Wanted: A Guide to the World of the Self-Confident
January 31, 2012 2:44 AM   Subscribe

Tell me what it's like to be you, a person without anxiety or low self-esteem.

I've had anxiety and low self-esteem for just about as long as I can remember. This recent blog post in the NYT rang true in many ways for me, although my anxiety isn't as great as the author's. Because it has become more crippling than it has been in a long time as a result of life changes, I'm now going through the Intimate Connections book and doing all of the exercises (thanks AskMe and specifically Ironmouth for this recommendation), as well as the MoodGym.

It occurred to me that I actually don't know what it's like to be someone without anxiety or low self-esteem. Intellectually, I know how to manage it, but my negativity is so automatic and consuming that sometimes I don't even realize how it takes over. MoodGym has a couple examples of how normal people think and it was a revelation to me that the constant flow of negativity from your own inner voice was not how people without anxiety or low self-esteem might react.

Let's take a few examples of how my anxiety and low self-esteem manifest:
- Recently, I spontaneously burst into song (it was in context, I swear) someone--a relative stranger that I had only met about half an hour ago--said that I sing quite well. Immediately, I said, "No I don't!"

The background for this is that one of my sisters, who was in a glee club herself throughout high school, told me many years ago when we were driving in the car and I was singing along happily that I should never sing. So...even though I've worked hard to overcome that through the miracle that is karaoke and even joined a choir later, I never sing without the nagging thought that I'm not a good singer, that I shouldn't even pretend, that I should always remember that my own sister thought my singing voice sucked. I'm pretty sure that my sister doesn't even remember that thoughtless remark, but I did.

- Like many others, I'm struggling with my job search. People have told me that I'm actually doing really well considering "this economy", but I'll have horrible days where my mind is saying, "You're never going to find a job, you are worthless, you wouldn't even qualify to work in fast food." Because of this, sometimes it'll take me as long as two hours to send out one cover letter and resume, and I'll have to work through hours or even days of negativity just to even get to that point. Realistically, I tell myself that I've found jobs before and my last title was assistant director, but somehow I believe in this alternate universe much more than the real one that I lived through.

- Then, finally, when it comes to men that I'm interested in, I already have disqualified myself in my mind. Let's say I meet a guy who is interesting and attractive. If he's with someone, then my automatic thought would be, "Of course he is, and he would never be interested in me. I'll never find anyone anyway because I am worthless. Guys never find me attractive anyway." If he's actually single, then it is even worse. I won't even give him a chance because I'll just be very very friendly to make sure that he understands that I would never be so horrible as to hit on him and that I am not a sexual creature.

In these type of situations, if you were a normal person, what might your thought processes be? Seriously, I'd just love to hear some of your actual thoughts in these fairly normal types of situations. I'm just so tired of my own negativity. I know that I deserve better than this!
posted by so much modern time to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't have anxiety or low self-esteem, I think the difference is not that you don't have that kind of thought: it's that you don't obsess about it, or let it rule you.

For instance, in the singing example, I'd probably have the same reaction as you. (Although I do suck at singing!) But then I'd be like, meh, I like singing, and starting singing again, or find myself distracted by something else, and that would be the end of it.

Regarding people I'm attracted to, I too usually reflexively think "they wouldn't be interested in me". But then I follow it up with, who knows? I might be wrong. - or, well, it's worth a try. - or, no, if they like trait X and Y then maybe I have a chance. And if it turned out they weren't interested in me after all, I'd be sad and anxious for a bit, but then shrug and move on. There are other fish in the sea and if they didn't like me then they clearly weren't as awesome (or at least as much of a match) as I thought they were. :)

Bottom line: I would imagine the main difference is how often you think those negative thoughts, and how easy they are to turn off. You do deserve better than relentless negativity. Good luck figuring it out.
posted by forza at 3:27 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "normal" person, and even if there is, maybe I'm not it, but I feel like I've always had relatively healthy self esteem and low anxiety, except during a couple of bouts of depression in the past.

But even so, with these situations I think it might be a toss-up as to whether I have a positive thought, negative thought, or neutral thought. I guess what's different from you is that you don't seem to have the positive or neutral reactions EVER, huh? So here's what they would have been, if I had reacted positively or neutrally:

1. Positive: "Cool. It must be good if a stranger says so!"
Neutral: "Ha. Singing. Fun. And a stranger telling me it's good. That's weird."

