Why am I never proud of myself?
August 24, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I am a generally happy person, however I am never happy/proud about my grades or accomplishments. I frequently beat myself up over them. Why? What can I do to change?

I've had some depression and anxiety issues in the past but they are mostly resolved, and I'm generally a content and happy person. I was never pressured to do well in school. My parents always encouraged me to do the best I could and praised me when I did well. I'm not compensating for a lack of approval (as far as I know).

I'm a computer science/math double major with a 3.86 GPA. I often feel I am not deserving of the grades I receive, and I'm normally very upset at myself if I get a grade less than 100/A. I know it is ridiculous to be upset over good grades, but for some reason I can't help it. The same goes for when I find a different way to solve a problem in a CS course and a professor praises me, or when I finally finish crocheting a gift and the receiver loves it. I smile and say thank you, but I always think there is something more I could have done, or that I don't deserve the praise.

This isn't a big deal and it doesn't drastically interfere with my life but I know it's not really a healthy attitude. I was wondering if the great hive mind could relate or shed some light on this thought process.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't quite tell from what you have written here, but is it perhaps like impostor syndrome? Like you feel like you're faking it, tricking everyone else into thinking you're smart but you don't think you deserve that? As a former grad student, I have very, very much been there.
posted by brainmouse at 9:21 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dunning-Kruger effect?
posted by anaelith at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2011

Be proud of being humble! I know it sounds silly, but pride is not something inherently good. In fact, it can be quite destructive, leading to ugly feelings of entitlement. However, the fact that you don't allow yourself to feel pleased, relieved or happy about your good grades is sad. I bet that your achievements are due entirely to your intelligence and hard work. If you can't bring yourself to be bigheaded, at least take ownership of your modesty and be happy at your good fortune.

As for the thought process, brainmouse hit it on the nose. Confide, if you can, in a similarly high-achieving peer - I'd put money on them feeling the same emotions!

And because no one can ever say it enough: you are very good at what you do.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2011

Speaking as a math major, that is an awesome GPA. Great job!

I think anaelith's link to the Dunning-Kruger effect is right on. You need to take a step back from yourself when you think those "not good enough" thoughts and remind yourself that, "Hey, you know what, I'm crushing not one but two of the hardest majors around, so this is pretty good," or "Hey, most people don't even know how to crochet at all, so the fact that I missed a stitch in row 34 is no big deal. My friend's head will be just as warm under the hat anyway and they're too happy having a new hat to care about that small detail."

Try to treat that drive for perfection like the advantage it is while not letting it reach too far and wreck the rest of your life.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:40 AM on August 24, 2011

There's a difference between being humble and having low-self-esteem. I have a friend who sounds a lot like you. He's an amazing musician but is always hard on himself. He feels he can do so much better and while everyone can do better, I feel he limits himself because he doesn't cut himself enough slack when he does make mistakes. AND because he never really thinks his skills as anything special he frequently refuses compliments and honestly, it comes as as him being an insecure ass. I think it's healthy you are asking this question on how to become more graceful in actually being proud but with the right amount of humility in your achievements. Otherwise, if you're constantly downplaying your stuff, you may find your opportunities becoming less and less. You have tremendous skill but now it's time to gain the right amount of confidence and believe in it.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 12:42 PM on August 24, 2011

I experience this, too. My recent performance feedback from my boss has been along the lines of "don't work so hard," "allow yourself to fail," "try to have more fun," "your standards are too high," etc. But I can't just do that. I want to be the best version of myself, and - as a human being - that never happens, and then I feel bad.

Like you, I've anxiety and depression problems and feel like both are now in my past. But I think this unhealthy perfectionism and self-berating is tied in to anxiety, even though it doesn't feel like the debilitating anxiety of my past.

Just in the past few weeks I've tried a new approach to managing this, using mindfulness and meditation. You should look into the concept of radical self-acceptance. It draws on Buddhist and Catholic intellectual and mystical traditions, but it's non-dogmatic enough that I, as an atheist, feel comfortable with what I've read and learned so far.

I haven't mastered this stuff yet (and maybe the whole idea is that I have to accept that I can't "master" it or anything else), but I think it has a lot of potential to help.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

^ should read, "I've had anxiety and depression problems ..."
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2011

Look at it this way: it is not 'pride' in a happyhappy way, because it is arrogance (and perfectionism), which is always unhappy. There are few happily arrogant people, or happy about whatever is the source of their arrogance. On the other hand, there are few intelligent proud people. Pride goes with lesser intelligence, arrogance with greater.

I say this in the spirit of fond indulgence; I suffer from mostly the same thing (though I'm not a math major, and being good at writing makes me feel inherently less awesome in this culture, but anyway). When you say 'you can do better', you're discounting your professor's/others opinions, and imply they're just, y'know, dumb enough not to realize that 'this is nothing', and your own standards are the 'real' ones, etc. That is arrogance. Also, by definition, perfectionism can never be satisfied-- anytime you reach a goal, the idea of the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, so any goal achieved is automatically 'done' and 'in the past' and therefore inferior to the possible future, which can still be idealized. Once you've done something, it is limited, whereas possible excellence is unlimited except by your ambition. You can't exhaust your vision of what's possible, but once you finish any piece of work, you've reached the limit of that work, so it's inherently, y'know, boring and lame. Of course getting an A is assumed, but if you always get that result, it's just something to take for granted rather than a great reward to be happy over, isn't it.

I'd say, do more creative stuff. Push yourself to write your own code in your spare time, try to crack some challenging math problem not yet proven, something that really excites you. Work on something meaningful to you, especially in a group environment where you get non-graded feedback from fellow scholars/programmers/etc. This creative output is what's rewarding, and it'll teach you not to fixate on grades/compliments/etc but the genuine inner sense that you're doing something worthwhile, and it helps others in some way. When people use/read something you've done/discovered/created and appreciate it, that feels way different than your average compliment or perfect score. That's the pay-off, right there.
posted by reenka at 10:41 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

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