Getting past self-judgement
April 5, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Getting past self-judgement

I'm functional. I can always, always work. I set goals and accomplish them. I can be very happy - sometimes I wake up singing. I eat reasonably well and exercise. I have emotional highs and lows throughout the day.

The problem is that I have this feeling that I'm not a good person. I can't seem to get past it with logic or rational thought. I feel like I deserve for something really bad to happen to me. It's really hard to explain. On the one hand, I would never hurt myself in any way. But I feel like I don't deserve to be as kind to myself as I am. I try to just ignore this thought and live my life as thought it didn't matter, but I feel like it's always there, underlying everything I do.

I don't set out to have relationships with other people because I don't see why they would want me around. When people do care about me I am convinced that it's because they don't know me very well. I feel incredibly grateful towards them - I would do anything to protect them from knowing the truth about me. I get into a cycle of feeling guilty for "lying" to people by letting them think I'm the type of person who can be close to others.

There's a line in this book I really like where the villain says something like, "If I could meet a perfect judge I would throw myself at his feet." I identify with that a lot. If I believed in God then everything would be OK because it would be up to God to judge me. But since I don't believe in God, and I don't really believe other people can understand me, there's no one to judge me but myself. It feels so clear to me that this is just the way things are - that this is who I am, and this is how my life has to be.

I've thought about getting evaluated for depression, but I don't feel like I really meet the symptoms. Has anyone else experienced this type of thing? Did it turn out that you were depressed, or is this part of the normal range of emotions? If you managed to change your outlook, what helped?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy. Therapy helped.

Whether you're depressed or anxious or just caught in a mode of thinking that doesn't work for you, I recommend finding someone to talk with about it. Since part of the problem is that you don't have or trust close friends, I think that a professional is your best bet.
posted by decathecting at 9:15 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't diagnose you, of course, but this does sound like depression to me. Sometimes it takes a while for people with depression to get diagnosed/treated for various reasons: because they don't feel "sad," because it's not interfering with their showing up to work and paying bills, because they are convinced that the bleak outlook and low self-esteem imposed by depression are the truth, etc.

I have been in the same place as you; therapy helped, and medication especially has worked wonders. I felt functional enough before then, so I didn't seek help until I was in a really bad spot - I probably could have benefited from getting treatment much earlier.

It sounds like you're aware that this self-judgment is a problem, and that even though your opinion of yourself feels firmly entrenched, you know it's not right and that you are a good and worthwhile and deserving person. Being aware of what your mind is doing is a big plus and can help you get your way back to health. Best of luck to you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2010

I would say that talking with a counselor or therapist could definitely help. If you don't feel like you want to talk with a counselor or therapist because of the whole "other people can't understand me" issue, it might be useful for you to start doing some meditation and/or mindfulness exercises -- the goal being to become aware of your own negative thought patterns, and ultimately to short-circuit the cycles of unproductive thought that you've created ("I'm a bad person" --> "I don't deserve nice things" --> "I don't deserve nice things because I'm a bad person" and "People wouldn't like me if they knew me" --> "I won't get close to people" --> "I don't have friends because I'm not the kind of person who can be close to others" seem to be two prime examples).

People are inherently irrational and tend to develop beliefs for no apparent reason. In some cases, this is harmless or even a good thing (religion, for instance, is irrational but can have good effects on individuals' lives). But irrational beliefs and thoughts can also be counterproductive (as in your case, or people who perpetrate outrages on themselves and others in the name of religion). Whether you seek therapy or not, you're going to have to shut down these irrational beliefs of yours and replace them with more productive forms of irrationality. (I don't think that anyone can be purely rational and still be a normal human.)

Also, maybe you're down on yourself because you feel that there's something more that you could be doing with your life? It seems like you're a well-functioning and productive member of society and that you've got your own stuff pretty well in hand. But it might help you to get involved with some kind of volunteer cause or other good works in your community -- it's pretty hard to think of yourself as OMG Most Bad Person Ever if you're feeding the homeless every Thursday, or walking puppies at the animal shelter, or some other totally voluntary thing that is an unquestionably Good Thing To Do.
posted by kataclysm at 9:38 AM on April 5, 2010

The book Feeling Good teaches you how to argue with those irrational thoughts and beat them. It also contains a good depression checklist, which is probably available online as well.