2. Positive: I'd probably spend a lot of time daydreaming about the perfect job that I MIGHT land, or about all the possibilities out there and how many fun ways my life could go. I might imagine for a specific job, how I'm going to rock the interview.

Neutral: "Wow, this is hard. But it's going to be okay. No one's unemployed forever." This might go with a lot of abstract thoughts about the economy and job market, wondering what it's like for other people I went to school with, etc.

3. Again, daydreaming about being with the guy. Imagining scenarios where he might ask me out or where he might compliment me. Sexy fantasies. If he's single this might lead to more realistic daydreams; if not, just fantasies. I don't think I'd be thinking about *me* or what he thought of me much at all. More about him and what I think of *him*.
posted by lollusc at 3:30 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

At some points in my life, my self esteem and anxiety have been worse than others. But anyways:

- A stranger says I sing quite well. I'd think anything ranging from, "aw, how sweet" to "yay, my singing practice has FINALLY paid off" to "gee, that's nice of them to say."

- It would be understandable to feel discouraged about the job search. Still, I'd try to be working on side projects so at least I'd be busy or bettering myself some how. And given how much I've hated certain past jobs I've had, I'd remind myself, "well, at least I'm not at that godforsaken place anymore! I would have gone postal on those motherfuckers!"

- Interesting and attractive guy: "does he like me? I think he likes me. Maybe he thinks of me as just a friend. But maybe he likes me! What if I'm imagining things? Maybe he's just being friendly! Maybe he likes to flirt with everyone. Still, why did he say that to me?" (cue 5 hours of neurotic internal dialogue)

I really admire that you're trying to look at your own thought processes though. Being observant about ourselves, being able to detach and see ourselves objectively, especially when our knee-jerk selves are acting out--I think that's seriously the key to self-development, growth, and change.

Being anxious and having low self esteem is just one way to be, and there are many other ways to think and feel which are far funner. One day soon (today?) I hope you'll be able to say, "you know what, I'm tired of being that person...I'm gonna be somebody else" and feel really good about it. And you definitely do deserve it. Kudos to you!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:13 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you on medication? Your description of you level of anxiety and low self-esteem sound like something you should be sharing with a doctor. The negative tape loop can be stopped, or eased, in many many cases.

I myself have pretty good self-esteem, always have. One thing I notice is that I don't much think about what other people think about me. In fact, as I've gotten older, I have made a conscious effort not to conjure up what others are thinking about anything. Practice trusting yourself in small ways and acknowledge your progress to yourself("Hey, I did a great job handling that whatever-interaction the other day"). You might not be able to completely quiet the negative voice inside, but you can surely balance it with a positive perspective.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:15 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what normal is, but I think I have OK self-esteem and I'm also pretty confident in most situations.

Spontaneous singing
Thinking: Wow, I'll sing around this person some more
Saying: Thanks friend OR Tell me more

Job search sucks
Thinking: Haven't found one today, but I've had plenty of days like today where tomorrow was something entirely different.
Saying: N/A

Attractive person of preferred gender or genders
Thinking: WOW he's smokin' hot!
Saying: *blush and smile*
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:28 AM on January 31, 2012

I've been on both sides.

Singing - I'm a decent singer and used to compliments. I might think "Eh, what do you know" if I'm feeling low or intimidated by a *good* singer, but in general my response is "gee, thanks!"

Job search - Sometimes it's all "fuck yeah, I could do this job!!" and sometimes it's more like what you described.

Attractive person - I've definitely had your reaction. But in the past few years there have been an astonishing (to me) number of very cute men who were into me, so I no longer assume that any given dude won't be into me. At my most confident, I don't really think. I see the cute guy, I strike up a conversation, give him a big smile, and see what happens.
posted by bunderful at 4:40 AM on January 31, 2012

for me its all about not letting myself make the decision that the other party actually has to make:

job search: its not up to me to decide i'm not qualified, that's why they have an HR and hiring process

attractive person: maybe they're not interested, and maybe they are - but that's for them to decide.

Don't jump the gun and start making decisions for other people.
posted by alchemist at 5:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'll echo others that a completely "normal" person might not exist, but here's my take as a relatively high self-esteem, relatively low-anxiety guy (most of the time).

The key thing I'm seeing differently from you, I think, is that there is some objective reality. Reality is not beholden to what others think, or what you think for that matter.

You sing some way, which some people may find pleasant or others not, but you can, for example, record your voice and listen to it. There - that's how you sound, no matter what anyone says or thinks, that's how you sound, with this timbre and that pitch. Some people may like it, others may not (think of the wide variety of pop music singing styles, even someone "bad" may have fans, and even someone "good" may have detractors).

