How can I get over feeling like I'm not good enough?
December 4, 2012 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Due to my dad, I feel like I am stupid and can't do anything right. How can I rebuild my self-confidence?

As I was growing up and into my 20's until I finally moved out, my dad would treat me like an idiot.

As a kid, I was made to redo chores over and over without any real explanation of what I had done wrong. As I grew up, this transitioned into lengthy lectures before I did anything my dad thought was "important". I worked for his company briefly in my 20's, and my workday basically consisted of me being told in a meandering and discursive way that what I was doing wrong and how I should be doing it. It wrecked my self confidence and left me in a position where I was afraid of doing anything that could backfire or taking any chances in general.

I am now in a job where I objectively know that I am doing fine, maybe even well. But, I always feel like people around think I'm stupid and that they can see all that I'm doing wrong. I'm always afraid of messing things up and being found out. My coworkers and bosses have done nothing to support these feelings. They tell me I'm doing a good job, and I have consistently had new and challenging tasks given to me and succeeded.

How can I get over my feelings of inadequacy and actually start seeing myself as others see me?
posted by stedman15 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Time, and separation from the negativity.

I grew up exactly the same way, from both my parents, who thought they were doing me a "favor". To this day, they still mostly treat me as incompetent (and I am in my mid-fifties!) but time, and most importantly, judicious distance helped tremendously.

You don't say how old you are or how long it has been since you were under your dad's roof, but I assure you that this does get better, and it won't take forever. But it is very important that you limit your exposure to his negativity, and that when you are exposed to it, you reject it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:37 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The popular response will be to seek therapy. I highly suggest you skip individual and go directly to an experiential group (not psych educational, not a twelve step program..just outright group therapy--you'll probably get a lot out of it--and contribute to other peoples' journeys as well).

Another option is to see the ways in which everyone around you is doing things wrong. Recalibrate your standards! Its amazing how incompetant most people are -- and everybody's okay with that! Because of your extensive training, your half-assed efforts are probably more than sufficient.

I also recommend reading the website. It's aimed at cleaning up your clutter -- but it also lays out a really humane way to introduce your children to cleaning -- without lectures/judgment/frustration. Reading other people's insights into the wrong way to teach your kids and testimonials from parents who are trying new tactics and succeeding while being loving could be really healing. Maybe you'll Imagine a different kind of parent for yourself.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:39 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

You wake to tomorrow and you start acting like the person you want to be. You'll be faking it at first, but eventually you won't. The the next time a situation arises, react like the self-confident person would, no matter how unnatural it feels. Eventually, it will start to be more natural.
posted by COD at 6:41 PM on December 4, 2012 [14 favorites]

In order for you to feel confident, it can't feel like an unsafe, disloyal, aggressive act. Can you imagine a world in which your confidence isn't a threat to someone else? Where it's actually desirable? Because that's your first step.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:24 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ignore parent. Take in life lessons and a sense of how valuable your efforts are like a starving man takes in food. A sense of having done well enough is important to cultivate. Beyond that lies frustration anxiety and guilt.

Have compassion for your mistakes-- maybe take time out to notice how little you judge others and how hard you judge yourself.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:28 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been out of my parents' house for 16 years and I am still feeling the impact of my dad's constant verbal abuse. I am still working on it, but I think a good first step is finding value in yourself. What do you do that you're good at? If you accomplish something, pat yourself on the back. You're a good person with a lot of great qualities. What are they? What would your best friend say about you?

Watch your self-talk. Do you tell yourself you're stupid? Try to just listen for a while and then you'll start interrupting yourself when you're being nasty.

If someone says something to you that feels negative (because of your filter), take a breath first and think "This person is probably not attacking me" before you respond. Early in our relationship, if Mr. Getawaysticks so much as looked at me with anything less than Fawning Approval, it destroyed me... and I would immediately snipe at him. This went on for a really long time. I have to remember that he's on my team (just like your co-workers are!).
posted by getawaysticks at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2012

This is exactly the sort of thing that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed to fix.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:11 PM on December 4, 2012

Identify the negative messages your dad implanted. Consciously... every... single... time... you find one coming up, label it as the negative message, replace it with a truth, and comfort yourself with the truth. Writing things down and burning them or on a balloon you release can be surprisingly effective.

