Tricks for being in your own corner?
July 23, 2021 9:50 AM   Subscribe

My therapist pointed out that I have a hard time 'being in my own corner'-- that I tend to assume that I am wrong and others are right. I worry a lot about being a bad person or not the best person I can be. In the past I've been told to work on self-compassion, self-acceptance, etc. but somehow the idea of 'being in my own corner' really resonates. I wanna root for myself like I root for sports teams and favorite book characters! I just...don't know how to do it.

I am respected in my field. I have a happy marriage . I have good friends and a strong relationship with my family. But I have always had the feeling that I don't deserve this. That I'm getting away with murder. That people are going to catch on, etc. For what it's worth, I am a woman and I know this is pretty textbook imposter syndrome stuff but knowing that has not been that helpful.

In any conflict, I assume the other person is right and that I have made mistakes and done the wrong thing. This has led me to stay in pretty abusive work situations because I'm sure that the person criticizing me is correct. It makes small mistakes feel unbearable and scary. It makes me doubt my own perceptions. It worries me and makes me feel less. It makes me feel jealous of other people. It sucks.

And weirdly, it makes positive feedback hard to take in, even though I want it desperately. Like-- I was once invited to speak before Congress about my work in my field and I thought 'This is it. Surely now I will stop doubting myself.' Nope. Or, friends organized a zoom sea chantey singalong for my birthday and I felt somehow BAD like how could I possibly repay them and be worth all of this kindness.

I am in therapy and doing EDMR to deal with some past trauma, and both are doing me a world of good. But I realize I pretty literally don't know how to root for myself.

If you have learned to be your own champion, to give yourself the benefit of the doubt, to just generally trust yourself more....How did you do it? What words do you say to yourself? To others? What actions do you take? What did you start/stop doing? How long did it take to start working? Were there books that helped? Any other words of wisdom?
posted by jeszac to Human Relations (13 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I (a femme queer chubby woman in her thirties) have an imaginary alter-ego dude that's a super hot and confident, not that smart, white frat boy, probably on his way into politics who's been handed life on a silver platter. When I find myself thinking "should I do this thing (apply for this job, ask for a raise, bring up this issue that needs resolving)?" I think if alter-ego dude would do it, and if he would, then I do.

It works extremely well for me. He would *never* think he didn't deserve anything that life gave him, so it really helps me over that hurdle.

I realize this is quite ridiculous, but I think that's part of what makes it work!
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 9:57 AM on July 23, 2021 [93 favorites]

I have a friend who really made a nice rebound from something similar. They said that studying boundary setting really helped them, after a neutral person they didn't know commented that they should consider that they didn't really know how to set healthy boundaries.

I know another person who found Libra in their horoscope and really rode that horse into the sunset. I'm not sure about the details but it was something about discovering the concept of relationship balance.

Another friend said they had to learn to give themselves more time to make decisions. They tended to make decisions that were way too giving of themselves, in the moment.

Hope some of these can help. Good luck to you...
posted by circular at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

For me the key is to practice being able to notice when this is happening and remembering to step in & do the thing you need to do which is get the thoughts train back on track. When something like this happens like someone criticizes something I do. Which in my job is part of the nature of the job so there's no escaping it. It seems to me that I have to give myself/whatever I was trying to do a fair trial real quick & try to objectively determine who is right. Because at that point I don't know, their point of view might have merit & I might look like an idiot for not hearing them out so we can avoid problems later. Or it could be I was right & id look like an idiot for letting the project get off track when I had it right the first time. It might sound like a lot to be able to do all this in your head within a couple seconds but it's also ok to just take a few moments to think, people understand that. Or they should. So thinking about it this way it's not just vanity to stand up for yourself, it's also something the whole group needs you to do.