Similarly with the other examples. You have some set of skills and companies have some set of needs, and there may or may not be a good match out there at a given price (subject to the ability of each of you to communicate your position). Keep trying and maybe you'll find that match. If not, it's no particular slight against you; maybe it's time to change your set of skills a bit by learning something new (e.g., proficiency in "social media", ugh, but that's easy enough to obtain and demonstrate).

Dating - that one's harder for me to answer, so I won't try. But do realize, that you look a certain way which some people may find appealing and others not, and further, that looks are more important to some people and less to others.

Now, how I would handle the situations:

- "Thanks!" (With strangers, I just take them at their word; much easier that way.) It's possible your sister thinks your singing voice sucks and that stranger likes it. More likely, your sister doesn't think that anymore (if she ever did, and wasn't just being mean as siblings sometimes do).

- I'm looking for work, too. I try not to determine the probability of various outcomes without any data. I just send out my cover letters, talk to my network, etc, sound confident in my interactions, and see what happens. If the data suggests I need to change something (i.e., no responses at all), I'll do something to improve my skill set.

- Depending on the context, I'd probably think the two of them were together, too. Might be worth chatting for a little while to determine that, but it might be a safe assumption. Again, I'd gather some data before leaping to the conclusion that no one would ever want to be with me. Likely, you're just fine the way you are and there are plenty of people who would be happy with you. If not, you can always expand the population interested in you by, e.g., 'beautifying' yourself, or taking up an interesting hobby, or earning more money, etc.

Incidentally, "high self esteem" does not mean that you think you're good at everything, super attractive, smart, etc. (And if it does, then you shouldn't seek it.) Just try to honestly appraise situations and be happy with yourself. I think I'm not particularly good at most things that I do (because I think of the experts in those areas), but I still enjoy doing them, and realize I have the capacity to get better at them if I spent the effort that the experts did.
posted by losvedir at 5:02 AM on January 31, 2012

If somebody tells me I'm a good singer (and I am), I say "Thanks!"

If I apply for a job, I assume that I'm going to get it because I'm likely the best candidate. If I don't get it, it's not the end of the world because there are other jobs out there, and they were likely looking for something different than what I had to offer (I know I'm not the best at everything, just a lot of things).

As for relationships, I'm married, but it still seems like most women get a little twinkle in their eye when they talk to me (at least that's what my brain tells me).

The above might read as arrogant, but I don't think it is - these are inward things that flit through my brain.
posted by davey_darling at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

As was discussed early on, I think the key difference is that the person with anxiety & low self esteem is ruled by these thoughts, and the person without them isn't. I'd go further as to say that the person with anxiety & low self esteem gets something out of letting these sort of thoughts rule them (otherwise why continue - we do what works for us). Those without don't generally get much out of defaulting to and residing in self-abnegation, so they don't generally do it.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:26 AM on January 31, 2012

The key thing I'm seeing differently from you, I think, is that there is some objective reality.

Yes, this.

It's not that "normal" (ha, ha) people never think negatively about negative situations or incidents, but that they don't turn the negativity all on themselves. I'll try to explain that.

1. I would think, "yay, this person likes my singing! I knew I could sing and that there was a point to all those lessons!" (And then I might think, "how rude was it that people back then told me I wasn't a good singer. They were wrong, and mean.")

2. I would think, "This is so hard and the economy sucks and this field/hiring/life is really unfair. But I know I'm good at this, and I want to do well at it, so I'm just going to work hard until someone else recognizes that too."

3. If he was with someone, I would just be disappointed and think "Oh, of course, they're all taken" or something. It would not occur to me to make that about myself. If he was single I'd think, "Past experience has shown me that guys who fit into [whatever specific characteristics he has that I like] often don't go for girls like me, so this might not end well. But past experience has also shown me that if a guy's going to like you he's going to like you, and there's nothing you can do to influence it either way. So maybe I'll try to find about him and get to know him and see what happens. And if he isn't interested, I'll probably be upset for a while, but as great as he seems, I don't want someone who isn't interested in me."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:30 AM on January 31, 2012

As someone who used to be a lot more anxious and self deprecating, I still find myself encountering negative thoughts at times, in situations like you describe. Part of my method to continue to overcome them is to think of myself and others as in the same audience, all of whom want to be made happy rather than bummed out. So I give them some blustery overconfidence outloud if appropriate and in my brain if not: "Of course I'm a good singer, I'm freddy fucking mercury! *(fake opera solo)*" "Oh sure that chick wants me, I'm like Tony Soprano over here" (or whatever non-traditional but attractive body type you might resemble ... "These jerks would be lucky to have me, I'll throw em a bone and apply there but I'll probably turn em down."