It does seem to me (IANAD) that those thoughts can be symptoms of depression or related things (social anxiety, etc.) Certainly the part about not having relationships must have a severe impact on your life and therapy could probably help. Don't worry about whether you have the symptoms or not -- that's for the professionals to decide. :-)
posted by callmejay at 9:41 AM on April 5, 2010

It might or might not be normal, but it certainly isn't healthy. You sound like a prime candidate for CBT.

I don't set out to have relationships with other people because I don't see why they would want me around. ~~ This is "mind reading". You're putting yourself into someone else's head and deciding that you know what they think. You don't know that.

When people do care about me I am convinced that it's because they don't know me very well. ~~ Aren't there any people around you who do know you well and who still care about you, such as family, friends or maybe work colleagues?

there's no one to judge me but myself. ~~ Why do you have to be judged?

CBT is often suggested for depression, but it's also useful for a lot of other problems too. Mainly it's about changing the way you think about yourself and the rest of the world from a negative view to a positive one. You don't dound depressed to me (note that I am not any kind of doctor) but you do sound as though you have a low self image, most likely caused by telling yourself that you're a terrible person. Lots of people do that, so you're not alone. The good news is that it's relatively easy to poke holes in theories that you are a wicked person and deserve God's wrath, because you aren't a wicked person and nor do you deserve God's wrath.

The book Feeling Good helped me a lot with a similar thing, and also CBT for Dummies. Both of them are pretty cheap on Amazon.
posted by Solomon at 9:42 AM on April 5, 2010

Definitely get tested for depression. I feel the same way about myself, and I never thought it sounded like depression until I wound up in the hospital and they diagnosed me with it. I was put on antidepressants that actually made me feel a lot better.
posted by biochemist at 9:49 AM on April 5, 2010

Are you doing anything good, or beneficial for others? I think this type of self-loathing is common when people start having nagging existential doubts, and I find that they're very commonly relieved by active good, volunteering, that sort of thing. You may be depressed, but sound pretty high functioning, and it sounds like you could use some action, above all.
posted by blazingunicorn at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2010

I don't know whether you're depressed or not, but these feelings of judgment and low self-worth have begun to effect your relationships with people, and that's a pretty major thing. Anytime a negative feeling starts interfering in a part of your life, it has become bigger than something you can just shrug off. I would go talk to someone about it. A counselor or therapist can help you sort this out and find ways to subvert its negative impacts. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2010

Chari Huber's There Is Nothing Wrong With You takes a Zen Buddhist perspective on self-hatred. Reading this book has really helped me notice and disidentify with the harshly critical voices in my head.

My short version: while these mean internal voices may try to pretend like they are objective, accurate, and trying to help you improve yourself, the truth is that the goal of self-hatred is to keep you where you are right now: namely, suffering. More on the content of the book here.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can get a bit like this when I'm not exercising enough, not eating well, watching too much TV or just generally not taking care of myself.

Alternatively, can you think through who you would be if you WERE someone you respected? What would you do? Could you start to use this as an incentive to start becoming someone you would like better?
posted by emilyw at 10:36 AM on April 5, 2010

Has anyone else experienced this type of thing?

Just you and half the rest of the world. That's meant to sound reassuring, though it probably doesn't. What you've summarised is a classic description of the "I'm not OK, you're OK" life position described by transactional analysis (TA). For me at least, TA is an intuitive and easy to understand guide to what's going on inside my head and, more importantly, how to work on the bits I don't like.

