Help me learn to like myself.
January 28, 2013 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I like myself fine when nothing depends on it, but the moment I want something or someone's approval, I shrink to nothing. How do I learn to like myself for who I am? How do I deal with self-doubt and learn to take compliments?

I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and there is no doubt that it has affected me. My mother never had a nice thing to say about me. It's partially culture and mostly the way she felt she had to raise us. She refused to compliment me because she felt it would go to my head. Instead, she said nasty things about me to me and to other people. If other people complimented me, she would deny it (etc., if someone said I was smart, she would list examples of how stupid I can be) and then tell me later that people lie a lot to be polite.

As an adult, I still feel like this. I am my own worst critic. I can't take compliments. If someone says something nice, I disagree. I undervalue my work and who I am. I am always surprised with people show concern for me or if they want to be my friend or whatever, because I don't like myself enough to think others will like me. Whenever I get something I worked hard for, I attribute it to mostly luck and chance because I don't feel like anything I do is worthy of recognition. This has caused me to self-sabotage a lot in order to avoid disappointment. It has also prevented me from going for a lot of things that I should go for because I never think I'm good enough.

I am aware of this and I want to fix it. Being aware helps, but I still fall back into the vicious circle of doubt. I don't want to get cocky, I just want to see myself in a normal, healthy way. I want to be realistic about myself without being overly critical. When I'm alone, it's not a big deal but like I mentioned earlier, when I seek the approval of others for certain things (job interviews, people I like), I back down and quit. I know self-confidence comes from within, but I don't know how. Therapy is not an option. It hasn't helped. Are there exercises that I can do?
posted by madsy to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure others will have more thoughts, but as for compliments, can you practice saying "Thank you!" with a smile? It might help to have that ready whenever a compliment comes your way.
posted by michellenoel at 12:01 PM on January 28, 2013

Read about imposter syndrome.
posted by ecsh at 12:02 PM on January 28, 2013

Take up weightlifting. Really.
posted by jgirl at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Read There Is Nothing Wrong With You. It helped me a lot with similar feelings.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know you said therapy is not an option, but honestly, it was the thing that made the biggest difference - when I found the right fit. Other things that helped:

- Meditation. Observing the thoughts that came up and letting them go was very helpful for changing my relationship with my mental monologue.
- Exercises. I used self-esteem exercises online (I've seen some linked from askme recently) that helped me interact with my thoughts in a CBT way. For example, I'd counter every "I'm a moron" with a true statement about myself "No, I made a mistake, but that's human. I'm smart enough to do this." Tricks like asking what I'd tell me best friend is she came to me and said some of the things I was saying to myself. Actively working on my beliefs about myself.
- The gym. I've done everything from kickboxing to weightlifting to bootcamp to zumba - basically Any exercise where you can measure your progress is great for making me feel mighty and like myself.

Really, having a talk therapist there to consistently ask me, "why would you think that? Do you think that's really true? How is that belief helping you?" was the fastest, most helpful step toward realizing I'm OK. You're ok, too - do whatever you can to help yourself see that.
posted by ldthomps at 1:19 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you knew someone with all your qualities-- another you-- what would you like best about them? Can you apply that to yourself?
posted by RainyJay at 2:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Therapists are all individuals, and they all practice something slightly- or entirely- different. If the first three don't work out, maybe the fourth will be the life changing specific person you need. Cognitive behavior therapy is generally the type recommended for these sorts of things.

I call the negative, attacking voices in your head 'negative tapes'; the things we play over and over that tell us we arent good enough, we are dumb, we dont look good, etc, etc, etc. Most of these clearly came from your mother. Step one: Realize when the negative tape is playing. Step two: Identify the lie in the negative tape. Step three: Replace it with the truth about you (or even the truth you WANT to be true: I AM smart. I CAN do this. I AM WORTHY)

Some of the people I have worked with said anything that sounds like their mothers voice is just flat wrong, and anything that sounds like their voice is right.

Come up with a statement about you. "i am a wo/man who is capable, confident, and will be self-affirming' write it on your mirror. Say it every day; do your best to live by it. It might be uncomfortable and odd at first. Forgive the mistakes, and every night, look back and say 'how could I have been more capable, confident, and self-affirming?' then forgive the mistakes, smile, and realize you ARE an ok person in a screwed up world.

And, lastly, my favorite piece of advice: You HAVE to like yourself. You HAVE to love yourself. Nobody can do it for you, and once you love yourself, its easier to stand up for your rights. Because, you ARE worth good things. I believe it; why don;t you?
posted by Jacen at 5:46 PM on January 28, 2013

I'm going to, once again, plug the book Self-Compassion, which I found via this comment from chickenmagazine. It has exercises you can do. It exactly addresses the problem of self-criticism you are describing. Like, exactly.
posted by purpleclover at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2013

I recommend Byron Katie's "I need your love. Is that true?"

Its focus is on approval seeking and how it disconnects and hurts us. It's practical and simple.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:34 AM on January 29, 2013

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