The joke supplants the negative thought, and make the person you're talking to laugh and be comfortable, and eventually, you start believing it, or at least believing that the truth is somewhere in between superhero and loser.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:34 AM on January 31, 2012

the difference is not that you don't have that kind of thought: it's that you don't obsess about it, or let it rule you.
So, so true. A friend of mine is struggling with this sort of thing right now. Her therapist gave her a mantra that seems to be quite effective: "What's the worst that could happen?" That's one way we normal folks deal with anxiety. I don't have to be the best singer or even a particularly good one, but I can still sing in public, because, hey, what's the worst possible outcome of doing so? Doesn't always work, of course, since it can lead to a spiral of possible gruesome outcomes--I'm sure you're creative enough to think of all sorts of bad things that could happen. But it's one strategy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:37 AM on January 31, 2012

I used to get like this some time ago. (more from the male perspective but very similar rationalizations). I found that I could build pride by taking on hobbies and sharing with others...it basically helped open me up to enjoy life as a whole and not sweat the small stuff. The hobbies aren't really too involved either...one of them happens to be homebrewing beer for example, where you learn all the intricacies of yeasts, gravities, hops, and the like....not for everyone, but is an example. This helped me tap into a certain level of general "happiness" that just sticks around.

Perhaps there's something you'd rather be doing than occupying your mind with these thoughts? They're just thoughts. Those thoughts can be anything you want them to be...you get to choose them.
posted by samsara at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2012

1) "Hey, thanks!" I probably wouldn't think much of it. I don't generally burst into song spontaneously, but I do sing in public regularly (church, etc.), and people tell this to me. It's just kind of a nice little bonus to the day, but that's about it.

2) It's a numbers game. Remember, you're sending out [x] applications but only looking for one job. So's everybody else. And employers are sifting through [x] applications but only looking for one employee. Rejection letters don't say anything about me personally. But I know that my resume makes me a good candidate for certain kinds of positions, so when I was looking for jobs in 2010, I targeted my applications for firms I knew want to hire people like me. This doesn't mean the application process isn't stressful or annoying, but if you just remind yourself that you're probably looking for mostly rejection letters, that can take a lot of the sting out of it. Particularly if you recognize that a company that rejects you probably does so because they don't think you'd be a good fit, which means you probably didn't want that job anyway. I once had an interviewer tell me, to my face and in so many words, "You don't want this job. I've looked at your resume. You don't want to do this." I was kind of offended at the time, but he was right, and I've since thanked him for it.

3) Well... that's a bit different for me, being on the other side of that gender split, but I wind up disqualifying potential dates more than I wind up disqualifying myself. I've got some pretty exacting criteria (religion and education, primarily), so the fact that a pretty girl might not be interested in me for whatever doesn't bother me all that much, because, pretty or no, I'm probably not all that interested in her either. So what's to get worked up about?
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 AM on January 31, 2012

I've never had anxiety (anxious thoughts/feelings, sure!) but I have had low self-esteem, developed from growing up in a dysfunctional family, like 95% of the population. I also had a "poor me" victim mindset too. Going away to university, being exposed to different people and experiences, a few years of therapy in my late 20s, and a lot of journal writing have helped me develop self-esteem and be ok with myself in the world. (Of course there's room to improve but hey, it's a journey, right?)

To your scenarios: there have been a couple of askme's about how to accept compliments. I can't remember how or when, but at some point I just decided to accept compliments at face value. Why not? "You have a nice singing voice." "You look nice today." "Good work." Me: "Thank you." I make a choice to accept the positivity that people are sending my way and to absorb it. Of course it also helps to believe these things about yourself first, and the compliments that you receive are just confirmation about what you believe about yourself. Now, when it comes to playing piano, I don't believe that I'm that great, but that's because I have a lot of baggage around it. :D So it's harder for me to believe the compliments that people give me about it. I know I have to figure out what I think for myself about my own piano playing. It seems like you're in a similar situation with your singing voice: your sister said something pretty hurtful to you about it (that she doesn't even remember!) and you've carried that ever since. Let it go. What do you honestly think about your own singing ability?