Maybe write out a statement of who you truly are+/who you want to be? "I am a man who is good at my job, doesn't have to be perfect or get validation from others' then every night you repeat it, see how you held up to it, celebrate the successes and don't beat yourself up over the slip-ups. Then in the morning, you repeat your statement, and do your best to live up to it.
posted by Jacen at 9:20 PM on December 4, 2012

I'm not out of the woods, but I deal with this somewhat by reminding myself to be glad he's dead and no longer capable of being an influence.
posted by rhizome at 9:56 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hypnotherapy from someone who is not a quack.


Download a meditation app with binaural beats - listen to it every day.

I recommend Mindifi $20 for the whole suite of meditations.

There are about 10 meditations to listen to.

Believe it or not, you want to listen to regularly "weight loss" which is all about breaking old stories we told ourselves in childhood, Confidence which is obvious, and Erasing Fear. But all of the meditations in that app will help, so change them up, and get started!
posted by jbenben at 12:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You didn't deserve any of this. Your dad is a catastrophic failure. You know this. Find a therapist you can work with and wash all the shit your dad poured on you right out of your hair.
Make for yourself the happy life you deserve.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:29 AM on December 5, 2012

This is all good advice, but my experience with the same thing suggests that it never completely goes away. It lessens with time and as you learn to let your intellectual knowledge take precendence over your emotion.

I'm 52, separated from my father in my 20s, and he has been dead for years, but even now that voice is still there deep in the background and it can still enrage me from time to time.
posted by dzot at 6:28 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found this book to be incredibly helpful in working through a situation very similar to yours.
posted by jbickers at 6:38 AM on December 5, 2012

Do you have an SO or a friend who is very emotionally close to you? I think if you have an SO, but in particular and very importantly the right type of SO who is positive, appreciative, conscientious, communicative, etc., it could probably help you feel better about yourself and start to undo some of the damage that happened. I think you would likely benefit from that kind of love and support since it would re-affirm all the good things you know about yourself.
posted by Dansaman at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

See if you can find (additional?) objective measures of your performance. They can be relative ("better than 90% of other people") or absolute ("accomplishes some difficult goal that others did not think possible"; "improved your running speed compared to last week") but they need to be more in the category of fact, not opinion.

Since the problem is perceptual or subjective (opinion based) and coming from your father, merely countering that with more positive opinions from other people will tend to not make much impression on you. Having objective evidence of accomplishment will be more likely to give you real assurances regarding your competence. And it has the benefit of removing the angle of social approval and wondering if they are only saying that to be nice or because they like you.

I have thought a lot about the problems with social approval. Because of some of the things I talk about publically, I periodically attract people who desperately want my approval. They inevitably wind up hating me because they cannot extract my approval. The people who do this awful thing to me seem to be people who have been subjected to harsh disapproval and who think that strong approval will cure what ails them. I don't believe that works. Approval and disapproval are two sides of the same coin. They are both about controlling you. Social acceptance is the antidote to the emotional/social part of this awful experience of being subjected to massive disapproval. And, in my experience, objective measures which side step the entire question of social approval are the best means to build your confidence concerning how competent you are.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 9:30 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll tell you what helps me.

I regularly go through and make lists. Actual, typewritten lists, of my accomplishment. I organize them by year. And I get precisely detailed. I list little accomplishments as well as big ones. I organize them by category. And I revisit these lists.

I don't know that it's anywhere near a cure. But it feels good to do the lists, and forces you to really think about what it means to accomplish something, and how much work even little accomplishments take, and just how much you really do manage to do every year. And it gives you a reference to turn to when you're feeling a little down.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:03 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

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