Why is it so hard to let go of negative beliefs about yourself?
Have you ever found yourself thinking less than ideal things about yourself and wondered why? Thoughts like: “I am not good enough”, “why am I so stupid”, “no one will ever love me”, “I am just going to be alone forever.” Often these thoughts can be a source of distres
s and anxiety. For some they are common, but for others they only come out when stressed or under pressure. They can be bewildering, because you know, at least a part of you knows that those thoughts do not appear to make any sense.
Your response might be “of course someone would love me, I am not that bad” or “I have a college degree I am anything but stupid.” There is an inner conflict inside you between a part of you that holds an extreme negative belief and a more rational part of you. You can even get to the point where you hate that part of you that believes terrible things.
Where do these beliefs come from?
Most often these deeply held beliefs came about through negative experiences in the past, often childhood. When a child is mistreated or neglected they have to make sense of what is going on. They are the center of their world. If a parent calls them stupid it is hard not to take that to heart. If a child feels neglected or abandoned, they have to make sense of it and eventually conclude that the problem is with them.
Why is it so hard to stop believing these things?
Ultimately it is because we are afraid things will get worse for us if we do. Often it is just a part of us that holds that belief while the rest of us may not like it very much, so we try to push it out our conscious mind and it becomes a big fight.
We might think some or all of the following:
- If we let go of the belief that we are no good, we will not try hard enough to be good and then people will reject us.
- If we forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made we are letting ourselves off the hook, and we will make them again.
- It hurts less if we shame ourselves than have others shame us.
Often at the heart of these things is the belief that the harsher we treat ourselves the more effort we will make to be better. That is where we can get into trouble. Unsparing treatment of ourselves may motivate us for a short while, but ultimately adds to the pile of shame we have been burdened with. The worse we feel about ourselves the harder it is to be the person we want to be and can be. It is the shame and pain that leads us to addictive coping behavior, harshness with others, anxiety that distracts us saps our strength, and depression that adds weight to almost everything.
Sometimes forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and failings and embracing self-compassion seems like we are making it too easy for ourselves. The truth is it frees us to be the best people we can be. So we have a choice. We can punish ourselves and stay stuck or have compassion for ourselves and heal.
So how do we change? We show ourselves compassion. Treat yourself the way you want to become. Acknowledge those critical thoughts and accept them as a misguided part of you that just wants to help. Show yourself the love and acceptance you deserved to have when you were neglected or mistreated.
Our choice comes between punishing ourselves and healing. It is scary to trust in self-acceptance, gentleness and kindness towards ourselves but this is the path to fully becoming the person you want to be.