Growing up in an unhealthy, dysfunctional, neglectful or abusive home can have an impact that reaches into many corners of an individuals life. One of the more insidious impacts is how a child’s own opinion of themselves becomes twisted and distorted. These children then grow up and become adults with twisted and distorted views of themselves. The problem is that often how we view ourselves makes most of it’s impact below conscious awareness. How we view ourselves impacts the choices we make from our career goals to our romantic partner choices. It impacts how we interpret overheard laughter and what other people mean by what they say. But it does all of this without our conscious awareness. If your underlying belief about yourself is that you’re stupid and can’t do anything right, then overheard laughter is clearly people laughing at you. While a self-opinion that is more neutral or slightly positive would interpret overheard laughter as other people having fun together (without any assumption that you’re the brunt of the joke).
4 steps to challenging a negative self-belief
- Become aware: The very first step, and possibly one of the hardest ones, is to hear the underlying valuation of yourself. Whenever you limit yourself, or accept worse treatment, or invalidate yourself, or choose not to… whatever; ask yourself why? How do I know I can’t do that? Why is it okay for that person to treat me that way? Why can’t I… ?
- Challenge its accuracy: Once you can hear the why ask yourself where’s the proof? Does that proof actually prove anything?
- Is it valid – I don’t ride a unicycle (although I always wanted to learn as a kid) because I have horrendous balance. I have many incidents as a child that support my belief of my poor balance. I even managed to break my wrist twice in accidents on my bicycle, one of those accidents I was standing with both feet firmly planted on the ground (straddling my bike). I simply fell over and broke my wrist (imagine all I could have broken with only one wheel).
- Is it invalid – You can get a good indication that there may be some inaccuracy if the reason sounds or feels like an insult. Is the reason global; I suck at algebra is more likely to be accurate than I’m stupid. Often you can tell if a statement is less valid by your ability to prove its accuracy.
- Whose voice is saying that: Once you can hear the why, listen for who’s saying it. Ask yourself: who said this to me growing up? Who does this sound like? Once you figure out who taught you to believe this about yourself; verify their credibility. If this was someone who abused, neglected, hurt, or assaulted you; their opinion is drastically less credible than someone who showed themselves to be kind, caring, honest, and protective of you.
- How old is that belief: If you figure out that this is your own belief about yourself, ask yourself how old that voice is. A child is by nature very self-centered. This is not an insult, it’s a developmental fact. Young children, interpret the world in relation to themselves, that’s why kids think sad mommies are their fault, parental fights are their fault, divorces are their fault, and their own abuse, neglect or assault are their fault. If you were a kid when you created this belief about yourself, it is suspect simply because a child’s reasoning is not well developed.
4 Ways to improve your self-beliefs
- Track your success: Once a day, write out a list of things you did well during the last 24 hours. Everything and without qualification. If you held the door for someone, write it down. If you were kind to a rude person, write it down. Particularly pay attention to anything that disproves or challenges a negative self-belief. If you believe you’re stupid and you got a B, write it down. Do not allow yourself to negate your success: a B is not stupid, one rude moment does not negate all polite acts. You are already plenty good at listing all of your faults, flaws and mistakes. This is not that list.
- Be your own friend: Judge how you talk to yourself by how you would want someone to talk to your best friend. If you would be offended if it was said to your best friend, don’t put up with it towards yourself.
- Accept that you’re human: People make mistakes, that’s part of being human. If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and stop. Don’t beat yourself up endlessly. If you find yourself repeatedly berating yourself, gently remind yourself that you’ve owned that mistake and you’re choosing to no longer be so mean to yourself. It takes time to change habits, the longer you’ve been doing it the longer it will take to break the habit.
- Heal the root cause: The best way to change your negative opinion of yourself is to heal the history at the root of that negative belief system. If you have a difficult childhood, a trauma, neglect or abuse history connected to how you see yourself it can be very challenging to change your self-opinion without first healing from those events.
Your self-opinion impacts just about every aspect of your life. How you view yourself is rooted in your childhood experiences. Difficult, challenging, and down right awful childhoods are not conducive to solid, reasonable, and positive beliefs about yourself. I am a therapist in Austin Texas. I specialize in helping adults heal from difficult childhoods, childhood trauma, CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and cPTSD (complex PTSD). Call me at (512)710-7388 to schedule a free 30 minute, in person, consultation to discuss how I can help you improve your self-worth.