Job searching is hard and no fun at all. I hate it. I too think that what I've done isn't impressive, that it's not enough, etc. etc. It's a skill to be able to knit your job history and what you've done into a story that shows people/employers what you're about. I tend to separate myself from what I've done - it's just what I've done, it's not who I am. Being aware of what you're capable of (e.g. I can learn how to do x [flip burgers, work a cash register?], I'm good with people) really helps. Don't think you're capable of anything? Well, what are the things you did in your previous jobs? Is there anything that you're proud of? Make a list, and look at what you've done and value it for what it is, don't start thinking well, I didn't do this, this didn't turn out well, etc.

Relationships, men, dating, attraction are also tough. This is a whole post in itself! It can take a long time to build up enough confidence to see yourself as worthy of someone's interest. I didn't get there overnight. Anyway, if I found myself attracted to someone (and I was single), I'd think, "Ok, he's cool, etc." and leave it at that. I used to put a ton of pressure on myself to "go after him" (ugh!) but it's just not healthy. What happens after the initial attraction depends on a lot of things - if he's single, if he's emotionally available, getting to know him better and liking what you see - those things may or may not be there, or happen, and that's ok. You don't have to get together with every person that you're attracted to, and in some cases it's just not possible. Just enjoy the attraction and if it feels mutual, maybe an exchange of phone numbers will happen, and it may or may not keep going from there. Either way is ok! You're not a failure if a relationship doesn't blossom.

Ultimately, for me, thinking positive is a choice. I notice when I'm getting pissed off, angry, scared, thinking negatively and I seize that thought and turn it around. I notice the effect that having negative thoughts has on me (I feel heavy, hopeless, helpless) and I don't like it. So I turn it around. If you're capable of having negative thoughts, you're capable of having positive thoughts. They're just thoughts. I noticed that you think of yourself as worthless (you mention this in the job and relationships scenarios) - did you notice this? It took me a long time to realize that I also had feelings of worthlessness, and once I did, I was able to turn that around. Noticing that I was feeling worthless helped me to realize, paradoxically, that I wasn't. I mean, think about it. You aren't worthless, that's ludicrous! Thinking positive is a change, and change is hard. It takes getting used to. But you can do it.
posted by foxjacket at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as someone who's been very low self-esteem and anxious, but is a Lot better now thanks to therapy, I've come to realize more and more that what other people think of me is more about them than it is about me. It is not a measure of my worth. So like others above, I would sort of shrug off those comments instead of turning them against myself.

Should you sing? Yeah, if it makes you happy. If you sing in a choir and get frequent feedback about things that need improvement, maybe that choir isn't for you. But whether your sister or Anyone thinks you sing well isn't a measure of You or Your Worth - at all. Nor is your job (although, yeah, Everything is so much harder during a job search, sympathy!). Nor is your inability to control the relationship status of the attractive people in your life.

It all comes down to realizing that you are who you are, and that is pretty great. You are just as worthy as everybody else out there. I'm not a huge fan of CBT, but if you started rebutting those negative thoughts every time you had them with things like, "I am a really good worker" and "I like my singing voice" and "well, his loss if he's not interested", you will be on the path to at least having some better self-esteem. Talk therapy (not CBT) really helped me with that in the long run.
posted by ldthomps at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

there is no such thing as a person without these things.

Essentially, its my belief that the problem is that the normal defense processes of people get stuck in people with "low self-esteem." That is a parent or other person set those defenses quite high and so difficult thoughts that we all have some of the time are especially prevalent in people who we consider to have low-self esteem.

The key is keep doing those charts, especially as you start to feel better as your first response will be to stop when you start feeling really good. That usually precedes another negative episode and I'd keep them going for a year after you start feeling better.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:31 AM on January 31, 2012

For me, it's treating myself like I would treat other people. I'm looking for work? Well, what's the advice that I would give my friends in this situation? What are the specific skills and things I've done and achieved in the past? (*checks resume* "Oh yeah, I really DID drive the department-wide adoption of a new set of standards..." *feel good*) What are the jobs that someone with this resume and skills would be good for?

Or, "if one of my friends had just been through a tough breakup, would I be telling her she's worthless for wanting to curl up on the couch and watch bad soaps? No! So clearly that doesn't make me worthless either."

