What do you do when you’ve come home from a long, difficult day at work after your boss criticized you?
Do you plop down in front of the TV and crack open a beer? Or do you mindlessly start going through all the snacks in the refrigerator or cupboard until you feel sick?
What happens after you and your partner have a bad argument?
Do you quickly apologize and do something nice for them to get on their good side again? Do you start cleaning the house or leave to go back to the office? Do you drown yourself in a bottle of wine? Go online to flirt with someone?
If you find yourself mindlessly turning to food, alcohol, drugs, or numbing out with TV or the internet when something stressful happens, it’s a red flag.
It means that certain unpleasant feelings are coming up inside you that you don’t want to feel. Feelings such as anxiety, fear, loneliness, or shame.
Those feelings arise—not because your boss is a jerk or because you can’t see eye-to-eye with your partner—but because of what you believe about yourself.
You believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.
You may not have had this thought in any conscious way, and it’s understandable. No one wants to believe there’s something wrong with them.
But what would you say if I told you that a LOT of people have this hidden belief about themselves? It’s unfortunately very common, and of course, it’s not true at all.
There isn’t anything wrong with you, but yet, the dreadful feelings persist.
That’s why in this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of your negative self-beliefs to learn where they came from, so you can better understand what to do about them, and what not to do about them.
And if you have children, I’ll reveal how you can help them avoid developing these kinds of negative self-beliefs, so that when they grow up, they don’t have to put up with stuffing down unpleasant feelings with food, TV, drugs, or other “coping mechanisms.”
Why does criticism, disappointment, failure, or anger from loved ones make us feel that there’s something wrong with us?
It probably stems back to childhood and the way that our parents interacted with us.
Let’s say that you were criticized a lot.
When you didn’t clean your room you were called a slob.
When you didn’t get your school assignments or chores done right away, you were called lazy.
Or maybe your parents seemed to never have time for you, because whenever you wanted their attention for whatever reason, they told you, “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Or they behaved and spoke in a way that led you to conclude they were in charge of you and always knew what was best for you, so when you asked them “why” you often heard, “Because I said so, that’s why!”
Think back to when you were a kid and remember the kinds of things your parents would say to you, their body language, and their tone whenever you didn’t do as they asked, or when you did something you weren’t supposed to do.
How did their words and actions land? Did you wonder whether you were loved and valued?
Did it lead you to conclude you had no say? That you were powerless?
Did you grow up wondering if maybe you weren’t good enough? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. A LOT of people grow up with the idea that they’re not good enough. In the 30 years I’ve been counseling people with all manner of personal problems, there isn’t one person who didn’t have the belief they weren’t good enough. Isn’t that awful?
But despite feeling not good enough, you knew you had to make your way through life. This caused you to be fearful and anxious. If I’m not good enough, you may have thought, how will I survive in the world?
That’s when the internal belief, there is something wrong with me, probably formed.
This internal conflict is painful, so as an adult, you SUBCONSCIOUSLY look for strategies to deal with that pain.
I call these “survival strategies.”
In thousands of sessions with clients, I found that there are 2 main ways that people deal with the pain that’s caused by negative self-beliefs, such as I’m not good enough:
1. They use alcohol, food, drugs, sex, or other substances to numb the feelings or make themselves feel good.
2. They develop survival strategies. A survival strategy can be thinking that what makes you good enough or important is:
When a person develops and uses a survival strategy, their negative self-beliefs stay underwater like a beach ball. As long as they’re taking care of people, staying busy, or making jokes, they feel okay.
The minute the survival strategy stops working, up comes the beach ball.
For example, if you have a belief that what makes you good enough is being successful, then life is good—as long as you’re successful. But the minute you lose your wealth, your job, or something happens to threaten that success, up pops that beach ball: I’m not good enough.
Let’s take another look at how these survival strategies get formed. Here’s an example from my own life:
My mother placed a very heavy emphasis on friendships, what others thought, and having people love me. I grew up thinking that the way to survive was to get everyone to like and approve of me.
I used to call people before a party and ask what they were going to wear. I couldn’t even tell what I wanted to wear, the only thing that mattered was what everyone else would think, because that’s what made me good enough.
Being well-thought-of by others was my survival strategy. It made me spend a good deal of the first part of my adult life working hard for others’ approval.
Here’s the sad truth about survival strategies: they may make us feel good enough temporarily but the feeling never lasts because it never makes us good enough. We have to keep doing it over and over like a heroin addiction. Like the way workaholics have to keep proving they’re good enough by achieving.
This is no way to live. No one wants to walk around feeling not good enough.
What about your own children? Are they on their way to forming negative self-beliefs, or positive self-beliefs? Will they have to develop survival strategies later in life to deal with the feeling of not being good enough, or believing there’s something wrong with them?
How do we keep our children from having to employ survival strategies?
By helping them form positive beliefs about themselves, so they can go into adulthood with self-esteem, which is the antidote to survival strategies.
The truth is, having a survival strategy is better than NOT having one.
But the best thing would be to not need survival strategies in the first place, and instead to feel good enough, important enough without having to DO or BE anyone other than yourself.
This is what my audio program, Parenting That Empowers: How To Ensure Your Child Becomes A Happy, Confident, Capable Adult, is about. It reveals exactly how to help your child develop positive beliefs about themselves so they don’t NEED to develop survival strategies to deal with the anxiety and pain of not feeling good enough.
In Module 1, you’ll learn other reasons why helping your children develop positive self-beliefs is so critical to their long-term happiness and confidence.
In Module 2, you’ll discover ways to effectively and compassionately handle the 5 most common parenting dilemmas, so you’re not unintentionally damaging your child’s self-esteem when you set limits and ask them to do things they need to do.
And in Modules 3-8, you’ll get even more skills and tools that help you parent in a way that empowers your children and makes your job as a parent much, much easier (and more fun)!Get My Parenting Tools and Skills
You want to give your child every advantage in life. That includes not doing things that can saddle them with the self-beliefs that compel them to form useless, or even dangerous, survival strategies.
Let me show you how that’s done.
P.S. You’ll hear a lot of stories and anecdotes in my program, Parenting That Empowers. But you won’t need to learn any rigid scripts to know how to best respond to your child in almost any situation.
You’ll just need to learn the 2 questions to ask yourself before any challenging interaction you have with your child, and those questions can be found in Module 1 of my program here:Start Listening Now