I also wanted to mention this:
"This has led me to stay in pretty abusive work situations because I'm sure that the person criticizing me is correct. It makes small mistakes feel unbearable and scary."
I just wanted to mention I'm someone who always takes my own side by default which I consciously decided to do when I was a teenager bc I couldn't handle the stress of doing it the other way. And I just wanted to mention that making small mistakes still feels unbearably scary so while this is a good thing to do it might not cure this for you.
posted by bleep at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What helped me stand up for myself in my twenties was reading a short story written in a children's-book or magical-realism style about a man without a spine who could not stand up straight, so he put a stick up his own ass. As in the phrase, so-and-so has a stick up their ass, they are rigid, inflexible, unable to bend or accommodate. In the story, this man went from bending over for everyone to bending over for no one, which was an overcorrection. But soon enough, the stick up his ass magically transformed into a strong and flexible spine. Something about this metaphor really stuck in my brain. The lesson was that, to someone unaccustomed to having a spine (or to others unaccustomed to you having a spine), the first period of standing up for yourself feels like you're being too rigid and inflexible, a stick in the mud. You have to be willing to be perceived as an obstacle, unhelpful, unwilling, a problem, etc. Soon enough those who are used to you not standing up for yourself will realize that you must be accommodated yourself. Whether they continue to see this as an obstacle or if they see you as reasonable in the long term, is not your problem! Part of standing up for yourself is to reject the feeling that others' in/convenience is your problem to solve. It can feel like you are making a problem out of yourself, and in some sense you are, but that's just life. We are all problems for ourselves and others, sometimes, and that's okay.
posted by panhopticon at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2021 [34 favorites]

I do a lot of purposeful self-talk, especially when I'm feeling down. I've adopted a couple of "mantras," almost - phrases that I repeat that help me remember I've been in this pattern before and that help me recognize the same thing may be happening again. These include reminding myself to "forgive myself" or "to be kind and generous to myself." And then I think through whatever that means in context. Can I forgive myself for giving someone else the benefit of the doubt and then looking like a bit of a fool? Sure, I like that I am generous with others, and I would of course instantly forgive someone else for the same non-transgression; I'd never hold that against a friend or a loved one and would remind them not to catastrophize. Versions of this might help you, along with a version where you ask yourself in specific instances what it would look like or sound like if a friend/loved one who is undoubtedly in your corner were in your head.
posted by neutralhydrogen at 10:43 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tend to assume that I am wrong and others are right.

Leverage your default belief in being wrong. Turn it back on itself, so that you start to believe you're wrong about being wrong, and watch it eat itself.

I worry a lot about being a bad person or not the best person I can be.

For me, a lot of it was just giving myself permission to be the asshole sometimes. Because if I'm constantly worrying about not being the asshole then all I'm doing is making everything about me, and frankly that's both exhausting for me and tedious for everybody else.

A bad person is only and exactly a person who does bad things more often than not. As for not being the best person I can be: I'm the only person I can be as of this instant. If I were already the best person I could possibly be, then there would be no room for ongoing growth and improvement and that would be both tedious for me and intolerable for everybody else.

Quite a lot of it is also being able to step back from the whole project of being any kind of person and just contemplate humanity in aggregate for a while. We're these ridiculous creatures and we're all just so ludicrously overstuffed with self-importance. I recommend a regular practice of making truly horrible faces at yourself in the bathroom mirror until you genuinely make yourself laugh.
posted by flabdablet at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: It makes small mistakes feel unbearable and scary.

You have to unravel your perfectionism some in order for this to stop happening. And just like someone in the comments above talked about having an alter-ego for decision-making, specifically for work I have an imaginary coworker (or maybe someone who reports to me, which sets off my protective instincts) so that I can more objectively assess my mistakes or knowledge level or responsibility for some situation as if it was someone else.

This has made it much harder to just assume I'm wrong (and therefore bad). First off, I may very well not be wrong, I wouldn't assume my employee was automatically wrong. Secondly, wrong is not a felony or a tragedy in most cases, it's just information that wasn't evenly distributed, and that's a very normal situation in work and life.

In most high-functioning systems, instead of mistakes being treated as some kind of impossibility you actually plan for them to happen - because they are inevitable - so that the system can withstand them. That's why things get proofread and/or go through approval processes or are run through a checklist or a committee endlessly meets about it etc etc etc.

And finally, you have to operate with an understanding of malice. You are not a bad person for having incorrect data and you're not bad or even necessarily wrong because someone else is upset about something - you're a bad person if you're maliciously fucking up the system. It's easy to check: are you doing that? No? Good job, now just correct anything that needs correcting and move on.

