Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to fill in this sentence: I am not _____ enough. And no matter which word comes to mind first—successful, smart, confident—our answers always seem to prove that our self-talk can be powerful. Instead of accepting and appreciating who we see in the mirror or what we’ve accomplished, we often focus on characteristics we’re lacking or goals we have yet to reach.
Why are we so hard on ourselves?
“I believe that when we doubt or criticize ourselves, it’s usually because we have [unfulfilled] needs that really matter to us,” says Sharon Alpert, LICSW, a life management therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. To feel beautiful, be prosperous, have a companion: We acknowledge these or other personal desires, and may then put an expectation on ourselves to immediately fulfill them. The fear, disappointment and vulnerability this creates can leave us desperate to find an answer as to why things aren’t different—why we aren’t ‘measuring up.’ All too often, we quickly point to ourselves.
Making peace with yourself—who you are right now and who you were in the past—means defusing your internal fight about what’s true. Accept and honor yourself in the here and now, while still moving toward becoming the person you want to be. This can be a tall order, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Truthfully, it doesn’t usually happen gracefully or completely, says Alpert. But you can shift your thinking—and eventually your feelings about yourself. Take these suggestions to heart on your way:
Think About Who You Really Are
We receive a lot of mixed messages about how to live our lives—the way we should look, how we should react to certain situations—that can play in our heads like a looping tape. “Some of them are things you may have never even imagined on your own,” Alpert says. Try to manage all of that noise around you and focus on what matters to you most. If an “I’m not ___ enough” message persists, stop and ask yourself: Do I still believe this? How is this serving me? Is being that person truly important to me?
Take Your Fears With You
“We often recreate the fears we internalized when we were young,” says Alpert. For example, if you never received much praise for your schoolwork as a child, you might worry that you’re work at the office isn’t up to par. Instead of allowing your past to overshadow your present, let those uncertainties and insecurities travel with you, just not guide you. In this case, you might volunteer to head up that new project. It may be hard to shake your worries, and that’s OK. You don’t need to do so completely in order to move on, which can be a freeing realization. “Reaching forward gives us an energy that we don’t feel if we let our fears hold us back,” she adds.
Relish Your Journey
When we’re so focused on being something other than what we think we are, we’re constantly looking ahead and are less mindful of the present moment. But it’s important to remember that the experience itself can be valuable, says Alpert. In fact, just trying at all is something to be proud of. Being aware of what’s happening now can help you appreciate who you are now. You may worry less about the outcome of what you do and instead find that it’s the experience that fulfills and defines you most.