Learn to treat yourself with some of the same compassion you would show for other people.
posted by Lady Li at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can relate and I think you are doing better than you think you are! Look, you believed for a while that your singing voice was terrible but you went ahead and sang karaoke and joined a choir. I think that's great! You actually have more confidence than most! Like others have said, I don't think there's an "objective reality" that I need to believe in, i.e. my voice really IS bad in reality. Some people may like it, others may not. I like to sing so I'm gonna sing. You're feeling down about your job search, but you also realize that almost anyone in that position has their doubts and that the economy sucks. Also, you tell yourself that you've done it before and that you were an assistant director so you'll find another job as you've done before. I think that's really good thinking. A lot of us are countering our "negative" thoughts (at least I am).

When it comes to attractive men, do you have any hopeful thoughts? Like he's cute.....mayyyybe we could hang out? Keep working on the good thoughts and realize when you're thinking the discouraging ones. Sometimes I will literally picture in my head wiping them out. Get out an invisible spray bottle and paper towel and wipe it out. Then see if any hopeful happy thoughts come--even just if it's, he's a cool person, I'd like to know more about him. I think I concentrate more on who HE is rather than who I am and whether I'm attractive. Is he nice/funny/honest/smart etc? I guess I would think something like, "oh geez, next time I come here I won't wear my ratty sweatshirt" but otherwise, think about whether you're into him.
posted by biscuits at 9:56 AM on January 31, 2012

I think I generally don't struggle with low self esteem, but like anyone, I do sometimes have to deal with some negative self-talk. When that happens, one thing that helps me sometimes is that I have a pretty favorable opinion of most people. Most people that I know or meet have a lot of good qualities, and they're generally at least basically capable, likeable, etc. So I sometimes use that to think through a little logic scenario when I'm trying to shut down negative self-talk: I know that I'm probably not in the top 1% best-in-the-world -at-life, so by the same token, the odds are that I am probably also not, like, an amazingly terrible loser that no one will ever love. Statistically speaking, if most people are generally fine, then chances are that I am also generally fine. That helps, as does the standard advice to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend who is in the same situation. Sometimes it helps to say to yourself, "What if the opposite were true?" I know that I don't know everything about the world, so when that little voice says, "You're the worst, you will never get a job, and they will never even consider you for this particular job," I can think, "Yeah, maybe, but what if that's wrong? What if they actually are really impressed by my resume? I don't know what they think."

Also, I often give myself credit for dealing with the problems I do have: I'm going through a hard time right now, and I have a mental/emotional hangup about X issue. But look how hard I am working to get past that and create something better for myself! I must be really strong to be working at this even though it is hard and scary. For what it's worth, from your description, it sounds like you have done a whole lot to address your anxiety and low self-esteem. You sound really self-aware and resourceful and brave and committed. You can take pride in that--or maybe, you can work on taking pride in that.

Good luck. This can be so hard and tiring to deal with, and I agree, you definitely deserve better! You're to be commended for working on this and trying to change it. Hugs to you!
posted by aka burlap at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2012

What a great question! It's no surprise that you got 30 favorites for it. Do you appreciate that? Or do you try and deflect that I said it? The latter is the path of low self esteem. A (so called) normal person may not be able to totally surrender to feeling good, but won't try and fight it off, either. When I feel bad about myself, it's just me feeling bad about myself at that moment. It's not me having a deep insight into my essential suckiness.

Then there are those (some of them are running for president) who seem to never feel bad about themselves when, perhaps, they ought to. That's not the opposite of low self-esteem. That's being out of touch with reality. Sometimes feeling bad about yourself is OK. The key is not to get stuck there.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:58 PM on January 31, 2012

the difference is not that you don't have that kind of thought: it's that you don't obsess about it, or let it rule you.

Yes, yes, yes. This is precisely it. The negative thoughts or self-talk might still run through my head; the difference from what it's like when I was down on myself vs. how I feel like now is basically the following: A) I actively notice negative self-talk as something specific when it arises, rather than it being the more-or-less constant background noise in my head; B) I don't mistake that negative self-talk as some sort of objective truth that I'm compelled to believe; C) I actively choose not to follow the thought further, because I know going down that path never comes to any good -- it makes me feel bad, and it's not productive.
posted by scody at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

B) I don't mistake that negative self-talk as some sort of objective truth that I'm compelled to believe

Also: if the things you're saying to yourself are true... wouldn't that make the source untrustworthy? And thus not to be believed?
posted by valkyryn at 5:42 AM on February 1, 2012

Response by poster: This has really been wonderful for me to read. Reading over the responses is providing me a framework to guide my negative thoughts. It's also very heartening to hear from people who have had anxiety and low self-esteem and how you've overcome that.

Every answer is a best answer.
posted by so much modern time at 3:07 PM on February 1, 2012

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