My self-esteem is just fine, too.

I got over it with a combination of meds and cognitive behavioural therapy (which is brilliant and which I recommend wholeheartedly). I strongly recommend discussing the issue with your doctor and seeing what s/he recommends.
posted by different at 12:36 PM on October 14, 2009

Echoing sentiments above - I do this too! For me, I've tried to head off negative self-talk with the types of things people have suggested above, also imagining how I would feel if someone else in the same gathering had said something similar about themselves (wouldn't I find it interesting/helpful/genuine, and wouldn't I deserve to receive the same reaction from them as they would receive from me). I really appreciate dchrssyr's comments, particularly about learning to forgive yourself, just as you would a child or a friend or a colleague.

From time to time, to remind myself, I'll say to a trusted friend, "I felt so foolish after I said X at that gathering yesterday," because I always hear in response, "What? Why? I didn't think that was foolish at all. I'm the one who sounded foolish, when I said Z," etc. I haven't gone the meds/therapy route, but YMMV.
posted by pammeke at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2009

Just chiming in to say you're not alone. I could have written your post word for word. I can already see that the comments and suggestions in this thread will be helpful to me so I hope they will be for you as well. Thanks for coming forward and sharing and thank you hive mind for your encouraging and insightful responses.
posted by ourroute at 3:29 PM on October 14, 2009

Find something you believe that you can say back to yourself when you start criticizing yourself. Something that reassures yourself or gives you courage. For example, me, I worry about work. And I don't believe "the project is going to turn out fine," so if I say that, it triggers a bunch of "no, it isn't." But I do believe that I'm fairly good at logical thinking and problem solving. So, I do believe myself when I say, "you can figure this out step by step." So, when I start worrying, I tell myself that. It re-focuses me on the moment and on the current problem that I do need to figure out. So, out of all the suggestions in this thread or elsewhere, find one or two short sentences that you truly believe, and try responding to yourself when you criticize yourself.

Another great technique by David Burns, who wrote The Feeling Good Handbook and 10 Days to Self Esteem (both great books), is called "the Feared Fantasy." Basically you imagine you're talking to someone who says to you the worst things you say to yourself, and then you imagine responding. Try a mix of things like "what did you find so pathetic about my suggestion exactly?" (asking for the terms to be defined) and "yeah, it is true that I am not as informed as you are about the situation. I still think that I should be able to comment on the situation. Do you disagree?" (a version of accepting the part that is true, and then asking, so what?) and even suggesting that maybe the critical person is the one with a problem. You can try this with a caring friend, who should start out playing the part of you while you criticize "yourself," and then you'd switch, or you could play both parts yourself.

Here's one from the Feeling Good Handbook, p. 133, about a psychiatrist who was ashamed about crying in front of his professional peers at a conference. (I'm shortening it.)
CRITICAL PEER: Didn't I see you ... last week at our annual meeting?
MANUEL: Yes, that was me... What did you think...?
CRITICAL PEER: Honestly, Manuel, I was embarrassed. You seemed to be on the verge of crying.
MANUEL: Actually, tears did come to my eyes... I found it very moving. Why was this embarrassing for you?
CRITICAL PEER: Well, for a grown man, a psychologist no less, to be crying in front of his associates is kind of inappropriate, don't you think?
MANUEL: You mean it's inappropriate to show my feelings? Or it's inappropriate to have strong feelings? Or what? I don't exactly get your drift.
CRITICAL PEER: Well, honestly... crying in public like that isn't the most professional or put-together thing in the world.
MANUEL: I see. You think that a "put-together" person would not be moved to tears. Do you think less of me because I was moved to tears?
CRITICAL PEER: As a matter of fact, I do. I don't intend to be cruel, but I feel you deserve to know the truth. I think you're a jerk.
MANUEL: Well, I could understand you might not approve of crying during a psychotherapy demonstration. I DO think it's okay, and we could have a gentleman's disagreement about that. The experience turned out to be extremely valuable for me because I learned to believe in myself and to stop being so afraid of criticism. You might not think it's professional...For my part, I think we'd be better off if we ... felt free to show our feelings. But I still can't grasp why you think I'm 'a jerk.' Am I 'a jerk' because I cried? Or because I disagree with you? Or what?