I wouldn't leap straight into therapy. I'd read a bit around the subject first and work on myself, and in addition to the excellent recommendations above, add "I'm OK, You're OK" to the reading list. It's old, but it's still in print for good reason.
posted by genesta at 10:56 AM on April 5, 2010

My therapist gave me a choice between There Is Nothing Wrong With You and Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha - the former looked far, far too cutesy for me, so I'm currently making my way through the latter. It's fantastic.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 12:14 PM on April 5, 2010

I really, really encourage you to find a good therapist with whom you feel comfortable. It's a slow process, but it can be enormously interesting and rewarding, and if you commit to going regularly, it will genuinely change the way you think about yourself. You'll see that there are reasons you feel this way; these punishing thoughts don't emerge from nothing.

The way you are living now must be incredibly painful and you deserve not to be in pain.

Another thought: I've been thinking a lot lately about joy - trying to find as much joy as possible in every situation I enter. It shifts the focus away from all my perceived failures and onto the goal of merely enjoying the stuff I do. I'm trying to hunt for joy in even the most routine things --work stuff, home stuff, etc. Can you try -- even just for an afternoon -- to shift your attention from issues of failure, success and self-worth and simply set yourself the goal of enjoying what you're doing?
posted by cymru_j at 12:26 PM on April 5, 2010

there is a lot of good advice already posted...therapy for sure. therapy because a good therapist is an advocate for you, on your side, cheering for you to make your life better. You may never have had a cheerleader and you may feel like you don't deserve one, but it is nice to be encouraged and have your feelings validated by an objective person in your life.

good luck
posted by Goodgrief at 12:50 PM on April 5, 2010

A fellow sufferer of self-damning judgment here. Writing 'I am worthy' twenty times in a journal every day and sitting with the feelings that come up when you do is a helpful exercise. Warning: considerably more confronting than it appears. The access it gives to the source and function of your negative beliefs is pretty profound.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:16 PM on April 5, 2010

While I think the recommendations of CBT are excellent, I also don't know that your situation is appropriate for just starting a workbook and expecting that everything's going to sort itself out without the guidance of a qualified therapist to support you in the CBT process. Doing CBT with a therapist who is trained to administer it could give you a much better chance at a successful outcome.

If you are in the US, and haven't already sought therapy because of fears that it will be too expensive, you can check out this link for info on lower-cost and sliding scale mental health services.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:28 PM on April 5, 2010

Here's something I learned about therapy recently: sometimes having another, unbiased person looking at you and confirming what you already know, or giving you permission to take steps you already know you need to make, can be hugely beneficial. Go.
posted by davejay at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2010

I have to agree that seeing a therapist would probably be useful for you.

I'll add, however, a suggestion that would have helped me when I began sorting this problem out for myself. These sorts of self-negating and -judging messages circulate in my head too, although I'm a lot better about it now than I was a few years ago.

So, my question: Where do you think these statements—I'm not a good person . . . I deserve for something really bad to happen to me—come from? Who put that voice inside your head? In my case, I now see, it was my family and especially my father. Just within the past few years, I've realized that every time I buy into the idea that I'm worthless, I am siding with my father and against myself—siding with cruelty and bullying against a helpless kid. After a while, I decided I wasn't going to be on that team anymore. Maybe a therapist can help you make that choice too.

Peace and good luck.
posted by cirripede at 5:01 PM on April 5, 2010

If I believed in God then everything would be OK because it would be up to God to judge me. But since I don't believe in God, and I don't really believe other people can understand me, there's no one to judge me but myself.

In most any religion that believes in free will, God's judgment is neither arbitrary nor capricious. There's a set of rules one follows, those rules (often) have a strong relationship with a notion of how the world operates and how others should be treated given that information and (this is the important part) unrepentance is punished instead of mistakes or even willful errors.

It sounds like you're judging yourself against a set of arbitrary, shifting rules. Even if that's not true, you're certainly plenty repentant. If you've got a long set of rules about how you should live your life, and you can justify them against your belief system, than understand your violations of those rules as legitimate learning experiences made by a fallible human being and move on. If you only have a few rules, than you don't have many occasions to judge yourself.

If you don't believe in God, then there's no judge out there that's more "perfect" than you are, hence no one else's standard you have to meet. Even if you did believe in God, you'd be the person responsible for interpreting God's will in your own life.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:15 PM on April 5, 2010

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