You may often ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” Significantly more individuals ask themselves questions about their competence than we realise. You are certainly not alone.
Luckily, the more we understand our internal processes, the more successful we are likely to be at overcoming our negative thinking and behaviour patterns.
Use these inclusive steps by Sharon Eshmade, a counsellor, parenting coach, teacher, author, and mum-of-a-teen with behaviour and learning difficulties, to help you confidently help yourself in challenging times.
Acknowledging our Negative Thinking
One of our biggest problems is that we get stuck in a negative thinking cycle that we keep perpetuating. The longer we are in the spiral, the worse it gets. We think harmful thoughts, which lead to unsettling feelings and ultimately destructive behaviour. I encourage you to recognise the destructive patterns in your behaviour so that you can confront the problem and begin to do something to self-heal.
We need to appreciate that our negative thinking leads us down the insidious path to behaviours which harm us. This may look like overspending, over or undereating, vaping, or smoking, not sleeping or exercising enough, hoarding, or abusing substances, such as alcohol. From biting our nails and picking at scabs, right through to having suicidal ideations and intentionally cutting ourselves.
The first step is acknowledging that we are involved in self-harming behaviour so that we are increasingly mindful of what we are doing to ourselves and find the motivation to stop.
Why do we self-harm?
When we are emotionally distressed, we can automatically suppress our feelings and use substances or behaviours to soothe ourselves, so that we cope and feel better. We adopt self-harming behaviours to protect ourselves from the pain we are experiencing. It is extremely common and, worryingly, many self-harming behaviours are normalised in our modern society so aren’t seen as a red flag.
How can I stop self-harming?
When we recognise our distress, label our feelings, experience, and process our negative emotions by working through the difficult sensations, then self-soothe, we don’t need to look outside of ourselves to feel better.
Follow these 11 steps when you start to ask unkind questions of yourself, such as “Why am I so ugly?” or start to think about self-harming behaviour. This process may be new and challenging so I have prepared a template to support you, which is posted after step 8.
|Step 1: Be mindful|
Are you feeling any pressure, tension, density, heaviness or tightness in your chest, head, stomach, jaw, or shoulders? Even at stressful times, we can complete a quick body check. The more aware we are of our internal processes, the quicker we can notice our body communicating internal distress signals.
|Step 2: Respond with compassion|
Now, place one hand on your heart and your other hand on the area identified above. Breathe slowly through your nose and keep repeating, “I am listening. I can hear you. I am here. I love you. You are safe. You are capable.”
From now onwards, decide that you are going to listen to your body when it communicates distress. The earlier we recognise the negative physiological changes in our body, the less destructive the cycle will be.
|Step 3: List your feelings|
This step gets easier the more you practice and allow yourself to feel deeply. Sit in calm acceptance and allow your suppressed feelings to surface. As you feel, assign each sensation a label. You can write each response down – fear, anger, guilt? Be accepting of whatever surfaces.
|Step 4: All feelings are accepted|
Think about each emotion and allow yourself to truly feel each one. If you become tearful, you are doing it right. Open your heart and let the pain go through you. Take your time.
Again, place one hand on your heart, breathe slowly through your nose and keep repeating, “It’s understandable why I feel this way. Everyone feels this way under difficult circumstances. I am going to be kind and compassionate to myself. I am trying my best.”
|Step 5: State your negative underlying beliefs|
We all have a deeply held, mostly unconscious, underlying belief system that helps us navigate our life and relationships. These beliefs are usually determined in early childhood. When we have unresolved trauma, our underlying belief system can be negative, false, and harmful. The first step is learning about our core beliefs.
Which of these resonate with you? I am dumb. I am useless. I am unwanted. These are our negative, and false, underlying beliefs. Are you perhaps a perfectionist?
When we allow ourselves to be submerged in our negative feelings, these underlying beliefs often bubble to the surface. Take note of the negative core beliefs that you have about yourself.
|Step 6: Challenging your harmful underlying belief system|
For each harmful belief you identified above, take a piece of paper, and write the evidence to explain why this belief is false. This step is extremely important. Many of us can struggle to do this because these beliefs can be so ingrained. If you need help, turn to an individual who loves you unconditionally and ask them to support you.
An example in my life looks like this: I am unwanted. Rubbish! You are loved and cared for by your husband and friends. Your clients greatly appreciate your kindness and care. You are wanted and very much appreciated too.
|Step 7: Who is responsible? |
Who has made you feel this way? Your kids, peers, family, strangers, or even yourself? Be specific as you process. How much control and power have you given away? It’s time to be responsible for your thinking and behaviour, by taking back your power and control.
|Step 8: Check your boundaries|
Who loves you unconditionally? Make a list now!
Are you a people-pleaser? Remember, your value is not attached to the perception of others, especially those that don’t love you unconditionally. Are you your true authentic self in your relationships? Why not?
The easiest way to live a more content life is to live as your true authentic self in your relationships. If you are not accepted by others then you need to move away from these individuals, if not physically then psychologically. By increasing our healthy boundaries, we can feel safer.
I use this template to work through steps 1-8 and as a guide to express myself through journalling. When you are ready, move on to step 9.
|Step 9: Why do I still feel so ugly?|
The beauty industry was estimated in 2021 to be worth roughly a staggering $500 billion! Consumerism forces us to believe that if we aren’t happy with our appearance, we can purchase a product that will make us look, and, therefore, feel, better.
When we believe that more attractive individuals are more valuable than us, we can unconsciously perpetuate the acceptance of discrimination, sexism, ageism, bullying and racism in our society.
|Step 10: Why don’t I feel good enough?|
Traditional hierarchical institutions in society, such as political structures, traditional families, education, and religious establishments, communicate that the most senior members of an organisation have the most power and control.
When we don’t feel that we meet their expectations, we feel that we lack value. If we don’t have the right job, latest technology, most impressive holiday, or lavish lifestyle, we incorrectly conclude that we are not good enough.
|Step 11: How do we stop feeling inadequate?|
As before, when we stop looking outside of ourselves for solutions to our problems and look internally, we can rescue ourselves, find closure and confidently know that we are enough.
First, instead of external beauty, focus on internal beauty. We have so little control over what we look like on the outside, but we have enormous influence over the person we are. Focus on the attractive qualities of internal beauty, such as kindness, respect, gentleness, and empathy. See your health, mentally and physically, as your priority.
Second, instead of external power, focus on how independent and autonomous you are as the authority in your life. This is your life. You are capable.
Last, find your purpose. When our purpose is to be helpful and kind, we no longer have the desire for popularity or status.
Negative thoughts and behaviours, even with increased awareness, don’t disappear overnight. It took most of us a decade or longer to learn these negative habits so it will take time to learn a kinder approach.
The best way to counter our negativity is with self-compassion. You are learning, trying, and improving. There will be setbacks and missteps because that’s how we grow and learn.
Self-criticism escalates our belief that we are not good enough and hasn’t helped in our lives thus far. Please be kind and compassionate with yourself.
Ask for help
If you don’t feel that you can turn to other individuals in your community, then counselling might be useful. Visit me on social media, go to my website at http://www.crashtestmummy.net or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for support.