One of the biggest struggles in my life is acceptance. I struggle with it now and almost every day. I don’t know where it comes from, but when bad things happen to me I just wonder why is life so unfair. My mom always told me “life’s not fair” and that is true, but I still find it so hard to move past those feelings. It’s very hard for me to get over things and I just rant about how awful things are rather than get off my butt and do something about it.
I always feel this sense of injustice, of something being done against me. I take things personally a lot. I’ve always felt so sorry for myself. In the end though, I blame myself 90% of the time for when bad things happen to me.
“Why are you so stupid?’
“You’ve been given every opportunity in the world, why are you such a failure?”
“Why are you so clumsy?”
“Why are you still fat?”
“Why can’t you get anything right?”
“You have everything you ever asked for, why are you sad?”
Are those questions familiar at all? These are the kind of questions I ask myself all the time. I have tried to reduce these questions over time as I am trying to learn to love and be kind to myself, but they creep in. My default mode is self-criticism and self-doubt. I have so little confidence in myself and my abilities.
I am an educated woman, I went to university, I’ve been working in a professional environment for over 5 years. So, what evidence do I have that leads me to ask such questions of myself? Has anyone ever told me I am stupid? That I always get things wrong?
No, no one has said these things to me. I finished university with decent grades, I obtained two post-graduate degrees, I work in a technical field in a prestigious profession. I’ve been employed consistently for 5 years and no one has fired me from any job I’ve held. I gained 20kgs after I got married and I lost about 15 of them, so why do I think I’m “still” fat? Why do I think I’m a failure? Objectively, I should not be entertaining such thoughts. I should know that even if I do think those things, the evidence shows they are not true. Yet, I still am not convinced I have any positive qualities.
It’s strange for me to think like this when Islam very clearly tells you to trust and put your faith in God. It’s forms part of my religion and I know that, but somehow I forget. In my darkest moments, it does become the only thing that brings me back to reality. Acceptance is key, something that I still haven’t learned properly. I’ve known it for years but never understood it until very recently when I hit rock bottom.
My job security is kind of in the balance right now and I have been trying to think of an alternative career path. I was trying to focus on my positive attributes and the only positive qualities I could come up with were that I am nice and I am kind. That can’t be true, can it? That’s all? Why can’t I believe in myself? Why is there no acceptance for myself?
I make mistakes all the time. In my home life and in my work life. I mean, just the other day I tried to make bread rolls and massively failed! It was also my second attempt so I should have figured it out, right? I should have paid more attention? Nope, somehow I got it wrong again. The first time, I did everything right but I tried to substitute the yeast (I didn’t have any) with instant yeast and my bread didn’t rise. Makes sense, I expected that. I bought some yeast, so now I can get it right! I tried to make it again yesterday and guess what, I forgot the egg and butter and salt. It rose perfectly but it was wrong again! The baking tray I used was too small as well. Just look at this disaster….
When I was told I need to learn to love myself the first time, I thought “what? Of course I love myself! It’s me! How could I not?“. As time went on, I realised I actually don’t. I actually do not even like myself. I insult myself all the time and berate myself. Whenever I make a mistake (especially at work), I get very upset and it feels like the world is ending. When I have an argument with my husband I always blame myself. It’s always something I’ve done.
After starting therapy, I realised how harmful negative self-talk and self-deprecation is. Self-deprecation is such a common form of humour in Western culture, I got used to it and used to talking to myself that way. If I ever achieved anything, I always put it down to luck or some other factor (never my hard work). Years of thinking like this has taken its toll.
After starting my job in London, I realised just how brittle my mental health and self-esteem was. The first time I got negative feedback, I cried so much when I got home. I wanted so hard to please and every mistake was massive in my eyes. The first week on the job, one of my managers asked me if I could scan something double-sided as all the secretaries had left. I had no idea how to do it and I had to tell him I couldn’t do it. It was so embarrassing and I still think about it today sometimes, although it makes me laugh more than anything.
As my profession is quite technical and most of your knowledge and skills are learned on the job, it is common to make mistakes. Actually, it’s inevitable. We are human beings, most of our lives are filled with mistakes. I couldn’t accept that and I found it so hard every time it happened. With time, I was forced to accept that mistakes will happen. I had no choice because it happened so often. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of kind and supportive people who have helped me when I’ve made mistakes and haven’t panicked or lost their patience with me. They showed me it is part of the profession and it seems bigger than I think. Now, I’ve learned when a mistake happens it’s ok and I have to focus on the solution rather than dwell on the problem.
I still do freak out and I am still terrified of making a mistake. At work, I always feel out of my depth and feel like I never know enough. I am trying to learn to be kind to myself and take it easy. Life is hard enough without treating yourself with contempt. I had to practice this on Day 9.
ACTION: What would you say to a friend being hard on themselves? (and now say it to yourself)
One of my friends has been quite hard on herself lately. She blames herself for a lot of things that have happened in her life. She thinks that she isn’t a good friend and doesn’t add value to other people’s lives. She doesn’t think she’s capable and often sells herself short (in my opinion). None of these things is true. She is a kind, beautiful and caring woman. I don’t think any of my friends have been as supportive as she has. She is really one of the few people I know who actually listens when you talk to her. She’s also one of the few people whose opinion I value and take seriously.
She is also incredibly clever and I look up to her. I have been in touch with her recently and we’ve been sharing our coronavirus woes and personal challenges, so I thought about the things I have told her and would tell her. And also what I would want to hear, so I came up with this:
You are loved, you are worth it, you have so much to give. Be proud of yourself and who you are. You are a wonderful person and you are important to so many people. Be kind to yourself, you deserve it. Know that you are enough.
It felt good. Just this little exercise helped me push past my negative thoughts and it kind of forced me to be kind to myself. I have recently been feeling ashamed of who I am and also been feeling like I am never enough. Even when I try hard and put all my efforct in, I keep messing things up and not meeting expectations.
This task has made me think a lot about the way I talk to myself and how harsh I am with myself. As the saying goes:
To err is human, to forgive divine
This saying is usually used in the context of forgiving others. I am good at forgiveness with others, but horrible at it when it comes to myself. It’s only in the last few years that I have learned to forgive myself for my mistakes. It’s still difficult, but I’m getting better.
Can you forgive yourself for your mistakes? Remember, be kind to yourself. You are wonderful and you deserve to be happy.
Until next time,