Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something wrong with you?
Perhaps everyone thinks you’ve “got it all together”, maybe you’re even very successful, with plenty of friends and a loving partner to boot… But underneath it all, you feel like a fraud. You can never seem to shake this feeling of shame…
You’re scared of ever really showing yourself, so you put on a front to the outside world… Deep down you’re terrified of being exposed. You’re worried people would run a mile if they ever discovered the real “you”.
If you relate to any of this, you probably have a very harsh inner critic who backs this up with phrases like,
“I’ll never be good enough”
“I’m such an idiot, why did I do that?”
“I have nothing to offer anyone”.
You probably find yourself plagued by nagging doubts and criticisms, embarrassed about things you have – or haven’t – said or done… Replaying interactions in your head, imagining what a fool you made of yourself.
These internal criticisms might be so relentless that they drive you into depression.
But you can break free. And the first step to breaking free, comes with the realisation that these beliefs you hold about yourself aren’t true.
Why do I feel like something is wrong?
These false beliefs usually stem from our early life experiences. They are the internalised voices of the people we grew up around – whether that’s parents, peers or siblings.
Perhaps you grew up with a parent who was very critical, belittling or demeaning or there was favouritism in your family – your sibling always got their own way, and you were the family scapegoat… Or maybe you were rejected by your peers for being too smart, too stuttery, too anything…
Whatever happened, you were left feeling unvalued and unloved.
As children, we don’t have the life experience to be able to understand people’s intentions and differentiate between right and wrong, and so, we assume the problem is ours.
In Schema Therapy, we refer to this “lifetrap” as the Defectiveness schema, and people can respond to it in different ways.
Some people respond to it by surrendering to it. They make themselves small, never taking risks or putting themselves forward, avoiding any situations which might make them feel exposed or shamed.
Others respond by overcompensating… They go out of their way to hide their vulnerability, striving for success and status to prove to the world that they’re worthy and valued. But, no matter what they “achieve”, deep down the feelings of shame are still there.
How to overcome this inner experience
Connect with the part of you that feels like a defective child – Who was it who made you feel this way? And are there any specific memories that come to mind? You’ve probably spent a lifetime disconnecting from this part of yourself because it feels so painful. But allowing yourself to feel these emotions is the first step to moving forward.
Get familiar with your inner critic – Who’s voice does it remind you of? What kind of tone does it take? Get better at identifying your inner critic when it rears its head. Recognise that it’s not you.
Replace this voice with kind, soothing words – When you’ve spent a lifetime talking to yourself harshly, recognise that this isn’t going to happen overnight. You’re going to have to catch your inner critic, over and over again – approach it like kicking a habit. Think back to yourself as a child when you felt unloved. What words did you need to hear? Find your “balm” and give it to yourself.
Counteract feelings of shame – In DBT, the opposite action skill involves doing the opposite action to what the urge of a particular emotion is. So, when it comes to shame, the urge is usually to make ourselves small and hide away. Next time you feel like this, try gradually showing yourself to the people around you, stepping into situations rather than away from them. With time, you’ll begin to realise that you need to put on a “front” – and that the people around you love exactly as you are.
Take stock of your friends and relationships – Are there any people in your life who exacerbate these feelings? And do they remind you of anyone from your past? Very often we’ll find ourselves being pulled into dynamics similar to those we experienced in childhood. Being able to recognise these kinds of people can play an important part in attracting the right people into our life.
List out of all your qualities and perceived “flaws” – Recognise that the way you view yourself is most likely biased. You’re going to believe your flaws or defects far out way any positives. Treat this list as your evidence going forward. When any negative thoughts pop up, come back to it and remind yourself of the facts.
These thoughts, feelings and beliefs about yourself can be hard to shake. For this reason, it can help to work alongside a psychologist who will help you unravel where they stem from and work with you in building a much healthier, (and more realistic) sense of self. Over time, and step by step, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable in yourself, and realise that the shame you’re carrying was, in fact, never yours to carry.