An online friend of mine feels that at her job at a university, people are always conspiring against her. I’m sure universities can be tough places, but she reported the same thing in two other jobs, which makes me think her perception might be part of the problem. She also believes she is terminally unlucky and can never catch a break.
It’s easy to see how believing these things could be damaging. If you view your coworkers as likely enemies, you won’t get along with them that well. If you think you have terrible luck, you may not recognize opportunities that come your way.
Being able to identify someone else’s harmful thinking is easy enough. It doesn’t do me a lot of good, though–or her, either, because we’re not close enough for me to talk to her about it. The more difficult and helpful issue is: what stories am I telling myself about myself?
Most of us believe negative, fixed things about ourselves, from big ones like I’ll never find love or I hate all exercise, to smaller ones, like I need a drink after work every day. We came up with these lies, sometimes disguised as irrational fears, for certain reasons. All of them come with emotional benefits–we wouldn’t hang onto them otherwise.
I’m going to show what it looks like when I break down one of the lies I tell myself–not even the most painful and embarrassing one–and start to disprove and replace it.
LIE (if it seems too extreme to call it a lie, call it a “questionable belief”):
- I am too absent-minded and too prone to depression to achieve everything I’d like to achieve.
WHY I BELIEVE THIS:
- I have always been absent-minded.
- I have struggled with depression.
EVIDENCE I IGNORE TO THE CONTRARY:
- While I am still forgetful, I’ve gotten way better than when I was a kid and it was a serious impairment. I’ve figured out strategies for coping with it and overcoming it.
- Being mentally unhealthy is not the norm for me. I am fine most of the time.
WHAT BENEFIT I GET FROM BELIEVING THIS:
- I get to be lazier and more inured from rejection. If I don’t achieve my goals, I can tell myself it’s not because I didn’t work hard enough or wasn’t talented enough. I was born flaky, and it’s not my fault.
WHAT IT COSTS ME TO BELIEVE THIS:
- My self-esteem. I am always viewing myself as fundamentally flawed, which makes me feel ashamed of myself.
- Arguably, success in several areas of life.
- I have overcome absent-mindedness and depression, and I achieve great things.
I don’t expect to change the mythologies I’ve created about my life overnight, but if I’m more aware of my unhelpful thinking, I can gradually revise it and get into new habits of thought. It’ll make me feel happier in the short term, and I suspect it will make my life better in the long term.
What lies do you tell yourself about yourself? How are they holding you back? And what can you tell yourself instead?