Here's another one, p. 141, about a guy who won't go to the beach because he's embarrased about his chest:
HOSTILE CROWD: Gee, you really have a weird-looking chest. You should be in a freak show.
CHUCK: Yes, my chest is sort of hollow. I notice you all have massive, hairy chests.
HOSTILE CROWD: Yes, we lift weights and take hormones. Our chests are like the Rocky Mountains. Yours looks like a soup bowl.
CHUCK: I've always admired men with large chests. Mine does look like a soup bowl in comparison. You have some of the biggest chests on the beach!
HOSTILE CROWD: Yes, people all admire us because we're such handsome studs. But nobody admires you. In fact, everyone's staring at you and thinking that you're gross, deformed, and disgusting. Nobody wants to be seen with you.
CHUCK: It sounds like even being near me is making you real uncomfortable. Why is that? Perhaps you should go see a psychiatrist I know... perhaps you can hide your eyes while I walk past.

Sometimes it's an enormous belief just to admit that some part of what you fear is true, and then to try to get yourself to explain what it really says about you, and why it matters really. Anyway, long story short, check out some of the books by David Burns and actually try the exercises. Even the short snippets I've read in the bookstore aisle have helped me a lot.
posted by salvia at 4:03 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

Recently I started telling myself I had a year left to live (I don't actually know my time frame, not sick, not trying to send a message or anything...). I started telling myself this to relieve myself of all of the social anxiety I have, and so far it's been working rather well. Sort of "man, you really, really just talked waaaayyyy too much", and then the thought pops into my head , "yeah, well, whatever. I have a year left to live"

I really haven't done all of the insightful reflection about why this helps, but boy does it help. All sorts of things that I've been not doing, I've decided to do because well, I have a year left to live. All sorts of things that seem embarrassing and horrifying become tolerable or non existent because well, if you've only got a year left to live you really can't be wasting it on thinking that Bob thinks you're an idiot.

It isn't a cure-all mind you, and it seems to work better earlier in the day, but it does help. Maybe there is some phrase or framework that would help you?

At the very least, revel in the fact that this thread shows you are lots of in good company!
posted by anitanita at 4:32 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: wow I cannot thank all of you enough. This is amazing. THANK YOU!
posted by seekingsimplicity at 4:53 PM on October 14, 2009

Bring a friend to the next meeting. Maybe you will feel more confident during the meeting, and afterwards you can discuss your own comments with a person you trust.
posted by iviken at 8:04 AM on October 15, 2009

WOW wow and wow. Your posting is how I often feel too. I have by far not mastered this problem, but what has helped me is to do this: I have a few people in my mind who I admire....people I have met along the way that are close to my age, similar in education, social status, etc....and it is those people I think of during my times of difficulty. It goes something like this: I visualize that person, and I imagine them being in this same situation where I am. Then I imagine how they might act. Or I imagine them saying the same thing I have said. Then I see how they are not upset with themself at all, they continue to carry themselves with composure and not put themself down. These are people I admire and want to emulate, I guess. And if THEY can say these things and feel good about it, then I can too.

Also, when I have that self-talk coming that is putting me down for what I have said, how I worded something, or talking at all, then I try to counter it with positive self talk, and here's the cute thing, I call myself "sweetie".....so I will say something like "Sweetie, you did the best you could" or "Sweetie, you sounded just fine" and the like. Even out loud.

Your might get some benefit from reading my recent post & all the great advice I received here on meta called "How do I talk to doctors?"

One thing they I carried away with me from that last post is that I really do have something valuable to say, and I am just as deserving as the next person. I have special skills and input too. And this is true for you too. What you have to say or share about your own experiences IS something others DO want to hear!
Take care.
posted by bananaskin at 12:32 PM on October 17, 2009

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