Now that I have made you all miserable with my self-defeating behaviour, my mental self-punishment, my self-criticisms and portraying myself as the most overweight, physically repulsive, boring, worthless male whoever walked the planet (not to mention a failure at everything he does), let me show you how we turn things around from a seeming endless cycle of self-abuse and self-punishment.
These are the final tasks from Melanie Fennell’s Overcoming Low Self Esteem. This is where it all ends. After understanding why we have those negative thoughts, challenging them through reasoned consideration and understanding, after keeping diaries of our daily activities and making sure we make time for ourselves. When we have weighed up our daily actions in terms of pleasure and achievement and when we have broken that cycle of self-abuse and negative self-perception, we finally stand up and fight back.
It is no longer a war of attrition. We are now on the front foot, baseball bat in hand and ready to fight. This is how we do it.
New Bottom Line Feelings
The task takes us back to our old bottom line statements and in each case asks us to rate our emotions and level of belief. We then set new bottom line beliefs and evalute them in view of the evidence. It forces us to confront why we believe the old, negative feelings so that we might better understand or fight to accept the new ones. Here is one of my examples
Old Bottom Line: I am not good enough
New Bottom Line: I can do anything I put my mind to
Evidence supporting the Old Bottom Line and how I now understand it: I was never good enough for my father. Nothing I achieved could ever be good enough. I received no “well done” from him and I always should have done better, I should do this job or that job. Why did I want to study what I did? I won’t get work doing that. He knows people who don’t earn much money doing it. Why do I want to do a Master’s Degree anyway? Aren’t I making myself unemployable?
I struggled through academic work in 2012 studying something that would put me on a career path I wanted.
In light of the new understanding, I now believe my Old Bottom Line: 30%
In light of the new understanding, I now believe my New Bottom Line: 75%
Evidence (past and present) which supports my New Bottom Line: I have achieved a lot in life. I am highly qualified with a good degree from a good university. I am getting interviews for those jobs. Struggle with academic work was due to personal stress of marriage break up
In light of the new evidence, I now believe my Old Bottom Line: 30% I’m struggling to get a job I want and qualified for
In light of the new evidence, I now believe my New Bottom Line: 75%
Observation: Information and experiences I need to be alert to, in order to gather more evidence to support my New Bottom Line: Remember positive feedback from interviews. It is difficult for most graduates to get relevant work at the moment, this is not a reflection on me. I am getting interviews.
Experiments: Specific things I need to do in order to gather more evidence to support my New Bottom Line: Nothing beyond what I am doing, to continue to push and apply for the jobs I want
I did this for each of my bottom line feelings
Old Bottom Line: I am a boring person
New Bottom Line: I have done and continue to do lots of interesting things
Old Bottom Line: I do not deserve praise
New Bottom Line: I deserve praise from myself and others for my achievements
Old Bottom Line: I am unattractive to the opposite sex
New Bottom Line: I have qualities than some women will and do find attractive
Old Bottom Line: I am weird/creepy
New Bottom Line: I am a thoughtful introvert and there is nothing wrong with that
New Rules for Living
Similarly, we look again at the Rules for Living, the boundaries and limits that we set ourselves that allow self-esteem to be kept low. Again we understand why we have those feelings, define how we are living them, identify what has led us to accept them and then to challenge them and set new rules to follow or belief patterns to accept. Here are mine.
OLD RULE 1. Do not fall in love. I will only get my heart broken again. If she (any “she”) likes me, she will tell/show me. If she doesn’t, then she is clearly not interested. Do not say anything or display body language that might hint at my attraction
NEW RULE 1. Nobody can be that undesirable. One day I will find a partner who is everything I could ever wish for, and I am everything they could wish for. Always be on the lookout for her and expect the unexpected.
OLD RULE 2. I must attempt to achieve perfection in everything I do. Only then will I be good enough. Ignore being ill, plough on through it when feeling low because otherwise I have failed and I am already a failure so let’s try some damage limitation here
NEW RULE 2. I will learn to slow down when under the weather. I will learn to relax and give myself time to recover
OLD RULE 3. I must already know what I am doing. To ask for help or clarification is a sign of failure. It is a sign that I am too stupid to understand what is required
NEW RULE 3. I will learn to identify my successes and give myself a pat on the back for them. I will ask for help when required – this does not make me a failure
OLD RULE 4. I will receive praise for the things I do. Ignore it. Shrug it off. They are mistaking my knowledge of one particular thing for competence. Let’s face it, it’s pretty minor stuff that anybody can do when they’ve been shown how
NEW RULE 4. Recognise my strengths and skills and accept praise for them. Realise: I AM GOOD ENOUGH
OLD RULE 5. Don’t talk to others about my interests. They might interest me but other people will and do find them boring. I am boring. And I am weird for being into that stuff anyway
NEW RULE 5. I have done and continue to do a lot of interesting things and my enthusiasm shines through. People admire that. Identify when you have somebody’s interest, and when you don’t. Act accordingly
Truth is, most of these negative perceptions no longer sound like me. Though I still struggle with self-doubts, they are a shadow of what they once were. I still get anxious about my dateability. With the experiences I have had, it is no wonder but I do realise that I have come a long way and I should be proud of that.
Fuck that… I am proud of that!