Our thoughts and beliefs often fall into patterns that then direct our behaviors. When someone comes in and says, "I feel like I am never good enough" they are often reflecting the perfectionistic pattern of thinking with unrealistic expectations of themselves. They will often say they don't feel good about themselves, feel like a failure and often pull back from people and activities because then they can avoid feeling like a failure when they can't please everyone. They feel anxiety about whether they will be able to perform at the level they set for themselves that then becomes a pattern of thinking (my need to be perfect makes me anxious about whether I will fail at being perfect or pleasing everyone so don't start anything or never be able to finish anything because it's never good enough). Sometimes they will say something like, "Oh, it's ok if other people don't do things perfectly - I understand that - but it's not ok for me to not do things perfectly." What they are really saying is that it's ok if other people are human but it's not ok for me to be human. I will then gently reflect to them that they are then saying that they hold themselves to a higher standard than everyone else. They will often hesitantly agree with that statement. So, I reflect, what you are really saying is that you are better than everyone else. Usually that gets a strong negative reaction until they see the logic that if they are holding themselves to a "higher" standard then they are saying they are better or above everyone else because if they were just like everyone else then they would be held to the SAME standards as everyone else - no double standards! When we step back and really look at how our pattern of thinking (perfectionism or people pleasing) is often a coping mechanism, we can understand that it is an attempt to protect us from accepting our own imperfections or accepting that we are "average" or "normal." Sometimes we have been told as a child how "special" we are or that we can "do anything with our lives" so when we have an "average" life, we feel like a failure. Once we understand our patterns of thinking and unrealistic expectatins we put upon ourselves, then we can start to work on the underlying core beliefs that are driving the anxiety and negative self esteem. Remember the symptoms (i.e. perfectionism, people pleasing) are often really originating with the core beliefs that I am either "special" or "gifted" or "I need to perform at a higher level than others in order to be ok" or "if I am not perfect then I am a failure." This can be a difficult pattern of thinking and behaviors that can be challenging to change on our own and often needs counseling assistance since it relates to a very basic core belief about our self esteem. If some of this sounds familiar then I would love to partner with you on your journey of exploring and understanding yourself.
Putting the Pieces Together (So We Make Sense of Ourselves, Others and Our World)
Lois Zsarnay, LMFT, BCPC, RD
©2014 Lois Zsarnay, LMFT, BCPC, RD