And since you seem to be a people-pleaser, consider the kind of chaos it generates to other well-meaning people to always be insta-wrong like that. I struggle with this when my depression and anxiety are in an upswing, and it means that people who are just trying to correct - or educate - and move on to their next thing are having to deal with me having gone deer-in-headlights or internally shame-cowering instead of offering a quick and competent response and maintaining the momentum. It is absolutely true that abusive people will be drawn to it like a klaxon, but for everyone else they'd just like to, you know, get this thing crossed off the list and move on to the next. It's an even bigger mess when you're NOT wrong and everyone realizes it four items later and now extra stuff has to be fixed or re-done.

Maybe you ARE a neurosurgeon or someone else who really has to be very fucking right as much as humanly possible because the stakes are incredibly high - if that's the case, then you really do have to implement systems for cross-checks at every possible level. This is why there is a person in the operating room whose job it is to log every sponge that goes in and every sponge that comes out so you don't leave a wad of gauze in somebody - they don't leave that shit to chance or memory, they don't just hope they got all the clamps out. This system came into existence the hard way. Whatever your stakes are, don't lose an opportunity to improve a system or learn something useful because you instead are taking something unnecessarily personally.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2021 [18 favorites]

I am a very earnest and anxious person who stresses about making mistakes. Once, I came home frazzled and confessed to an older friend that I'd cut someone off at an intersection, nearly causing an accident. Her cheerful, facetious response was, "Good for you!"

Now, whenever I do something that I worry is embarrassing, pushy, or wrong, I try to give myself a cheerful "Good for you!" as if I am an aging rock star and my exploits are a tabloid article that everyone will chuckle about later.

My scripts for dealing with positive feedback are a little shakier - when you're in your head, it can be hard to really enjoy it in the moment. But here, too, reframing your responses may be helpful. Like, if someone gives you a compliment, experiment with heartily agreeing with them. "Thank you, this is one of my superpowers!" "Yes, I know I'm awesome!"

Again, you are imagining yourself as an aging rock star with an outsized ego and a mellow outlook. Not because you want to behave badly, but because a bit of swagger can help you take delight in yourself and your own accomplishments in the world.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

I try to think of how I would talk to my best friends if they were in the same situation. Also, talk to your friends about how you feel this way because you 100% are not alone.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:06 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

My therapist pointed out that I have a hard time 'being in my own corner'-- that I tend to assume that I am wrong and others are right.

Surely you have to have had tons of situations where someone else was wrong (way off) and you were right, probably often if you are high enough and decent at your job. Look at those. Laugh.

What should you tell yourself? "I've spoken in front of Congress! I am the expert for my entire field in a country of 300million" Most people can't say anything like that. You have earned some swagger.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:53 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are doing all the right things!! I did EMDR, too, plus a lot of talk therapy: I definitely grew during the sessions but it wasn’t until a year later that I truly felt that trust in myself and that self-empowerment we dream of. A few years later and I believe it more than ever: I occasionally have a little self-doubt but no self-loathing or what not like before. In fact, people notice I seem much happier and on dates I’m told I’m impressively confident. (Of course, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a match but I finally feel good and enough alone!) So, in addition to the great advice people have shared, I say also just give yourself time and you will eventually mostly likely feel the results more! It happened for me — never thought it’d be possible — and I believe it can happen for you too.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IAMNYT Parts work/IFS or transactional analysis are both great ways to nurture a part of yourself to be in your corner while acknowledging the part that isn’t there. YMMV.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 5:17 PM on July 23, 2021

Best answer: I tell myself "get back to your post!!" whenever I have abandoned it.

I read a conflict resolution book that said truly resolving conflict requires that everyone share truthful information so that the pool of shared understanding is increased and the root problem can be solved or accommodated. The hard part is telling the truth, especially if you've learned bad habits like prioritizing no one's feelings getting hurt or only saying what people want to hear/can handle.

Advocating for yourself, not assuming you are the worst and wrong, is a form of telling the truth that allows your environment to be healthier. It is harder than giving up and assuming you are trash.

This framing helped me start sticking up for myself, understanding that it helps everyone else for me to do it.
posted by skrozidile at 7:10 PM on July 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

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