I consult with many women in my role as a psychologist. Women who are successful in many different roles in their lives. They are smart, resourceful, strong, value-driven and more amazing than most of them realise. Some of these women don't celebrate, or even recognise their strengths, because their mindset is often focused on perceived "failures". Their mindset is self-critical and demeaning, self-judgmental and often unfair.
It can sometimes be easier to focus on the things we do WRONG, rather than what we do RIGHT. Maybe we rationalise that if the focus is on the negative and we criticise ourselves, it can motivates us, help us, keep us GROUNDED or stop us from becoming conceited. We can CONVINCE ourselves that this driven, self-critical, bossy and demanding way of thinking keeps us striving to be the best we can be.
The tendency to play down our strengths and highlight our weaknesses might have been patterns we were taught as little girls. The idea that it is important not to brag, big-note ourselves or speak about our achievements in a positive way can be learned and entrenched as a normal thing whilst we grow up.
We may have stopped speaking up about our amazingness because we became afraid. Afraid to make others feel bad, create jealousy or competition, be judged, or perceived as different. So it sometimes becomes easier to default to self-criticism so we feel more acceptable, more comfortable, more palatable to those around us.
Perhaps we were regularly criticised by others as we were growing up, despite trying our very best and being wonderful in our own unique ways. Maybe we witnessed important people in our lives criticizing themselves. They could have been perfect in your eyes but when they disparaged themselves the lesson we learned is that if they are loveable and perfect in my eyes but they dislike themselves so much, what does that make of me? I must also be awful if this beautiful person I love so much thinks they are fat/not good enough/hopeless/a loser/no good etc. We might have learned through these early life experiences, on very subtle levels, that it was normal and okay to speak about ourselves in this way. That it was okay to bully ourselves.
The truth is we are all flawed. Fabulously flawed.
Vulnerable and wonderful in our humanity, glorious in all our weakness.
The problem does not lie in having weaknesses. The problem arises when we ignore our strengths and beat ourselves up for the weaknesses. And because the self-critic struggles to recognise the wins, we succumb to increasingly higher self-imposed, unrealistic, expectations. We create beliefs, feelings and patterns in our behavior that sees women rushing around, time-stricken, reluctant to slow down, to stop and be calm.
Just for a moment of stillness.
And more often than not, as I speak of this idea of calm relaxation in my counselling room, it is highly likely that at some point, I am met with a vacant gaze that reads, "I have no idea WHAT you speak of. What is this calm, relaxation and peace that you are talking about? What IS that? I haven't had THAT for so long. I don't even know what THAT is. And, in fact, even if I remembered what that actually is there is NO WAY I could/deserve/find the time to learn to create it".
They have, over time, succumbed to the mindset and thought patterns that they can't say no, they shouldn't sit down, take a break or stop working. The mindset that tells them that other women do it better, they suck as a parent, they should be earning/contributing more, exercising more, have more friends, be more patient, more caring, more, more, more. It sees them on a constant merry-go-round of self-criticism, judgement, guilt, and constant negative chatter. It creates a feeling of anxiety, stress, tension and the reality that there can be no peace when this constantly demanding mindset keeps pushing the bar higher and higher.
So busy and it seems like it never stops.
Even when you stop for a cup of tea, the busy mind will count all the other things you SHOULD be doing, painstakingly going over your "to do" list or remembering everything about the PAST or the FUTURE that makes you feel bad. At the core of it, this kind if thinking makes you feel like you’re never good enough. That there's always something else you SHOULD be doing. Not clever enough. Not organised enough. Not physically enough. Not sexy enough. Not funny enough. Blah, blah, blah.
The fact is that it is wrong.
The fact is that you are ALWAYS enough.
And I know this because there is NO OTHER CHOICE than to be who you fundamentally are.
You are not inherently and hopelessly flawed, you are exactly who you are for a reason and you are EXACTLY where you needs to be RIGHT now.
There is always room for self- improvement but at our very CORE, we are good, we are whole and we are ENOUGH. If we work at understanding that, then we can heal, grow and develop with self-compassion, patience, understanding and peace.
Peace and calm.
Even in the middle of growth.
It's wonderful and entirely possible.
My number one tip on this journey toward self-love is to make a pact to be NICE to every part of your-self including the self-critic. Get to know that self-critical part of your mind, learn to understand it, why it does what it does and then pick and choose the aspects that improve your self-belief and allow you to shine. Knowledge is power and the more you understand why, how and what the self-critic is doing then the more self-aware and powerful you become.
You don’t have to believe everything you think because remember, your self-beliefs consist of learned patterns, experiences and others’ influences and do not necessarily reflect who you truly are. The thoughts and beliefs you have will either help or hinder your life and your ability to shine with confidence. So you choose which beliefs to believe and which to let go of.
You are more likely to feel encouraged, supported, positive and confident when surrounded by compassionate people. Considering you are with yourself 100% of the time, you are your own #1 ticket holder. You can be your own biggest fan or your own biggest enemy.
You choose. Are you going to be a cheerleader or foe?
Rebecca Pearce is a psychologist, mother, wife, friend, sister and daughter. She is a lover of nature and always finding ways to challenge herself, learn, expand and grow. She is partial to a music festival, a dance, good food and sunny days. Rebecca works in private practice, helping overwhelmed and confused humans to find peace and calm in their otherwise perfectly normal lives.