I sat at the kitchen table staring at her through tear-filled eyes. “I feel crazy,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
“Why do you feel crazy?” she asked.
“Because I’m neurotic and self-conscious and ashamed, and so much more all at once,” I said. “I feel like I’m just not good enough for anything or anyone anymore…”
“And you don’t think everyone feels like this at times?” she asked.
“Not like this,” I replied under my breath.
“Well you’re wrong,” she said. “If you think you know someone who never feels a bit broken and crazy, you just don’t know enough about them. Every one of us contains a measure of ‘crazy’ that moves us in strange, often perplexing ways. This side of us is necessary; it’s part of our human ability to think, grieve, adapt and grow. It’s part of being alive and intelligent,” she said.
I sat silently for a moment. My eyes gazed from her eyes to the ground and back to her eyes again. “So, you’re saying I should want to feel like this?”
“To an extent,” she said. “Let me put it this way: Taking all your feelings seriously all the time, and letting them drive you into misery, is a waste of your amazing spirit. You have to know that sometimes what you feel simply won’t align with what’s true and right in this world; it’s just your subconscious mind’s way of allowing you to look at things from a different perspective. These feelings will come and go as long as you let them go… as long as you consciously see them for what they are.”
We shared another moment of silence, then my lips curled up slightly and I cracked a smile. “Thank you, Grandma,” I said.
Why We Belittle Ourselves
That conversation with my grandmother took place on a warm September evening over two decades ago. I remember it vividly because I was smart enough to write a five-page journal entry about it immediately afterwards. And, what I wrote continues to remind me of how easy it is to fall into a self-deprecating state of mind—to subconsciously belittle oneself when times get tough. For instance, over the years, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve caught myself thinking, “You’re not good enough!” simply because I wasn’t having a good day.
Can you relate at all?
To an extent, I bet you can. Because we all do this to ourselves sometimes…
You have a story about yourself (or perhaps a series of them) that you recite to yourself daily. This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind. Your movie is about who you are: you have a chubby tummy, your skin is too dark, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough. Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are—because it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you. It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.
Ready to rewrite the script? Good!
Start by admitting to yourself that you’ve spent a lot of your life subconsciously belittling yourself. Thinking you’re not enough. Wishing to be someone else. Someone who fits in, who’s less sensitive, needy, and flawed. Someone who is less YOU. Because you felt broken and didn’t want to scare people away. You wanted to make a good impression and have people like you. To be seen as worthy and lovable so you could feel healed and whole. And for the longest time, behind a facade of fake smiles, you have inadvertently betrayed yourself for the purpose of pleasing everyone else. And for longest time, your heart has ached in a subtle way.
But now you’re seeing things differently, right?
Belittling yourself just doesn’t make sense anymore. And more than that, you now realize no matter what you do or how you change, some people will never respect you anyway, and some situations will never nurture your soul.
You now realize you have to start doing things for the right reasons.
Not because it’s what you think everyone else needs, but because you finally know yourself to be worthy of your own love and care.
Not because other people approve of you, but because you are breathing your own air, thinking your own thoughts, and occupying a space no one else ever could.
You may have been beaten down by adversity, or sidetracked by rejection, but you are not broken. So don’t let your subconscious mind, or anyone or anything else, convince you otherwise. Heal yourself by refusing to belittle yourself. Choose to stand out, to do what you know in your heart is right. Choose to appreciate yourself for who you are, accepting your quirks entirely and sincerely.
Choose to remind yourself of the truth…
- You are not what happened to you. — You are not your past experiences. You are not your scars. You are not what someone else once said about you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again today.
- You are more than that one broken piece of you. — We all have this image in our minds of ourselves—this idea of who we are. And when this idea gets chipped or broken in some small way, we tend to broadly internalize it. Realize this. It’s easy to feel like everything—ALL of you—is broken along with that one small piece of you. But that’s not true. Because you are more than one thing—you are many things! And remembering this can help you stretch your identity so it’s not so fragile—so it doesn’t shatter when a small piece of it gets chipped.
- Other people’s opinions of you are rarely accurate. — People may have heard your stories, but they can’t feel what you are going through today. They aren’t living your life! So, let go of what they say about you. There is great freedom in leaving others to their opinions. And there is a huge weight lifted when you take nothing personally.
- You are as worthy as you believe yourself to be. — You will never find your worth in another human being—you find it in yourself, and then you will attract those who are worthy of your energy. Meditate on this. Accept and acknowledge your own worth today. Stop waiting for others to tell you how important you are. Tell yourself right now. And believe it.
- The best time to be extra kind to yourself is when you don’t feel like it. — Because that’s when doing so can make the biggest difference. Truly, it’s not what you say to everybody else that determines your life; it’s what you whisper to yourself every day that has the greatest power.
- It’s not too late. You aren’t behind. — You are exactly where you need to be. Every step is necessary. Don’t judge or berate yourself for how long your journey is taking. We all need our own time to travel our own distance.
- You have come a long way. — The trick is to embrace life today. Don’t wish it away waiting for better days ahead. Just appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Give yourself credit for your resilience, and step forward again with grace.
- It’s OK to not feel OK sometimes. – Sometimes not being OK is all we can register inside our weary minds and aching hearts. This emotion is human, and accepting it can feel like a small weight lifted. Truth be told, it’s not OK when someone you care about is no longer breathing and giving their amazing gifts to the world. It’s not OK when someone you trusted betrays you and breaks your heart. It’s not OK when you’re emotionally drained. It’s not OK when you’re engulfed in grief like you’ve never known before. Whatever the latest painful season of life consists of, sometimes it’s just NOT OK right now. And that realization is more than OK. Breathe…
- You need to distance yourself to see your situation clearly. — Step back. Give yourself space. Sometimes the most important thing you do in a whole day is the short rest you take between two deep breaths. Take those breaths, and that rest, when you need them. Just let go for a moment and remind yourself that the strongest sign of your growth is knowing you’re slightly less stressed by the hard realities that used to absolutely overwhelm you.
- You are a work in progress. — It’s wild how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life keeps leading us down paths we would never travel if it were up to us. Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Trust the journey. Be a work in progress today, and celebrate the fact that you are!
Your Real Story Has Strengthened You
Let the truth sink in. And then remind yourself of it—read the reminders above—again and again, anytime you catch yourself belittling yourself. Bring awareness to the false, self-deprecating story—that mental movie—you’re so used to reciting. Then, rewrite the script…
One day at a time.
One reminder at a time.
Change the way you see yourself.
See how every day, every step, every lesson, every deep breath, and every little reminder matters.
And along these lines, I’ll leave you with this short excerpt from our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs:
“In the end, all the small things make a big difference. Every step is crucial. Life isn’t about a single moment of great triumph and attainment. It’s about the trials and errors that slowly get you there—the blood, sweat, tears, and the small, inconsequential things you do on a day-to-day basis. It all matters in the end—every step, every regret, every decision, every minor setback and minuscule win.
The seemingly useless happenings add up to something. The minimum-wage job you had in high school. The evenings you spent socializing with coworkers you never see anymore. The hours you spent writing thoughts on a personal blog that no one reads. Contemplations about elaborate future plans that never came to be. All those lonely nights spent reading novels and news columns and comic strips, questioning your own principles on life and sex and religion and whether or not you’re good enough just the way you are.
All of this has strengthened you. All of this has led you to every success you’ve ever had. All of this has made you who you are today. And all of this proves that you have the strength to deal with the challenges in front of you.”